For almost 40 years, the Cantre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has treated children in their Child, Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). Children and youth who expressed that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth went to this clinic to stop this thinking and feeling and accept their assigned gender. This clinic tells children, youth, their families, and society that being trans is not ok, that being trans is an illness and that being trans can be and should be medically treated. This month, CAMH announced that the program will be shutting down. This is amazing news!
I am a cis woman and some of my friends and colleagues are trans. I am extremely happy to know that the closure of the GIC at CAMH is another step in the direction of trans acceptance. The very existence of this clinic went against provincial and international human rights guidelines that said it is misconduct for health professionals to attempt to alter the gender identity or expression of a minor. Trans people are protected in Canada under the Charter of Human Rights. Closing the clinic helps protect trans people’s rights.
Closing the Gender Identity Clinic, I believe, is also further proof that as societal views change, our views of what a mental illness is, also changes. Homosexuality was in the DSM from the beginning (DSM I, 1952), was removed in the DSM II and was given different names within the same revision. The alternative names for homosexuality, such as “sexual orientation disturbance”, were not completely removed from the DSM until the 80s. It took awhile and it was removed. This demonstrates the instability of psychiatric illness and the power of society. We know that your sexual orientation is not an illness and at one point it was seen to be until people spoke out against it being an illness.
Trans people appear to be going through the same thing with psychiatry. When the DSM 5 came out I was very disappointed to see that a gender identity disorder was still included, just as gender dysphoria. This change in language allows psychiatry to say, “Look, expressing a different gender identity than the one assigned to you at birth is only an illness when it causes you stress instead of being an illness merely because it exists.” I am cis and could not even imagine the stress that may follow knowing your expressed gender identity does not match your assigned gender. I may go out on a limb and say that the toxic culture that trans people live in will create all types of stress regardless (those who know, correct me if I am wrong). I am hoping that soon, gender dysphoria will be removed from the DSM completely. (If you are a trans person, I would be very interested to know what you think about the gender dysphoria diagnosis)
Sexual orientation and gender identity are great examples of how psychiatry severely screws up in defining and treating “illness”. As society accepts people as they are, we do research that supports this acceptance, we can clearly shape psychiatry in a way that we could not shape physical medicine. I will always stand by the fact that a large portion of psychiatry depends on social constructs of normality. If we believe being straight is normal then being gay is an illness. If we believe those born male should always be male then trans becomes an illness. If we believe that people should not hear voices then hearing voices because an illness. When we have not limited normal we have seen psychiatry change for the better.
I strongly suggest you learn about the experiences of trans people. This group is unbelievably marginalized and oppressed. The hate these people experience is often violent and sometimes has fatal consequences. This all becomes especially true for trans people of colour. Trans people are people deserving of respect and have the same rights as everyone else.
Check it out!