Monday, September 7, 2009

Transgender Representations: GID

I shall now use this blog to write my thoughts down as I organise and write my thesis, titled "Transgender representations". A lot of people tell me I should just write (for fun) as it gives me the opportunity to reflect more.

Many trans persons have claimed or explained they once (or still are) suffering from Gender Identity Disorder, or GID.

When such medico-psychiatric diagnoses are invoked in the articulation of a person's condition or identity, alarm bells will ring for many a social scientist or a humanities scholar.

The trans articulation of GID reveals a relationship between the individual and the medico-psychiatric institution, a historically and politically established authority - not to mention, legally recognised and respected.

The institution of medico-psychiatry is very much intertwined with the domain of social life. To a large extent, it normalises and justifies certain cultural practices, and cultural categories, legitimising and transforming these aspects of life into entities that appear natural, ontological and taken for granted.

In the case of Singapore, medico-psychiatry dovetails with prevailing social and legal sanctions imposed on nonconformity to the gender binary. We need to understand that in other geocultural contexts, in different economies with different histories, and subsequently, the extent to which societies and their institutions orientate themselves according to preexisting cultural categories and taxonomies.

The fields of medicine and psychiatry have play a significant role in creating and preserving certain taxonomies, which in turn provide the very similar categories for these fields. This is the positivist building of knowledge - piling new research and knowledge on previous knowledge.

This is where we have to be critical, for such an approach has implications on how people see themselves and the world, live their lives and how policies are formulated.

The nonconfirmity to the gender binary is labelled a disorder, thus it is understood as a disorder.

Transvestism, for instance, casts a huge shadow over cross-dressing, as the act, identity or lifestyle are not merely a psychiatric or psychological issue.

The term "cross-dresser" indicates a turn away from psychiatry-informed rationalisations of the the world. Not all individuals who cross-dress see themselves as ill. And even those who do see themselves as ill, does this reveal the extent to which their relationship with the institution of medico-psychiatry is articulated?

The institution of medico-psychiatry has enjoyed a one-way relationship with people like you and me. We question not its knowledge foundations, prejudices, historical male over-representation and positivism. We are subsumed under its discourses, and in the process, we forget about incongruences and outliers, and are choiceless when we straightjacket other individuals into adopting certain understandable medical categories.

While there is a legitimate arguement that trans persons are in risk of losing their subjectivity in a modern social domain informed and authorised by medico-psychiatry, we have to appreciate the paradox that medico-psychiatry (along with its essentialist notions of gender and sex) constitutes also part of their subjectivity.

Given linguistic limitations - considering language is informed by culture and cultural notions of gender, as discovered by cross-cultural studies on gender categories - there is insufficient vocabulary to explain and describe the trans experience and identity. Medico-psychiatry currently fills in the gap, and provides trans persons and lay persons the tools to making sense of transgenderism.

The representation of the transgender, specifically the transsexual, revolves around the axis of medico-psychiatry. Sandy Stone observes that the social institutionalisation of behavioural profiles symptomatic of GID perpetuated itself when patients seeking sexual reassignment surgery had already read the famous German endocrinologist Harry Benjamin’s book and “provided the behaviour that led to acceptance for surgery”. In addition, Virginia Prince quips that transsexualism had become a “communicable disease”, wherein the more awareness it gained, the larger the number of people who identify with it.

In Singapore, the identification with GID is a means to getting medical clearance for sexual reassignment surgery or SRS. This is a medical, administrative and legal process. GID is the passport to SRS in Singapore, and this is somewhat communicated between trans persons in the country seeking SRS. And then, there is always Thailand.

It is under the very same medico-psychiatric discourse that creates a trans stratification. Certain trans identities are legitimised and receive the necessary attention, while other trans identities are dismissed as deviant, sickly or perverse.

Such stratifying selectivity serves to sustain the dominant institution of gender, and to a large extent heteronormativity.

For instance, a male-bodied person who wants to be a female-bodied woman who happens to be sexually oriented towards men, will receive more institutional support for her transition. Such a situation poses little threat to society, as gender and sexual "queer-ness" is systematically eliminated. Since little or no threat is posed to the gender binary and heteronormativity, there would be little opposition to SRS, despite the post-SRS reality of employment discrimination, among many others.

For the genderblender, genderfucker or genderqueer persons, they are continually disincentivised, as they transgress the boundaries of gender and heteronormativity.

A divorcement from medico-psychiatric discourses is not possible, not only because of its historical enmeshment with contemporary discourses on gender, but also due to way our cultural and economic institutions are designed. Since the institutions are not accommodating, onus is on the trans person to compromise and assimilate into a language and culture informed by medico-psychiatry.

There may be movements to end the pathologisation of transgender and/or intersexed bodies and identities, believing that pathologisation entails stigma and some extent of haplessness in body "repairs" or "modifications". However, does this immediately and entirely retires the discourse of medico-psychiatry from the trans domain? How will this affect trans individuals who orientate their rationalisations and experiences around the medico-psychiatry discourse?

Stigma will always exist, given the degree to which our cultural expectations are entrenched in our gendered and heterocentric culture and prejudices. Pathologisation may be a branch of this prejudice and it may serve to reinforce the very same set of prejudice that exacerbates it in the first place, but we have to acknowledge the reality that pathologisation also figures significantly in trans discourses and the articulation of trans identities. Pathologisation sustains the universality of the gender binary, and that cannot be deemed unhelpful to all trans persons.

There should instead be more plural spaces for transgender persons, because different persons identity with different discourses, trans and non-trans. Or trans persons risk jumping out from one straightjacket to another.

We can politicise and implicate the institution of medico-psychiatry as we analyse trans discourses, but how far can we actually go without silencing other trans identities around the world?

1 comment:

paradigm said...

See if you can find
Winter S., 2007, "Transphobia: a price worth paying for 'Gender Identity Disorder'?", Eighteenth congress of the World Association of Sexology (World Association of Sexual Health)