what's wrong with you?

Last week’s This American Life episode is the classic 81 Words (this week you can download the MP3 at the link), about the removal of the homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the bible of clinical diagnosis of mental health disorders in America.

Diagnosis. Sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual dysfunction, we are bound and determined to codify what is normal and what is not.

Which triggers in me such an avalanche of reaction that my brain bottlenecks and the thoughts get clogged up as they all race to my tongue, so all I can do is splutter and stare.

By virtue of my academic and professional fields, I know a disproportionate number of folks who live on the edge of or well outside the gender binary. I’m awed by their courage and strength to be who they are in the face of cruel and often violent prejudice. I mean… I mean, just insert France’s recent removal of gender identity disorder from their clinical diagnoses. Insert, on the other side, “reparative therapy,” the horrorshow that aims to “cure” gays and lesbians of their sexual orientation (can you also “cure” a straight person and help to make them gay?) Just take the diatribe as read because I can’t right now, I just can’t with the… ugh.

Instead… this here segment from RadioLab – New Stu – with a great story about a guy who just felt more comfortable dressing as a woman, complete with breasts. He gets called transgendered, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening with him; he identifies as a man, but he’s not just a crossdresser because he got surgery. He’s just a straight guy who felt more comfortable presenting socially with feminine gender cues.

So what’s wrong with him? How should he be diagnosed? What’s the treatment? How should he feel about wearing high heels? How should we feel about him?

I think gender-based discrimination will take a lot more work to overcome than racial discrimination. After all, given intercontinental travel and the passage of enough generations, we could all just be the same sort of latte color, whereas there will always be men and women… but there will also always be people who don’t fit the snug little categories.

My grandma’s standard was, “Does it hurt anybody? Does it help anybody?” Stu’s apparel doesn’t hurt anyone (though there are morons who interpret their own feelings of confusion and discomfort as “injury” – morons) and it does help him to feel more authentic to his inner self.

What – I’m really asking because I really don’t know – what makes people reject people whose gender expression is non-normative? I can’t figure out how it maps onto Haidt’s 5 Moral Foundations. Fairness and Harm would dictate the tolerance. Purity? Loyalty? I don’t see how. Maybe it’s Authority – people feel (and feel violently) that people who queer gender are rejecting tradition and authority? Really? To the point where it’s more acceptable to injure that person than to let them be who they are? God I just can’t make that make sense in my head.

But then again I’m a left wing nut.