The concept of the culture-bound syndrome

I’m going to start this blog with a clear but sure to be controversial statement.  Now, once you read that statement, if you feel yourself getting really defensive, please read the rest of the entry BEFORE sending hate mail.  So, here goes nothin’:

Gender identity disorder is a culture bound syndrome–not something you’re born with.

Culture bound syndromes include a wide array of medical issues.  Some are very familiar to Americans and Europeans, like anorexia and bulimia, which arise because of the complex interplay between our culture’s views on beauty, food, and (often) femininity.  Others, though, are experienced more frequently (or exclusively) in other parts of the world, which can give them the air of otherness.  For example, the phenomenon of koro–in which, depending on one’s culture, one believes one’s penis to have been stolen or to have started shrinking into nothingness–is experienced today primarily in West African nations and parts of Southeastern Asia and the subcontinent, although it has been experienced as an epidemic in European/American cultures in centuries past.

Similarly, Dhat syndrome is experienced by people who believe very strongly that they are losing energy and sexual function, and are experiencing extreme symptoms of depression and anxiety, because they are losing semen in their urine.  It happens because of religious views about semen and ejaculation in some cultures in India and Nepal.

The idea that trans identity is neurologically innate, set by laws of biology in utero, is one that can only come from a perspective that is blind to historical and anthropological realities.  In some cultures, people who are outside the gender binary believe quite fully that they have chosen their gender path.  In some, it’s a choice made after the mid-point of one’s life, while in others, puberty is when the issue is decided.  What’s more important is that in different cultures and times, the idea of gender identity and what it means to violate the gender binary and have a non-conforming identity is different.

If the transgender identity phenomenon was, as many people have said (ad nauseam with arguments that sound way too much like people saying that men and women have different brains that explain their culturally-assigned differences), genetic/epigenetic and determined at/before birth, this would imply that the phenonemon of painful, debilitating dysphoria would manifest in this way throughout history and in many cultures.  It doesn’t.  While there are gender non-conforming people throughout history, the near-obsessive, anxiety and depression provoking, dysphoric feeling that one’s primary or secondary sex characteristics are “wrong” for one’s brain is a phenomenon that isn’t reflected in all history or cultures worldwide. It’s culturally specific.

What that means is that some elements of our culture are leading to the ways in which gender non-conformity manifests here, including the phenomena of transgenderism, gender identity disorder, and dysphoria.

This blog looks to explore some of those cultural elements from what I hope will be a somewhat different perspective.  Before we start looking at the specifics, though, I’d like to lay out some basics of what I believe and don’t believe, so that we’re all on the same page and I don’t get hate mail based on the fact that one time you interacted with a radical feminist who was mean to you.

What I DO Believe:

The reluctance to acknowledge GID as a culture bound syndrome comes from a history of discrimination against gender-nonconforming people and the greater willingness of Americans and Europeans to accept gender non-conformity if they view it according to their biological/neuroscience model, in which gender identity is innate and unchanging.  In some way, this makes it “not the person’s fault,” which is a sad and upsetting way to see gender non-conformity viewed.

Dysphoria and GID are experienced as real, sometimes painful phenomena.

Gender non-conformity occurs in many cultures and is the result of the fact that the sex-based gender binary makes no goddamn sense.  GID and dysphoria–the specific ways in which gender non-conformity are experienced in our culture–are what I’m referring to when I say that transgenderism is a culture bound syndrome.

Gender non-conformity and non-compliance is different from culture to culture, both historically and in contemporary societies.

A phenomenal amount of energy is devoted to telling people that their gender identity is brain-based and innate, and that there are “male and female brains.”  This notion is incredibly destructive and has little place in feminist thought.

That “third,” fourth, and so on gender identities in other cultures are also culturally mediated, and that in some of these cultures third gender identities work to reinforce rather than subvert sex-based binaries (we’ll get into this later, I promise).

That the concept of transgenderism as currently manifested in the United States can lead to complex issues of identity, appropriation, and acceptance.

What I DON’T Believe:

That being transgender is a “born this way” phenomenon bound by genetics that is experienced in the same way in all cultures.

That referring to GID as a culture bound syndrome is transphobic.  It is not anorexia-phobic to refer to anorexia as a culture bound syndrome–it doesn’t erase their experiences or trivialize them.  Your culture is an important part of you, and it’s not surprising or abnormal that your culture would manifest in important parts of your gender identity and self-concept.

That being transgender, inclusive or exclusive of SRS and hormone treatments, makes you somehow a bad person.

That transgender and non-gender conforming people should be subject to employment discrimination, street harassment, et cetera.

That people with gender dysphoria or a strong aversion to their culture’s typical gender identity are “faking it” in some way.

That it’s off-limits to discuss the ways in which our culture mediates and creates the phenomenon of gender identity and transgenderism.

37 thoughts on “The concept of the culture-bound syndrome

  1. You ‘set out your stall’ really well: a concise and unambiguous post, and the emphasis on ‘culturally-bound’ is spot on, in spite of the hate-mail you will undoubtedly receive. I wish you well. The Earth is not flat, and The Sun does not revolve around it,

    take care,


  2. Reblogged this on musicbugsandgender and commented:
    It’s no accident that the Trans* phenomenon is grabbing so many people’s attention of late, amidst a backlash against the advancement of womens’ rights and in a world where ‘female’ and ‘male’ are being reduced to ‘identities’ and reasoned dissent dismissed as hate (in so many fields) This new blog puts that debate into a contemporary cultural context: essential rwading

  3. Here’s the thing: these folks claim that “gender” is socially constructed and distinct from biological sex, and then turn right around and claim they were “born” with it. You’re not born with cultural ideas. There is no gene for wanting to wear lipstick and skirts. They can’t have it both ways. Is it cultural or biological? If biological, there should be physical evidence to support the claims they’re making. There is none.

    TGism is a culture-bound syndrome in the same sense “the vapors” were. It doesn’t exist, but if you isolate yourself among people who believe in it, your mind may create the symptoms, or you may even go so far as to fake the symptoms for social purposes. You may interpret unrelated phenomena as the result of it. People didn’t faint in the Victorian era because they got the vapors. They did, however, faint and call it that. It was a handy explanation even if it didn’t conform to medical reality.

    In TGism, there is probably some underlying psychopathology expressing itself through gender dysphoria because we live in a gendered society (that is, we still assign social roles based upon biological sex), but if we had a society in which no such roles existed, the underlying psychological glitch (apparently some sort of identity issue similar to that seen in Borderline Personality Disorder) would have to be expressed in another way. Currently, the person is uncomfortable with himself and latches onto “gender dysphoria” as the explanation. It’s handy, just like the vapors were in an earlier time.

    The autogynephilia hypothesis, the best explanation for this phenomenon so far, suggests that some core number of these cases would persist, but if we had a society in which men and women dressed alike, behaved alike, etc., it’s hard to see how the patient would construct an alternative persona that simply “looked female” — because we would have an entirely biology-based concept of “looking female” versus “looking male.” There would be no middle ground of playing dress-up; the only way to “look female” in such a society would be to jump right into the deep end of hormone treatments and surgeries to change biological characteristics. Some proportion of TGs would abandon the idea and find another way to express their innate discomfort with their identity — those whose participation was social or not somehow rooted in a paraphilia. Many would never attribute their unstable sense of self to gender at all, but would find some other way to act it out. And then there would be this core group of autogynephiliacs who would become (medically) transsexuals.

    I’m going to shut up now. I’m not trying to attack your ideas, and I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for several months now. I hope you’ll keep writing for a very long time. There are very few people standing up against the obvious problems TGism is causing women. I’ve been very alone with my dissent for over twenty years, not knowing how to find others who were questioning what we were being fed. I think I’m just going a little bit further. I’m not willing to give this nonsense an inch. I was a biology major. I think in terms of evidence, logic, and the implications of theories. I don’t believe we solve problems by compromising with falsehood. Even if the truth is uncomfortable, we have to start out from it, or any solutions we propose will not be addressing the real issue. So I’ll concede that TG folks are suffering. We can’t really help them by accepting the previously culturally defined idea of “gender” as somehow really biological, because it’s just not. It would be like trying to help a paranoid by hunting for the aliens who are abducting him. There are no aliens. Searching for them won’t help the suffering of the paranoid.

    1. Oh, if you think I’m another transcritical blogger, I’m not. I’m just me, I’m new in these spaces. I’ll come up with a pseudonym very soon.

      I think the idea of transgenderism is psychological rather than biological. I will be talking a LOT about autogynephilia (which I believe is responsible for the MTF folks who behave most abusively toward others regarding immediate and unquestioning acceptance of their inborn identity) very soon, because I have personal experiences involving self-professed autogynephiles and have some things to say about the phenomenon as a whole.

    2. It would be interesting to see what would happen in a fully genderless society whether any proportion of actual gender dysphoria sufferers would continue to exist, but if we consider the full-blown version, somewhat akin to body integrity identity disorder, (in which hormones and SRS are avidly sought) then it is likely it would continue to exist in some, albeit reduced form. I would here take slight issue with the following:

      “… I’ll concede that TG folks are suffering. We can’t really help them by accepting the previously culturally defined idea of “gender” as somehow really biological, because it’s just not. It would be like trying to help a paranoid by hunting for the aliens who are abducting him. There are no aliens. Searching for them won’t help the suffering of the paranoid.”

      Perhaps not, but nor can a full-blown GD patient be helped by sitting them down and patiently explaining to them that their inner “aliens” aren’t real, that they should love their body as it is, etc. Which brings me to the late Terry Pratchett, of all people…

      “Granny Weatherwax had never heard of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch. She practiced headology – practiced, in fact, until she was very good at it. And though there may be some superficial similarities between a psychiatrist and a headologist, there is a huge practical difference. A psychiatrist, dealing with a man who fears he is being followed by a huge and terrible monster, will endeavor to convince him that monsters don’t exist. Granny Weatherwax would simply give him a chair to stand on and a very heavy stick.”

      (Terry Pratchett, Maskerade, 1995)

      …and I would fully concede that gender reassignment is quite probably no more than my “stick” to fight my own monsters with. If it actually empowers me to do so, I don’t see a medical-ethical dilemma with it, bearing in mind I would be highly unlikely to reproduce in any case, and it’s not as if we don’t have more than enough human beings to overburden the planet…

      Though I do agree that the drive of someone with gender dysphoria is basically very illogical. I was ashamed to have such an unreasonable condition and tried to dispell it with logic for many years, but to no avail. At the end of the day, though, it would be highly inconsiderate of me to expect the whole world to tread on eggshells in order to accommodate my disease, or to obfuscate the fact that it *is* a disease in order to spare my feelings or my ego.

  4. Thank you for the post. I completely agree with you and I found your argumentation very interesting. I think often people use “being born this way” argument just for social reasons – I mean more inclusion, understanding, and fighting transphobia. It’s what is happening with homosexuality issue in Eastern Europe – it’s easier for people who don’t understand that get basic tolerance, because they think: poor you, you couldn’t change. Well.. I need to accept you. It’s not that I support that, it’s just trying to understand why people use this argument.

  5. This topic interests me, and I’ll be watching this blog closely. I’m most interested in hearing more about the cultural and linguistic shift from “butch” as a female identity to MtF, genderqueer, genderfluid as non-female identities that nevertheless seem to describe what looks, to me, like much the same phenomenon.

  6. I’m willing to grant that your arguments are thought-provoking, and that for most trans people, there’s a distinct possibility that gender dysphoria is probably at least partly rooted in cultural normativity. It does make sense that, if our culture was not so patriarchal and did not stigmatize gender non-conformity so much, a lot of trans people probably wouldn’t be so dysphoric and unhappy. A lot of our own ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman are culturally derived and conditioned in us from a very early age, and if this was not an aspect of our culture, our definitions and our very identities would probably have ended up very different.

    I don’t believe that necessarily means that gender isn’t innate, though. The capability to express ourselves through language is one of those things that is biologically innate (and unique) to us as social creatures, yet our ability to speak and write is entirely socially learned and conditioned in us at an early age. Without exposure to other people to “program” us for language at crucial periods of development during our childhood, that aspect of our biology is severely affected.

    Gender is such an integral part of our cultural identity and social interaction that I really don’t feel it’s a small stretch that, like our ability to learn language, it also has a biological basis in our neurology. It is no secret that there are measurable and observable physical differences between the brains of men and women, differences that are also measurable in trans people, and that brings me to my next point of contention, this statement:

    >”A phenomenal amount of energy is devoted to telling people that their gender identity is brain-based and innate, and that there are “male and female brains.” This notion is incredibly destructive and has little place in feminist thought.”

    Why is it necessarily destructive? True, it is sometimes used to justify the narrow-minded belief that the existence of biological differences between the sexes means men and women can never truly be equal, but that’s only true if you believe that one trait can be “superior” to or be more “ideal” than another. I understand why many feminists consider the whole “different but equal” mantra to be hogwash, and I agree, but I agree because I don’t think the biological differences between the sexes are relevant to the fight for equality, not because they don’t exist, because they obviously do exist.

    I’m even willing to concede the possibility that, similarly to language, the brain differences scientists have measured between the sexes may also be a product of cultural programming rather than from birth, but that does not necessarily mean that gender cannot be just as biologically innate as language is, and I just don’t see how acknowledging this necessarily threatens feminism. No trans person I know is trying to use this as justification to advocate sexist inequality.

    1. When you refer to “gender” being innate as an expression of our inner self, that’s called your personality.

  7. Autogynephilia is a sexuality shaming theorem initially penned by a reparative therapist, it has little to no support and erases aesexual transsexuality. Please research this issue. Also note that transsexuality has existed worldwide for millenia in communities wherew it was accepted and in places where its existence is a death sentence. If it was so cultural how do you explain its existence in many cultures throughout history?

    1. Well, most cultures thru history cleave to the idea that male and female persons should behave, think and dress differently, which muddies the waters of that which is innate or learned. In recorded history, nature and nurture are inextricably intertwined and hard to separate on an individual basis. All cultures posit ‘male’ and ‘hetero’ as the norm and female/homo as deviant. Modern biology supplies some clarity: female (XX) is the norm and non-female (any combination of X and y) is deviant: normativity of sexual relations are neither here nor there unless one considers sexual relations in terms of reproductive potential rather than an end in itself; as communion. In cultures without these conceits (non-existent?) your position might hold water; but in the world as is it doesn’t.

    2. Autgynephilia is absolutely a real thing. I used to work for a suicide helpline and as such had to deal with a lot of male callers trying to use the service as a cheap alternative to a sex line. Of these a significant number would whisper in fake high-pitched voices about stealing their mothers’/sisters’ undergarments to wear, how they “just wanted to be seen as a little girl”, how much they loved wearing skirts, talking about their genitalia in infantilised, “girly” terms, and if you let them get that far, how much they wished they could be women so that a big strong man could hold them down and give them a good fucking like a woman deserves. It was creepy as all get out- and these callers were quite distinguishable from the few regular transsexual callers we had, who just wanted to use the service as it was intended and talk about depression and other kinds of distressing feelings.

      Men will sexually fetishise literally anything to do with women, including the idea of having our bodies for themselves.

  8. Well presented, well begun. As a person who is and was living with the subject presented, GID, gender dysphoria, and social, familial, mental and physical implications of transition, I can respect these views as a discourse into what this all means. That said, what I really fear is that this can be a wedge to keeping people from fulfilling their needs, desires, and destinies, as a means of shuttling the argument from “why do you need to say you’re born this way” (as a small subexample of the entirety here) to “Let’s throw up more barriers and start to have people question your basic feelings and sense of personal identity.” In other words, instead of moving forwards to a place where we can be post-gender, and especially post-gender-politics as a society, to falling back to the society of oppression (which we are still in).

  9. I wanted to leave a more in depth comment but I was so busy all week. First best of luck with your blog. This comment focuses on M2t. GID is no doubt closely linked to a variety of pathologies such as borderline personality, obsessive and narcissistic. Add on autogynephilia, basically treatment resistant often seeped in misogyny as Michael Bailey of Northwestern University points out and you have a real cluster-f . Many conditions are culture bound and have vogues. Ultimately, they are self-limiting and disappear. What has happened is that this particular disorder has in some postmodern moneymaking potential and fits into academic discourse and then makes dull minds feel edgy. People can do whatever they like to their own bodies—amputate a limb if that’s what floats your boat—it falls under the category of “not my problem.”
    To the sane and rational it seems absurd of course(and a bit sad to see people get played)– the whole issue of definition—man/woman. In reality even self-definition becomes publicly mediated when others are asked to agree. People may be willing or not willing to accept an other persons definition. People can have philosophical or religious reasons for how they define man/woman.
    A person is well within their rights to define a male as someone with a penis and XY chromosome. They will not be consider crazy or delusional or a bigot and certainly not incorrect. Howl at the moon it does not mean a thing. Others, can further say that “maleness” is immutable. And thus any marker on a driver’s license does not amount to a hill of beans. As a woman I get to define that and what it means me and who I consider a woman. No man will alter that—they don’t have the power to do so. And then all the “science” supports what Bailey says. It is not discrimination to define a person by your definition and not theirs, nor is it illegal.
    I look at the comments and just see the superficiality—also culture bound. Why would a woman want to be post gender? Being a woman is not an obsession, a fetish for clothing, or acting “girly” it is a biological fact—that includes a specific body, menstruation, ability to achieve pregnancy. No amount of hormones or surgery makes a person a woman. Good god they can’t even make these guys look anything like women. Oh and the plays for pity I think are all part of the erotic fetish that they try to pass off as some real societal issue—it’s as serious as a drag show. Claiming oppression—born male is not oppressed. Oppression is real—think concentration camps, think not being paid the same or not being accepted into a University or for a job—real. Oppression is not how a person “feels.” Does anyone think “oppressed” women in Africa have a computer to leave comments places—think that out an again. It is all a staged show—more drama, more drag. Everyone is entitled to define themselves as the wish they but are not entitled to demand anyone else do so. The comments are so interesting. One responder suggested, “Post gender.” Which sums up the intellectual capacity here– gender is so last year they are now showing neovagnia and falsies this season.
    So we have a brief period and a new culture bound pathology. After the newness fades society will lose interest and it will pass like “mod fashion” did in the 60’s. The fact that all the research shows that many of these guys are so unstable they can’t hold a job and need life long psychiatric treatment will not have a positive effect on this as a movement. No movement likes life long economic drains. It will become like schizophrenia and considered a disability rather than the special social justice thing they claim. Academics will drop his like a hot coal when something else comes along.

    1. ” … the plays for pity I think are all part of the erotic fetish … ”

      Yup. It’s a nasty combination of sadomasochism, exhibitionism, and narcissism.

      Sadistic/exhibitionistic: You WILL look at me and my fetishistic sexuality, whether you want to or not.
      Masochistic: I’m just a lowly, pathetic female–a much lesser being than a male.
      Narcissism: Look at MEEEEEE! I am such a special being–a woman born in a man’s body! Check it out!

    2. Motherhood, your comments suggest that you have not met many trans women. Most trans men and trans women are entirely indistinguishable from any other individual. You’ve probably worked with and been friends with trans people and never known it! If they have employment difficulties, it’s often from discrimination (being trans tends to come up when looking into someone’s background). If they need therapy, it’s often from the constant questioning (e.g., “Isn’t this just autogynephilia? You’re really just a man, though, right? Don’t you still have a penis? Have you had ‘the operation’?”).

      The trans women you see in your life or in the media are generally the ones who are borderline histrionic basket-cases. Judging trans women from them is like judging black women by what you see on Jerry Springer—-hoooly fuck are they crazy!

      Trans people generally do not want to stand out. The goal of transition is to live a normal, happy life, just like everyone else. Imagine having extreme PCOS that generates huge amounts of facial hair, acne, oily skin, body odors, receding hairline, deepening voice, etc. Wouldn’t that be incredibly uncomfortable as a woman? Wouldn’t you beg your doctors to fix your hormonal problems?

      Being a woman is far more than acting and dressing like a woman. Skirts and lipstick are entirely irrelevant. Plenty of trans women just want to sit back and drink a beer in jeans and a t-shirt. No make-up, no skirts, no lace, no frills. Do you have these same concerns about trans men? Do they have fetishes for wearing ties or baggy cargo shorts?

      I will happily call gender a culturally bound concept. I have zero disagreement there, and I think that’s a fantastic discussion topic. If I could soap box in front of everyone considering transition, I would highly recommend that they consider whether they would still want to transition if it were socially acceptable for any person to wear any clothing and act in any way that pleases them. Transition shouldn’t be about clothing or any form of gender expression. Transition shouldn’t be about gender roles nor stereotypes either. Transition is about waking up every morning since childhood wondering what these awkward physical features of the opposite sex are doing on your body.

    3. Your definition is a bit nonsensical; by your argument I could define you as a man because my religion so defines you and that would be just as valid.

      Any attempt to separate the entire human population into two kinds of people is doomed to failure. There are two options: either don’t do that, or allow for release valves on those who strongly object. Our cultural construction of trans* narratives in America are defined by the people with power who strongly object to their position, rather than to the definition of gender itself.

      I find it interesting that it has emerged now, when the categories are becoming less important for “women” and, if anything, more important for “men” as the category becomes destabilized.

  10. Well, certainly the form of transgender identities (note the plural) is culturally defined. But so it is for most other things – including sexual orientation. The notion of the homosexual person is specific to Western culture, even though homosexual relations are very much not.

    Ancient Greeks had a large place in society for male homosexual relationships and, while female ones were perhaps not as entrenched, there’s a reason lesbians are called lesbians. And it’s a Greek island, too. Yet an ancient Greek would probably have a hard time grasping the Western concept of “orientation”.

    So far, so good. Now let’s end the gay rights talk because, you know, it’s specific to the culture? I guess you won’t agree to that. I guess you might even support gay marriage – even though this concept is intricately tied to the Western view of orientation. Which is natural because you are probably a part of Western culture and embrace it. (I apologize if you actually hail from a different culture, but you do use “our culture” in the text so I’m making a reasonable assumption).

    Western culture places a lot of value on the individual, so it is natural that it has developed advanced forms of individual identities. And this part of Western culture is, in fact, enthusiastically embraced by most “transcritical” bloggers (at least the feminist variety).

    And even when some of the commenters here spend long amounts of text degrading and disparaging trans people, they are only doing it to play up their own version of individual identities and individual rights. Just look at this very interesting wording: “As a woman I get to define that and what it means me and who I consider a woman. No man will alter that—they don’t have the power to do so.” This is so very Western – a member of a different culture would rather refer to an external or collective authority defining people, while “Motherhood” claims an individual right, just like the “fake-oppressed” people she despises. (Yes, those “fake-oppressed” people thrown out of jobs for being trans and then, based on that, used in statistics to show they are “so unstable they can’t hold a job”).

    So, yes, the Western specific forms of trans expression are part of Western culture. Just like the Western specific forms of trans criticism. Because we all are a part of this culture. I, for one, am happy about it. (I am not trans, but decidedly individualist, and I’d rather have “Motherhood” as an opponent than those claiming my allegiance to some Grand Collective).

    And this proves nothing regarding the validity of any conditions, nor can it support the junk “autogynephilia” statements.

  11. Western culture, wasn’t that the title of the textbook? Historicaly, the culture has place value on the male individual not the female, so your statement is flawed, as is everything that follows. I repeat women have the right to define themselves and define others by that definition. Maybe it is privilege so what? Do you honestly think a man is going to define womanhood to women? And it does defer to the larger collective of women. Cross dressing has indeed been a part of western and other cultures by and large because men have had erotic fetishes (based in narcissistic fantasies) through the ages and women have had to dress as men at times to gain access into male spaces. While this may have its 15 minutes now it is impossible to claim and secure a valid position in the future without real hard science.

    The traction that the political and cultural arguments have gotten are based in one saying this is a “real issue” a female brain in a male body and then making faulty analogies to oppression that is suffered by other people and not by men in our culture. This has as much to do with gay as I have to do with Kabuki dance–nothing. It will fall apart sooner rather than later. Culture is very short lived, meaning when no science can be produced to back something people will not be giving all the pity wanted and it will framed by a different narrative. The narrative of the oppressed will dry up and blow away.

    Yes privilege bla bla, the fact is that life moves on, babies are born they grow up. And adults move on as well. After all the gender gibberish, and a little kink and cool phases people go out into the world and most pair bond, and most of those that pair pond create families. The issue of autogynphilia will not be a political one for long. The fact that some men got feeling all sassy and getting off on themselves in a dress will be seen as just that. Along a similar line this will look like claims that the schizophrenics were actually prophets and saw the future, or that witches were in cahoots with Satan. In short, it is going to look ridiculous to any thinking people in the not so distant future. The sad thing, and really it is sad, will be anyone who was so profoundly dishonest with themselves and so arrogant as to buy into it a narrative that has the same exact structure and tropes as a fairy tale. The medical charlatans will fold up their tents and move on. The “activists” will frame everything based on their delusions, and the supporters and allies will be running for the nearest exit because people do not like false causes or to have been dupped– nobody sticks around when the bottom falls out. For most of the world it will have little to no affect. Just a bunch of sad sacks sitting in the corner with lipstick–and how fake is that going to look. What will be interesting is a critique of how, why and who bought into it

  12. I don’t like the analysis of “privilege” and I was not using it. Nor do I want to define anything for you (honestly I don’t care). My point was quite different – that it was natural for you to state your position in individual terms (“I as a woman can define…”) and not in hierarchical or collectivist terms (“the most authoritative women, to whom we all should defer, can define…” or “the collective wisdom of women can define…). This happened because you are a part of Western culture. And it’s not criticism, in fact it’s the part that I actually *like*, as an individualist. When you assert YOUR position, a discussion is possible; with a drone of a Collective, only obedience or war is possible.

    Trans definitely has one thing in common with gay. Both concepts exist only in the context of Western culture. Homosexual relationships exist in many cultures, but the idea that some people are “gay”, the idea of orientation as a key part of personal identity, is very specific to Western culture. Likewise, people who live outside their gender exist in many cultures, but the idea that one can “be really of”, or transition to, the other gender (as opposed to no gender or a third gender) is specific to Western culture. And I see absolutely no problem with either, because we belong to Western culture. By the way, an issue being framed in a way specific to a culture does not mean it is “not real”.

    Oh, and I also don’t like the analysis of “oppression”, it tends to overgeneralize things. Political debates should be about specific rights,not broad-stroke oppression. And culturally-specific entities, like “gay” and “trans”, have a valid place in such debates.

  13. Thank you for starting this. It is hard to find a space to discuss these issues that is not dominated by knee-jerk reactions from either side, as we all take personally things that are deeply personal. I look forward to your further insights; already they have helped me clarify the questions I want to explore.

  14. “Gender identity disorder is a culture bound syndrome–not something you’re born with.”

    Thank you for this very well written succinct blog. I hope this will remain a place of good debate without hateful comments and a polemic free for all.

    Firstly I would entirely agree with your premise as quoted above. Gender Identity Disorder (or now Gender Dysphoria as per DSM 5) is not a condition that anyone is born with but rather an invention (or more gently put a discovery) of the psychiatric community (including Blanchard Bailey Lawrence) to fuel an entirely new industry of psychatric and/or psychological pathologies which require treatment. The rise of the transgender demographics over the last 30-40 years is very much bound up in this industry. The rise in prevalence rates since the 60s is a direct result of the efforts made to create the industry.

    You have pointed out that the incidents of gender experience and gender expressive behavior are culturally distinct depending on the culture in which they arise. You have also pointed out that gender specific behaviors are learned during child development and transgressions are tools to enable the learning process. This aspect makes the narrative so prevalent in transgender circles that they always knew simply a re-interpretation of normal child behavior by emphasizing as not normal what is in fact normal. This claim that a child’s very early behavior indicates a gender inversion and therefore is innate is not something that you will find with what I would call true transsexuals.

    Using these re-interpretations of remembered childhood and adolescence narratives is the basis for the transgender pathology of GID or GD.

    True transsexuals ordinarily do not experience GID or GD but rather may suffer from situational depression occasioned by their abhorrence and rejection of genitalia and secondary sex characteristics that do not match their self experienced body image. Some scientific work (see V S Ramachandran 2007 research proposal) has begun to develop some understanding of this phenomenon. Harry Benjamin did not understand this to be a psychiatric pathology but rather required clearance that no Axis 1 and 2 pathologies existed before even admitting patients to hormone therapy and surgery clearance. Clearance was only given for a small number of women.

    For Gender Variant individuals ( what you call Transgender) GID and GD is a psychiatric pathology that is rooted in their non-conformity to cultural norms around gender. While I would disagree with Blanchard and Lawrence that every gender variant person is a fetishist and therefore paraphilic, a vast majority of them tend to transform their fetishistic experiences into comfort experiences with age which then often appears to drive transition to “become a woman” and live their lives as women with penises. In doing so many become activist to assert rights (such as access to women only spaces) from their male lived paradigm which harm women.

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