I realize we haven't discussed this in class yet and it wasn't an assigned reading for everyone, but I really am interested in the particular discussion of GID and the DSM and wanted to jump right into engaging with this. I have to admit that it's a long engagement (so I tried to keep it more casual and give more of my knee-jerk reactions than I normally would), but it's one I'm particularly passionate about and versed in; I've done most of my studies in getting my degree in the abnormal/clinical field of psychology (and more, beyond my required academic work), and have given guest lectures on GID, the DSM and diagnosing, among other things. Additionally, this was to be the subject of the directed study I was going to do with Sara, but ended up cancelling.
In the chapter "Undiagnosing Gender" in Undoing Gender, Judith Butler takes the typical route of assessing Gender Identity Disorder as an irresonsible, problematic, misguided, misinformed diagnosis made by big, evil, out of touch psychologists that pathologizes gender and supposedly goes as far to make the suicide problem among transgendered individuals worth (a more than daring suggestion, considering she has nothing to back it up). To be honest, though I had no logical reason to hope for this, I hoped that someone who seems as educated as Butler would've done a better job, but I was let down. Perhaps I need to take into consideration how old this text is (she's citing a non-current edition of the DSM) and maybe place more of my frustration on the current state of individuals who know next to nothing about psychology regurgitating this, dare I say ridiculous, point of view just because it's easier to shoot the messenger, but nevertheless, I was pretty disappointed in where Butler took herself with this discussion. I feel like, in my gut, I know she could've pushed herself farther, she just chose not to, and, because I think that's very irresponsible, maybe she should've just left the discussion alone.
Furthermore, this reading evoked a long-standing issue I have with a lot of queer and feminist theory that uses (or dares to critique) psychology. Now, let's be clear, I'm NOT discussing feminist psychology--that's an entirely different field and has nothing at all to do with what I'm saying. In fact, I've never seen it used in anything I've read from a feminist/queer point of view. This is both entirely ironic and precisely where my problem arises from. To be casual, if I could ask a question of anyone who is a feminist/queer theorist and has made the typical discussions I've seen regarding psychology, it would likely be something along the lines of "Where the HELL are you getting your texts/sources from, and who in the world told you what you are using is credible at all?!"
Let me clarify--typically, what I see is Freudian psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and theory being used, especially clandestinely in the discussion of GID, as a catalyst to address all of the field of psychology and critique it. But the problem is that, to put it bluntly, anyone who knows anything about psychology will tell you that Freud is nothing more than a figurehead, and while it's important that one understands how his work laid the foundation for current psychology, it's WAY more important to understand that none of his theories are given any credence or used by anyone credible these days, and it's been that way for quite some time. I think the perfect analogy for this is to say that using Freud to discuss psychology is like using Monopoly money to discuss the economy--go ahead and do whatever makes you happy, but anyone who lives in the real world will tell you that it just won't work.
While I would be content to launch into a discussion of all of the problems I see these lazy assumptions about psychology creating in feminist/queer theory's claims on how psychology affects a queer world (or a queer body), let me stop at saying what I've said above and transition into my direct engagement with selected passages from the reading I find particularly salient by saying that I think a lot of the problems I speak of (whether I've mentioned them or not) are captured fairly well in Butler's "Undiagnosing Gender".
On page 76, Butler writes:
"The 'diagnosis' can operate in several ways, but one way it can and does operate, especially in the hands of those who are transphobic, is as an instrument of pathologization."
Beyond the fact that this passage is salient with undertones stabbing at psychology from the get-go, I have a few problems here. I can absolutely understand the notion of a diagnosis (no quotes) turning into an agent of pathologization (and subsequent oppression), but there is a necessary link in the process here that almost everyone I've encountered conveniently chooses to ignore. A mental illness (with or without a diagnosis) ultimately translates into an agent of pathologization because the social construction of mental illness leads the majority of individuals in society to pathologize it, and that process and cycle has become so habituated and convenient that unless an individual is specifically trained or fairly versed in abnormal psychology it automatically proceeds, NOT because persons employed in the field of psychology are discriminating, pathologizing individuals. Psychologists don't used diagnoses for any other reason than to help the individual live a better life, end of story.
Furthermore, the assumption that this only happens with GID is absolutely preposterous; it happens with EVERY mental disorder because of the reasons I stated above. The assumption that (1) GID is this separate, black sheep disorder that's used purely as an agent of trans or homophobia, and (2) the stigmatization and oppression GID patients experience is unique and, therefore, that all other disorders enjoy social acceptance is entirely irresponsible and ignorant. Even worse, that point of view does a great deal to contribute to the harmful way in which all mental illnesses are viewed, treated, and understood as well as the subsequent low quality of life all individuals suffering from a mental illness.
Now, let me backtrack a little and make a note: I am not saying that everyone in psychology is a perfect angel, possessing no "-isms," and is completely accepting and impartial. I don't assume that, and I know that there will be "bad people" in any field of study. It is simply the ascribing of a pathologizing, seemingly evil status to anyone who has agency in the field that I have a problem with, especially considering the nature of our work.
On page 76, Butler goes on to posit:
"To be diagnosed with GID is to be found, in some way, to be ill, sick, wrong, out of order, abnormal, and to suffer a certain stigmatization as a consequence of the diagnosis being given at all."
Is she honestly arguing here that the diagnosis is what creates all the problems, and without it, transgender individuals are completely accepted? Come on.
Again, we see a necessary link in the process of understanding a diagnosis being ignored because it's convenient to shoot the messenger (psychologists) rather than understand and deal with the bigger problem of society needing to do an overhaul and change how it understands those suffering from any mental illness. The negative, destructive, awful manner in which Butler asserts that a diagnosis places a lens on an individual is significantly questionable, and any significance that remains is, again, due to a societal problem, and not a problem with the diagnosis itself or those in the field doing the diagnosing.
One last thing about diagnoses: they are not made in the manner that many, possibly most people assume they are. It is never a matter of the diagnosing official using their own subjective view of the person to diagnose. (While for the sake of not making you read as much I'm going to keep this short, please, if anyone wants me to expand on this, just ask, and I will. It's something that I don't want anyone to be mistaken on.) Diagnosing is, beyond the long process of psychiatric assessment and therapeutic assessment, a matter of (to put it extremely shortly), assessing the person's distress (is the person depressed/anxious/manic/etc?), disability (is the way society is constructed causing the person's functioning to be inhibited?) and deviance (whether or not they are inherently arbitrary, does the person deviate from social norms?) and making sure the individual possesses all three
before even proceeding towards a diagnosis. Please note: this does not
assume any personal responsibility in having a mental illness OR any "right" way to be, as many people would assume diagnosing does. It simply asks a pure series of questions, and if you do not elicit a "yes" from all three, you will not be diagnosed. This is why Butler's argument of how a diagnosis presents itself on an individual on the top of page 77 (starting with "It subscribes" and ending with "trans youth.") is entirely inflammatory, ill-informed, irresponsible, and wrong.
On page 91, Butler writes:
"One has to submit to labels and names, to incursions, to invasions; one has to be gauged against measures of normalcy; and one has to pass the test."
Again; a large problem in all of society being used arbitrarily to single out the field of psychology for no reason other than because it's convenient.
On page 95, Butler writes:
"But the diagnosis does not ask whether there is a problem with the gender norms that it takes as fixed and intransgient,"
Maybe, maybe not. But why is this a responsibility of psychology? Because it's an easy argument against a field you don't understand? Maybe it's because it's more important to the suffering individual's well-being to focus on how those problematic norms affect them instead of ignoring their suffering and focusing on the bigger picture.
"whether these norms produce distress and discomfort, whether they impede one's ability to function, or whether they generate sources of suffering for some people or for many people."
Completely wrong. Anyone who is licensed to make a diagnosis asks this question, as I stated above, and it's a prerequisite to everything that is preceded by a diagnosis. Where do people get their information about how diagnoses are performed? This is precisely why pop psychology and making assumptions about things one doesn't understand is problematic.
Finally, while I would love to talk about nearly everything in this chapter, I'd like to end with discussing Butler's assessment of the DSM's prerogative and how it employs itself toward the end of the chapter, especially considering the vast amount of misconceptions made about the DSM (again, by those who don't study psychology but presume they know enough to critique it). The DSM is meant to be a completely objective descriptive tool, and nothing more--not a subjective guide for explaining and guiding those in psychology through the process. The understanding is that one specializes in a particular branch of psychology (behavioral, cognitive, humanist, etc.), familiarizes themselves with disorders based upon that, and goes from there, using the DSM as a map. In fact, that's a great analogy--one would never expect a map to tell them which area of travel or interest is better than the next, they just go to it for information and to tell them where to proceed to, and how to get there. That's what the DSM is meant to do, and that's how it's constructed. So, based on that, nearly everything Butler (and many others) posits in her discussion of the supposed dysfunctions of the DSM is disbanded and meaningless, because it's based on faulty logic.
How this relates to my term:
The interaction I make with this chapter of Butler's book relates to bodies and material experiences because, as a transman and one pursuing and somewhat working in the field of psychology, I have unique experience of understanding how queer theory's ideas about how diagnoses work is actually more harmful to the bodies they're talking about than the field (psychology) and its agents they are attacking (not to suggest the latter were ever harmful in the first place). So, in terms of material experience as a transperson, it is extremely conflicting to feel drawn toward the social arena where solace, comfort, and often physical and emotional safety is found, and have that arena falsely tell you that the only manner in which you can transition is one that will supposedly oppress and hate you.
Butler, Judith. "Undiagnosing Gender." Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004. 75-101.