By L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith
Having identified as genderqueer, I finally made the decision to accept my true self and rightfully identify as transgender. I planned to begin hormone replacement therapy to have my body affirm my identity and found myself in a situation where legally, before I could begin, I had to undergo at least three months of therapy. After doing that and getting excited for my process, I was halted by news that my mental analysis did not pass the “norm” and I needed to undergo a period of psychotherapy.
It was determined that my overcriticalness of my body, dysphoria, constant belief that people are watching me, and internalized need for hormones were all grounds for a diagnosis of paranoia/psychosis. It was quite interesting that those symptoms garnered that diagnosis because they all are a result of my seeming gender “deviance” and the policing, criminalization, harassment, judgment, and so much more that I endure as a result.
Now I don’t particularly agree with everything sex and gender theorist Gayle Rubin speaks about because she is very subjective and singly focused but as I recently read her 1984 essay on sexuality, “Thinking Sex,” I found myself inspired to reflect on my experience—one that many trans* people face and is a direct result of sexual stratification, the societal ranking of people according to sex.
Rubin defined the phrase “sexual essentialism” as an understanding of sexuality in our Western culture where it’s seen as a product of biological circumstance and inherently predetermined. Because of sexual essentialism, we have operated with this sort of stratification of acceptable sexualities and sex acts and through this hierarchy, legislation and social codes have been instilled to target these “deviant” communities. I found it very interesting when she linked this idea to mental health because not only are they connected, but also it could explain minority statistical interpretation.
Growing up, it was common to hear of statistics surrounding mental health disparities in the LGBT community and how we experience the largest percentage of individuals with mental health issues. However, after reading Rubin’s essay, it became clear how the mental health system is set up to define “normal” mental health as simply anything but what an LGBT-identified person is. In this way, all LGBT persons by default have mental health issues and that’s that. The amount one deviates from the “normal” mental capacity correlates with how far from the ideal socioeconomic status one is which is informed by race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.
Because we are who we are, every institution is against us whether we want to believe it or not. That mental exam I took to begin hormone therapy is based on what norm? Not mine. It’s not structured to analyze my mental state as informed by my own experiences with social subjugation. Every interaction we have has a preface of normalization. This is why it super problematic for transgender persons to have to undergo mental therapy and psychological analysis before they can begin hormones and start their medical transitions.
The fact that one must be “diagnosed” as transgender or that therapy is a necessity for all trans* individuals is just another marginalizing blow of cisnormativity. People may not see gender identity discrimination as important but it is just as impactful as racism. It’s easy to see race as a political agent because we understand it’s constructivism and not through an essentialist lens. If we continue to believe that gender identity is rigid and biologically defined and not a social construct, we cannot see how socially, we are persecuting those with various identities at every institutional level. It’s ludicrous to define my identity and place me on a social scale but refuse to acknowledge that you are inherently socially constructing who I am and what I represent.
L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith is a 20-year-old queer woman of trans* experience. She attends Xavier University of Louisiana and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Women’s Studies. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, L’lerrét has grown to appreciate the importance of fostering community and now dedicates herself to movements that eliminate barriers for marginalized people.
Photo: Huffington Post