Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gender Identity Disorder?

Another interesting post from Mental Health: About Life. I'm curious about this being a disorder. Maybe another term is needed, although the article suggests a possible biological origin that would make it some form of genetic mistake that those who share these feelings are seeking to correct through "passing" or through surgery.

I think we have a lot to learn about the biological and psychological -- not to mention the cultural -- meaning of gender that perhaps those who are trans-gendered can hep us understand, as Riverwolf pointed out in a recent comment.

Following this post on the psychology of this "disorder," there is a real-life example of how problematic the reality can be for a young person struggling to make sense of who s/he is. It's a sad and disturbing story.
Here's my take on this -- if my little boy wanted to wear dresses, so be it. If he wants to be Xena instead of Rambo, so be it. But when it came time to go to school, we'd have a talk about clothing and social expectations. I would make sure he understood that I loved him exactly as he is, but that not all people are so understanding. It's a tough thing for a kid at that age to have to deal with, but children can be brutal about others who are different, as you'll see below.

This is why I would (regretfully) feel compelled to have that talk.

A little background -- Larry had always been effeminate and enjoyed wearing female clothing. He also enjoyed taunting the straight boys who were freaked out by him, at a time (middle school) when gender identity is a touchy subject for many kids. Brandon was the object of his obsession, and he had his own emotional issues as well.
A day or two before the shooting, the school was buzzing with the story about a game Larry was playing with a group of his girlfriends in the outdoor quad. The idea was, you had to go up to your crush and ask them to be your Valentine. Several girls named boys they liked, then marched off to complete the mission. When it was Larry's turn, he named Brandon, who happened to be playing basketball nearby. Larry walked right on to the court in the middle of the game and asked Brandon to be his Valentine. Brandon's friends were there and started joking that he and Larry were going to make "gay babies" together. At the end of lunch, Brandon passed by one of Larry's friends in the hall. She says he told her to say goodbye to Larry, because she would never see him again.

The friend didn't tell Larry about the threat—she thought Brandon was just kidding. There are many rumors of another confrontation between Larry and Brandon, on Feb. 11, the day before the shooting. Several students and teachers said they had heard about a fight between the two but they hadn't actually witnessed it themselves. The next morning a counselor at Casa Pacifica asked Larry what was wrong, and he said, vaguely, "I've had enough." When he got to school, his friends quizzed him about his noticeably unfabulous appearance. He said that he ran out of makeup and hair gel (which wasn't true) and that he had a blister on his ankle (this was true—he'd just bought a new pair of boots). Larry walked alongside Boldrin to the computer class and sat in front of a computer. A few minutes later, a counselor summoned him to her office. She told him that his grades were so low, he was at risk of not graduating from the eighth grade. He went back to his computer. He had written his name on his paper as Leticia King. Most of the campus heard the gunshots. Some described it like a door slammed shut very hard.
The parents are responding to this by suing the school for not enforcing a more strict behavior code.

They (both parents and teachers) seem to have tried to do the right thing, as much as they could, in supporting Larry, but I suspect he didn't get the mental health counseling he needed to deal with who he was becoming. I think the counseling, along with a support group of peers, such as Wingspan here in Tucson, would have helped him deal with the anxiety in a more appropriate way than teasing his peers.

Larry was certainly flamboyant and acting out in unhealthy ways, but it was Brandon who pulled the trigger. Yet the school failed to discipline Larry for taunting Brandon -- taunting can go both ways. In the end, it really doesn't matter. Larry is dead, and Brandon has to live the rest of his life with what he did (and I don't think he should be tried as an adult -- he needs therapy, not jail).

This example shows just how tough a situation it is when a young person struggles with Gender Identity Disorder. I have no good answers, but I hope no other young person ever dies such a needless death.

Here a couple of websites for more information:
All Mixed Up by Madeline H. Wyndzen, Ph. D., a transgendered professor of psychology. She discusses her personal experiences with gender dysphoria and critiques the mental illness model of "gender identity disorder".
Gender Identity Disorder by George A. Rekers, Ph.D.
Gender Identity Disorder - Psychology Today

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1 comment:

Hokai said...

This blog has been nominated as "brilliant". http://hokai.info/2008/08/brilliant-blogs.html