“Disordered” No More:

Challenging Transphobia in Psychology, Academia and Society

 

IFGE 2009 Conference Workshop Presented by

Joelle Ruby Ryan, Ph.D Candidate, Julia Serano, Ph.D. and Kelley Winters, Ph.D.

Online report compiled by Lynn Conway

First posted 3-08-09 [V 4-30-09]  [Click on photos to enlarge]

 

Contents: 

Abstract

Background on the Workshop

The Panelists and their Presentations

Joelle Ruby Ryan, "The Transgender Tipping Point" [PDF]

Julia Serano, "'Autogynephilia' and the psychological sexualization of MtF transgenderism"

Kelley Winters, "Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis" [PDF]

Videos of Presentations and Q/A session [TBD]

Reflections on the Event

References and Resources [TBD]

 
 

Abstract:

 

"This panel will feature three papers that interrogate cultural transphobia and insist on the need for social change. As a whole, the essays challenge current models of understanding transgenderism and demand an end to the continued oppression of transpeople in psychology, academia and society. In particular, the papers examine the stigmatizing Gender Identity Disorder (GID) diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the need for the elimination of GID from the DSM-V to oppose the continued pathologization of trans youth and adults; the sexualization of transwomen in the controversial theories set forth in the taxonomic classification known as autogynephilia; and the exploitation, colonization and appropriation that many cisgendered academicians have engaged in when researching and writing about transpeople’s lives. In addition to discussing these problems, we will discuss solutions to engender positive change and proffer innovative paradigm shifts to promote the well-being, psychological health and empowerment of the transgender community." IFGE Workshop announcement

 


 

Panelists (left to right):

Joelle Ruby Ryan, Julia Serano and Kelley Winters (photo by L. Conway)

International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) 2009 Conference, Alexandria, VA, February 6, 2009. 

 

 

 


 

 

Background on the IFGE 2009 Conference Workshop:

 

In the opening of her presentation "The Transgender Tipping Point", Joelle Ruby Ryan discusses how this new form of "anti-transphobia" conference workshop came to be, as a follow-on to a panel she organized at the 2008 National Women's Studies Association Conference:

 

"Let me begin with a bit of context.  In many ways, this panel is a follow-up session to a program that I helped to put on at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio in June, 2008.  That session was entitled “The Bailey Brouhaha: Community Members Speak Out on Resisting Transphobia and Sexism in Academia and Beyond.”  When I forwarded the Call For Proposals (CFP) for this session to a popular women’s studies listserv (WMST-L), I was viciously attacked by senior scholar Alice Dreger [i] for simply trying to cajole people to submit abstracts for my panel.  Established in 1991, WMST-L has close to 5,000 subscribers from nations all over the world, including many prominent senior faculty and program administrators.  My CFP deals with the populist and scholarly responses to J. Michael Bailey’s notorious 2003 screed The Man Who Would Be Queen, [ii] as well as Alice Dreger’s subsequent, lengthy “scholarly history” about the debacle.  Two days after my initial post, Dreger proceeded to attack my CFP on WMST-L.  I was taken aback by this, as I did not know she was on the list and had never seen her post before.  She said that it was "laden with factual errors and misrepresentations about the history of the Bailey controversy and my work."  She then had an exchange with another list member in which she wrote:  “I also appreciate your advising Joelle Ruby Ryan ‘that she was putting herself at risk as a scholar working within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom.’  I would add that one is not acting like a scholar when one repeatedly misrepresents facts and the work of other scholars, as Ms. Ryan did in her CFP.”[iii]

I am a graduate student as well as an "out" and politically active transgender woman from a non-elite academic institution.  I am currently on the job market attempting to secure an academic position, preferably in the field of women's/gender studies.  This public trashing, by a senior scholar with a recently-awarded Guggenheim and a prestigious appointment at Northwestern University, clearly indicates the level of Dr. Dreger's vituperative and spiteful agenda.  While I certainly knew I was stepping into a controversial arena by proposing this panel, I genuinely did not expect that my CFP would be the recipient of such ad hominem attacks by Dreger, nor that I would be warned by Dreger and others about my proposed scholarship and told that I was not "acting like a scholar” because of my opposition to her one-sided hatchet job [iv]. Apparently, acting “uppity” has very real consequences in the world of academia.  After this prominent attack, I was fearful and considered withdrawing my CFP and not going forward with the panel.  One of the things which helped me tremendously was when I contacted Lynn Conway, Professor Emerita from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who encouraged me to move forward with the panel and even signed on as a session advisor.  The panel went on as planned and you can read and view it online thanks to the work of Conway and panelist Andrea James.[v] . . ."

Joelle Ruby Ryan

In the conclusion of her presentation, Joelle eloquently summarizes the dramatic turn of events we are now witnessing, both in the presentations in this workshop and in the world at large as transgender people by the tens of thousands openly question and challenge the psychiatrists, psychologists and 'sexologists' who have so long oppressed us:

" . . . To these oppressive “experts” I would like to say: the writing is on the wall.  Your white-knuckling and increasingly venomous backlash is not going to be able to stem the tide of positive socio-cultural transformation.  I believe we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that is incredibly momentous: the gaze is shifting.  Whereas as once transgender people were studied, pathologized and analyzed by so-called experts, now we are turning the lens back on to them and analyzing those who have analyzed us for so long. . . . "

Joelle Ruby Ryan


 

[i] For information on Alice Dreger’s life, and a history of her problematic actions and behaviors, see: http://www.tsroadmap.com/info/alice-dreger/hermaphrodite-monger.html Also, see “Alice Dreger: The Unethical Ethicist” at: http://www.intersexualite.org/Alice_Dreger_ethics.html

[ii] Bailey, J. Michael.  The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism.  Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2003.

[iii] For a full report on the NWSA panel, including photos and links to videos of the presentation, please see “Joelle Ruby Ryan Chairs NWSA Panel on Resisting Transphobia in Academia: The Event Alice Dreger Failed to Stop.”  http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/News/US/NWSA/NWSA_panel_on_resisting_transphobia_in_academia.html.                                                                                                                   

The panel was also featured in The Point Foundation’s Mentoring Message, viewable here:  http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/News/US/NWSA/PF/Point_Foundation_Article_12-08.htm

[iv] I would like to also note that I hail from a working-class family and that I am a first-generation college student.  Dreger’s admonition that I am not “acting like a scholar” reeks, in my opinion, of classism, elitism and academic snobbery.  It is people like her that give academia such a bad name.  

[v] The videos of the NWSA session are available at:  http://www.tsroadmap.com/notes/index.php/site/comments/nwsa_panel_video_the_bailey_brouhaha/

 


  

 

The Panelists and their Presentations:

Joelle Ruby Ryan, "The Transgender Tipping Point" [PDF]

Julia Serano, "'Autogynephilia' and the psychological sexualization of MtF transgenderism"

Kelley Winters, "Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis" [PDF

 

 

 

Joelle Ruby Ryan

Ph.D. candidate at Bowling Green State University

Workshop organizer and moderator.

   

 

Presentation on:

"The Transgender Tipping Point: It is Not the Transperson Who is “Disordered” but the Society in which S/he Lives" [PDF]

by Joelle Ruby Ryan*

 

Excerpts from Joelle's presentation:

 

      "In sociology, a tipping point, or angle of repose, is when a previously rare phenomenon becomes speedily, considerably and vividly more common.  In this paper, it is my assertion that the previously rare phenomenon which has materialized into extensive and exciting commonality is the emergence of multiple forms of transgender advocacy: grass-roots activism, political lobbying, emancipatory internet and print publishing, and speaking truth to power.  In his influential 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell describes the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Gladwell also writes: “The possibility of sudden change is at the center of the idea of the Tipping Point and might well be the hardest of all to accept.” Since the early to mid 1990s, there has been a formidable and unstoppable wave of committed, militant and subversive transgender activism.  Here in 2009, I truly believe we are rapidly approaching a revolutionary threshold from which no malevolent entity can force us backwards.  However, in order to reach a veritable tipping point, it will require continued vigilance, action, perseverance and existential courage.  For though we have come far, there are nefarious forces which continually threaten to halt our steps towards liberation.  Sadly, many of these agents of regression are located in psychology and academia, and they are made even more insidious by the fact that they often claim to be our allies rather than to honestly identify themselves as our adversaries.  In the text that follows, I would like to explore some of these oppressive agents of transphobic backlash, and then discuss ways for us to continue our pushback that will help to promote a well deserved victory against the forces of transphobic cultural oppression. . . ."

"When I was studying for my first master’s degree, a colleague once took me aside to tell me some important information.  She told me that she thought it was not a good idea for me to go forward with additional study at the doctoral level.  She stated that it would be a waste of time and money because no academic institution would ever hire me for a tenure-track position because I was simply “beyond the pale” as a progressive, very “out”, 6”6” transgender woman.  At the time, I was outraged at her for what I saw as her transphobic attitude and stereotyping of what transgender people could aspire to.  Now, nearly a decade later, I am struck by her words because they contain a certain level of truthfulness.  Whether she personally thought trans women should become professors or not is not the point.  The point, I have come to see, is whether they could become professors.  Many of the transpeople I know of in academia transitioned after they were awarded tenure.  I have been “out” as a trans woman since my freshman year at the University of New Hampshire in 1993.  I am part of a new wave of “out” and visible trans scholars and the verdict is still out about the kind of treatment we will receive in the highest levels of the academic ladder. . . ."                                                                                                                          

"How is this related to Dreger, Bailey, Zucker, Blanchard and others, you might ask?  The transgender liberation activists I started this paper with have been actively engaged in the process of decolonization for close to twenty years.  For many decades in the US, transgender people have been a colonized people.  We have been colonized by those with fancy degrees after their names, like psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, social workers, lawyers, academicians, sociologists, anthropologists and many others.  Cissexual “experts” treated transpeople like their subordinates, as objects who needed to be controlled, monitored and rendered subhuman.  This tradition of paternalism made trans people into butterflies pinned to a cork board; we were rendered motionless and voiceless by the weight of a colonizing body of people who wanted to figure out why we were transsexual and what to do about it. . . ."   

"Meanwhile, Kenneth Zucker, one of the top gurus in the incredibly conservative clique of so-called GID experts at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto, Canada (formally the Clarke Institute), continues to expound the theory that gender-variant kids can be treated with psychological therapies that attempt to transform them into proper, gender-normative subjects.  This trans-reparatist therapy is appalling, abusive, and unbelievably destructive.  I was a gender-variant youth who was constantly bombarded by my peers, my school and even my own parents in an attempt to stop my sissified ways and make me toe the line of gender role conformity.  I struggled early on with depression and even considered suicide as a way out.  I truly believe that if I had been sent off to a Zuckerian-type “therapist” I might have moved from thinking about suicide to attempting or even completing it.  The harm from these trans-reparatist therapies has been extensive, although many of the stories have not yet come to light.  But what does the American Psychiatric Association (APA) do to chastise Zucker’s heartless and unethical behavior?  In 2008, they reward him by making him chair of the American Psychiatric Association workgroup on "Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders" for the 2012 edition of the DSM-V.   Just for good measure, they also appoint Zucker’s crony Ray Blanchard to the working group, helping to optimize the chance that GID still will not be taken out of the DSM and transgender people will suffer for many more years being seen as deviant, sick, deranged, disordered and pathological. . . ."  

"Despite numerous legal and political victories and greater attention to transgender human rights, one would think that certain streams of psychology and especially psychiatry are largely caught in the dark ages.  Their unwillingness to change and to answer their critics is proof of their desire to cling to power, even if it means upholding an increasingly irrelevant status quo paradigm.   To these oppressive “experts” I would like to say: the writing is on the wall.  Your white-knuckling and increasingly venomous backlash is not going to be able to stem the tide of positive socio-cultural transformation.  I believe we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that is incredibly momentous: the gaze is shifting.  Whereas as once transgender people were studied, pathologized and analyzed by so-called experts, now we are turning the lens back on to them and analyzing those who have analyzed us for so long. . . . "

Joelle Ruby Ryan

 

 

Links to full-length text of Joelle's essay:

"The Transgender Tipping Point: It is Not the Transperson Who is “Disordered” but the Society in which S/he Lives" [PDF]

 

 

 

*Joelle Ruby Ryan is a Ph.D. Candidate in the American Culture Studies Program at Bowling Green State University. Joelle holds MA degrees in Women's Studies and English Literature. Joelle has taught University classes in English, American Studies, Women's Studies, Ethnic Studies, LGBT Studies and Film Studies. Joelle is the first MTF transperson to become a Point Foundation Scholar. She has co-produced the video TransAmazon and published the book Gender Quake. Joelle is active in the National Women's Studies Association and her campus group Transcendence. You can find out more about Joelle at www.joellerubyryan.com.

 

 


 

 

Julia Serano, Ph.D.

 

 

Presentation on:

"'Autogynephilia' and the psychological sexualization of MtF transgenderism" by Julia Serano, Ph.D.**
[paper in preparation for publication]

[link to audio of Julia's Presentation]

 

Excerpts from Julia's presentation:

 

“Like our cissexual counterparts, trans women are routinely sexualized in our culture. In her excellent book How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, Joanne Meyerowitz chronicles the rise of (what she calls) the “eroticization of MTFs.” It began in the early 1960’s (less than a decade after the mainstream public first became aware of transsexuality), when “tabloid newspapers and pulp publishers produced a stream of articles and cheap paperback books on MTFs who had worked as female impersonators, strippers, or prostitutes. They often illustrated the stories with pin-up style photos that revealed breasts, legs, and buttocks.” These stories focused predominantly on the subjects’ “unbridled sexual desires,” and Meyerowitz comments that they gave the impression that, “the truth of sex change lay in its sexual acts.”. . .”

 

“. . .  the societal sexualization of MTF transgenderism has a very real negative impact on trans women’s lives. Many trans women report that, when others are aware of their trans status, they are often bombarded by graphic questions, objectifying comments, and sexually explicit propositions that are typically far more hardcore, debasing and frequently occurring than what they normally experience when they are presumed to be cissexual women. Because nonconsensual sexualization is inherently disempowering and dehumanizing, trans women often find that such incidents are inexorably linked to transphobic discrimination, harassment and violence . . .”

 

“The sexualization of trans women, and the reciprocal invisibility of trans men, occurs not only in mainstream culture and in the media, but in the field of psychology. Psychologists and psychiatrists, who are positioned as gatekeepers of sex reassignment, have regularly sexualized trans people on the MTF spectrum (while largely ignoring those on the FTM spectrum) with regards to taxonomy, theories of etiology, descriptions of case histories, and diagnoses. . . .”

Julia Serano

 

[Link to audio of Julia's Presentation]

 

To learn more about Julia's trans activism and writings on the social and psychological sexualization of MtF transgenderism, see her website and her book :

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, by Julia Serano, Ph.D., Seal Press (2007)

 

 

 

**Julia Serano is an Oakland, California-based writer, spoken word performer, trans activist, and biologist. Julia is the author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (Seal Press, 2007), a collection of personal essays that reveal how misogyny frames popular assumptions about femininity and shapes many of the myths and misconceptions people have about transsexual women. Her other writings have appeared in anthologies (including BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine and Word Warriors: 30 Leaders in the Women’s Spoken Word Movement) and in feminist, queer, pop culture and literary magazines and websites such as Bitch, AlterNet.org, Out, Feministing.com, Clamor, Kitchen Sink, make/shift, other, LiP and Transgender Tapestry. In recent years, Julia has gained notoriety in transgender, queer, and feminist circles for her unique insights into gender. She has been invited to speak about transgender and trans women’s issues at numerous universities, at queer, women’s studies, psychology and philosophy-themed conferences, and her writings have been used as teaching materials in college-level gender studies courses across the United States.

 

 


 

 

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.

 

 

Presentation on the:

"Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis" [PDF]

by Kelley Winters, Ph.D.***

 

In her presentation, Kelley Winters asks the following questions:

"What are the problems with the Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)? How are overarching issues of psychiatric stigma and access to medical transition procedures related to specific flaws in the diagnostic criteria and supporting text? The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti said, "If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.""

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.

 

She then goes on to list ten of the most egregious problems, as follows, discussing each in detail in her presentation (see PDF and video (TBD)):

“This is my personal list of the most egregious problems with the current Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis. While far from comprehensive, it is perhaps a starting point for dialogue about how harm reduction of gender nomenclature might be possible in the DSMV. 

1. Focus of pathology on nonconformity to assigned birth sex in disregard to the definition of mental disorder, which comprises distress and impairment.

2. Stigma of mental illness upon emotions and expressions that are ordinary or even exemplary for nontransgender children, adolescents and adults.

3. Lacks clarity on gender dysphoria, defined here as clinically significant distress with physical sex characteristics or ascribed gender role.

4. Contradicts transition and access to hormonal and surgical treatments, which are well proven to relieve distress of gender dysphoria.

5. Encourages gender-conversion therapies, intended to change or shame one’s gender identity or expression.

6. Misleading title of “Gender Identity Disorder,” suggesting that gender identity is itself disordered or deficient.

7. Maligning terminology, including “autogynephilia,” which disrespects transitioned individuals with inappropriate pronouns and labels.

8. False positive diagnosis of those who are no longer gender dysphoric after transition and of gender nonconforming children who were never gender dysphoric.

9. Conflation of impairment caused by prejudice with distress intrinsic to gender dysphoria.

10. Placement in the class of sexual disorders."

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.

 

Kelley concludes by suggesting that the DSM Task Force has the following important opportunity and responsibility:

"The DSMV Task Force has an opportunity to address these shortcomings in the current GID diagnosis. I hope that this list can help provide a way to evaluate proposals for less harmful diagnostic nomenclature in the Fifth Edition of the DSM."

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.

 

 

 

For a detailed discussion about the GID/DSM problems included in Kelley's list above, see her workshop-handout at the following link:

"Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis", Kelley Winters, Ph.D. [PDF]

 

 

 

To learn more about Kelley's work on GID reform and on confronting the stigmatization of transgender people by the DSM, see her GIDReform website and her new book :

Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays from the Struggle for Dignity, by Kelley Winters, Ph.D., BookSurge Publishing (2009).

 

 

 

***Kelley Winters, Ph.D., formerly under penname Katherine Wilson, is a writer on issues of transgender medical policy, founder of GID Reform Advocates (www.gidreform.org) and an Advisory Board Member for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. She has presented papers on the psychiatric classification of gender diversity at the annual conventions of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association and the Association of Women in Psychology. Kelley is the author of Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays from the Struggle for Dignity (2009), and her work appears in Sexual and Gender Diagnoses of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), A Reevaluation, edited by Dan Karasic and Jack Drescher (2005)

 

 


 

 

Videos of Presentations and Q/A session:

[work in progress - - - TBD - - - ]

We videoed all three presentations and the Q/A session, and will be posting the videos online later this month.

 

 

 

Reflections on the Event:

[work in progress - - - TBD - - - ]

We'll be adding some reflections on the IFGE Workshop panel here sometime soon.

Meantime, here are several photos from the event:

 

 

Joelle Ruby Ryan, Sandra Samons, Miqqi Alicia Gilbert, Julia Serano, Kelley Winters and Lynn Conway at lunch the day of the workshop.

[Photo by Lisa Gilinger]

 

 

Lynn (r) with Denise Leclair (l), Executive Director of IFGE

 

 

 

References and Resources:

[ - - - work in progress - - - ]
 

 

 


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