Stop Sexualizing Us!

Filed under: Uncategorized — gidreform @ 4:50 am

A Guest Essay by Julia Serano, Ph.D.
Presented at a Protest Rally at the
Annual Meeting of the
American Psychiatric Association
San Francisco, May 18, 2009

For decades, the general public, and especially the media, have had a lurid fascination with trans people’s bodies and sexualities. From talk shows like Jerry Springer, to reality shows like There’s Something About Miriam, novels like Myra Breckinridge, and the countless movies that portray trans women almost exclusively as either sex workers, sexual predators and sexual deviants. This hypersexualization of transgenderism predominantly targets trans women and others on the trans feminine spectrum—because in a world where women are routinely objectified, and where a woman’s worth is often judged based on her sexual appeal, it is no surprise that many people presume that those of us who were assigned a male sex at birth, but who identify as women and/or dress in a feminine manner, must do so for primarily sexual reasons.

We are here today to say, stop sexualizing us!

This sexualization of trans feminine gender expression also runs rampant in psychiatry. In the current version of the DSM, there is a diagnosis called Transvestic Fetishism, which specifically targets “male” expressions of femininity. When nontransgender women wear traditionally feminine clothing, they are viewed as healthy. But when the same behavior occurs in people assigned a male sex at birth, the APA deems it psychopathology. This is hypocrisy!

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And while crossdressing by men is often an expression of femininity, or of an inner gender identity, Transvestic Fetishism presumes that the act of wearing feminine clothing must (in and of itself) be an expression of aberrant sexuality.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Studies have shown that, “Cross-dressers…are virtually indistinguishable from non-cross-dressers.” Despite the empirical lack of evidence that crossdressing is associated with psychopathology, the APA continues to mischaracterize crossdressing as a mental disorder.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Transvestic Fetishism has been categorized in the Paraphilias section of the DSM—the category that used to be called Sexual Deviations. This section used to be home to diagnoses like Homosexuality and Nymphomania—societal double standards that for decades were reified in the DSM as mental disorders. Like its predecessors, crossdressing is a harmless, consensual activity that is unnecessarily stigmatized in both the culture at large and within psychiatry. We are here to call for the removal of all forms of crossdressing and transvesticism from the DSM.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

And while there are many psychologists who understand the distinction between gender and sexuality, who understand that trans people’s identities, personalities and sexual histories are infinitely varied, the APA passed over such people, and instead tapped Ray Blanchard to chair of the sub-working group for the next DSM’s Paraphilia section.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard is the inventor of the controversial theory of autogynephilia, which claims that all transgender women are sexually motivated in our transitions. Despite the overwhelming scientific and experiential evidence that contradicts his theory, it has gained traction in the psychological literature—including a mention in the current DSM—precisely because it reifies hypersexualized stereotypes of trans women.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard views trans feminine spectrum individuals the way most movie producers do. To him, we are all either gay men who become women in order to attract straight men, or we are male perverts who become women in order to fulfill some kind of bizarre sex fantasy.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard not only believes that we are sexually deviant, but in the psychological literature, he has forwarded his belief that those people who are attracted to us—our lovers, partners and spouses—must also suffer from a paraphilic disorder.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Blanchard’s theories have been challenged by a majority of trans activists, allies, advocates and countless trans-knowledgeable psychologists and therapists. Yet, the APA selected him to play a lead role in rewriting trans feminine gender expression back into the DSM.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

When you sexualize someone, you invalidate them. That’s why feminists have worked so hard to put an end to sexual harassment in the workplace, and it’s why we as trans activists seek an end to the psychiatric sexualization of trans feminine gender expression.

We say, to the APA, stop sexualizing us!

Clothing choice does not constitute a psychopathology. We call for the complete removal of crossdressing and Transvesticism (in any form) from the DSM.

We say to the APA, stop sexualizing us!


About the Author:

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. Julia has gained noteriety in transgender, queer, and feminist circles for her unique insights into gender. She has a Ph.D in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University and is currently a researcher at UC Berkeley in the field of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology.

Published here with permission of the author
Copyright © 2009 Julia Serano

Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Stop Sexualizing Us!
%d bloggers like this: