Transgender activism has overtaken social media, as Twitter recently announced users who “misgender” or “dead-name” those who identify as transgender will have their accounts suspended. Thus, I would be considered “transphobic.” I accept this, but I know it’s not accurate.
I have deep compassion and empathy for those who identify as transgender, even if I also believe that the alignment they are searching for can’t be found by altering their bodies. To understand my view, you’ll need a little bit of background from me.
I am bipolar. My disease manifested in my teens, but because of the state of psychiatry in our country, I wasn’t accurately diagnosed until I was in my 30s. It took me a few years after that to find the right medication, but these days I lead a pretty normal life simply by managing my condition. It’s not easy, though, and I could write a whole other piece on navigating our health care system with and without insurance.
The state of acceptance of mental illness in our society makes it daunting to even admit to having one. Most public figures will not address it. Having a mental illness is not like having cancer — you aren’t given a platform to discuss your “experience.” I have reached out to multiple people to start a conversation about mental health, but they were only interested if a mental health professional would take part.
There seems to be a desire to place firm boundaries around what is considered severe or chronic mental illnesses, such as my condition or others like schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. Unfortunately, it doesn’t often work like that, because most disorders are a combination of biological and environmental factors that make nailing down symptoms a lot more difficult than an elevated white blood cell count. It’s messy and, although a science, not always precise.
I was misdiagnosed multiple times until 2015, when a psychiatrist decided to swap anti-depressants for mood stabilizers. I woke up the morning after my first dose in an entirely different world. It was like someone turned the lights on and the music down.
The idea of having a disease that makes you incompetent hits too close to home for many. We see how much money and time is thrown at dementia or Alzheimer, two acceptable forms of insanity, in part because they attack people who lived long lives. However, whether we admit it or not, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness in a given year. That’s almost 44 million Americans.
But imagine losing your mind beginning in your teens. Few can, because society rationalizes away what is seen as bad behavior for teens and young adults. To admit that the individual might not have been causing her own problems or really might not have been a bad person can create a cognitive dissonance that many people aren’t strong enough to face. The realization that the experimentation with drugs and alcohol, poor grades, inability to hold down a job, risky sexual behavior, and other traits that are rationalized away could be signs that someone isn’t simply irresponsible, but might need help, chips away at how we judge others and ourselves.
So I do understand why many who live with the duality of feeling uncomfortable in their own skin would seek to change their skin instead of their mind. That would be a lot easier. Yet I didn’t have that choice. I had to face the difficult path of demanding adequate treatment for what I do have in the face of apathy, ignorance, and blame. I succeeded where many don’t. Our suicide rate has steadily climbed, affecting teens the hardest. They happen to be the age group where most chronic mental illnesses begin to manifest.
To accept transgender people at face value is to deny those who want to be treated for mental illness. The high suicide, violence, and depression rates of gender dysphoric people don’t change much between those who have changed their bodies and those who haven’t. So if sex reassignment surgery and hormones aren’t making this population happier, why do we insist that forced acceptance will?
Embracing transgender identification as healthy is like telling a suicidal person to embrace her feelings of hopelessness, a bipolar person to embrace the manic, and a schizophrenic to embrace the delusions. The desire to ends one life is never a rational thought. Nor is being in the midst of a manic episode, no matter how much I might protest to the contrary at the time. The most compassionate thing that can be done at times like this is for those around us to encourage us to seek treatment, not to embrace the transient feeling.
We saw how a community can rally to help someone when Jesse Kelly led the charge in finding a veteran in crisis over Twitter recently. We also saw it when people of all political alignments reached out to Chelsea Manning when she was in crisis a few months back. That is true compassion: hundreds of strangers reach out, opening their direct messages, posting their phone numbers publicly, offering food, shelter, and most of all love for someone who needed it. That person still needs treatment, but this type of acceptance and encouragement that life is worth living is its beginning. Those in crisis need support systems that gently nudge them to get help, not embrace the dysfunction.
It’s truly ironic that, as this demand of accepting transgender ideology steamrolls through social media, they are simultaneously banning the people who would be the most compassionate. Maybe not specifically because the person feels as if they were born the wrong sex, but because the person is human and suffering. Shouldn’t we want to alleviate that suffering permanently for all people through medicine and science, instead of temporarily through activism and demands to think a specific way?
I hate mania. I also hate the cliff of depression after the relatively short burst of euphoria. I will always feel empathy and compassion for someone struggling through his or her internal battles, because I spent 20 years fighting my own private war. So we have to stop pretending that we are helping when we ignore science and medicine in favor of acceptance and activism. Embracing medicine and the frailty of the human mind is the only way to progress forward and truly help those who are suffering.
The author requested anonymity to avoid reprisals for discussing her mental health and taking a politically incorrect stance on transgenderism.