More and more articles about transgenderism keep popping up on my Facebook feed to the point where I have hidden all articles from certain “media” sites. This may sound prejudicial, but there is actually a good reason for doing this: it is very hard for me not to comment on these articles, and then I end up in an emotionally exhausting comment war with people whose understanding of feminism is based on queer theory and who have no idea how to have an actual intellectual discussion. My friend eventually posted an article on my timeline suggestiong five critical points to think about before commenting, and this helped to some extent. But like an addiction, these articles are just too tempting.
It is very hard to avoid these articles without hiding them because, and we can all agree on this, transgenderism has become an absolute media sensation here in the United States. I can’t really talk about the media in other countries, but I can say that here is the good ol’ US of A, we LOVE our media sensations. We embed these sensations into literally every aspect of the press and entertainment industry. Television shows, online and print media, movies, books, comics, etc. – once the sensation has taken hold, it is EVERYWHERE. And then the sensation begins to seep into every part of society, become trendy causes, trendy diagnosis, and even attain regular use within everyday American lexicon.
If anything fits the definition of an American media sensation, it is transgenderism.
This whole phenomenon has gotten me thinking about another recent media sensation: bipolar disorder. This sensation sticks in my head because I am bipolar. For REAL bipolar, like it runs in my family to the point where a certain side of my family really doesn’t exist as an extended entity. I was suspected of being bipolar at the age of twelve, but in the 1990s psychiatry was relatively conservative about drugs. In college, however, my mental illness exploded and I ended up in the mental hospital. I have been stable now for about ten years, but bipolar remains a huge part of my life, as every part of my schedule – sleep, work, medication, entertainment – is built around maintaining sanity.
The media sensation of bipolar disorder in the United States began in the late 1990s and survived for well over a decade. During this time, every TV show, from cop procedurals to medical dramas, suddenly had at least one plot line featuring an individual with bipolar disorder. Other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, were not featured as prominently, if at all. Maybe because hearing voices is not as glamorous as mania, with all the money and sexuality and explosive tantrums involved. It makes for great TV. Sally Field gave an award winning performance on ER, which is still one of my favorite shows ever. Soon bipolar disorder left the small screen and leaped into real life, as celebrity after celebrity was said to possibly be bipolar. Brittney Spears was in the press all the time as someone losing her shit due to bipolar disorder. Catherine Zeta-Jones came out with her story, although it didn’t last long because it frankly wasn’t that interesting – she went into the hospital and got the help she needed, and was much better.
The sensation of bipolar disorder also reached regular citizens as diagnoses of bipolar disorder skyrocketed, particularly in kids – something of great importance in this whole discussion. The press began to push back, pondering whether or not all these kids were actually bipolar (similar to ADHD, which, although in the public eye, really didn’t turn into a true media sensation). But both kids and adults continued to be prescribed hard-core medication such as depakote and lithium by psychiatrists after as little as ONE 45 minute consultation. I had this happen to a friend of the family, and I immediately told him to see a new psychiatrist – there was no reason to put someone experiencing some depression and stress on medication for bipolar disorder, a major mental illness that cannot ever be treated with therapy, and for which you need drugs that unfortunately often have serious side effects.
To complete the trajectory of a media sensation, bipolar disorder began to be used as sort of a slang word. Young people especially would say things like “oh, she’s just bipolar” about someone a little moody, or things like “oh I feel so bipolar today.” Sometimes young people – and adults, too – would even self diagnose themselves as bipolar based on what they saw in the media. I personally knew people who did this, and turned out to just be depressed or anxious.
Slowly, though, bipolar disorder has begun to fade out of view from the media. It made for great drama and stories, but eventually people stabilize, and thus interest begins to wane. This is what occurred with Britney Spears. She has managed to stabilize her mental heath and restart her career. So the sensation has died down. And it has been replaced by a new, more insidious sensation: transgenderism.
The sensation of trangenderism has followed an identical trajectory to that of bipolar disorder. It started out within the media and movie industry and has now become a common theme on cop shows, TV shows such as “Transparent,” and even one of my comics has a transwoman. Like bipolar disorder, transgender celebrities are featured regularly in the media, making the covers of magazines and speaking out as advocates (more similar to Catherine Zeta-Jones than Britney Spears).
The truth is that similar to bipolar disorder, transgenderism makes for good entertainment. Transgenderism became trendy because it was novel and lends itself perfectly to interesting plot lines, reality shows (“I am Jazz”) and feel-good before and after articles. Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox are media darlings, and not neccessarily because the media itself is so interested in progressive human rights causes – Jenner was fascinating because of the tranformation from a powerful athletic star, and Cox because of her sexuality. Like bipolar disorder, there is also a specific narrative attached. The narrative of bipolar disorder was a narrative of dysfunction, lending itself to plot lines and articles involving family and societal drama. The narrative of transgenderism is a positive transformation, a story of overcoming great odds – a favorite storyline for dramas and comedies alike.
Just as the sensation of bipolar disorder soon exploded into everyday society, so too has transgenderism. Diagnoses of gender dysphoria, the backbone of transgenderism, have increased seemingly exponentially – just like bipolar disorder. And like bipolar disorder and the required powerful medication, gender dysphoria has begun to be diagnosed alarmingly fast and treatment begun after as little as one or two consultations.
Perhaps most important of all, transgenderism has made its way into youth culture almost exactly the same way as bipolar disorder. Whereas youth would believe they were bipolar because of moodiness and diagnose themselves, whole peer groups are coming out and transitioning at once, self-diagnosing as transgender. And like bipolar disorder, the medical establishment as had no problem diagnosing children with gender dysphoria and providing them with the medical tools to transition.
Transgenderism, like bipolar disorder, was once seen as a symptom of emotional distress, existing on the fringes of society. Unlike bipolar disorder, however, transgenderism soon became unanimous with a social identity movement: LGBTQ. Although there are support groups and organizations created to provide support for people with bipolar disorder, there has never been a movement to spin bipolar disorder as an identity to be celebrated and embraced. It is seen for what it is: a disorder in need of treatment, without which an individual is unable to function.
Stripped of its social identity, gender dysphoria has many similarities to bipolar disorder. It is in the DSM-V, a book whose sole existence is to describe mental illnesses and disorders (not identities), and like bipolar disorder has high rates of suicide. One could argue that similar to homosexuality, gender dysphoria should not be in the DSM-V. But UNLIKE homosexuality, without some sort of psychiatric treatment, people suffering from gender dysphoria – which is really what used to be known as transexualism – cannot function. UNLIKE homosexuality, gender dysphoria involves of delusion of believing one is something they are not. There is no delusion of reality with homosexuality.
UNLIKE bipolar disorder, however, gender dysphoria is actually quite treatable WITHOUT medication. If not encouraged to transition, children exhibiting gender dysphoria have a 90% recovery rate through puberty, many turning out to gay. Of course, if given hormones and socially transitioned at an early age, a child will ALWAYS choose to permanently physically transition to the other sex. This makes intuitive sense because if, like Jazz, you have taken enough hormones to shrink your male genitalia and grow breasts, can you really go back?
Unlike the media sensation of bipolar disorder, transgenderism shows no signs as fading away and being replaced by the next new trend. Unlike bipolar disorder, transgenderism evolved into a progressive social movement and is now viewed as a social justice cause for which to create legislation and educational programs. It moved from a media sensation trend to a legitimate identity on which to reroute entire movements – namely the feminist and LBGTQ movement, which are currently being torn apart.
Both feminists and LBGTQ people have been left blindsided. Part of this is because that is what media sensations do – they explode onto the scene and filter into societies as trends, taking everything by storm. Unfortunately, transgenderism won’t fizzle out like most media sensations because it has evolved into a permanent identity. Although the LBGTQ movement supported trans rights, what really MAINSTREAMED trans ideology was the media and society’s love of sensations. I truly believe this was not a social justice issue but a ratings issue. All those articles the pop up in my Facebook feed are click bait sites. At least they were. In the past week or two I have suddenly seen two NPR articles published about trans ideology. Thus, what is viewed as society’s sudden embrace of trans rights is really a media sensation that happened to be attached to a social identity movement.
Like bipolar disorder, transgenderism makes for good drama and entertainment, and unfortunately reality has been completely blurred with fantasy. Children are now given hormones because they are boys that like playing with dolls, or girls that like playing with dinosaurs (seriously this is what parents are saying). Instead of just having personalities that break stereotypes, girls are considered to literally be boys born in the wrong body or vice versa. For older individuals, mental health issues such as abuse and trauma are completely ignored, even if they are blatanly discussed in trans individual’s own accounts of their lives. Transwomen who transitioned late in life are suddenly allowed to compete against women in sports – and are sweeping championships. Pseudo-science such as “woman’s brain in a male body” and an innate, unchangeable inner gender that can be separate from a body (thus being born in the wrong body) are promoted as actual science. Feelings are put ahead of physical and biological reality. The media portrays transgenderism as a decided medical issue, when in reality both medicine and academia are far from agreement.
What is particularly disturbing is that the sensational trend of transgenderism leads to actions that are irreversible. Once you go off unnecessary bipolar medication, you pretty much go back to how you were before. But with transitioning, many of the effects are permanent. Women, almost always lesbians, who have detransitioned from transmen lament the permanent changes to their bodies due to “T”. If they have had hysterectomies and/or masectomies, they have permanently lost essential parts of their bodies. It is similar to men who received vaginoplasty and detransitioned from transwomen.
I know that there are people who retain their gender dysphoria through puberty. If, as adults, they need to go on hormones and get surgery to treat their mental distress, that is fine, and they should not experience discrimination as a result. If they want to socialize as female and be referred to with different gendered pronouns, that is fine too. But we now have every diagnoses of gender dysphoria considered an unquestionable preclude to the awesome, empowering identity of transgenderism. The results are unnecessary surgeries on children and adults alike, laws erasing important female spaces, and the thriving creation of a new branch of the medical-industrial complex. We have individuals telling women – not men – that they must completely ignore biology and re-conceptualize themselves in order to not be preceived as “transphobic.” And in some cities such as New York, you can actually be fined for misgendering an individual. Only if they are trans, of course. If a lesbian gets misgendered as a man, does she have the right to sue? Doubtful, for while trans individuals can appropriate entire movements and the experiences of women, and have their views included in feminism as leaders and experts speaking to the experiences as women, ACTUAL women, particularly feminists, are silenced the moment they speak about transgender ideology or lives. The same standard of treatment towards transgendered individuals is not reciprocal.
And none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the sensational status of transgenderism in the media. Many people wonder why we are suddenly providing so much energy towards trans rights in such a short time frame, especially compared to feminism and gay rights. It is because feminism and gay rights, although they received coverage, were never quite the media sensation transgenderism became. Feminism and gay rights just don’t make for as interesting entertainment and discussion. Even interest in gay marriage fizzled out because the result was, quite frankly, gay couples settling into comfortable average lives that just aren’t that interesting to the media.
I have no idea if transenderism will fizzle out as a media sensation. I have no idea if progressives will recognize the rise of trans issues for what it is – the result of a media sensation that is gripping an entire society. But I know this. Unlike any other media sensation, the results of the trans sensation are permanent. Perhaps for this reason the sensation will never end, because there is no going back.8