14 November 2012

What I Missed: Gender Clinics

Sometimes I think about the things I missed out on as a result of transitioning after the turn of the century rather than, say, in the 1980's.

One of those things is a visit to a gender clinic.  In She's Not There, Jennifer Boylan reports seeing a sign for one in London when she was there during her junior year in college as a young man named James.  He was tempted to check it out.  It's probably a good thing he didn't.

You see, "gender clinics" were the gatekeepers to the world of medical and psychological help for people whose gender identity and expression differed from those that are accepted in society.  They operated from utterly regressive notions of gender and sexuality.  Among those notions is the one that defines women, in part, by their sexual attraction to men.  In the universe of those clinics, a male-to-female transsexual who wanted to remain married to her wife, or who wanted to continue having sexual relations with women, was not a "true" transsexual.

As for female-to-male transgenders:  They were barely on the radar of those clinics at all.  

Perhaps the most notorious of those clinics was the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.  It was originally named the Clarke Institute; before it was renamed, it was known as "Jurassic Clarke" in the trans community.  CAMH exists today but, it seems, is no longer offering "services" to the trans community.  If such is the case, we should be thankful.  

The Clarke Institute was named for Charles Kirk Clarke, a Canadian psychiatrist whose goal of "keeping Canada sane" was to be accomplished, in part, by increasing the psychiatric profession's influence in making medical and political decisions.  After overseeing Canada's two largest mental hospitals, he co-founded the Canadian National Commission for Mental Hygiene, now the Canadian National Mental Health Association.  

During his time as head of the Commission, foreign-born patients made up more than 50 percent of Canada's institutionalized population.  So, perhaps, it's no surprise that he used a psychiatry-based rationale to advocate for more restrictive immigration laws--and for eugenics.

Perhaps it's even less surprising that an institute bearing his name would offer services to, among others, "those who wish to manage their cross-gender feelings and expression of those feelings while remaining in their original gender role."

Now tell me:  How does this differ from the "reparative"  or "conversion" therapy for gays commonly offered by psychiatrists, or people claiming to be such, who are Christian Evangelicals and Fundamentalists?  (One such practitioner is the husband of Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Congressional Representative and former candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination who is his partner in a clinic.)  

Given what I've just presented, it should also come as no surprise that, during the last years of his professional life, Ray Blanchard ran the Clarke Institute.  In brief, he based his work on a now-mostly-forgotten "disease model" of gender identity that he mainly cribbed from Magnus Hirschfeld. 

The result was that at the Clarke Institute and other clinics like it, those who entered its doors were treated more or less like sex offenders.  Even those who were approved were treated with suspicion and, at times, outright hostility.  The fact that they turned away 90 percent of the people who came to them was bad enough; one can only imagine the damage they caused to those whom they approved.  

They, wittingly or not, helped to make the "Lost Generation" of transgenders I've mentioned in earlier posts.   Rigid notions about gender identity, and the mistaken notion that it's intertwined with one's sexual orientation, were reinforced for those who managed to get treatment and transition.  Those, like me, who transitioned later in their lives are not seen as "true" transgenders by such people and those who treated them.  This is one more reason why it's been difficult to pass on the lessons previous generations of trans people learned--and, perhaps, the ones they might have unlearned in a more tolerant environment.

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