Gender differences are suddenly a front-burner concern for citizens of Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia—possibly frightened because of the Supreme Court decision last year that gave the right to marriage to same-sex couples (Liptak, 2015). Their particular concerns about gay, lesbian, and transgender people have led to passing laws that have drawn reactions nationwide.
In Mississippi, companies such as Tyson Foods, MGM Resorts International, Nissan and Toyota, all major employers in the state, have raised objections to the law signed by Gov. Phil Bryant. The far-reaching legislation allows individuals and institutions like churches, religious charities and privately held businesses to decline services to gay people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs on marriage and gender (Mele, 2016).
North Carolina Law Bars Transgender People
The North Carolina law “bars transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the sex on their birth certificates” (Mele, 2016). Because of Gov. Deal’s veto of Georgia’s so-called “religious liberty bill,” we narrowly escaped state-sponsored bigotry ourselves. To me, this simply underscores the ignorance and strange attitudes that exist surrounding human biological characteristics and the relationships of these characteristics to a spectrum of other associated human attributes.
Thus when I refer to gender differences, I conceptualize a sub-set of all human differences. I envision these gender differences along a spectrum of characteristics that people have typically limited to simple notions of male and female. But, where do we draw the lines?
In truth, we are all naturally curious about other humans and how they look and behave. We have observed and/or heard about all manner of people in our lifetimes, from those who seem to look like us and adapt well to day-to-day activities and conflicts, to those who are different and whose behavior is dangerous, problematic, or puzzling. We have all formed opinions about others ourselves, based on our own experiences—coupled with public opinion. In fact, what we consider appropriate or inappropriate largely relates to public opinion.
Gender Differences Not Fully Understood
Over the years, discussion about gender differences, esp. those outside a heteronormative worldview, has gone underground because of censorship, which of course is related to public opinion. Now, gender differences have suddenly become a critical social issue, even though obviously genderqueers have been around since the beginning of recorded history. Do you think The Danish Girl (Hooper, 2015) contributed to the urgency of this perceived public problem?
First, considering the fact that all of humanity is not fully understood in societies gives rise to fear and distrust in many for how to think about “the other”—that particular person or group that is beyond their experience, e.g., queer or otherwise different. Sometimes these differences have led to marginalization because people think of them as disabled or dysfunctional or scary. Any number of physical, intellectual, emotional, and/or psychological variations may cause individual functional limitation or impairments; however, these do not necessarily lead to disability unless society fails to take account of, and include, people regardless of their differences.
Defining a “Problem” of Gender Differences
Next, and consequently, human differences may be considered as a “problem.” Thus the person who has characteristics that are outside recognized norms is in danger of unjustified social limitations. Further, simply how a problem is defined or the particular tools available to manage it dictates its solution. (“If your only tool Is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.”)
In our movie this month, Einar/Lili pursues a consultation with medical doctors for help with gender identification. This reveals that in his/her context, she and Gerda have defined this distressing condition as a potential medical problem.
The following are three ways that people typically define individual human systems dysfunction:
- Psychiatric problem: crazy, mental disorder, mentally disturbed
Mental disorders are usually defined by a group of attributes: how a person behaves, feels, perceives, and thinks.
- Medical problem: physically disabled, a medical model of disability:
“the result of a physical condition intrinsic to the individual (it is part of that individual’s own body), may reduce the individual’s quality of life, and cause clear disadvantages to the individual” (Medical Model of Disability,2008, p. 718). Once a condition is classified as medical, a medical model of disability tends to be used in place of a social model. Medicalization may also be termed ‘pathologization’ or (pejoratively) ‘disease mongering'(Medicalization. 2017, Oct 23).
- Religious-belief or faith problem: sinful, acting against God’s laws
When a condition is classified as religious problem, it may further be classified as a physical, metaphysical, or moral evil.
By the way, regarding terms and definitions, I didn’t realize until recently the distinctions that the LGBT community makes regarding the destructive nature of certain terminology. Both the Associated Press and The New York Times restrict usage of the term ‘homosexual’—a word whose clinical history and pejorative connotations are routinely exploited by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians and gay men are somehow diseased, or psychologically and emotionally disordered.
The editors have also established rules against the use of inaccurate terminology such as “sexual preference” and “gay lifestyle” (GLAAD, 2013). It would be good for all of us to become familiar with these distinctions so that we might not be guilty of promoting hurtful prejudice.
The Problem Represented in the Movie
Now, let’s look at how the gender identification problem is represented in The Danish Girl, particularly regarding Einar/Lili’s diagnoses. First, a medical doctor treats him with radiation, but it is not clear why. Then, a psychiatrist weighs in, at which time the diagnosis becomes schizophrenia, and in that scene, he barely escapes the men in white coats pursuing him with a straitjacket. If he had been shown to consult with a priest, would the treatment have been exorcism to cast out his demons or evil spirits? If a pastor, would the treatment be to shun him until or unless he repents and remains celibate (Ben, 2013; Denison, 2014)?
Lack of information and/or understanding can produce all kinds of responses thought to be helpful (or hurtful), but this movie depiction simply underscores a societal misunderstanding that still exists (Sasson, 2015).
Psychopathia Sexualis (Krafft-Ebing, 1886) is said to be the first scholarly attempt to shed light on human gender differences, and this book is available for reading thanks to the Guttenberg Project and the Internet Archive.
Krafft-Ebing proposed a theory of homosexuality as biologically anomalous and originating in the embryonic and fetal stages of gestation, which evolved into a ‘sexual inversion’ of the brain (Richard von Krafft-Ebing. 2017, Jun 22).
The Fallacy of Assignable Gender is a more recent contribution from an author who has lived through the experience herself (Bradford, 2007).
The focus of The Fallacy of Assignable Gender is gender identity conflict. … The condition is examined from the perspectives of medical science, religion, political theory, the arts, and others. Perhaps as compelling as the nature of the condition is society’s reaction to it.
The Bradford work appears to be a courageous book that is worthy of our reading.
Medicalization is the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions, and thus become the subject of medical study, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment.
Ben. (2013, Nov 25). A gay Christian responds to Stanton Jones’s article. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/november-online-only/honest-questions-about-same-sex-attraction.html
Bradford, B. (2007). The Fallacy of Assignable Gender. Englewood, FL: Transcendent Publications.
Debruge, P. (2015, Sep 2). Venice Film Review: ‘The Danish Girl’ Retrieved from https://variety.com/2015/film/festivals/the-danish-girl-film-review-eddie-redmayne-1201586696/
Denison, J. (2014, Mar 24). World Vision board reverses same-sex marriage stand. Retrieved from https://www.denisonforum.org/cultural-commentary/998-world-vision-board-reverses-same-sex-marriage-stand
Denison, J. (2014, Mar 26). World Vision’s same-sex marriage stand: what does God think? Retrieved from https://www.denisonforum.org/cultural-commentary/997-world-visions-same-sex-marriage-stand-what-does-god-think
GLAAD Media Reference Guide – AP & New York Times Style (2013). Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/reference/style
Hooper, T. (Director, Producer). (2015). The Danish Girl [Motion Picture]. USA: Focus Features.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia Sexualis, with especial reference to the antipathic sexual instinct, a medico-forensic study (12th ed.). New York: Rebman.
Liptak, A. (2015, Jun 26). Supreme Court ruling makes same-sex marriage a right nationwide. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage.html
Medical Model of Disability. (2008). In W. Kirch (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Public Health (p. 718). New York: Springer.
Medicalization. (2017, Oct 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Medicalization&oldid=806685925
Mele, C. (2016, Apr 12). In North Carolina and Mississippi, backlash grows over rights law. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/us/north-carolina-mississippi-gay-rights-boycott.html
Richard von Krafft-Ebing. (2017, Jun 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Richard_von_Krafft-Ebing&oldid=786966228
Sasson, E. (2015, Apr 27). America has not reached a transgender tipping point. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/121653/bruce-jenner-interview-cox-photos-not-transgender-tipping-point
Schounov, S. (2015). Eros and identity meet again in Copenhagen, in The Danish Girl. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/movies/eros-and-identity-meet-again-in-copenhagen-in-the-danish-girl.html
Spong, J. S. (1992). Was the Apostle Paul gay? Retrieved from https://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2004/04/Was-The-Apostle-Paul-Gay.aspx