In 2008, a study on the gender identity and sexual orientation of 25 girls was published. The title of this study is: "A follow-up study of girls with gender identity disorder". The use of the term "disorder", which implies that identity issues are disorders, has been (rightly) questioned. But the authors of the study rejected the criticism because of its focus on "politically incorrect language." In doing so, the authors overlooked the possibility that language can shape research questions, methodology, interpretations and their impact.
Cisgender language can be used to dehumanize, silence and erase.
Homophobia, a subject still relevant today
Insults, physical and sexual violence on homosexual or transgender people are unfortunately still in order around the world. This obviously results in sometimes dramatic consequences. Gay and lesbian people are more likely to suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and drug abuse or dependence.
A long story
The oppression that people suffer because of their gender identity or orientation is not new. Around 1914, a first scientific phase in the history of homosexuality began: the aim was to prove the existence of homosexuality by establishing parameters that would distinguish it from other forms of sexuality. The 1950s marked a turning point in the perception of homosexuality, as sexual morality became more liberalized. Science tries as best it can to trivialize homosexuality. In 1972, the term homophobia, coined by Weinberg, appeared for the first time. He defines it as "the fear of being in the vicinity of homosexuals, and in the case of homosexuals, self-loathing". This term is an important tool for activists because it tips the balance: the term is not aimed at homosexuals, but at the fact that they are not accepted. In December 2000, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a set of guidelines for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, affirming the profession's position that homosexuality is not a mental illness. However, some contemporary researchers continue to advocate sexual conversion therapies.
Thinking Bias - When Science Lacks Rigor
The fact that some psychologists still see homosexuality or transidentity as a pathology is a real problem when we know how important the role of psychologists is: they are considered leaders in the fight against discrimination towards transgender people. Yet they are not immune to bias, and even in science it is impossible to be completely objective. Heterosexual and cisgender normativity leads researchers to think in terms of heterosexuality. As a result, they ignore, invalidate, or denigrate the behaviors and sexual orientation of homosexual and transgender people.
Because of their prominence, mental health professionals are the most likely to both pathologize patients and contradict their own understanding of themselves. Their biases can have great consequences for the treatment of transgender people. This is particularly true for transgender children: unlike adults, they do not have the legal right to make autonomous decisions, and access to hormone blockers generally requires assessment and approval by mental health professionals, even in countries where adult hormone pathways are available outside of mental health settings.
However, recent psychological approaches suggest a shift in the right direction, from defining gender variance as a pathology to defining it as a natural phenomenon. Dr. Herbert Schreier, a child psychologist based at Oakland Children's Hospital and Research Center, has described "gender variance" in children as "when they become more aware of what it is to be themselves. Therapist Diane Ehrensaft has helped some children gain social recognition of their self-designated gender, does not believe parents should try to change their child's behavior, and does not see the transgender person themselves as dysfunctional.
"The goal is for the child to be well-adjusted, healthy, and to have a good sense of self-worth."
But perhaps the greatest scientific advance is the arrival of affected people in research, and the increased visibility of these people. Thus, some problems of bias due to heteronormativity can be corrected, and young gay, lesbian, bi or trans people have examples of people who look like them in the scientific field.
Image from left to right : Lynn Conway, Russe Sonya Kovalevsky and Margaret Mead
Among these figures we can mention the Russian mathematician Sonya Kovalevsky, the first woman to obtain a doctorate in mathematics in Europe, the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, whose thoughts nourished the feminist, sexual liberation and anti-colonial movements, or the computer scientist Lynn Conway, presented on International Women's Day.
"If we allow people to flourish and give them the freedom to be who they really are, we generate health. And if we try to restrict it [...], we generate poor mental health."
Ansara, Y. Gavriel, and Peter Hegarty. "Cisgenderism in psychology: Pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008." Psychology & Sexuality 3.2 (2012): 137-160.
Herek, Gregory M. "Beyond “homophobia”: Thinking about sexual prejudice and stigma in the twenty-first century." Sexuality Research & Social Policy 1.2 (2004): 6-24.
Parker, Richard Guy, and Peter Aggleton, eds. Culture, society and sexuality: a reader. Psychology Press, 1999.