Mental Illness is a Political Construct
Something which we have lost is the knowledge that mental illness and psychiatry is by and large a political question. I know a lot of people who SHOULD be allies with psych survivors sort of ridicule us and ask if we’re taking our meds or start talking about worrying I’m going to chase them around with a knife. And sure, it may seem easy to dismiss the human rights concerns of persons who have had a psychotic episode in their lifetime. But psychiatry REALLY truly is a tool of social control, and I’m going to try and demonstrate that by talking about a few things which either were once classified as mental illnesses, or are still classified as mental illnesses. All of the following “illnesses” are specific to minority people.
Life on Mars by David Bowie
David Bowie was openly gay at this time, 1973 is also the first year homosexuality was removed as a mental illness from the DSM. I know, Bowie is with Iman now, but at the time he was one of the first people in the public spotlight to be so overtly queer. There are still people in the gay and lesbian community who can tell you horror stories of lengthy hospitalization, heavy tranquilizers, and electric shock treatment designed to cure their homosexuality, not to mention “aversion therapy”. And we still have “straight camps” where overtly religious parents send their queer offspring to be “cured” of queerness, places where you are basically incarcerated. I was reading the rules of a straight camp once and they were so weird, no Abercrombie and Fitch and no Calvin Klein? So yeah, it’s really only very recently that homosexuality was considered a regular form of sexuality under the political framework of the DSM. And THAT only happened because the gay liberation movement was in full swing at this time period.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream Speech
Drapetomania was a form of mental illness specific to run away slaves, basically, the reasons slaves ran away was because they had a mental illness known as Drapetomania. The treatment for drapetomania was whipping and toe amputation. Like a lot of things, slavery became legalized under the correctional system by making felonies out of crimes typically performed by black people, such as hog stealing. Now felonies are drug based, and black men still perform unpaid labour in penitentiaries. Black men are also more likely to be diagnosed schizophrenic. By the way, at the time of this speech by Martin Luther King Jr, the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment was going on, and would continue for the next nine years. Some people say Martin Luther King Jr also had a mental illness, I don’t know enough about that to comment.
Ben injects testosterone
“Gender Dysphoria” is still considered a mental illness under the DSM, and all gender transitions involve psychiatric assessments. Treatment is through hormones. Ironically, when I was talking with other friends who were transitioning, the general consensus was that to get approved for treatment you had to prove you had NO mental illnesses at all. I’m not sure I would get approved for testosterone treatment because of my previous hospitalization. Yep, I can be denied a gender change because of my illness, and yet gender change is an illness. Confusing as hell. I know a lot of transfolk are agititating to remove gender dysphoria from the DSM, but there are some who are aligned with the rest of us and question if that’s the best tactic. It is a divide and conquer question really.
Sadomasocism is also still considered a mental illness under the DSM. I didn’t find what they considered the appropriate treatment, although I’m sure in the past it involved genital mutilation. Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis has a case in it of a young girl who masturbated and was subjected to clitoral excision. By the way, tying your lover up, EVEN with silk scarves instead of bondage rope, is still a BDSM activity. So is biting. So are a lot of things people don’t realize. My god, fisting was still considered BDSM! By the way, people with this “mental illness” such as myself should really check out Mr. S if they are ever in San Francisco, it’s like the Superstore for leather folk and you can buy wonderous things.
So there you have it, some things about mental illness you didn’t know. I don’t really consider ANY of the above things to be mental illness, in fact I am most of the above things. But maybe it will explain to people who listen to psychiatrists too readily that it has a history of being a form of social control and oppression more than a real medical practice.
And now I will end this Youtube illustrated rant against the DSM with my favorite little cartoon character, Kogepan, a burnt bun. In this episode he talks about how he got burnt, and what that means to him. I think it says a lot about how I feel about my psychotic episode and it’s aftermath.
Kogepan Episode 5