The Pathologization of Being Human

The doctor's office called - you have a bad case of identity

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Zapping away your identity - image by the author via Midjourney

In a previous article naming gender dysphoria as part of the typical human experience of developing and maintaining gender identity, I received several comments focusing on insurance coverage for treatment. In today's medical industry, my assertion could imply multiple outcomes.

If gender dysphoria is universal and normal, its treatment - that is, gender-affirming care - must be discontinued. After all, medicine doesn't treat healthy people. On the other side of the spectrum, if gender dysphoria is universal and pathological, the medical industry must treat any capricious comer who covets a cup size to breast augmentation.

To be clear, I believe neither result is warranted, and the responses underscored another observation. Some of my most vociferous opposition is from the people I help - my own transgender community. Many believe gender dysphoria is special - to be reserved only for us as our mark of being different from "normal" people.

I reject this belief, primarily because the longer we insist we are special, the longer we will wait to be accepted as the very normal sector of society we are. I am not different from any other human who feels discomfort in my social environment.

This belief, however, is not found only in the transgender community. What I sense is a general attitude I can only name the pathologization of being human. We - at least in Western society - prefer to consider typical and common human experiences not as normal, but as pathologies.

Science and the human machine

Western medicine claims scientists know the most about the human body today than ever before in written history. Yet we need only look around to observe we are also the least happy and healthy humans than ever before in written history.

Our health is stripped down to a profile of chemical concentrations we ought to have in our blood. And if we do not? We are sick and require treatment.

The focus on treatment - typically pharmaceutical - is a specific origin of the pathologization of being human. As opposed to observing and testing an individual human for function, Western medicine abstracts all humans into a range of concentrations every individual must measure up to.

The ranges themselves are empirical data - early USDA recommendations were derived from military personnel - people who labored physically an entire day in highly stressful environments. They were also designed to support the ailing US meat and dairy industries after the Great Depression.

Does a soldier's data apply to a software engineer who sits for the same duration per day? Is lifestyle always considered when treatment is devised? You can bet it is not.

To be clear, recommended values have changed over the years in response to new data. But politics has played its part as well - the recommendations for blood lipid concentrations have increased as Western patients have consistently failed to meet them. Don't fix the patient, Western medicine cries, fix the data and patients are cured by attrition.

Blood concentrations are gospel, even in obviously healthy (or unhealthy) people. According to modern science, the human body is a machine. We can tune the machine any way we choose. Even our psychology is predictable through our genetics.

Mental health and evolution

Previously, I described the failure of psychiatry to explain any malady whatsoever - including depression, the most widely studied mental health issue today. However, evolutionary psychologists believe experiences such as depression, anxiety, fear, and aggression provide evolutionary advantages. That is, their presence improved the probability that those who experienced them would reproduce more efficiently.

Is it difficult for scientists to decide whether an experience is positive or negative? Should an experience that perpetuates the human species be treated away? Would eradication of painful experiences hinder or benefit further evolution of the species?

In the article linked above, I generalized the evolutionary advantage of individual cognitive characteristics to apply to a society, claiming homosexuality and transgender also provide an evolutionary advantage to the society savvy enough to accept them as valuable human behavior. Because gender is developed in each human being, a society that respects a spectrum of experience is more likely to survive.

Transgender - and to a lesser extent, homosexuality - are grouped with depression and anxiety as disorders. They are all illnesses. Today, simply being human is pathological.

Our body chemistry must be perfect, we must not suffer any cognitive aberration, and we must not engage in recreational sex, but reproduce only as biological structure would dictate. To deviate is to be sick, and to require treatment. This attitude is the baseline in Western society.

We fear sickness. That is, we fear what scientists, politicians, and society consider sickness.

Fear of the perfectly healthy

We are caught in a vicious circle. Science labels us with illnesses of typical human experiences, and - not being capable of refuting the evidence - we blindly put faith in those who tell us what emotion, appearance, or experience is wrong.

But the prevailing issue that enables an industry to label us sick is a sense it's easier just to allow science and society to dictate who we are. Should we be rich, blonde, and thin? Should we be Johnny Football Star or Judy Cheerleader? Who are we to dispute?

We are reminded daily of our failures to live up to social expectations. This organized attack on personal identity begins with making us feel alienated from ourselves. It is perpetuated by a health care industry that confirms our sense of alienation is wrong.

We are chastised for missing the marks of social expectations, and we are chastised for feeling the guilt when we miss. We believe everybody else must be right, because a society full of wrong people would be wrong in itself.

It's a perfect setup: Western society creates the problem, then offers the cure.'s not a cure.

We aren't sick when we feel social pressures are too difficult to meet. We are experiencing exactly what any rational (dare I say sane?) person would feel. A sense of pain indicates something is wrong. But the absence of pain is not an indication of health.

Pain is truth

To tell a woman who pines for blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale hairless skin that she experiences nothing in the face of social pressure is worse than disingenuous. It is an outright lie intended to protect science and society, not the women who feel awful. They clearly suffer from gender dysphoria.

The purpose of pathologizing common experiences such as depression, anxiety, and developing gender is not to separate sickness from the human experience. It is to separate uncomfortable, unwanted, yet valuable ordeals from the human experience.

By pathologizing being human, we learn to fear our pain. Our pain is wrong, and that makes us wrong. We are assured society knows what's best for us, our government knows what's best for our country, and science is the only arbiter of truth. And yet...we languish in pain.

What is truth? The statistics of the USDA? The telephone polls of Harris Interactive? The bland speeches of nerds in lab coats?

Or is truth the pain we feel by being the person we know we are and want to be?

Let's get practical

Certainly, if insurance is to be effective, an objective standard for injury must be developed - ostensibly medical billing codes. Candidly, I don't know how to fix a health care system that continues to fail us.

But the first step to realizing humanity as a unit is not to discover how to eradicate every sense of discomfort for the duration of each human's life. It is to recognize humans have a broad range of experiences, all of which contribute to the people we are.

Pain sucks. Pain hurts. Pain disturbs an already tempestuous life. But pain also has value.

We are not wrong because we hurt. We hurt because we do something wrong. The answer is not to medicate away or ignore the pain. The answer is to evaluate our actions honestly and discover a course of action to address the pain.

Being honest with ourselves is certainly the more difficult path. But it is the only path toward a degree of health we control and approve.

You may not be sick. You may only just be normal.

Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.