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Diagnosing Difference (2010)
Directed by:  Annalise Ophelian
Distributed by:  diagnosingdifference.com
Run time:  64 minutes
Country:  U.S.A.

Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: January 01, 2011

The relationship between the transgender and medical communities is fraught by a conundrum. Physicians treat illness, yet the medical system makes them gatekeepers and providers of services such as hormone prescriptions and surgical interventions required by transgender people, many of whom do not consider themselves sick in the least. Even though transgender people are not sick, they are compelled to purchase services from a system that regards its customers as patients.

The current situation is unsatisfactory. In order to receive medical services and any available insurance coverage, trans people have to accept a psychiatric diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID), a putative mental disease defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, the bible of psychiatric diagnosis. For transgender people, the acceptance of a diagnosis of GID and the associated stigma of mental illness are prerequisites for much-needed medical care.


Miss Major
Diagnosing Difference features diverse voices of trans people in San Francisco and New York City who speak about the problems of securing needed treatment today and even injects a bit of history as Miss Major, an African-American elder, describes the way the girls she knew rehearsed for meetings with their doctor, Harry Benjamin (1885-1986), a San Francisco-based pioneer in providing medical services to transgender patients.

Such asides help humanize both the issues the film addresses and transgender people themselves, but Diagnosing Difference never loses its focus on diagnosis. In particular, the film explores differences within the trans community surrounding a major revision of the DSM scheduled for 2012. The trans community is divided about whether the pathologizing GID diagnosis should be included in the new DSM. Without some diagnosis, many trans people would be denied treatment they need, but some so resent the insult of the GID label that they would like to see it removed or replaced with a strictly medical diagnosis that would end the medical characterization of the trans community as mentally ill.

A portion of the film is devoted to the ordeal trans people, especially those who wish to surgically transition, must endure. The long, complex protocol is documented at the website of the World Professional Association of Trangender Health (www.wpath.org). Many trans people would vastly prefer that their doctors trust their judgment rather than subject them to a protocol that can take years to complete just to prove that they really are who they say they are and need the treatment they seek.

The film is edited with such quick cuts and so many interviewees that it is an almost immersive experience to watch, yet the key points are never lost. The quality of the video makes it surprising that it is psychologist and sex educator Annalise Ophelian's directorial debut. Masterful editing and professional cinematography merge seamlessly to tell a complex story in a way that succeeds in humanizing the issues it addresses and creating an engaging presentation of material that would sound bone dry if discussed in purely clinical terms.

Diagnosing Difference proposes no easy answers, but presents divergent and even opposed ideas about GID. As the film winds down, engaged viewers will experience a discomfiting feeling, wondering what action should be taken and what they can do to help resolve the tension between the medical and transgender communities. That malaise probably allows viewers to share transgender people's frustrations more directly than anything else in the film.

Diagnosing Difference is an excellent introduction to the experience of transgender people and the issues surrounding the GID diagnosis. The video is suitable for high school and college students as well as interested adult audiences.

Where to Find this Video

www.diagnosingdifference.com distributes Diagnosing Difference with pricing appropriate for consumers, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations.
 
Related Encyclopedia Entries
Benjamin, Dr. Harry
Documentary Film
Genderqueer
Psychotherapy
Sissy Boy Syndrome
Transgender
Transgender Activism
Transgender Issues in Education
Transgender Issues in the Law
About Wik Wikholm
Wik Wikholm is the publisher of glbtq.com. He is always on the lookout for engaging, informative documentaries about all aspects of glbtq life and culture. You can reach him here.

 

 

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