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Mary Walker Baron

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Living in the Wake of a Disease That Never Existed

Posted: 12/27/2012 4:00 pm

Physicians treat disease by isolating symptoms and prescribing curative approaches to those symptoms hoping for a return to pre-morbidity. Once a condition is labeled "disease," it warrants treatment. That's the way it goes in our medical models of health care.

Living in the shadow of this medical model, imagine discovering, in adolescence for example, that you suffered from a disease -- and that you had, in fact, suffered from this disease since birth. The particular disease from which you suffered was "homosexuality," for which there must in the medical model be a cure even though no cause had yet to be identified and the symptoms were primarily feeling feelings and exhibiting behaviors found by those proclaiming you "sick" to be irritating and inexplicable.

This new medical modeled information would possibly explain some things for you. It might, for example, explain why so many people appeared to despise you. Diseases are like that, it seems. People don't want to be around them and certainly not around people who "suffer" from them. They -- either the disease or the person with the disease -- might be contagious. Thus we created sanitariums and hospital quiet zones and even remote islands of respite -- to remind ourselves as well as the diseased that separation is the essence of care.

As a distinct medical modeled concept, homosexuality is relatively recent. The German word homosexualität first appeared in a pamphlet published in Leipzig in 1869. The word homosexual did not even enter the English language for another twenty years when modern medicine and especially psychiatry began calling it an illness and especially a mental illness. This new classification and elevation of homosexuality to a categorized disease tossed barrels and barrels of fuel onto the already fierce flames fanned by religious dogma and social fanaticism. Jumping headlong into those flames was the newly-empowered "homophobia" and the fire blazed out of control with laws ensuring that society be protected from the scourge of this not only moral outrage but now classifiable disease which, of course in the medical model, warranted treatment.

And so it came to pass that in adolescence you discovered the name of the disease from which you apparently suffered. This new information about the status of your health -- or rather the status of disease from which you just learned you suffered -- explained a lot of things but couldn't help you live a vibrant and proud life because despite horrific and horrifying attempts at cure, there appeared to be no panacea for your medical modeled predicament. You learned to hide the status of your health. You either pretended you were disease-free or flew in the face of polite society, announced your disease, and suffered the consequences of daring to live your life in spite of your now-obviously-compromised physical, mental and, of course, moral and spiritual well-being.

Time passed and scientific inquiry and logic at least in the disease of "homosexuality" began to prevail. At the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives in August 1987, the inclusion of "homosexuality" in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) was rejected and all APA members were urged to no longer use any ICD or DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) codings.[1] And on May 17, 1990, when it approved the new version of the World Health Organization's ICD-10, the World Health Assembly removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told the United Nations in May 2012, "Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure." And yet you were left recovering from the ravages of a disease that never existed but that everyone accused you of bringing on yourself. Very few people either wanted to or were capable of tossing your voluminous and completely bogus medical records into the trash and embracing you as a person who was always excitingly, beautifully without blemish.

Almost as quickly as you discovered you suffered from a disease named even by the World Health Organization, you discovered the disease no longer existed -- had, in fact, never existed. There were no apologies offered by the medical establishment. No one came to you and said, "Sorry we empowered the religious and moral fundamentalists to demonize you even further. Sorry we became accomplices in deepening the stigma so long stamped on your lives." No. No one came to you. Instead, the medical community simply removed your disease from its roll

It's all too easy to label as diagnostic any facet of the enormously complicated gamut of human emotion and behavior we do not understand or do not endorse. This is especially true in these days of increased anger and violence and fear. The harm done by these labels wounds us all.

References:

[1] Fox, R.E. (1988) Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1987: Minutes of the Annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 43, 508-531.

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