We are in the middle of Pride week 33, 2022 here in Copenhagen. I’ve been helping with legal work for Fluid Festival, which has also been held this weekend. Fluid Festival celebrates with music, talks etc. the people whose relationship to sexuality goes under labels like trans and queer and probably many others that I just don’t know.
I have been reading Lucy Cooks’ book Bitch, which is about gender perceptions in the animal kingdom. The main point here is probably that although it is an indisputable biological reality that life can only arise if male and female gametes, sperm and eggs, meet and fertilise, there are no limits to how gender roles are distributed in the animal world. Everything is up for evolutionary negotiation. Moreover, these roles often change over time, not only in evolutionary time but also during the life of individual animals. Thus, sex and gender roles are very often fluid.
When one has a politically and philosophically liberal outlook, as I have, this evolution towards more fluidity, whether based on the logic of selfish genes or on the free will of human beings, is to be welcomed. The extension of the human right to self-determination is, as a clear starting point, a good thing.
So where do I go with this? Well, I was reading this morning a fascinating short story The Moving Target of Being by Suzanne Scanlon from the latest issue of Granta (thanks to @Lone Frank for bringing this excellent literary magazine to my attention, now snugly 10 years ago). Here the concept of fluidity is extended to people’s self-diagnoses of various mental illnesses from which they suffer (or perhaps don’t suffer).
Scanlon cites as an example the mental disorder multiple personality disorder, or MPD, where the number of diagnoses rose dramatically through the 1970s, 80s and well into the 1990s, following the publication of a popular book about a woman allegedly suffering from MPD. Following this mention of MPD, more and more patients (mostly women in the case of MPD) emerged claiming to exhibit these symptoms. Sometimes they had already made the MPD diagnosis themselves, sometimes doctors pushed them in that direction.
I guess you could say that similar trends are seen today with many new diagnoses such as gender disorders, AHDH, various forms of stress and anxiety, and others (which I admit to not having a clue about). Young people in particular are influenced by the zeitgeist – or we could call it fashion – and then “feel” that they have a specific mental disorder or belong to a particular gender. This may then not be supported by a medical and therefore objective diagnosis. If patients feel that they have this disorder, then this is crucial, especially in such a fluid area as mental illness.
The fluidity – and hence the parallel to fluidity within sex and gender roles – here consists in the fact that in a modern rich and tolerant society like ours we allow fluidity, also when it comes to mental health. Citizens are often encourage to alter between different illnesses based on their own free will (under substantial external influences from psychiatrists, commercial companies, opinion makers, influencers etc).
Personally, I think this is part of the progression towards a more liberal society.