And I’ll put all my possible biases up here, up front, in bold:
I was a psych major. I am (as soon as I get my ass in gear) going to grad school for clinical psychology. Stumbling on psychology actually changed my life and got me re-engaged in learning at a moment when I more than likely would have dropped out of school.
I am a queer woman of color. I’m brown, in a place and time where being brown automatically makes me a “terrorist.” I currently don’t code for gender easily, so I’m automatically a “freak.”
I have so much love for queer women, and women of color, and queer women of color, that sometimes I can’t breathe. I have so much righteous rage on behalf of queer women, and women of color, and queer women of color, that sometimes I can’t breathe.
OKAY. Now that that’s out of the way. Here’s the deal about psychology and queer folk: psychology spent, oh, almost its entire existence making queerness a disease. There have been various iterations of “deviance” used to refer to any type of queerness. Let’s not go into how those listings of deviance were used to inflict horrific “treatments” (read: torture) on queer people in the name of a “cure.” Ethics codes for psychological studies and treatments were only put in place in the mid-80s. It was only in 1986 that the psych “bible” fully removed homosexuality from its listing of mental pathologies.
Dude. 1986. Less than 30 years ago. We had a man on the moon before psychology figured out that being queer wasn’t a mental deficiency and that people should probably be treated with some type of decency. ON THE MOON.
Honestly, if anybody needs more context for why psychology should not be the go-to when dealing with queer folk, I don’t know how to help.
ON THE MOON.
Now, psychology and women of color, that one’s easy. According to psychology, women of color don’t exist. No, I’m not exaggerating. Every “foundational” study included in psychology textbooks—all right, 95% of the foundational studies—uses a “representative sample” of white men. Of the five or six textbooks I’ve used in the past five years, all of them compress studies about women and people of color into one chapter.
One single chapter in textbooks of an average 800 pages deals with possible quantifiable behavior in women and people of color.
What any statistician worth their salt will then tell you is that it is therefore impossible to extend the results of foundational studies to the population at large, because the sample set itself does not represent the population at large.
I repeat: women of color do not exist to psychology in its present form.
Psychology as a “science” is in its infancy. Seriously: infancy. They’ve only just started using MRI techniques to observe the differences between a depressed brain and a “normal” brain. MRIs, by the way, have been around since the 70s. So obviously psychology is way dedicated to being on the cutting edge of things. < / sarcasm. >
Any psychologist who is honest about their field will say that psychology is, at present, a compilation of observations of human behavior. It is the softest of soft sciences—well, there’s sociology, but let’s not go there. It intertwines with neurology but it is not neurology, because a great deal of human behavior does not boil down to synapses, neurotransmitters and myelin content.
Bluntly: we are making this shit up as we go.
This is not to say that psychology offers nothing, but I can promise you that when anyone is less than honest about where psychology stands, intellectually, they are not interested in offering anything besides judgment.
If your argument boils down to “Psychology is study of the mind, so why can’t we apply it to queer women of color? They have minds!” the answer is simple: what psychology “knows” about the mind comes from compiling observations (which themselves can be inherently biased) of white men. For the most part, these white men were hetero, as well as of a uniform social class: smack dab in the middle.
You wouldn’t use an algebra textbook to do your chemistry homework, would you?
This isn’t to say that some day, psychology might have something to offer the queer WOC community. I really hope so—I’m about to devote my life to this thing, after all. But right now? Keep the DSM—any iteration of it—away from us. It’s harmful.
What psychology does currently offer is the opportunity to establish a space to observe one’s own behavior and extrapolate meaning and patterns from it. Yes, I’m talking about therapy. (I will put in the caveat that in situations where there is a neurological disturbance, therapy is probably not an answer. Medications that regulate neural activity are a better choice. In some situations, medication and therapy in combination are the best option.)
Here’s the deal with therapy: to be truly effective, it must be voluntarily entered and co-operatively directed. That is to say, the patient must want to be there. And the therapist must not, under any circumstances, pretend like they know how it has to go. There’s nothing has to about therapy; the therapist and the patient decide together to try out different options to see what works best for the patient in terms of gaining perspective and acceptance.
Effective therapy is an intense conversation in a safe space at regular intervals. Effective therapy does not pathologize what the patient is feeling or experiencing. Effective therapy treats every emotion as real and legitimate. Effective therapy then tries to get to the root of that emotion, so the patient can figure out what the trigger is and how to adapt from there.
Whatever, all of that goes to a whole other subject. Here’s the point: DSM-based psychology makes no room for queer women of color, so queer women of color need not make room for it. HOWEVER: should a queer woman of color choose to seek psychological help, that is her prerogative and her right. Psychology can offer her something, but absolutely no one—trained or not—has the right to sit somewhere in the world and diagnose that woman because they think her behavior fits x y and z criteria. Those criteria pretend that she doesn’t exist, so they cannot be applied to her. If they are applied to her, the application mandates that they then acknowledge her existence, which then means that the criteria themselves are wrong. Ergo, they cannot exist in the same space.
Furthermore, behavior is not cognition and if said woman is not willingly talking to you about her cognition and you are not willingly listening, you don’t know jack about her.
In sum: back off my people, and back off my field. You’re disrespecting one and blatantly lying about the other and I won’t tolerate it.