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Order, disorder, out of order

  • Posted on December 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Order and disorder are at the heart of gender perception. Putting things in order, arranging them in a logical or predictable way, means tidiness and ease of retrieval. Something is there when you want to find it, and when you are looking in the right place you don’t find something unexpected instead.


Order is the way we don’t lose things. But if ever you have worked with databases (and I suppose if you haven’t, even a book with an index is a database) you come to realise that a table of contents isn’t enough. Order is complex, and most real-life databases are relational: in other words there are different kinds of relationships involved in their ordering, because there are different reasons for finding the same thing, and sometimes several things possibly meet the initial requirement. These relationships are: one-to-one – my cat is Suki, Suki is my cat. One-to-many – my Suki is a black cat, not all black cats are my Suki. Many-to-many – there are lots of cats called Tiddles, of all colours. Being too simple can be complicated: where shall I keep this key? With all keys in a key drawer? Or in a jar near where it is used? Or in my pocket because then it is always where it is needed? Or in the door, because security isn’t an issue and it saves time? What I want is for the key to be in all places (associated with keys in general, associated with the particular door, on my person in case I am outside), and that is why there are so many ‘see also’s in book indexes.

We are often very simplistic in ordering people too, according to our own need. This is the reason for racial segregation, for sex discrimination, why we stick to a particular religion, and why we have nationalist terrorists. It’s all about simple right order. Oh, and it’s why we name disorders, so they too become ordered. We love order, we need order, and we do so hate order to change – it is so disorienting.

Even I like order, and prefer it to disorder, but it does mean putting me in the ‘wrong’ place, compared with where I used to be, and that confuses. Where is that key? I’ve always kept it in the jar, and it’s not there! And yet when you find it, it is the right key, it is the same key. Someone may have borrowed it, put a useful coloured tab or keyring on it, it may have got rusty, but it still works. Where it is, how it is described or tagged, matters a whole lot less than what it is. It just helped you feel sure where to find it in the simplest possible way.

Unless you order your keys by coloured tabs, rather than the doors they open, that is. And I do so hate yellow tabs, they don’t go with anything I wear.


I have a disorder, it seems. Officially it used to be called gender identity disorder, now gender dysphoria. But it has to be a disorder so that an orderly diagnosis can be written down, and so that in many parts of the world, insurance funding for the right medical support can be given. It must be one of the few disorders that is diagnosed as psychological and put in order solely by physiological intervention. So we cannot even properly locate the disorder.

My disorder means that my 56-year history of being here was described in some respects in the wrong way. I have always been dropped in the male jar, with male keys, and now I live in a prettier box, some people mislay me. It might be a pronoun mistake, it might be a deliberate misuse of the name I used to have, and which is legally no longer mine. Or it might be that I am staring them in the face but, because I am in the wrong order, they cannot see me – or that I am in a place they would rather not look because of what they think I am associated with! Order is actually as much what we are accustomed to and like, as what is right or best. Don’t we all keep something in a quite illogical place but never lose it? I don’t really have a disorder at all. In fact I am very ordered; I just place myself in order (the best I can find) according to my preference, not yours.

And this is why people who are differently-gendered generally do not like the term ‘disorder’.

Loss of order

The worst thing that can happen in the orderedness of a relational database (where one tag can belong to many things) is not that a tag gets lost, but that it gets confused with another and things become insufficiently distinguished and separable. How do you know, if you start retagging and reclassifying from scratch, that you are putting the order back the way it was? I am not about to say that order does not matter, only that our gender tags are in many-to-many relations, and that ideas of gender order and disorder are not as simple as we have come to like. But we are so afraid of losing that unique tag, and the whole thing falling apart! It is a very conditioning fear too.

We are all in a conditioned place, where I am incredibly comfortable with myself in a way I never was, but where things are a bit awkward when people think I am still disordered (see De Facto, Defect or Defector). And because others are conditioned too, it does not matter to some that the key still fits the lock. The tag is the wrong colour. And the consequence of that is that I am not in the jar any more, and if I am in the pretty box, it is better not to use me.

Official order out of order

This month has seen more furore over the American Psychiatric Associations’s ‘bible’, the revised fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Love of, and some necessity of, order has led to a limited amount of reorganisation of gender identity disorder (GID) into gender dysphoria, and removing it from the section on sexual disorders. But imagine you are born with a dysfunctional limb and you are defined and diagnosed as having a psycho-appendicular disorder? And instead of being sent to a bone specialist you are sent to a psychiatrist? That’s what my sense of gender is like: I do not have a mental disorder. I have a problem with the way my body developed.

Next week I visit a gender identity clinic for the first time. It has taken an inordinately long time to get to this first appointment, and my body has been changing nicely in the meantime, and I have retreated a long way from the edge of the big black inviting pit my mind was sometimes dragged towards. I am OK now, thank you, and I like the way my body is responding. I am very ordered. The clinic? Part of a Mental Health trust. My appointment? With a psychiatrist.