In my work, I often hear terrible bullying stories. The consequences carry over to adulthood and are often devastating. Bullying is a powerful way to deal with the anxiety that arises when someone’s differences make the bully uncomfortable. The story told below in the form of a letter is an example of bullying as well as our society’s tendency to judge, label, and discriminate against anyone who is not “normal”—whatever that means. I have known this patient for a couple of years. Martha is an incredibly pleasant and gracious person, and I had no idea that this was her story. Dear Dr. Hanscom, Long, long ago, there was a “boy” born with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) who was really a girl, even down to having a uterus and ovaries, albeit atrophied. This “boy” was mis-assigned to “male” at birth, because it was 1948; doctors and parents were ignorant to inter-sex or transsexual issues, and so, as time progressed, the “boy” was mercilessly bullied and beaten until, in 7th grade, the principal asked that the child be removed from school. With lawyers and psychiatrists making their blood money off of the event, and a storm of press in the local papers, this came to pass. At 15, I ran away from home and began to live as a female. At 28, after saving enough money, I had a vaginoplasty performed. It was only three years ago that I learned I was born with AIS. But I had the transsexual experience and, even now at 66, being a highly respected and successful pianist and composer, I lose work if someone finds out about that “boy.” Now I am a very happy woman. I am also very lucky. I am engaged and will be married in September. I love this man more than anyone I’ve ever met. He also has a “back-story” that deals with gender, exclusion, bullying, and stigma. If you know anything about transsexuals, you know that, in the US, the average rate for suicide is 45% and the average life span is a mere forty years. An entire “Day of Remembrance” has been set up to “honor our dead” (go to http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/honor-transgender-day-remembrance), and books have been written about the stigma and the obscene waste of human life. In other more educated, civilized, less Christian, “binary-sexed” countries, the suicide rate falls to within normal averages. We have been marginalized, called insane in the DSM, excluded by the gay and lesbian community, and denied treatment by doctors of every stripe. Physicians and surgeons will even mock the trans person, making jokes in the ER and the operating room, even as they give that person “care”—that is, IF they consent to give that person care. We have been denied housing, and we have been fired from jobs when we are “outed.” We have been victims of “economic apartheid” and “economic genocide” (a startling term now used by economist Paul Krugman). We have been hunted, beaten, raped, and murdered, while the perpetrator often walks free or gets minimal jail-time. Our history is filled with the dread of exposure. Those of us brave enough to stand for our own parity risk our lives every day. I am one such brave woman. I thought that you might like to mention this in your studies. It is a fact of life for millions of women and men around the world. THANK YOU! May love follow you, Martha . Sameness What if we were all exactly the same, all “normal?” I cannot imagine a more boring existence. It would be similar to being a drone in a beehive. Yet instead of accepting and being curious about each other’s differences we are more intent on comparing, and using those comparisons to boost our own self-esteem. Have you ever bullied or discriminated against someone? Are you nice to the cashier who mistakenly gives you the wrong change or the waiter who is not having his or her best day? Do you truly value the homeless person sleeping in the street as your equal? How do you feel about others with different religious or political beliefs? How do you feel about someone with mental illness? Thirty percent of the population suffers from a major or minor depression. Eleven percent have a personality disorder. At least 20 percent of females have an eating disorder and the guys are rapidly catching up. Only one third of us were raised in an environment without abuse. Just what is normal? What makes someone normal or abnormal? Why are we so intent on imposing norms? Why should we care about an individual’s sexual orientation or how they choose to partner up with another? What matters is that the relationship is based on mutual respect, trust and love. Intellectually, you may have moved passed prejudice, but what do your actions reveal? “All men are created equal.” Does our society really embrace that concept? Do you? We pay lip service to it but are we acting like we do? It does not feel that way to me. Judgment is necessary Humans are judgmental as a necessary survival mechanism. We use it to assess safety and to determine who is competing with us for scarce resources. Additionally, the unconscious brain runs this process, which is one million times more powerful than the rational part of the brain. To get past this automatic process first requires awareness that all of us are judgmental and it gets worse if we try not to be that way. “Not being something” only reinforces it. I was in what I referred to as an “enlightened” phase a couple of years ago, at which time I determined that I was truly accepting and not judgmental. I wasn’t. My mood was not great, several of my Mind Body Syndrome (MBS) symptoms reappeared, and my wife certainly did not think I was that enlightened. I quickly realized that the first step in really accepting people as equals was to acknowledge the universal, automatic nature of being judgmental. Interestingly, I noticed that the traits I judge harshly in others are merely a reflection of what I judge myself on. Awareness is the first step in creating change. Understanding and connecting with this deeply etched in survival mechanism is critical. You may intellectually understand acceptance is important but what are your deep feelings and actions revealing? I challenge you to look at your attitudes and actions towards others and do your part to make the world a better place.