Seeking shelter under the umbrella of trans identity

Jason A. Michael
By | 2018-01-16T03:51:21-04:00 March 1st, 2007|Uncategorized|

FARMINGTON HILLS – Toni Caretto got her first glimpse of transgenderism early.
“When I was a teenager, growing up in Dearborn, I was babysitting for a family and the parents were getting divorced,” she recalled. “That was kind of scandalous back in the day. Then the wife started dating this woman, and that was super scandalous.”
When the wife’s girlfriend starting transitioning into a man, well, there just weren’t words in Caretto’s mind for that, nor enough expletives or adjectives to describe just how scandalous that was viewed at the time.
“That was my first experience with the trans community,” said Caretto. “It got me wondering and thinking about, so what is the difference between a lesbian and a trans man? I mean, I didn’t have those words for it back then. And that distinction and relationship between sexual orientation and gender identity continues to be something I think about every day.”
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Caretto is a licensed psychologist.
“I actually had an ad in Between The Lines, and there was someone who was looking to transition and basically was calling everyone with an ad in BTL asking, ‘hey, do you know anything about trans issues?’ Everyone had said no, and I said, ‘yeah.'”
Caretto took the caller on as a client, who in addition to seeing her continued to look for other medical resources for the trans community in the area. She found the University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services Program, and soon Caretto became involved with it herself.
“My unique status at this point is as the only therapist outside of Ann Arbor,” Caretto said. “I’m also really the only therapist with experience in treating children and adolescents with gender dysphoria.”
Caretto acknowledges that while that diagnosis is sometimes necessary, it’s not particularly comfortable to all, and it’s not always accurate. Nor is its companion, gender identity disorder (GID), any better.
“There’s actually a large debate about whether or not there should be a diagnosis, whether it should be called what it is, and whether or not gender should be part of that,” Caretto explained. “Really, it’s not dysphoria about one’s gender. It’s dysphoria about one’s anatomy. So is it really a psychiatric disorder or is it medical or is it societal? Much like it was for homosexuals pre-Stonewall and pre-1972, when [the medical community decided] that you couldn’t be diagnosed as homosexual. I think GID today is where homosexuality was at in the late 1960s, still seen as a psychiatric illness. The psychiatric part of it is really the stress of having to deal with a culture that doesn’t understand.”
That culture, said Caretto, sometimes includes gay folks.
“The lack of understanding is not just within the general population, but even within the gay and lesbian population,” she said. “A lot of trans people cant necessarily relate to gay people and, likewise, a lot of gay people just don’t get it. So the isolation is still a big obstacle. The lack of visibility and lack of education. I went to a very progressive and liberal graduate school, but there was nothing on trans issues.”
Still, the GID diagnosis can have it advantages, at least until something better comes along.
“The diagnosis does validate the need for medical services, particularly hormones and surgery,” said Caretto. “But for those who, say, identify as gender queer or some other place on the spectrum that might not want to make use of hormones or surgery, I’m all for people using their own terms to define themselves and not having to be labeled for some diagnosis that is of no use for them.”
Labels aside, if your trans and feel your mental health could benefit from counseling, visit Caretto online at www.betreatedwell.com, or call or visit the transgender concierge at Affirmations on Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m. for more resources.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.