what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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“Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” Documentary

Homelessness is a societal problem with many different implications for the homeless persons. To a degree in the United States, homelessness is now becoming illegal as is helping the homeless. For certain, a society can be judged how it treats its homeless, and in the United States, the legal establishment has not been kind to the homeless.

The documentary “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” focuses on several homeless persons who live in Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is a fifty block conglomerate of primarily single adult housing units and is a low economic area with arguably the nation’s largest homeless population. It was established by a court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles after it was found unconstitutional under the eight amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment that police could not destroy homeless camps in Skid Row because of the city’s housing shortage and thus the actions of the homeless could not be criminalized. Skid Row is a place of institutional proportions because it is also home to a large number of mentally ill persons. When the mental asylums were closed in the 1980’s by President Reagan, the policy toward the mentally ill became one of pharmaceuticals and little else support. The reason why so many people are homeless also have mentally health issues is because of the lack of community support, and in Los Angeles, many of them end up at Skid Row. Similarly, the Cook County Jail, LA’s jail, is also the largest mental health facility in the United States. The prevalence of jail and homelessness for the mentally ill makes logical sense since many cannot create the stability in order to lead productively healthy lives. Skid Row is an institution in and of itself for the mentally ill.

One of the characters the audience meets is Lee Anne, an eccentric old cat lady who cares for the cats and birds on Skid Row. She has a full shopping cart and a fiance who follows her around, a fellow by the name of K.K. Both share a mutually beneficially relationship by taking care and looking out for one another. K.K. remarks that to a degree, they have both chosen to be on the street. For him, he wanted to be “wild” and engaged in the drug lifestyle. For Lee Anne, she prefers to live outside despite having an apartment, K.K. reveals. Lee Anne has a mental illness where she collects trash, however, she seems to be one of the souls of Skid Row who is genuinely trying  to make it a better, more improved place to live by taking care of the animals. We meet Emanuel Compito, a man who voluntarily literally cleans up the streets of Skid Row with a broom and occasionally takes time to wash the streets with buckets of water. When the city continued to refuse to clean the streets, Compito took it upon himself to improve conditions for himself and his fellow Skid Rowers.

There is a great tension within the city of Los Angeles between the business owners, government leaders, and the advocates of  the homeless. People who are homeless exist because we live in a capitalistic society where peoples’ value and worth is measured  in financial terms. In capitalist societies, there are more people than jobs to create demand for jobs at the same time there is more available housing than there is people in the housing. Homelessness, theoretically, does not need to be a problem, it is the system it exists within that creates the problem. William J. Bratton was brought in to assist the city with “cleaning up” Skid Row. Bratton infamously helped “clean-up” New York City in the 1990’s. Bratton is a proponent of the “broken-windows” theory of policing that dictates that small quality of life policing is more conducive in the fight against crime and the chaos crime can bring. This means stopping people for simple violations and essentially taking a zero tolerance policy on law breaking. It means that the police become a large, unstoppable force with which there is no reckoning, and it wrecks devastation on the citizens it is enforced against. There is a disturbing scene when the police harass Lee Anne; she puts the contents of her cart and the belongings of other homeless folk in the street because the police informed her that they would be cleaning the street that day. In a chaotic exclamation of calamity, Lee Anne tries to salvage the belongings while managing to keep track of everything. She later finds out that she was being harassed by the police, that there was no street cleaning scheduled for that day and that because of the debacle some homeless people lost all their sleeping blankets. It is a scene that crystallizes the struggle of the homeless plight.

Bratton enforced quality of life arrests because it disproportionately puts pressure on the homeless person to live their lives in a way that does not favor their current lifestyle, the policy is intended to force these people out of homelessness as if many of them weren’t trying to begin with. For example, people violating the ordinance stating that no one can sleep on a city side walk can be fined up to $1,000, a sum of money a homeless person surely does not have.

Legally, the battle in the courts over homelessness is an issue of conduct versus status. That is, a homeless person may be protected under the law like in the Jones case against cruel and unusual punishment if they were left with no other alternative for their conduct and thus their status as a homeless person allows them more protection. However, the conduct of a homeless person for example lying on the street could be construed as illegal because of city ordinances or other public safety rules, therefore allowing the conduct to be criminalized. It is a chicken versus egg issue, one whose coin can be flipped depending on the judge or set of judges at trial. It is one in a barrage of examples of how the lives of the homeless are often left up to chance.

The film ends to remind us that:

skid row

From beginning to end “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” is a documentary that showcases the brilliance and resiliency of the human race. However, it reminds us that the comfort of our homes is one of our own making, that any one of us really can become homeless. We meet Danny Harris, a man at the beginning of the film, who won a silver medal in the Olympics for sprinting and became homeless on Skid Row. Life is filled with an endless amount of land-mines that must be navigated in order to continue. “Lost Angeles: Skid Row is My Home” is a documentary guaranteed to make one think of what makes life worth living and what the essence of humanity is.

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Writing About Mental Illness

In my post “Why Transgenderism Should Not Be Classified As A Mental Illness” I explored the heteronormative concepts that surround why “gender dysphoria” is considered a mental disorder. Most of these concepts are reactions to the emotional distress transgender individuals experience at the behest of society’s reaction to their true identities, and some of the concepts result from poor understanding of the difference between biological sex and socially determined gender. Certainly though, the mental health medical community has a lot of work to do bridging the discrepancy between how trans and gender diverse people are treated and how trans and gender diverse people should be treated. By labeling transgenderism as a mental illness, mental illness becomes misunderstood and more exaggerated than it already is.

In a heteronormative solipsistic mind, a person with a penis dressing in women’s clothing and proclaiming to be a woman would look “crazy”. A person with a penis calling themselves a woman would seem “crazy”. However, people who are trans are completely different from mentally ill people. Trans people have a unique identity whereas mentally ill people have a sickness that involves brain biochemicals and imbalances of those biochemicals.

Mentally ill people are not presented well in media. In The Dark Knight the nefarious perpetrators are all mentally ill weirdos who follow the Joker’s every commandment. Specifically, the schizophrenic character who plants a bomb in a prisoner is portrayed extremely “crazy”. But, “crazy” people would probably not follow the Joker; their minds would be too disorganized from being sick and they would be overwhelmed by the demands of a very dangerous man. The Joker might be able to manipulate mentally vulnerable people into thinking demented things, but as the movie portrays it, it would be very unlikely someone sick with schizophrenia would participate in such mayhem. The degradation that mentally ill people are portrayed with in The Dark Knight is common in Hollywood. Mental illness can present a lot of dramatic situations and can be a rife story line for a televisions show or movie. However, ableism typically fills in how the portrayed mentally ill person acts versus how mental illness actually impacts a person’s life.

Ableism is very seductive. It is a solipsistic concepts that purports that normal minds and bodies should meet certain standards and criteria in order to be considered worthy. Ableism affects the disabled, mentally ill, physically sick, and people with other kinds of challenges who find the standard of normalized health to be unreachable or who need that standard altered. Mentally ill people face abelism when they hear the word “crazy” because that word can be intended to degrade the very real symptoms of a variety of illnesses whose sufferers deserve the same respect as any other illnesses. Abelism can also cause discrimination against mentally ill people in workplaces, public spaces, and other environments. Mentioning being mentally ill can be enough to completely have one’s entire identity viewed differently.

I know because it has happened to me.

I struggle daily with bipolar disorder type II. Type II is less severe than type I, but it is still incredibly difficult to deal with. I have periods of time when I struggle with depression, hypomania (a less severe type of manic behavior), and mixed episodes. It is painful, humbling, sometimes humiliating, scary, upsetting, confusing, and every kind of daunting feeling of living with a life long illness one can possibly come up with. Us bipolar people have a suicide rate several times higher than the rest of the population for a reason; it simply makes living life so much more difficult.

There is still a lot of stigma against mental illness. Because of the instability it creates in our lives, there is a psyche against people with mental illness, an idea that we are somehow less capable individuals than our non-mentally ill counterparts. There is a lot of room to make fun of someone in the throws of an episode because sometimes mentally ill people do really strange things. I personally have been through this, and it is a horrible feeling to know that you are being made into a joke due to behavior you can’t control and don’t really understand. This happened before I was diagnosed, so my behavior was out of control in a particular way that made me act eccentric and erratic. I was trying to manage a barrage of uncomfortable feelings with the reality of the world, and in the end, the world smashed me. It was a very trying and difficult time, the onset of a mental illness is one of the worst times of the disease because the person suffering from it has no idea why this is happening. It was sudden but progressive, something I knew was coming and something I had no preparation for. My mind suddenly was broken and fixing it has not been accomplished yet. I have been suffering for years and only recently have I been able to make appropriate changes to accommodate my disease. It is difficult because mental illness does not want to be managed, it wants to take over every aspect of a person’s life and dominate them into it’s little puppet. Many people do no have the ability to overcome their mental illness because of the strength and severity. Some people cannot find enough hope to put in the incredibly difficult work recovery takes. These people are not worth any less, just like people losing the battle to cancer are not worth any less.

Mental illness takes courage and bravery to cope with. It is easy to get lost in sickness and despair. Like other mental accomplishments, little bits must be worked on every day in order to see results. People with mental illness are not defective human beings with less worth, we are part of the diverse fabric of humanity. Writing about mental illness takes compassion and understanding of the nuances of how the brain affects behavior. Words like “crazy” or “loco” or “lunatic” must be suppressed because of the extremely harmful nature these words have on those afflicted with mental illness.


Why Transgenderism Should Not Be Classified As A Mental Illness

A mental illness “is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom”. Currently, transgenderism is classified as a mental illness, it is called “gender dysphoria” by the DSM-5. However, it should be noted that what constitutes a mental illness has changed over time, for example, homosexuality was a mental illness until the 1970s. Essentially, “DSM-IV notes that “… although this manual provides a classification of mental disorders, it must be admitted that no definition adequately specifies precise boundaries for the concept of ‘mental disorder.’ The concept of mental disorder, like many other concepts in medicine and science, lacks a consistent operational definition that covers all situations. All medical conditions are defined on various levels of abstraction”.

With this in mind, there are clear mental illness. Afflictions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are real illnesses that impair, cause distress, and severely cause suffering for the person with the illness. However, manipulation of science for the benefit of overarching social norms is also a human phenomenon which has historically had tragic endings, such as classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. There is evidence to support the claim that there are biological components to transgenderism, as there are obviously biological components to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, to argue this is the entirety of a reasonable assertion that biological components equate a disorder is incorrect.

For some, being transgender is a disruptive experience. Most likely everyone has adjustments to make and changes to adhere to as a result of being transgender. For most, having mental illness is disruptive, and most everyone has to make adjustments and changes as a result of having a mental illness. However, similarities are not exactitude. For transgender children, most happily embrace their identity because they have not been conditioned to fear gender blending and transgenderism. For mentally ill children, most suffer and are in a level of pain because they are experiencing symptoms of serious illnesses.

Gender is a socialized institution. Sex is a biological component of an animal. One prescribed set of criteria exists for one sex and another for the other, however, that paradigm is incorrect and misleading itself. There are actually naturally many biological sexes, including intersexed persons, and there are many gender combinations that play off the diversity in natural biological sex. This has not yet been a legitimized concept within the heteronormative societal structure because it threatens the idea of the gender binary and that heterosexualism is the normative and default sexuality.

If variation in biological sex is natural, and gender is a social  construction, then how can it be logical that transgenderism is a mental illness? It makes much more sense to accept that transgenderism is a natural outgrowth of the diversity nature has to offer within the animal kingdom than to label it a mental illness. The upset and instability that transgender people may experience due to their identity has less to do with the chemicals in their brain and more to do with the nonacceptance transgender people experience in daily life.

Gender dysphoria supports itself as a mental illness by claiming sufferers are experiencing distress due to not being the opposite gender. While this may be true, it should theoretically be easy to transition into the other gender; the person dresses as that gender, adapts the mannerisms of that gender, and goes by a name identified with that gender. The experience many have, such as Caitlyn Jenner, is one of fear that they will not be accepted and rejected by others around them because of their gender identity, one which has been labelled as both abnormal and a mental illness. This then causes them distress and harm which then gets labelled as a mental illness.

The next goal of the trans movement must be to get “gender dysphoria” of the DSM-V because it is degrading to those who identify as transgender and disrespectful to those with legitimate mental illnesses; people should not be labelled as mentally ill just because they are different.

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What Transgenderism Is Part 2

In my last post, “What Transgenderism Is” I mistakenly stated that it is not viewed as a mental illness. It is called “Gender Identity Disorder” because it is viewed as a disruption of functional life, thus it is a disorder and classified in the DSM-5. I am unsure if I object to this classification. On one hand, if transgender individuals are classified as a mental ill, then they are afforded certain unique protections under the law. This could be positive for the transgender community. At the same time, it is questionable as to whether being transgender is actually a disorder, or if the greater nonacceptance society has bestowed on transgender individuals is the reason for the disruption and possible dysfunction in their lives.