Escape from normality

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 15 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:962
  1. Joanne Roberts (, internist and palliative medicine physician
  1. Everett,Washington

    Labels shape lives. We label ourselves in hundreds of ways: short, tall, fat, thin, woman, man, and on and on. We imbue doctors with the power to alter or even trump our own self labels: diseased, healthy, diabetic, depressed, sometimes even girl or boy, man or woman. But none of us—doctors or patients—escapes the grasp of cultural norms and morality, especially in the behavioural sciences.

    As a young boy, I already had labelled myself as “wrong.” I had not done wrong; I was wrong. All was unclear why until the summer of 1963, when I found four obscure books in a nearby university library. In one, written in the 1920s by a German sexologist, I first read the term “transsexual.” Its definition fitted me perfectly. I hated that, and I spent most of the rest of that summer rereading the text, hoping that if I read hard enough, perhaps I could convince myself that I was not reading about me. Even at 12, I knew I could not carry the labels of “normal” and “transsexual” simultaneously.

    Seventeen years later, my quest for normality had taken me through a career in journalism, a failed marriage, and then into medical school. …

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