Trans identity no longer a ‘disorder’ in influential psychiatric diagnosis manual

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Humiliating. Dishonest. Stigmatizing. These are just some of the words I’ve heard used to describe the practice of forcing trans people to receive a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” before they can gain access to certain trans-related medical care, procedures, and treatments, or even before they can legally transition.

That’s why I’m optimistic about the latest move by the American Psychiatric Association to drop “gender identity disorder” from the new diagnosis manual in favor of “gender dysphoria”. The new term is apparently meant to indicate “emotional distress over one’s gender” rather than confusion or disturbance. The term “Asperger’s syndrome” was also dropped.

This is an important victory for trans activists, not only symbolically but logistically. The term has long been used to blame and stigmatize those with a diagnosis, even as many systems were set up to require a diagnosis for crucial treatment. You may remember that Sgt Bradley Manning’s diagnosis was used against her  during her trial, and she was forced to endure charges that gender identity disorder made her “mentally unstable” and led to leaking classified information.

Many are celebrating this as a victory on par with the moment that “homosexual” from the DSM. While I agree that it’s a step forward, I echo the concerns of many activists who believe that requiring any psychiatric diagnosis before granting access to certain medical care for trans folk is a backwards way of looking at the issue that stigmatizes trans people and unnecessarily classifies them as “sick” or problematic.  While I understand the point of view of those who want to keep the diagnosis structure to ensure medical access to transition for trans people, I feel like dropping the hugely stigmatizing term “disorder” is a step in the right direction and hopeful that this latest move will ultimately prove to be part of a sea change in transgender rights that will make the world a more just and humane place for everyone.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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