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 started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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

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