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Transgender people no longer considered "mentally ill" to American Psychiatric Association

By Kelly Craig

“Gender Identity Disorder” is now a term of the past as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, will be replacing the term with “Gender Dysphoria,” according to the Associated Press.

This change is a result of years of lobbying the American Psychiatric Association to change or remove the “mentally ill” characterization given to all who are transgender. Individuals may now be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.”

“All psychiatric diagnoses occur within a cultural context,” Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and member of the APA subcommittee said. “We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories. We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.”

The DSM manual’s change in this fifth edition is a huge step for the trans community, as they will no longer live under the label “disordered.” 

“It no longer matters what your body looks like, what you want to do to it, all of that is irrelevant as far as the APA goes,” Dana Beyer said.  Beyer is a retired eye surgeon who helped the Washington Psychiatric Society propose changes to the chapter on “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders.”

The change will effect legal cases as well. San Francisco psychiatrist Dan Karasic cited a legal case where a transgender woman from Utah is at risk of losing custody of her children as a result of her GID.  A lawyer argued that the trans woman’s “severe, chronic mental illness that might be harmful to the child” is grounds for losing parental responsibility.

"A lawyer is apparently using that to argue that because the person is trans and has a diagnosis of GID,” Karasic said, “she should have her parental rights terminated."

In other situations, a GID diagnosis has been a saving grace, justifying gender reassignment surgery and other medical procedures to be covered under insurance.  

A GID diagnosis has also helped transgender people defend themselves in court against discrimination faced because of their gender identity.

“Having a diagnosis is extremely useful in legal advocacy,” said legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Shannon Minter.  “We rely on it even in employment discrimination cases to explain to courts that a person is not just making some superficial choice ... that this is a very deep-seated condition recognized by the medical community.”

This single redefinition will historically mark 2012 as a year of progression for civil rights, as 1973 is known as a historical year for the gay and lesbian community.  

In 1973, the APA “affirmed that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and rejected the stigma of mental illness that the medical and mental health professions had previously placed on sexual minorities.”

Sexual minorities is a term used as early as 1966 and is still used today “to designate only those individuals who experience significant erotic and romantic attractions to adult members of their own sex, including those who experience attractions to members of both their own and the other sex.” 

APA explains, “This term is used because we recognize that not all sexual minority individuals adopt a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity.”

Although homosexuality was removed from the DSM in December 1973, APA continued to support the community as they “then issued a position statement supporting civil rights protection for gay people in employment, housing, public accommodation, and licensing, and the repeal of all sodomy laws.”

The APA has continued to support gay civil rights since that time.  

Now that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has abolished transgender people as “mentally ill,” there are hopes the American Psychological Association will continue to support the psychological well-being of the transgender community as they have those of the LGB community.

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429magazine
429magazine
Thu, Jul 26, 2012

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