Should Doctors Still Consider Transgenders to Be Suffering a ‘Disorder’?

The fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will soon be published, and with it come a slew of updates for medical professionals on what, exactly, “disorders” are. Whether somebody’s mental state is considered a disorder isn’t a silly little matter of clarifications; it can have consequences on insurance coverage, power of will questions, and stigmatization. The debate rages on for whether things like shopping addictions and binge eating should be included as official disorders, but for our kind, whether transgender people should be included — for “suffering” from a gender identity “disorder” — is a heated exchange.

Reports the NYT:

The debate over gender identity, characterized in the manual as “strong and persistent cross-gender identification,” is already burning hot among transgender people. Soon after the psychiatric association named the group of researchers working on sexual and gender identity, advocates circulated online petitions objecting to two members whose work they considered demeaning.

Transgender people are themselves divided about their place in the manual. Some transgender men and women want nothing to do with psychiatry and demand that the diagnosis be dropped. Others prefer that it remain, in some form, because a doctor’s written diagnosis is needed to obtain insurance coverage for treatment or surgery.

“The language needs to be reformed, at a minimum,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equity. “Right now, the manual implies that you cannot be a happy transgender person, that you have to be a social wreck.”

Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychoanalyst and member of the sexual disorders work group, said that, in some ways, the gender identity debate echoed efforts to remove homosexuality from the manual in the 1970s.

After protests by gay activists provoked a scientific review, the “homosexuality” diagnosis was dropped in 1973. It was replaced by “sexual orientation disturbance” and then “ego-dystonic homosexuality” before being dropped in 1987.

“You had, in my opinion, what was a social issue, not a medical one; and, in some sense, psychiatry evolved through interaction with the wider culture,” Dr. Drescher said.