The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will no longer include “gender identity disorder” — the term applied in the manual since 1980 to pathologize transgender individuals.
The new version of the DSM-5 will instead include an entry for “gender dysphoria,” an important shift from “identity disorder” since dysphoria applies only to those individuals feeling distress over their assigned gender identity. Individuals who identify differently from the gender assigned at birth are thus no longer considered to be mentally ill by the APA’s categorization. “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,” Jack Drescher, a member of the APA who worked on the this issue, told the Advocate earlier this year.
Retaining “gender dysphoria” within the DSM-5, as opposed to removing all listings relating to gender variance, will allow individuals seeking coverage for hormone treatments or surgery to point to a medical problem within the DSM.
LGBT rights groups have hailed the DSM changes as a great success after many years of lobbying. However, some activists note that even listing distress about one’s assigned gender (gender dysphoria) in the manual still relies on the assumption that it is normal or per se desirable to identify happily with current binary gender constructions — a point of contention for activists and queer theorists alike.
CNN Thursday cited transgender activist Kelley Winters, who gave muted praise to the APA’s decision: The new criteria “represent some forward progress on issues of social stigma and barriers to medical transition care, for those who need it,” Winters wrote on her blog. “However, they do not go nearly far enough in clarifying that nonconformity to birth-assigned roles and victimization from societal prejudice do not constitute mental pathology.”