Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM

Okay, time to demonstrate that this is a transgender blog, after our recent foray into fantasy.  You may not be aware that rejecting one's biological sex is officially a form of mental illness.  Here is the DSM listing.

There is a double standard in place regarding children with GID vs. adults with GID.  Essentially, when children announce that they are really the opposite sex, many parents and therapists believe that this is a delusion which can be cured, and they implement "reparative therapy" in an attempt to make the children conform to their socially assigned gender.  Kenneth Zucker is perhaps the best-known reparative therapist practicing today.  It's important to note that, back when homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder, similar techniques were used to eradicate patients' homosexual tendencies.  Most people now consider this to be unacceptable.

However, when adults announce that they are really the opposite sex, the official "therapeutic" position is that this is a delusion which has become incurable.  At this point the gender-nonconforming person is granted the right to modify their bodies to match their personal gender identity. Why is it that adults are allowed to choose their gender, while children are explicitly discouraged from gender experimentation?  Is this fair?

Ironically, despite the highly controversial, not to mention insulting, nature of the DSM diagnosis, many adult transsexuals want GID to remain as an official disorder, because it allows them to get insurance coverage for their sex-reassignment surgery.

The newest version of the DSM - version 5 - is currently under review.  Many people are actively trying to reframe the definition of GID; but there are two camps, one which wants to make it less punitive and the other which, as far as I can tell, wants to solidify gender roles and gender-conformity prejudice.  My attention was recently directed to this organization, GID Reform Advocates, whose motto is "our identities are not disordered."  That is something I can get behind.

One last thing: when being transgendered is considered to be a mental illness, you get arguments like this one against ENDA:
Similar problems abound in this bill, which treats a conscious decision to choose a new or different sexual identity as if it were an inherent, unavoidable condition. But it's not. It's actually a psychological disorder, officially listed as such by the current American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Our children and our co-workers should not be forced by law to be held hostage to such disorders, nor should employers be forced to have psychologically troubled persons as the public face of their businesses.
I would not want to work with anyone who thought I was mentally ill.  And many people still consider homosexuality to be a mental illness, even though it's been removed from the DSM.  But it would make me happy if transphobes, as well as homophobes, had one less leg to stand on.


  1. We may, eventually, find that transphobia and homophobia find themselves listed, given the designation "-phobia," on the DSM display of mental illnesses. Preoccupations with difference, especially in light of constant fear and a need to confront, increasingly sound less organized and more disorienting socially.