APA Says Being Transgender is No Longer a Mental Disorder


Ben Fan
Staff Writer

On a college campus where acceptance reigns supreme, the latest news from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is groundbreaking.  In the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),” a manual written by the APA that classifies all identifiable mental disorders, homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1973.  It was certainly a big step for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) community, but there were some left wondering: when would being transgender attain equal status?  On Dec. 3, 2012, they got their answer: being transgender no longer qualifies as a mental disorder in the newly revised manual, the DSM-V.

So what was the big hold up? Previously labeled as having a “gender identity disorder,” transgenderism has recently been looked into and what psychiatrists found clearly did not represent a mental disorder. They found that people with the previously labeled “disorder” actually do not need to reach out for medical assistance of any sort and have moved to end the practice of therapists who pathologize people who identify themselves as transgender.  The new term assumed is “gender dysphoria.” In describing gender dysphoria, the APA says that it is “the emotional distress that can result from ‘a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.”

What does this change bring for individuals who identify themselves as transgender?  On the surface and in the eyes of the public, it seems to remove a degree of stigma associated with transgenderism, giving transgender people an equal standing in the eyes of medical professionals and in much of society.  However, without the label of “mental disorder,” it will be much more difficult for transgender people to reap benefits from medical insurance; insurers are more likely to provide coverage for a legitimate disorder, one listed in the DSM. However, without the status, they are less inclined to provide aid solely to an individual being transgender.  The money that insurance would have issued previously would have been utilized in sessions with a psychiatrist and such. Thus, if those who are believe themselves to be transgender would now like to have insurance cover their sessions, they no longer can as it doesn’t apply anymore as a result of the new revision.

With regard to students on campus, there are differing opinions on the issue.  First-year undeclared major Lori Ta believes the APA made the right call.

“I think it’s unfair in that transgenderism is a choice, it’s not a mental disorder because it’s not harmful to the individual’s mental state,” said Ta. “It’s unfair because the choices those individuals made are all up to them, not us to judge whether or not they’re sane.”

From an alternative perspective, first-year, actuarial science major Terrance Chang thinks that it is more of a mental disorder, “because you [are] born a gender, so I don’t think you could really change that.” Chang’s comment brings up the question of whether or not mental disorders as a whole are something that people are born with. If psychiatrists were to find that mental disorders occur at birth, then this revision may have to be recanted if transgenderism is labeled to be as such once again.

The decision is certainly a landmark for the LGBTQ community as well as the psychiatric field of study, but the long-term effects have yet to prove themselves. Society is gradually getting adjusted to homosexuality. Only time will tell how accepting or not college campuses will become of this kind of diversity.


  1. I am a transgendered woman, and I,too, had some mixed feelings when I first learned some years ago that the DSM V would likely de-classify being TG as a mental disorder. I thought about the potential loss of beenfits, but no one in the day that I transitioined would have even thought of paying anything, so for me, it was about $20k out of pocket. I very much liked the idea that Transgenderism and Transsexuality would no longer be viewed as a mental disorder. I am not insne; I was born with what I believe is a physiology that was male, but with mental wiring and some physiology that was female. If you were born with two left hands, you would certainly have a rough time of it in life, and people might discriminate against you. It could cause you real distress and hardship. It is like that for we transgendered men and women. Society makes it very difficult for us, in terms of love, social acceptance, financial equality, etc. Of course that causes depression and other mental problems. This is where the psychological community should help us; to cope with the effects of societal prejudice nd laws that discriminate against us. As far as insurance coverage, I think that any company who values good employees should want them to be well-adjusted and not depressed or afraid, so why wouldn’t they, in their own self-interest, decide to voluntarily cover TG people to help them? And if that includes insurance coverage for hormones, SRS, electrolysis, etc, why not? I belive that insurance should cover brith defects that make it hard for a person to be productive and happy in our society. For example: a cleft pallette. Why shouldn;t insurance cover cleft pallette surgery? After all, it is basically cosmetic (it does have some non-cosmetic benefits, obviously, but in realty, it could be argued that it is cosmetic surgery).

  2. Hey, why are non-trans first year students being interviewed? It makes no logical sense… They are not involved with the issue at all.

    I’m a Canadian transfeminine genderqueer doing their MA. We face a lot of the same issues, but it is possible to get things covered for a few people depending on the province. If you read the WPATH Standards of Care, they call for de-stigmatization of trans identities but at the same time, a number of us need some kind of medical services such as psychotherapy, hormones, and/or surgery. At the end of the day, none of these are “optional” really for us. Why can’t our services be covered anyways?

    At my university, our grad student union has a transition fund that can be tapped into by grad students who are transitioning. It’s not used up too heavily or often. Most other funds are used a lot more. It wouldn’t be expensive for insurance companies to pay for trans services in comparison to let’s say dental.

  3. The headline of this article is misleading. The old diagnostic category of Gender Identity Disorder (a defamatory title implying that differing gender identities are “disordered”) is renamed Gender Dysphoria (from a Greek root for distress) in the DSM-5. It is not declassified from the DSM. Not all transgender people need access to medical transition care, but for those who do, some kind of diagnostic coding is necessary. The revised GD diagnosis, no longer grouped with “sexual disorders,” will reduce false stereotyping, and clarify medical necessity of hormonal and/or surgical transition care for those who need it. Contrary to remarks in this article, these revisions will improve access to medical transition care, not worsen it. This change is a modest step forward that will hopefully lead to more. In comparison, same sex orientation was not actually removed from the DSM in 1973, as reported here. It was declassified in small steps over 14 years from ’73 to 1987. Diagnostic nomenclature reform for gender diversity may come slowly as well.

    In the long term, I would like to see a non-psychiatric diagnostic coding in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) replace mental disorder diagnosis entirely, for those who need medical transition care

    Finally, a second gender diagnosis in the DSM, Transvestic Disorder, is overlooked in this story. It is a punitive and scientifically baseless category designed to stigmatize trans and transsexual people for nonconformity to birth assignment. More than 7000 people have signed an online petition, sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education, calling for the removal of the harmful Transvestic Disorder category from the DSM.

    For more information, see http://gidreform.wordpress.com

  4. For the record, Gender Identity Disorder was not “removed” from the DSM. It was re-named Gender Dysphoria and will be given a separate chapter in the DSM-5. Gender dysphoria describes the discomfort one experiences from incongruent sex characteristics and/or assigned sex. Trans people will still be able to access care under the DSM-5 diagnosis.

  5. As an organization that provides medical and health services to hundreds of transgender patients in New York City, we were relieved to see Gender Identity Disorder eliminated from the DSM. The transgender community faces enough hurdles and hardships – they don’t need a fabricated disorder that further stigmatizes them. What the transgender community needs is more support and acceptance. We’re now one step closer.