Being transgender is NOT a mental illness. Some (transphobic) people believe that getting surgery and taking hormones is “mutilating” one’s bodies. This is false. Transition is not mutilation. It is affirmation. Every single major psychological and medical association, including the DSM-V, the WHO, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, corroborates this and does NOT classify transness as a mental illness.
Gender dysphoria is included in the DSM-V, but this classification separates the discomfort from the identity. That is, being transgender is not a disorder, but the discomfort that some trans folks experience can be. If you’d like to read more about my own experience with dysphoria, visit this page.
A History Lesson—
1980, DSM-III: Transsexualism was first included as a mental disorder, classifying people who struggled with “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) as mentally ill. Individuals were also classified by sexuality – “homosexual”, “heterosexual”, and “asexual.”
1994, DSM-IV: Gender Identity Disorder (GID) replaced transsexualism. Individuals were categorized by “attracted to males”, “attracted to females”, “attracted to both”, and “attracted to neither.”
2012, DSM-V: Gender Dysphoria replaced GID, and people with gender dysphoria are no longer classified by sexuality.
The key is that the older versions of the DSM (III and IV) used the terms ‘transsexualism’ and ‘gender identity disorder’, which both pathologize the actual transgender identity itself. The DSM-V aims to separate the distress (the gender dysphoria) which can be a disorder, from the identity of the person (the actual being transgender), which is NOT a disorder.
*DSM = Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Mostly widely used resource to diagnose mental illness.)
Many folks have asked me what distinguishes the terms TRANSSEXUAL and TRANSGENDER. As far as I understand, the former indicates surgical changes while the latter does not necessitate them.
However, I prefer NOT to use the term TRANSSEXUAL for a few reasons:
- IRRELEVANCE. When I disclose my transness, I am not always (or even often) sharing about my body and the changes I have or have not made. That is, the surgical changes are not relevant to my disclosure.
- HISTORY. For me, the word drags forth its history as a word used to pathologize our identities. Before 1994, people were diagnosed with “transsexuality,” which often meant that trans folks were thrown into conversion therapy (essentially torture), put in insane asylums, or denied our identities completely. Trans identities were thought to be something demonic—something of which we needed to be cured.
- CISGENDER FOLKS: I always advise cisgender allies to use TRANSGENDER instead of TRANSSEXUAL for the above reasons. And lastly: TRANSGENDER is an umbrella term, TRANSSEXUAL is not. You might not know someone’s surgical status, and even if you do, it is not your right to disclose it to others without explicit permission.
- OTHER TRANS FOLKS: The purpose of this is not to tell you how to refer to yourself. If you would like to or already use TRANSSEXUAL, great! You do you. I just wanted to share the history with you as it was really helpful for me to discover and understand.