Transgender No Longer Listed as Disorder by World Health Organization

By | July 5, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 6 (C-Fam) The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that its updated diagnostic manual would no longer classify “gender incongruence”—perceiving oneself to be of a different sex than what you were born—as a mental disorder.  A WHO spokeswoman insisted that while transgender advocacy was a factor, and that they made this decision based on scientific evidence.

The WHO has been working on updating its International Classification of Diseases, as the previous edition was published over two decades ago.  The forthcoming ICD-11 will be presented at the World Health Assembly next spring and become effective at the start of 2022.

In a move that had been anticipated for years, the WHO removed gender incongruence from its chapter on mental disorders and placed it in a newly-created chapter on sexual health.  While this new chapter also contains sexual disorders, gender incongruence is given its own section with no language that transgender activist groups have labeled as stigmatizing.

However, the inclusion of the category in the manual remains important, as the volume provides guidance to the international medical community on diagnoses and treatments.  Patients desiring to obtain sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy would still require a diagnosis for their insurance to potentially cover these treatments.

Dr. Lale Say, who works for the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO, explained that, “in order to reduce the stigma while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

Dr. Say added that this would not likely cause changes in the types of treatment sought by transgender patients, except that “it may increase access because it will reduce stigma and it will help individuals to seek care more.”

She was careful to say that the change was based in evidence rather than advocacy pressure, although transgender activists were quick to claim it as a victory.  Julia Ehrt, director of Transgender Europe, called it “the result of tremendous effort by trans and gender diverse activists from around the world.”

In the United States, activists are already citing the ICD-11 to oppose President Trump’s policy forbidding transgender troops from serving in the military.

While the American Psychiatric Association publishes its own Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM), the U.S. officially uses the WHO manual, which means the revision has important implications for its health systems, as well as those in other countries.  The DSM still lists gender dysphoria as a disorder, although activists heartened by the change in the WHO’s manual are calling for a similar update to the DSM in the future.

Further controversies remain.  A recent Atlantic article calling attention to “desisters”—children whose gender dysphoria abates with time, drew outrage from activists concerned that it could undermine transgender rights.  The author of the article—who identifies himself as politically liberal—was attacked and called a bigot for daring to question the dominant narrative and point out its exceptions.

Meanwhile, some experts question the claim that medical treatments to enable patients to “transition” are in fact the right approach to preventing the high rates of attempted suicide within that population.