The American Psychiatric Association thinks so, or is history repeating itself? The new DSM-V, the medical profession’s bible for diagnosing, is set to come out in May after delays caused by several areas of controversy. But, the APA has a legacy of uneasy relations with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, having included homosexuality in the DSM‘s list of psychiatric disorders until 1973. Some transgender activists want issues of gender identity kicked off the list of mental illnesses too.
Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Many transgender people live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender. Broadly speaking, anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms can be described as transgender. However, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-atypical will identify as a transgender person.
Wikipedia says: Beginning therapy is recommended for all people who are frustrated by their gender, especially if they desire to transition. People who experience discord between their gender and the expectations of others or whose gender identity conflicts with their body benefit by talking through their feelings in depth with someone who will listen indefinitely. However, gender identity is new to psychology and research is still in its infancy.
Some believe a person with a diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder (GID) experiences distress and/or disability and it may manifest as depression or inability to work and form healthy relationships with others. This diagnosis is often over-simplified to mean that simply being transgender means a person suffers from GID which is not true. This has caused much confusion to transgender people and those who strongly seek to either criticize or affirm them. Transgender people who are comfortable with their gender, whose gender does not directly cause inner frustration, or impair their functioning, do not have GID and are not applicable for a related mental disorder. GID is not permanent and is usually resolved through therapy and transitioning, especially its social aspects. GID does not refer to people who feel oppressed by the negative attitudes and behaviors of others.
Transgender issues are new in the scientific field and affect relatively few people, so understandably many mental healthcare providers know little about transgender issues. People seeking help from these professionals often end up educating the professional rather than receiving help.
The issues around psychological classifications and associated stigma have recently become more complex since it was announced that colleagues from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), a consortium of mental health clinics at several sites in Toronto will serve on the DSM’s Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group. CAMH has aims to ‘cure’ transgendered people of their ‘disorder’, especially in children.
The issue is that a person who is unclear about his gender identity, just like a person who is lesbian or gay should not have to face cruelty and stigma based solely on their sexual preference or identity. Kudos to President Obama for making history on New Year’s Eve when he appointed the former Mitchell Simpson, who now identifies himself as a female named Amanda, to a position as a senior adviser in the Commerce Department. Simpson apparently is the first transgendered individual become a presidential appointee to the federal government.
Amanda Simpson now serves as a senior advisor in the Commerce Dept.
People in the LGBT community can experience double stigma when they also live with a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness supports the LGBT community in its Multi-cultural Action Center. For more information visit www.nami.org