Target: Dr. Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Goal: Amend the definition of transgender in the WHO’s medical classification manual, which currently lists it as a mental disorder.
For decades, homosexuality was labeled as a mental disorder. That meant that, in addition to being stigmatized socially, gay people were faced with a medical/scientific stigma that delegitimized their very existence — that is, until the American Psychiatric Association (APA) finally declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. This change was a vital part of normalizing homosexuality and making gay people feel more accepted in society. However, the battle for acceptance and recognition by science and society is still being fought by the transgender community.
A promising breakthrough was made in 2013 when the APA updated the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to redefine gender identity disorder as gender dysphoria. This effort to reduce the stigma surrounding trans-identified people was praised widely as a step in the right direction. Despite this change, the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to use the term “gender identity disorder” in its own manual, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD, for short).
The implication that being transgender is caused by a disorder does nothing to improve the lives of transgender persons. All that this definition does is contribute to alienation and stigma, both within and outside of the medical field. As long as gender dysphoria is labeled as a disorder, transgender folks will continue to face discrimination by their own physicians, other medical professionals, and society as a whole. Changing the definition won’t end transphobia overnight, but it is a necessary step toward creating acceptance and understanding of this marginalized community.
Dear Dr. Chan,
As you are probably aware, the WHO is considering reclassifying gender identity disorder in the next edition of the ICD. This would be a critical step toward diminishing transphobia, particularly within the medical field. Such a step is crucially needed. Transgender people’s identities are constantly questioned and ridiculed, oftentimes even by medical professionals. It is time for this discrimination and misunderstanding to end. I must strongly urge you and the WHO to rename gender identity disorder as gender dysphoria, or a similarly less-alienating name.
Labels and definitions surrounding identities are hugely important in shaping one’s sense of self-worth, esteem, and happiness. As long as transgender people are labeled as dysfunctional or disordered by an internationally recognized organization, there will be no possibility of improving their quality of life. Please do what is right for marginalized transgender communities and reclassify gender identity disorder.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: United States Mission General