Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Be or Not To Be GID

Today I am in Oslo at the Biennial Symposium of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. It's great to see so many friends and colleagues, activists and providers, all of whom have convened in Scandinavia to talk about the provision of health care for transgender people. Today's pre-symposium discussion focused on whether or not the diagnosis of gender identity disorder should be included within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -- the listing of mental health diagnoses created by the American Psychiatric Association that is in the process of revision.

On the one hand, we know transgender people are not crazy, or at least not necessarily crazy because we are transgender. And, to be sure, there is nothing inherently disabling about persistent cross-gender identification as many of us can attest. On the other hand, the GID diagnosis has been an important piece of my own legal advocacy including in cases like that on behalf of Rhiannon O'Donnabhain who is challenging the IRS's refusal to allow her to take a tax deduction for expenses relating to transition. The GID diagnosis provided an important framework for educating the tax court and other policy makers about the legitimacy of the experience of transsexualism and the essential need for medical care for many trans people. Not to mention that for many transgender people, finding a description of an experience (clinical distress along with persistent cross-gender identification) has been the gateway to care, treatment, and a belief that success and satisfaction after transition is possible.

That said, as my new friend Rachael Wallbank (an Aussie attorney) has so eloquently explained to me, you can't turn a koala into a bear by naming it one. In other words for those less familiar with the distinction between marsupials and bears, no matter how practical the GID diagnosis may be with respect to advocacy and public education, to the extent it inaccurately disorders cross-gender identification, it may have outlived its usefulness.

There will undoubtedly be many conversations over the course of the next several days about the accuracy of the GID diagnosis (much criticism of its content has been flying), whether or not it should even exist as a mental health diagnosis, and what non-psychiatric alternatives already exist that may supplant it.

Either way, I'll try to keep you all posted about the range of discussions in this country where it is still completely light outside at nearly midnight. Good night.

Jennifer Levi
Transgender Rights Project Director

Note: For future updates from the conference visit the Transgender Rights Project of GLAD on Facebook

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