Changes to the way we view gender

When a phrase is so common it becomes a cliché, there is often good reason for it. At least that is the case when it comes to the phrase—change is a good thing.

For many years, gender has been viewed as a biological absolute. As our understanding has grown, it has become increasingly clear that what used to be viewed in terms of black and white is better suited to varying shades of gray.

Change is a good thing.

In keeping with that idea, the psychiatric diagnostic manual is changing its language and definitions surrounding gender and gender variance. It is no longer appropriate to consider only male and female expressions of gender when there are many who experience a combination or variation of that binary, are not distressed by it, and should not be labelled with a disorder.

In the last revision of the DSM, a condition called gender identity disorder described individuals experiencing discontent with the sex they were assigned as infants. Individuals who are transgender often feel as though they have the wrong body for the way they perceive themselves. In order to be diagnosed with the disorder, individuals would have a strong, longstanding identification with another gender, longstanding disquiet or incongruence at their biological sex or the gender-assigned role of that sex, and impairment in work or social situations as a result.

A new revision is currently underway and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) is requesting some changes to the current diagnosis. Mostly, the WPATH is concerned about reinforcing existing stigma and prejudice surrounding gender variance. The group objects to gender variance being psychopathologized or judged as inherently negative.

Many believe the diagnosis should be removed from the DSM entirely as gender variance is not a mental disorder. This argument states that classifying it as such only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes and stigma surrounding gender nonconoformity. WPATH believes gender variance is not a disorder in itself, but did not reach consensus as to whether the diagnosis should remain for those experiencing dysphoria surrounding their gender identity.

The DSM V review group suggests changing the name of the disorder from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Incongruence as it doesn’t imply a person’s identity is disordered. WPATH prefers the term Gender Dysphoria to reflect that a diagnosis is only needed for those transgender individuals who at some point in their lives experience clinically significant distress associated with their gender variance.

Certainly, many individuals experience some distress as they come to terms with their gender identity and how to express it in a satisfying way - and treatment in the form of counselling and help with any co-existing depression or anxiety can be beneficial during this process. I believe change is a good thing in the way we view and talk about gender and the diverse ways people express it.


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