WPATH calls for the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide

May 25, 2010

Via email from Dr. Sam Winter, Associate Dean (Research) at the University of Hong Kong, I learn that WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) has agreed on the wording of a statement calling for the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide. I gather that the agreed statement will be appearing on the WPATH website in the next day or two and will be disseminated more widely over the next few weeks.

Here is the statement in its final form:

The WPATH Board of Directors strongly urges the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide. The expression of gender characteristics, including identities, that are not stereotypically associated with one’s assigned sex at birth is a common and culturally-diverse human phenomenon which should not be judged as inherently pathological or negative. The psychopathologlization of gender characteristics and identities reinforces or can prompt stigma, making prejudice and discrimination more likely, rendering transgender and transsexual people more vulnerable to social and legal marginalization and exclusion, and increasing risks to mental and physical well-being. WPATH urges governmental and medical professional organizations to review their policies and practices to eliminate stigma toward gender-variant people.

Dr Winter draws three significant conclusions from the statement:

  • First, it correctly situates psychopathologisation at one end of a chain leading through stigma, prejudice and discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, and finally (for far too many transpeople) to ill-health and death.
  • Second, it cites psychopathologisation as a force which can create stigma, not simply reinforce stigma that is already present.
  • Third, it decries the psychopathologisation of gender variance overall(not simply gender identity variance) and therefore should (in my view) be interpreted as a call for the de-psychopathologisation of cross-dressing.

There is another reason why this statement is important. The WPATH Standards of Care appear to rest on an assumption that transgender people (being ‘mentally disordered’!) cannot be trusted to make their own informed decisions about their own health care. It seems to me that the way is now open for WPATH, which is committed to revising its Standards of Care in the next few years, to start thinking about a more patient-centred informed consent model.

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

2 Responses to “WPATH calls for the de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide”

  1. Astrid Says:

    This is great news. I do hope that the standards of care are adpted and the American Psychiatric Association will follow suit and remove GID from its manual. However, am I right to presume that they still do want gender variance to be a disorder, but a medical one instead? I understand this is a controversy within the trans/gender-variant community, right?

  2. Helen G Says:

    hi Astrid

    Yes, I think this is a positive step for the future, even though there is a long way still to go.

    The important thing (as I see it) is to break down the stigmatisation attached to being trans, and that process can only be helped by depathologisation – for example; the term “disorder” is something which I (and I think many other trans people) find problematic – I do not, and never did, consider myself to be “disordered”; it was simply that my brain was expecting a different body. So if we can have diagnoses that are accurate and do not add to our demonisation and marginalisation, then that must surely be a good thing.

    The concern of many people, I believe, is that if gender dissonance (or GID or whatever the medical profession wishes to call it) is removed entirely, then it will permit health insurers (and the National Health Service here in Britain) to stop funding it. But I’m aware that it’s an more nuanced and complex discussion than that; it will take some time to produce a solution that works for as many people as possible – but this is definitely a useful move towards fixing a system which is quite obviously not serving those who need it most.


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