By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.
Last week this was all over the Internet: a London transman named Maxwell Zachs began a petition to the World Health Organization to remove ‘transsexualism’ from its list of ‘mental disorders’ in the ICD, the international disease classification system. Zachs says: “There is nothing wrong with me. I am perfectly healthy. I just happen to be transgender.” But his move has generated a lot of controversy even among trans rights activists.
If you don’t know a lot about transgender issues, you might not understand the significance of Zachs’ petition. You might not know why the issue is a big deal in the first place.
If you don’t know – you need a refresher in LGB history. Before 1973, homosexuality was classified as a ‘mental disease,’ and this reinforced social views that ‘those people’ were deviant, unstable, and deficient. It legitimized all kinds of discrimination, not to mention providing the basis for unvoluntary psychiatric commitments and other ‘treatments,’ being discharged from the Armed Forces or teaching – well, you get the point. In fact, most queer historians consider the removal of this diagnosis one of the pivotal ‘gay rights’ events of the last forty to fifty years.
At this point, if you have made the translation you are probably asking why Maxwell Zachs is controversial. Why would a trans activist have problems with his petition?
And that brings us to the complicated stuff that the blogosphere got only half right.
Many, if not most, transgender people need body modifying medical treatments to feel at peace with themselves, and they want those treatments to be covered by health insurance. At the present time, this is done for some but not all procedures. So it is true that removing ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ as a psychiatric diagnosis might leave some transgender people without a ‘medical diagnosis,’ as those opposing Zachs’ petition point out.
What has NOT been reported is that the premier world-wide organization for the medical care of transgender people has already proposed an alternative that avoids this problem. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health – WPATH – is asking the World Health Organization to remove ‘gender identity disorder’ as a psychiatric diagnosis, re-name it, and find a medical diagnosis that will allow the coding necessary to satisfy insurance companies.
So Maxwell’s petition is a no brainer, and tens of thousands already agree – do you?