Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 1165–1176 | Cite as

The DSM-5 and the Politics of Diagnosing Transpeople

  • Zowie DavyEmail author
Special Section: DSM-5: Classifying Sex


In the DSM-5, there has been a change in the diagnosis for transpeople of all ages from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) to Gender Dysphoria (GD), in part to better indicate the distress that transpeople may experience when their gender identity feels incongruent. The Workgroup for Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, chaired by Kenneth J. Zucker, was employed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to update the DSM-5’s GID diagnosis reflecting contemporary scientific knowledge. Additionally, in a pre-publication report to the APA, members of the Workgroup suggested that they would also be concerned with the destigmatization of transpeople while preserving a diagnosis that medical insurance companies would accept for issuing payments for transitioning treatments (Drescher, 2013). The aims of this article are, firstly, to question whether changing the diagnosis lessens the stigmatization of transpeople. I will suggest that the semantic change from GID to GD marks “inverted” gendered expressions as pathological and, thus, continues to stigmatize transpeople. Secondly, the article explores the development of the GD diagnosis, and illustrates how the scientific data this were founded on are contentious. The article then demonstrates how the trans anti-pathologization movement has challenged the perceived pathologizing effects of the DSM-5 classification of GD. The article examines a selection of Western transgender community advocates’ websites, forums, and blogs. From these sources, the article then explores the different narratives of transpeople and political groups who offer details of their praxis, and evidences how the trans anti-pathologization advocates use the available science and human rights discourses to contest the role of psychiatry in the treatment of transpeople.


Gender dysphoria DSM-5 Transsexualism Gender Identity Disorder Stigma 



I would like to thank the reviewers and Michael Toze, who commented on earlier drafts of this article. I would also like to acknowledge the European Science Foundation workshop Transgender and Political Science in Europe: A Comparative Approach, in Brussels 2014, when attendees provided valuable comments on a shorter version of the article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health and Social CareUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK

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