Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 3, by Jenn Burleton

Coy Mathis

GID Reform Advocates respond to the question, “When a child identifies with the other gender, what to do?” Dr. Jack Drescher’s commentary on the Coy Mathis Civil Rights Case in Colorado appeared in the Sunday Dialogues Feature of the June 29, 2013 New York Times. Here is the discussion that the Times did not publish.

A Guest Post by Jenn Burleton
Founder and Executive Director of
TransActive Education & Advocacy
Portland, Oregon

To the Editor:

The letter you recently published from Dr. Jack Drescher regarding the case of the Colorado transgender child contained several misleading and outdated statements regarding the future transgender identity of the young girl in question. Most specifically, his categorical statement that “most [transgender/gender dysphoric] children grow up to be gay, not transgender.”

This statement vastly over-generalizes the complexity and diversity of gender nonconforming self-expression and identity in children and youth. As a result, Dr. Drescher helps perpetuate the harmful notion that children who are gender nonconforming or transgender are simply “going through a phase”. His comments not only lend fuel to those who practice gender-reparative therapy (proven to do great psychological harm to these children) but they encourage those who wish to deny the very existence of transgender identity.

At TransActive, we have provided clinical counseling and medical referral to more than 100 of these children and youth over the past 6 years. At present, we currently have a Portland, Oregon-area client base of approximately 150 family units and we work in various ways with many more families nationwide.

In our experience we find no evidence that those who socially transition gender early desist in their self-identity when that identity represents something other than their assigned sex at birth. Additionally,  while our experience tells us that Dr. Drescher and others are in error when they suggest that an over-generalized majority of all gender dysphoric children will grow up to be gay and not transgender, it is safe to assume that some of these kids will grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or pansexual. Their eventual sexual orientation will, however, be most likely based on their experienced gender identity and NOT on their assigned birth sex. In other words, a transgender girl attracted to males will most likely identify as heterosexual and a transgender boy attracted to males would most likely identify as gay.

At one point Dr. Drescher states that, “experts can’t tell apart kids who outgrow gender dysphoria (desisters) from those who don’t (persisters)”. This statement is, to be blunt, not at all reflective of our clinical experience here at TransActive. One can tell these kids apart, not by simply evaluating data acquired with questionable sampling protocols, but by observing the daily lived experiences of these kids and their families. It is vitally important to differentiate children who are gender nonconforming, with no interest in gender transition, from those who are what we call transitional transgender. Simply put, there is a significant difference between kids who say “I like boy/girl things” and those who say “I AM a boy” or “I AM a girl”.

Dr. Drescher has stated that he believes that the treatment (we prefer to approach it from an ‘affirmation’ model rather than a ‘treatment’ model) of gender dysphoric children is “controversial”, and he cites his own article “Controversies in Gender Diagnoses” in support of this opinion.

While controversy exists in some circles around transgender identity and gender nonconformity in general (unavoidable in a misogynistic and patriarchal culture), this controversy is based primarily on socio-political ideology and theology. This controversy is only exacerbated by those who wish to elevate flawed research above the lived reality of transitional children, youth and their families.

For those of us actively working with this population of kids, there is, I believe, considerable consensus as to the most effective care models. At TransActive, we follow a ‘Best Practice’ framework called RACE; Recognition, Affirmation, Congruence and Empowerment. Key aspects of this framework include:

  1. Affirm the child’s gender identity/expression without pushing them in one direction or another. Encourage the family to do so as well.
  2. Support and, if necessary, help facilitate social gender congruence to whatever degree the child expresses a need for.
  3. Diagnose Gender Dysphoria when it exists based upon clinical guidelines and when necessary to access additional services
  4. Remain open to evolving childhood gender identity and expression
  5. Facilitate access to pubertal suppression treatment if desired by the adolescent
  6. Facilitate access to surgical procedures (if desired) when appropriate and in consultation with therapists and medical personnel.
  7. Do not attempt to use gender expression as an indicator of future sexual orientation and, in particular, do not make clinical judgments about ‘desirable’ outcomes with regard to either gender identity or sexual orientation.

“My continued concern is that, in the absence of consensus, the literature still seems to lean toward A) overgeneralizing persistance/desistance in GNC children and, B) suggesting that taking a “do nothing/wait and see” approach will, in the majority of cases, result in desistance. The reality out here, Dr. Drescher, is that far too many parents (and providers/advisors) will interpret “do nothing” as ‘reinforce gender norms’ and/or ‘ignore the repeated and desperate self-expression of the child’.

I realize that neither you, nor the American Psychiatric Association (APA) or World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) are responsible for the ways in which individuals might implement or use this information. It is, however, vitally important that you understand that the ‘data’ you endorse and promote is clearly incomplete and not sufficiently differentiated. This ‘data’ is, in many cases, contributing to negative outcomes for transitional transgender children and youth. Service providers working in clinical situations (like TransActive and others) are left to either pick up the pieces or go to enormous lengths to explain complex variations in gender expression to parents, social services agencies, etc. simply to overcome the simplified, primary take-away that, “Most gender nonconforming kids desist or turn out to be gay”

I encourage parents of transgender and gender nonconforming children and youth to not be dissuaded from seeking assistance from organizations and individuals that specialize in working with (not researching) this population of children by those who believe that any data, no matter how flawed, is superior to the real world, boots on the ground, daily interactions that care providers are having with these kids and their families.

Sincerely,
Jenn Burleton

Jenn Burleton is a leading expert in advocating for the rights and gender affirming care of transgender children and youth, is the Founder and Executive Director of TransActive Education & Advocacy and a co-founder of Trans Youth Family Allies. She has served on the Board of the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition and currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, the Multnomah County DHS LGBTQ Youth Workgroup and the Development Committee for the Oregon Health & Science University Transgender Program. She was also named to the inaugural “Trans 100” list of individuals working towards positive change for transgender people and recognized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as one of “90 Women Leading the Way To Equality”.

Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 2, by Arlene Istar Lev

Coy Mathis

GID Reform Advocates respond to the question, “When a child identifies with the other gender, what to do?” Dr. Jack Drescher’s commentary on the Coy Mathis Civil Rights Case in Colorado appeared in the Sunday Dialogues Feature of the June 29, 2013 New York Times. Here is the discussion that the Times did not publish.

A Guest Post by Arlene Istar Lev LCSW-R, CASAC
Albany New York
Social Worker, Family Therapist, Gender Specialist, Activist
Choices Counseling and Consulting

To the Editor:

Thank you for opening this dialogue and recognizing the importance of public discourse on the issue of transgender children and their civil rights.

My colleague, Dr. Drescher, is correct that “no one knows” whether Coy will identify as a girl or boy when she matures; however, the same can be said for Coy’s classmates. He is also correct that theories abound in this newly emerging field and that experts are engaged in heated discussions about how to best support gender dysphoric children and their families. The concept of children transitioning gender in elementary is clearly a recent, and controversial, phenomenon, one which is increasingly being supported by mental health specialists, school policies, and legal decisions.

Dr. Drescher states that most “children like [Coy] grow up to be gay, not transgender.” This is a misleading statement for a number of reasons. First of all, the research he is referring to is a few decades old; gender atypical children who are now gay adults matured into their identities before transgender expression was a viable social option (especially for children!), and in the early days of the gay liberation movement. More options exist in the modern world for exploration of gender identity and expression, as well as the freedom to live an out gay life. This research also examined gender non-conforming children, not necessarily those who were gender dysphoric, a distinction that may appear academic, but is crucial to understanding the experiences and potential trajectories of children’s emerging gender identities.

Gender non-conforming behavior can exist in a wide-range of children, and can cause distress since our culture can (still!) be extremely rigid about gender roles and rules, especially for boys. One can imagine a gender atypical boy, particularly one who might be aware of attractions to other boys, might be struggling psychologically. Gender dysphoria is, however, markedly different from the social and identity challenges of a gender non-conforming child who will grow up to be gay. Transgender children are suffering in an intensely personal way, with a body and a social world that is at odds with their deepest sense of self.

I am not saying it is always easy to determine what is happening within a young child’s psyche, not as a therapist, and not as a parent. I agree with Dr. Drescher that parents must educate themselves on all the treatment approaches, and recognize the current limitations of science. I also believe that parents can see the difference between a profoundly suffering little boy and a happy contented little girl. A child who is not transgender would simply not adjust to a gender transition with a lessening of mental health symptoms, and an increasing satisfying social life. A boy, no matter how atypical his gender might be, has no interest in using the girls’ bathroom. For a child who is a girl, it is an essential part of her identity.

Thank you Colorado for recognizing this obvious truth. Thank you to Dr. Drescher for initiating respectful public and professional dialogue on this controversial subject. Thank you to Coy and her parents, for allowing their personal family struggles to be a guiding light to others.

Sincerely,
Arlene Istar Lev

Arlene Istar Lev, LCSW, CASAC
info@choicesconsulting.com
http://www.choicesconsulting.com

Arlene Lev is a social worker, family therapist, educator, and writer whose work addresses the unique therapeutic needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. She is the Founder and Clinical Director of Choices Counseling and Consulting in Albany, New York, providing family therapy for LGBTQ people and is on a Lecturer at the University at Albany, School of Social Welfare, and an adjunct at Empire College. She is also the Founder and Clinical Director of TIGRIS, The Institute for Gender, Relationships, Identity, and Sexuality, a post-graduate training program serving people seeking greater relational and sexual intimacy, people who identify as sexual minorities, and those interested in exploring sexuality, gender, and identity issues. Arlene is the author of The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guide andTransgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and their Families, winner of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Book Award, 2006. She serves on the editorial Boards of theJournal of GLBT Family StudiesThe Journal of Lesbian Studies, and the Journal of Transgenderism. Arlene is the organizer of Professionals Concerned with Gender Diagnoses in the DSM.

Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 1, by Kelley Winters

Coy Mathis

GID Reform Advocates respond to the question, “When a child identifies with the other gender, what to do?” Dr. Jack Drescher’s commentary on the Coy Mathis Civil Rights Case in Colorado appeared in the Sunday Dialogues Feature of the June 29, 2013 New York Times. Here is the discussion that the Times did not publish.

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.
GID Reform Advocates

The Sunday Dialogue feature of the June 30 edition of the New York Times responded to the recent Colorado Human Rights Division ruling in favor of Coy Mathis, a six year old transgender girl who sought the same equal treatment and facilities access as other girls at her public school. The Times editors turned to Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who served on the Work Group on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders for the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Drescher  could have taken this opportunity to acknowledge young Ms. Mathis’ remarkable courage and tenacity. He could have taken this teachable moment to note the barriers of intolerance and injustice that transgender people face as children, both in and out of the closet. But, instead, Dr. Drescher said this:

Actually, no one knows whether Coy will continue to feel that she is a girl when her body develops further, since most children like her grow up to be gay, not transgender.

Although Coy has identified as a girl, lived happily as a girl and attended school as a girl since kindergarten, Drescher’s statement impugns her legitimacy as a girl and suggests that her strong sense of gender identity is a likely just a passing phase. The statement not so subtly passes judgement on the Mathis family for allowing Coy to be herself as she sees herself. Although the “passing phase” mantra is heard frequently among psychiatric policy makers and institutional researchers in recent years, serious questions remain. Is this prediction based on scientific evidence? And, what exactly is meant by, “children like her”?

Conflating Gender Expression with Gender Identity

Young children, like Coy, who strongly, consistently and persistently identify as other than their birth-assigned sex, and who have fully lived in their affirmed gender roles, have been criticized while left unstudied by researcher/policymakers who publish literature on gender variant youth. Since the early 90s, most study populations have instead been selected by much broader diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in Children (GIDC) from the DSM-IV and IV-TR, published in 1994 and 2000. Under these controversial criteria, children could be diagnosed with GIDC strictly on the basis of gender nonconforming behavior, with no evidence that they identified as other than their birth-assigned gender. Therefore, children who were intensely distressed by their birth-sex or assigned gender roles (gender dysphoria) were not distinguished from larger numbers of effeminate male-identified boys or masculine female-identified girls. Under these criteria, gender expression that differed from birth-assigned roles was deemed psychopathological, no matter how happy, functional and well adjusted the child. Moreover, children who conformed to birth-assigned stereotypes were exempt from GIDC diagnosis, no matter how gravely distressed with those roles and even if conformity was compelled under duress or physical punishment.

In 2000, Bartlett, et al., noted shortcomings in the GIDC criteria:

…it appears that a minority of children diagnosed with GID have a sense of discomfort with their biological sex.

Concerns about broad false-positive diagnosis of children who were never actually transgender and potential therapeutic abuse of youth suspected of being “pre-gay” led to revision of the Gender Dysphoria in Children category in the DSM-5 in 2013. Its criteria were tightened to resemble the prior DSM-III and DSM-III-R GIDC categories, requiring evidence of desire or insistence of other than the birth-assigned gender. In other words, the childhood diagnosis was restricted in the DSM-5 to gender dysphoric children in conflict with their birth-sex or assigned role, not merely gender nonconforming. However, sample bias resulting from old diagnostic flaws in the DSM-IV and IV-TR was not subsequently acknowledged by researchers who based their studies on GIDC diagnosis. Dr. Drescher’s remark about Coy Mathis was informed by dated research and old attitudes that conflated gender nonconformity with gender dysphoria, not controlled studies of children who actually resembled Coy.

The Doctrine of Desistence

Medical and public policy have long been influenced by research, suggesting that gender variance from birth-assigned roles in young children will most likely “desist” by adolescence and adulthood, when they will identify with their birth-assigned sex. Dr. Kenneth Zucker, of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and chairman of the DSM-5 Work Group on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, is the most prolific proponent of the 80%-desistence assumption. In 2006, he remarked to the New York Times:

80 percent [of preadolescent gender variant children] grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to 20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately change their sex.

This “it’s just a phase” stereotype, has been repeated for many years and has underpinned policies that keep gender dysphoric children in the closets of their birth-assigned gender.  It is based primarily on studies at Dr. Zucker’s own practice at CAMH and at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. Since 1994, sample selection for these studies has relied on diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in Children (GIDC) in the DSM-IV and IV-TR. In fact, Zucker and his colleagues at CAMH were instrumental in defining these criteria. As discussed earlier, these criteria required only gender nonconforming behavior for diagnosis, and not necessarily evidence of gender dysphoria  (persistent distress or incongruence with birth-sex or birth-assigned gender role). Gender dysphoric subjects in the resulting study samples were diluted by gender nonconforming children who were not gender dysphoric.

Therefore, much of this research actually suggests that the majority of children who are merely gender nonconforming, and meet the overinclusive GIDC criteria in the DSM-IV and IV-TR, will not be gender dysphoric later in life and will identify with their birth-assigned gender. However, some researcher/policymakers have inexplicably interpolated the 80%-desistance assumption to a smaller subset of children who are gender dysphoric. They have arbitrarily substituted “gender dysphoria” for “gender identity disorder” or “gender variance” in their literature, even though these terms have widely disparate definitions. As a consequence, there are concerns that these studies have scooped up large proportions of gender nonconconforming kids who were never actually gender dysphoric, found them still not gender dysphoric at puberty, and then declared them “desistent” in the literature.

In his NY Times commentary, Dr. Drescher went further still, applying the desistence doctrine to an even smaller subset of extremely gender dysphoric children like Coy Mathis, who have surmounted formidable barriers to live a real life experience in their affirmed gender roles at school. However, the Toronto and Amsterdam studies  discouraged  real life experience social transition before puberty and therefore lacked validity for “children like her.”

While mental health researchers and policymakers may not know Coy’s inner gender identity, there is a real chance that she does. Unlike those of past generations, Coy has been given a chance at a childhood, a life, without closets, without shame and without punishment for behaviors and expression that would be ordinary or even exemplary for other children. The real questions are, whether this chance should be taken away from her, and on what scientific basis?

In his response comment in the Times, Dr. Drescher called for “less polemics and fewer opinions presented as hard facts.” We might start with closer scrutiny of the 80%-desistence doctrine. In the meantime, Coy Mathis is busy defying false stereotypes, political attacks and media sensationalism by being herself in her Colorado first grade classroom. American psychiatry could learn a lot from this brave little girl.

© 2013 Kelley Winters, GID Reform Advocates

Gender Dysphoria Diagnosis to be Moved Out of Sexual Disorders Chapter of DSM-5

Protest at 2009 APA Annual Meeting (photo Kelley Winters)

Protest at 2009 APA Annual Meeting (photo Kelley Winters)

Dr. Jack Drescher,  a member of the subworkgroup on Gender Identity Disorders of the DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, confirmed yesterday that the Gender Dysphoria Diagnosis will be removed from the sexual disorders chapter and placed in a separate category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

 GD is supposed to be placed in a chapter of its own, no longer linked with sexual dysfunctions and paraphilias (which will also have chapters of their own)

This reclassification, along with the change in title from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria, is a significant improvement in the diagnostic coding used for access to medical transition care, for trans and transsexual people who need it. Preceding diagnoses of Transsexualism/Gender Identity Disorders were grouped with “psychosexual” disorders in the DSM-III. They were briefly moved to the class of Disorders Usually First Evident in Infancy, Childhood or Adolescence in the DSM-III-R in 1987 but were returned to the sexual disorders chapter in the  DSM-IV, and DSM-IV-TR. Community advocates and supportive medical providers have long raised concern that this placement was clinically misleading and reinforced false stereotypes about gender diversity. Gender identity  is not specifically related to sexuality, sexual orientation or sexual dysfunction. Political and religious extremists have  exploited the sexual disorder grouping in the DSM to sexualize gender diversity and defame trans people as deviant. Trans and transsexual individuals have consequently lost their jobs, homes, families, children, and civil justice.

The DSM-5 working group responsible for sexual and gender diagnoses hinted at a possible change in diagnostic placement in February, 2010, stating

The subworkgroup questions the rationale for the current DSM-IV chapter Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, which contains three major classes of diagnoses: sexual dysfunctions, paraphilias, and gender identity disorders… Various alternative options to the current placement are under consideration.

The decision to separate the revised Gender Dysphoria category from sexual disorders is consistent with a previous determination by the working group to remove sexual orientation specifiers from the diagnostic criteria. While many shortcomings remain in the proposed Gender Dysphoria diagnosis, this change in placement in the DSM represents forward progress for trans and especially transsexual individuals.

Unfortunately, the DSM-5 Task Force and APA Board of Trustees retained the Transvestic Disorder category in the sexual disorders chapter. Previous known as Transvestic Fetishism, it is grouped with paraphilic diagnoses such as pedophilia and exhibitionism and authored by Dr. Raymond Blanchard of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (formerly called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry). This punitive and scientifically capricious category maligns many gender variant people, including transsexual women and men, as mentally ill and sexually deviant, purely on the basis of nonconforming gender expression. It is written to promote Blanchard’s unfounded theories of “autogynephilia” and “autoandrophilia” that conflate social and medical gender transition with fetishism. More than 7000 people have signed an online petition, sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), calling for the removal of this harmful diagnosis from the DSM.

Copyright © 2012 Kelley Winters, Ph.D., GID Reform Advocates

An Update on Gender Diagnoses, as the DSM-5 Goes to Press.

ImageOn December 1, the Board of Trustees for the American Psychiatric Association approved the final draft of the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The most controversial DSM revision in more than three decades, the DSM-5 has drawn strong concerns, ranging from overdiagnosis and overmedication of ordinary everyday behaviors to poor diagnostic reliability in field trials. The transgender-specific categories of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Transvestic Fetishism (TF) have been especially contentious, beginning with the 2008 appointment of Drs. Kenneth Zucker and Raymond Blanchard of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Illness (CAMH) to lead the workgroup for sexual and gender identity disorders. They were key authors of the prior DSM-IV gender diagnoses and leading proponents of punitive gender conversion/reparative psychotherapies (no longer considered ethical practice in the current WPATH Standards of Care).

There are two major issues in transgender diagnostic policy. The first is a false stereotype that stigmatizes gender identities or expressions that differ from birth sex assignment with mental disease and sexual deviance. The second is access to medically necessary hormonal and/or surgical transition care, for those trans and transsexual people who need them. This access requires some kind of diagnostic coding, but not the current “disordered gender identity” label, which actually contradicts rather than supports medical transition care. It is necessary to address both issues together, to avoid harming one part of the trans community to benefit another.

Some of the proposed gender-related revisions in the DSM-5 are positive, however they do not go nearly far enough. The Gender Identity Disorder category (intended by its authors to mean “disordered” gender identity) is renamed to Gender Dysphoria (from a Greek root for distress) Though widely misreported today as “removal” of GID from the classification of disorders, this name change is in itself a significant step forward. It represents a historic shift from gender identities that differ from birth assignment to distress with current sex characteristics or assigned gender role as the focus of the problem to be treated. This message is reinforced by the August 2012 Public Policy Statement from the American Psychiatric Association affirming the medical necessity of hormonal and/or surgical transition care. Moreover, the sexual/gender disorders workgroup has stated a desire to move gender diagnoses away from the sexual dysfunctions and paraphilias group. (At this time of writing, it is not yet clear where they will be classified in the DSM-5.)

On the negative side, the proposed diagnostic criteria for Gender Dysphoria still contradict social and medical transition and describe transition itself as symptomatic of mental illness. The criteria for children are particularly troubling, retaining much of the archaic sexist language of the DSM-IV that pathologizes gender nonconformity rather than distress of gender dsyphoria. Moreover, children who have socially transitioned continue to be disrespected by misgendering language in the diagnostic criteria and dimensional assessment questions. There is very plainly no exit from the diagnosis for those who have completed transition and are happy with their bodies and lives. In other words, the only way to exit the GD label, once diagnosed, is to follow the course of gender conversion/reparative therapies, designed to shame trans people into the closets of assigned birth roles. While supportive care providers will continue to make the diagnosis work for their clients, intolerant clinicians will exploit contradictory language in the diagnostic criteria to deny transition care access and promote unethical gender conversion treatments.

A worse problem in the DSM-5 is the Transvestic Disorder (formerly Transvestic Fetishism) category. It is punitive and scientifically capricious— designed to punish nonconformity to assigned birth roles. It has been expanded to stigmatize even more gender-diverse people and should be removed entirely from the DSM.

Despite retention of the unconscionable Transvestic Disorder category, I believe that the Gender Dysphoria category revisions in the DSM-5 will bring some long-awaited forward progress to trans and transsexual people facing barriers to social and medical transition. I hope that much more progress will follow. In the longer term, I would like to see a non-psychiatric classification in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD, published by the World Health Association) for access to medical transition treatments for those who need them.

Copyright © 2012 Kelley Winters, Ph.D., GID Reform Advocates

Third Swing: My Comments to the APA for a Less Harmful Gender Dysphoria Category in the DSM-5

DSM-5

My objective for GID reform in DSM-5 is harm reduction– depathologizing gender identities, gender expressions or bodies that do not conform to birth-assigned gender stereotypes, while at the same time providing some kind of diagnostic coding for access to medical transition treatment for those who need it. I and others have suggested that diagnostic criteria based on distress and impairment, rather than difference from cultural gender stereotypes, offer a path for forward progress toward these goals. This post is an update to my earlier comments to the APA in June, 2011.

The  Gender Dysphoria (GD) criteria proposed by the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group for the DSM-5 represent some forward progress on issues of social stigma and barriers to medical transition care, for those who need it. However, they do not go nearly far enough in clarifying that nonconformity to birth-assigned roles and victimization from societal prejudice do not constitute mental pathology. The improvements in the APA proposal so far include a more accurate title, removal of Sexual Orientation Subtyping, rejection of “autogynephilia” subtyping (suggested in the supporting text of the GID category in the DSM-IV-TR), recognition of suprabinary gender identities and expressions, recognition of youth distressed by anticipated pubertal characteristics, and reduced false-positive diagnosis of gender nonconforming children. However, the proposed GD criteria still fall short in serving the needs of transsexual individuals, who need access to medical transition care, or other gender-diverse people who may be ensnared by false-positive diagnosis.

The proposed Gender Dysphoria criteria continue to contradict social and medical transition by mis-characterizing transition itself as symptomatic of mental disorder and obfuscating the distress of gender dysphoria as the problem to be treated. The phrase “a strong desire,” repeated throughout the diagnostic criteria, is particularly problematic, suggesting that desire for relief from the distress of gender dysphoria is, in itself, irrational and mentally defective. This biased wording discourages transition care to relieve distress of gender dysphoria and instead advances gender-conversion psychotherapies intended to suppress the experienced gender identity and enforce birth-assigned roles. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has stated that, “Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.” (SOC, Ver. 7, 2011)

Transitioned individuals who are highly functional and happy with their lives are forever diagnosable as mentally disordered under flawed criteria that reference characteracterics and assigned roles of natal sex rather than current status. For example, a post-transition adult who is happy in her or his affirmed role, wants to be treated like others of her/his affirmed gender, has typical feelings of those in her/his affirmed gender, and is distressed or unemployed because of external societal prejudice will forever meet criteria A (subcriteria 4, 5 and 6) and B and remain subject to false-positive diagnosis, regardless of how successfully her or his distress of gender dysphoria has been relieved. Once again, the proposed criteria effectively refute the proven efficacy of medical transition care. Political extremists and intolerant insurers, employers, and medical providers will continue to exploit these diagnostic flaws to deny access to transition care for those who need it. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has affirmed the medical necessity of transition care for the treatment of gender dysphoria. (SOC, Ver. 7, 2011)

The criteria for children are slightly improved over the DSM-IV-TR, in that they can no longer be diagnosed on the basis of gender role nonconformity alone. However, the proposed criteria are unreasonably reliant on gender stereotype nonconformity. Five of eight proposed subcriteria for children are strictly based on gender role nonconformity, with no relevance to the definition of mental disorder. Behaviors and emotions considered ordinary or even exemplary for other (cisgender) children are mis-characterized as pathological for gender variant youth. This sends a harmful message that equates gender variance with sickness. As a consequence, children will continue to be punished, shamed and harmed for nonconformity to assigned birth roles.

A New Distress-based Diagnostic Paradigm.

An international group of mental health and medical clinicians, researchers and scholars, Professionals Concerned With Gender Diagnoses in the DSM, has proposed alternative diagnostic nomenclature based on distress rather than nonconformity (Lev, et al., 2010; Winters and Ehrbar 2010; Ehrbar, Winters and Gorton 2009). These include anatomic dysphoria (painful distress with current physical sex characteristics) as well as social role dysphoria (distress with ascribed or enforced social gender roles that are incongruent with one’s inner experienced gender identity) For children and adolescents, these alternative criteria include distress with anticipated physical sex characteristics that would result if the youth were forced to endure pubertal development associated with natal sex. For those who require a post-transition diagnostic coding for continued access to hormonal therapy, the criteria include sex hormone status. Psychologist Anne Vitale (2010) has previously described this distress as deprivation of characteristics that are congruent with inner experienced gender identity, in addition to distress caused directly by characteristics that are incongruent.

Building on this prior work, I propose that gender role component of gender dysphoria, including distress with a current incongruent social gender role and distress with deprivation of congruent social gender expression, can be more concisely described as impairment of social function in a role congruent with a person’s experienced gender identity. I believe it is also important to include other important life functions, such as sexual function in a congruent
gender role. This language would provide a clearer understanding of the necessity of social and medical transition for those who need them.

These alternative criteria acknowledge that experienced gender identity may include elements of masculinity, femininity, both or neither and are not limited to binary gender stereotypes. They also define clinically significant distress and impairment to include barriers to functioning in one’s experienced congruent gender role and exclude victimization by social prejudice and discrimination.

Suggested Diagnostic Criteria for Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-5

I would like to suggest the following diagnostic criteria for the Gender Dysphoria for adults/adolescents and children–

A. Distress or impairment in life functioning caused by incongruence between persistent experienced gender identity and current physical sex characteristics in adults or adolescents who have reached the earlier of age 13 or Tanner Stage II of pubertal development, or with assigned gender role in children, manifested by at least one of the following indicators for a duration of at least 3 months. Incongruence, for this purpose, does not mean gender expression that is nonconforming to social stereotypes of assigned gender role or natal sex. Experienced gender identities may include alternative gender identities beyond binary stereotypes.

A1. Distress or discomfort with one’s current primary or secondary sex characteristics,
including sex hormone status for adolescents and adults, that are incongruent with
experienced gender identity, or with anticipated pubertal development associated with
natal sex.
A2. Distress or discomfort caused by deprivation of primary or secondary sex
characteristics, including sex hormone status, that are congruent with experienced
gender identity.
A3. Impairment in life functioning, including social and sexual functioning, in a role
congruent with experienced gender identity.

B. Distress, discomfort or impairment is clinically significant. Distress, discomfort or
impairment due to external prejudice or discrimination is not a basis for diagnosis.

References

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (2011), Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People, http://www.wpath.org/documents/Standards%20of%20Care_FullBook_1g-1.pdf

Lev, A.I., Winters, K., Alie, L., Ansara, Y., Deutsch, M., Dickey, L., Ehrbar, R., Ehrensaft, D., Green, J., Meier, S., Richmond, K., Samons, S., Susset, F., (2010). “Response to Proposed DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. Professionals Concerned With Gender Diagnoses in the DSM.” Retrieved December 4, 2010 from: http://professionals.gidreform.org

Winters, K. and Ehrbar, R. (2010) “Beyond Conundrum: Strategies for Diagnostic Harm Reduction,” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 14:2, 130-139, April

Ehrbar, R., Winters, K., Gorton, N. (2009) “Revision Suggestions for Gender Related Diagnoses in the DSM and ICD,” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) 2009 XXI Biennial Symposium, Oslo, Norway, http://www.gidreform.org/wpath2009/

Vitale, A. (2010) The Gendered Self: Further Commentary on the Transsexual Phenomenon, Lulu, http://http://www.avitale.com/

 

Copyright © 2012 Kelley Winters, GID Reform Advocates

 

These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For: Gender Diversity, Scapegoating and Erasure in Medicine and Media

Kelley Winters, Ph.D.
GID Reform Advocates
http://www.gidreform.org

On the April 18th broadcast of The Rachel Maddow Show, Dr. Maddow reported an “explosive revelation” that Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer had rescinded his controversial 2001 claim that sexual conversion, or sexual reparative, psychotherapies can change sexual orientation in gay and lesbian people. Quoting an interview of Dr. Spitzer in The American Prospect, Maddow celebrated the historical significance of Spitzer’s reversal for the gay rights movement, calling it,

step one in what we’re now going to see as a real change, a real reckoning, in antigay politics.

Sadly, Dr. Maddow only told half of the story. For four decades, Robert Spitzer has played pivotal roles in mental health policies, not only on sexual orientation, but on gender diversity as well. This week, Rachel Maddow and other journalists turned a blind eye to Dr. Spitzer’s failure to retract a lifetime of trans psychopathologization, stereotyping gender identities and expression that differ from assigned birth roles as mental disease. This omission speaks to the marginal status of trans people within the GLbt rights movement and progressive media, as much as Spitzer’s omission speaks to trans marginalization by mental health policymakers. Shifting stigma from one oppressed class to a more oppressed class is not real change.

At the 1973 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Robert Spitzer played a central role in arguing for declassification of same-sex orientation as mental illness:

In the past, homosexuals have been denied civil rights in many areas of life on the ground that because they suffer from a ‘mental illness’ the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate their competence, reliability, or mental stability.

This led to the gradual deletion of sexual orientation categories from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) between 1973 and 1987. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and remains the medical and cultural definition of mental disorder in North America. As Chairman of the DSM-III and DSM-III-R Task Forces and chief editor of the diagnostic manual, Spitzer oversaw removal of the last major vestige of gay diagnosis, “Ego-dystonic Homosexuality,” from version III-R.

However, while depathologizing same-sex orientation, Dr. Spitzer simultaneously directed a massive expansion of trans-pathology diagnoses in the DSM. In 1980, a new category of Gender Identity Disorders (GID), including a Transsexualism (TS) diagnosis, was added to the class of Psychosexual Disorders in the DSM-III. The TS coding was paradoxical and controversial for many trans people. Many community advocates and medical providers agreed (and do today) that some kind of diagnostic coding was necessary to facilitate access to medical and/or surgical transition care for those trans and transsexual people who needed it.  On the other hand, defining a medical transition coding as a mental illness, rather than a treatable medical condition, contradicted access to hormonal and/or surgical transition care and encouraged gender conversion, or gender-reparative, psychotherapies— unsubstantiated treatments attempting to change gender identity and shame trans and TS people into the closets of their assigned birth roles.  Vulnerable trans and gender nonconforming youth were targeted and institutionalized as a consequence of diagnostic criteria based on nonconformity to birth-assigned stereotypes.

In the DSM III-R, Dr. Spitzer’s Task Force expanded the diagnostic criteria for children to emphasize gender role nonconformity for birth-assigned girls, including “persistent marked aversion to normative feminine clothing” (whatever that means).  Even more damaging, a new category was added, Gender Identity Disorder of Adolescence or Adulthood, Nontranssexual Type (GIDAANT), to psychopathologize for the first time the gender identities of trans people who did not need access to medical transition care.

The disorder of Transvestism in the DSM-III was renamed “Transvestic Fetishism” in the DSM-III-R, to further stigmatize crossdressing or gender nonconformity by birth-assigned males as sexual obsession. This change served to sexualize a diagnosis that did not clearly require a sexual context in its diagnostic criteria.  The DSM-IV Casebook, edited by Dr. Spitzer in 1994, went even further in pathologizing gender nonconformity, recommending a Transvestic Fetishism diagnosis for a self-accepting bigender male, whose crossdressing was not necessarily erotically motivated and whose primary distress was his spouse’s intolerance.

In 2001, Robert Spitzer tacked to the political right on sexual orientation, presenting a paper entitled,”Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation,” to the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. It was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior two years later. Spitzer promoted sexual conversion, or sexual-reparative, psychotherapies as “a rational choice” and affirmed their efficacy, stating,

there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians.

Moreover, Spitzer denied mounting evidence that sexual-reparative psychotherapies cause harm and even criticized the American Psychiatric Association for denouncing the practice as unethical.  At the same time, he revealed his bias on gender diversity and gender conversion therapies, describing “a greater sense of masculinity in males, and femininity in females,” as a therapeutic “benefit.”

By 2003, Dr. Spitzer’s statements had drawn a firestorm of dissent from GLB communities and supportive mental health professionals. Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, characterized Spitzer’s study as,

just the latest attempt by the political religious right to gain legitimacy for their arguments by teaming up with a supposedly unbiased scientist.

Indeed, antigay extremists, including the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), embraced the Spitzer paper as mainstream endorsement of their sexual-reparative psychotherapies:

These results would seem to contradict the position statements of the major mental health organizations in the United States, which claim there is no scientific basis for believing psychotherapy effective in addressing same-sex attraction. Yet Spitzer reports evidence of change in both sexes…

Spitzer’s response to mounting criticism of his scientific rigor was to backpedal from his “rational choice” position, clarifying, “Of course no one chooses to be homosexual and no one chooses to be heterosexual.” At the very same time, however, he doubled down on his characterization of trans people as mentally defective.

2003 APA Annual Meeting

Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders symposium from the 2003 APA Annual Meeting. From the left, Drs. Karasic (speaking), Hill, Winters, Moser, Drescher, Spitzer (front), and Fink.

In May, 2003, Dr. Spitzer and I presented papers to a symposium entitled, “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders: Questions for the DSM-V” at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. The only trans person and non-clinical scholar in the session, I sat on the left side of the stage table with presenters advocating reform of the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and paraphilia diagnoses in the DSM-5. At the far right end of the table, Spitzer joined former APA President Dr. Paul Fink in defending the status quo. Spitzer wasted no time in invoking the worn stereotype of disordered gender identity:

Children normally develop a sense of gender identity. It is not taught—it just happens. I would argue that by itself, the failure to develop a gender identity that is congruent with biological gender is a dysfunction.

He continued, plodding down a path of cave-man essentialism:

In all cultures, young boys want to play with boys, Young girls want to play with girls… If you are interested in evolutionary psychology, you ask yourself could that have some survival value? The answer is yes. Thousands of years ago when men were more likely to be in hunting and women were more likely to be in the nurturing role, if you were a young boy you would do better if you spent your time with other boys with whom, when you were older, you would go to the hunt.

And Spitzer didn’t stop there, adding,  “…in all cultures, gender is recognized as a dichotomy.”

This could not be further from the truth. Global human history holds a great many indigenous cultures with more than two recognized sex and gender roles.  These include Tahitian and Hawaiian Mahu, Madagascar Sekrata, Hindu Tantric and Hijra Sects, Islamic Xanith, Khawal, and Sufi traditions and numerous Native American, or First Nation, Two Spirit traditions, and many others.

At the 2003 APA Meeting, Dr. Spitzer disparaged gender variant identities and expressions as pathological if they did not serve functions that he termed, “expected.” In my 2008 book, Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays from the Struggle for Dignity, I questioned his evolutionary speculations,

who gets to decide what is ‘expected’? From whose perch of social privilege is American psychiatry to pass judgment upon the evolutionary worthiness of a class of people who have survived since human antiquity?

In the May, 2006, issue of Congressional Quarterly Researcher, Robert Spitzer debated UC San Francisco psychiatrist Dan Karasic on the question of GID as a mental illness. Spitzer used his most defamatory language to date to argue that well adjusted post-transition adults should continue to be regarded as mentally ill, so long as they deviate from their birth-assigned sex roles:

Granted that hormone therapy or surgery may now be the only treatment that we can now offer the adult with GID… But surely something remains profoundly wrong psychologically with individuals who are uncomfortable with their biological sex and insist that their biological sex is of the opposite sex. The only diagnosis that is appropriate for such cases is GID.

In issues of social discrimination, historic context matters. Cisgender GLB people had every right to their outrage at Spitzer’s 2001 attack on their dignity. This week, they had cause to celebrate his retraction. Wayne Besen noted that,

Spitzer just kicked out the final leg from the stool on which the proponents of ‘ex-gay’ therapy based their already shaky claims of success.

Perhaps, but trans and especially transsexual people are not celebrating. Dr. Spitzer and like-minded policymakers in American Psychiatry have long kicked the the legs from under our human legitimacy, and the rush to his redemption in progressive media has cast our issues aside once again.

We too have been injured by Robert Spitzer’s role in perpetuating defamatory stereotypes of mental “dysfunction” and deviance. Trans people continue to lose our jobs, homes, children, families, dignity and civil justice because of these stereotypes and continue to face predatory gender conversion psychotherapies. These stereotypes lie behind every extremist political campaign that demeans our most basic civil rights as “bathroom bills.” These stereotypes lie behind military discrimination and government policies that still malign us as “mentally unfit.” These stereotypes convince parents and school officials to dismiss trans youth as “confused” or going through “a phase.” Trans communities have waited more than two decades for a retraction or an apology from Dr. Spitzer. and we are still waiting.

Copyright © 2012 Kelley Winters, GID Reform Advocates