Posted by Raabiya

After a trail of queer crimes during pride month, the LGBTQ+ community breathes a sigh of relief as being transgender is no longer classified as a mental disorder. The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced this in their release of the revised International Classification of Diseases (ICD 11) on 18 June 2018.

Change in category

Before this, being ‘transgender’ was classified as a ‘personality disorder’, heightening the stigma against the trans community. The revised edition will entail ‘gender incongruence’ under sexual health conditions. The stigma against the trans community generally rises from its classification as a disorder, though it has been scientifically refuted. Hence, this move by the WHO is a milestone in LGBTQ+ history and empowerment. 

Change in terminology

Now, gender is being perceived as a spectrum by the ICD. Previously, gender and sex were used interchangeably and considered a binary. Now, phrases like ‘other sex’ are replaced by ‘experienced gender’, allowing non-binary identities under its umbrella. Other words like ‘transsexualism’, ‘dual-role transvestism’, and ‘gender identity disorder’ have also been omitted. 

Now, gender is being perceived as a spectrum by the ICD.

The basis of the change

The decision was made by a joint effort of professional, and concerned communities. Available evidence and scientific data were reviewed by the Joint Task Forces to delineate the new changes. 

Possible Implications

An important implication of this change is that unusual treatments prescribed by Shamans, God-men and, even doctors to ‘cure’ a trans person cannot be grounded on medical claims. If officiated, such treatments could possibly be banned in the country. The social acceptance of transgender people is likely to increase, possibly changing the approach to gender, in general. Classification as a mental disorder has also contributed to the perception that transgender people must be treated by psychiatrists. This restricts access to services that could reasonably be provided at other levels of care. Hence, in those institutions that follow ICD, a certificate approval may no longer be needed. 

An important implication of this change is that unusual treatments prescribed by Shamans, God-men and, even doctors to ‘cure’ a trans person cannot be grounded on medical claims.

Though the decision is largely welcomed, some activists want gender incongruence to be removed from the classification of diseases as well. Generally, transgender people require hormones in order to transition to their desired gender, physically. Keeping that in mind, some sort of gate-keeping in terms of proper diagnosis and treatment become epochal. Often trans people take self-administer hormones of dubious quality and that can be fatal to their health. Dr Lale Say, Coordinator, Adolescents and At-Risk Populations Team at the WHO said in an interview, “…In order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, [gender incongruence] was placed in a different chapter.”

Moreover, this will allow transgender people to push for insured and free treatments in their countries. Being transgender is different from being homosexual where one needs medical attention, hence, removing gender congruence completely may create chaos. 

Similar changes were brought in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) and it is about time for ICD to follow suit, thereby completely eliminating a chance for bigotry on clinical grounds.

Also read: Why Trans Movements In India Must Be Anti-Caste


A progressive queer feminist, Raabiya is pursuing literature from Delhi University. She aspires to be a journalist and create queer-sensitive coverage in media. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram

Leave a Reply