In 2013, Gender Identity Disorder was officially eliminated as a psychiatric diagnosis. It was replaced with Gender Dysphoria, a condition whereby the individual experiences marked distress at the difference between the gender with which they identify and the gender they were assigned at birth. The individual experiences distress and dysfunction at not being able to authentically live as they see themself. Think about that for a moment. This shift was an official endorsement of the idea that experiencing one’s gender as different than assigned at birth is not a mental illness.
Yes, transgender individuals do experience mental health conditions, substance use, and suicidal ideation at an alarming rate, as compared to those whose gender identity matches the one assigned at birth, but this is not due to any inherent flaws or intrinsic vulnerabilities. This is largely due to the pressures they commonly face from society, which ranges from more subtle forms of discrimination like being deliberately misgendered to overt violence committed against them. This violence occurs at startling rates, with upwards of 2 in 3 transgender individuals being the victims of physical and sexual violence, and this tells us that living with the fear of victimization is a common fact in transgender individuals.
A recent article in the Escapist highlights the fears that many transgender individuals have in even seeking information on gender exploration. Riley Constantine notes how she felt compelled to conduct her searches in incognito mode, as to leave no evidence of her searches. Ms. Constantine highlights her upbringing and the self-loathing she experienced, due to the messages of exclusion from others, as well as the relief at finding representation of her own struggles in the video games she played. Her story reflects the story of so many others: acceptance from others bolsters acceptance of self, and it brings relief from emotional anguish.
As we move forward as a society and as we create policy, we must bear these facts in mind, and we must remind others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with transgender individuals or their mental health. From policy-driven identity erasure to actual violence, it’s the very real pressures and threats they face from society that create the vulnerabilities to mental illness, and our policies and laws need to reflect our growing understanding of this. Inclusion of transgender individuals in our laws, policies, and protections is the way of helping. Policies that exclude maintain the suffering already present.