Transgender Rights: Why They Matter to Everyone


In December, a Swedish court declared a 1972 law that forced sterilization of transgender individuals unconstitutional. The law required individuals who sought gender reassignment surgery first be infertile. A law banning the practice of forced sterilization was put into effect this past Friday, January 11. 

While the U.S. does not require sterilization prior to a gender reassignment surgery, some states do require that the individual be labeled as having Gender Identity Disorder (GID). At least until July of 2012. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V) replaced the term Gender Identity Disorder with Gender Dysphoria.

Advocates have long rallied the American Psychiatric Association (APA), who publishes the DSM, to change the term as they believe it promotes discrimination and continued stigma around transgender individuals. The inclusion of the word disorder has been used to classify transgender people as somehow mentally ill or delusional. There are some insurance companies that require the diagnosis before covering gender reassignment surgery. 

The new term, gender dysphoria, refers to the emotional distress that occurs from "a marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender." 

Though the new classification was championed by many as being a huge step forward, trans persons may still be classified as disorder through the diagnosis of Tranvestic Disorder.

Transvestic Disorder remains located in the sexual disorders area. An individual maybe identified as either Tranvestic Fetishism or Tranvestic Autogynephilia. The DSM explains it as: "Transvestic Disorder can be applied to any person who is sexually active while wearing clothing incongruent with their birth-assigned sex." The man who suggested these changes to the DSM-V is Dr. Ray Blanchard. Trans activists have criticized him for his desire to pathologize forms of trans expression. Though not all of these forms are solely limited to trans individuals. Crossdressers and those who dress in drag may or may not identify as trans. 

The reason why this highlights continuing discrimination against trans individuals is because cisgendered individuals are allowed to behave in these matters without having their intentions questions. A cisgendered person is someone who self-identifies with the gender they were both with. We would not think to question a cisgendered women's desire to wear clothes, make-up etc, because she is acting in congruency with her societal role. 

These things matter. Our language matters. Especially to trans individuals. Statistics on trans persons within the United States are startling and saddening. This chart explains it better and has the source information for the statistics:

A disproportionate number of trans people are murdered in the U.S. It is incredibly difficult to find an accurate murder rate or clear statistics on this due to poor reporting mechanisms. The Human Rights Council notes there maybe bias in reporting hate crimes by both victim and responding police officers. A victim maybe less likely to report a hate crime based on the severity of crime, or race. An officer maybe less likely to report a hate crime based on personal bias.

In news coverage of trans individuals, the media focuses first on their trans-identity, as was the case in this 2012 New York Times article that focused more on the individuals identity as trans and her neighbors perceptions of her, other than who she was a person, and what she offered the community during her life.

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that employers who discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of their gender identity are in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Trans individuals still fight for the right to exist, to be included, in our society. I, as a cisgendered person, never have to think about my inclusivity. It is generally assumed. That is why our language, the pronouns we use day-to-day, must be more inclusive. This may seem like a small step, but it isn't. Language has always been a reflection of our culture. Our treatment of trans individuals is a reflection of our society and we have a lot of work to do.