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Being transgender means that the biological sex you were assigned at birth does not match your gender identity, which is an internal sense of being a man, woman, something in between or neither.
In the past, the medical community considered this incongruence to be a disorder. But medical experts today widely agree that being transgender is not a mental health disorder.
In the last decade, diagnostic manuals published by the World Health Organization and American Psychiatric Association contained updated language to clarify that being transgender is not a mental illness.
Onstage at the second Republican presidential primary debate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he wanted to be "very clear": "Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder."
If people are transgender, that means their sex — the biological category they were assigned at birth — does not match their gender identity, which is someone’s internal sense of being a man, woman, something in between or neither. Most major medical organizations agree that sex and gender are separate and distinct things.
Historically, the experience of being transgender carried the term "disorder," but experts no longer view it that way and are working to destigmatize the diagnosis while continuing to ensure access to gender-affirming health care.
In 2019, in the latest edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, the WHO renamed the diagnosis from "transsexualism" to "gender incongruence" and moved it from the chapter on mental health disorders to a new section titled "conditions related to sexual health."
Similarly, in 2013, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, was revised, the term "gender identity disorder" was changed to "gender dysphoria" to clarify that being transgender is not an illness.
Some advocates argued the diagnosis should be removed from the manual, but that change would jeopardize access to gender-affirming care. Without a diagnostic code, most insurance plans wouldn’t cover it, and incarcerated trans people could be denied gender-affirming health care.
When revising the DSM, "the challenge … was how to reduce the stigma of having a diagnosis while maintaining access to care," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and past president of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry.
But not all trans people experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the experience of distress as a result of your sex not matching your gender identity. It’s an "emotional response to being trans," said Michael Hendricks, a Washington, D.C.-based clinical psychologist focused on gender diversity. "Being trans is who you are."
The distress of gender dysphoria can be treated by affirming a person’s gender identity through social support and sometimes medical or surgical treatment, experts say.
Research suggests that higher rates of mental health struggles among trans people can be attributed to the social stigma and discrimination they experience. But Hendricks said these secondary mental health problems can sometimes be resolved when people receive gender-affirming care.
All of the following professional medical associations affirm that being trans is not a mental health disorder: American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, American Psychological Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Psychiatric Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Ramaswamy said that being transgender is a "mental health disorder."
But that runs contrary to the widespread medical community consensus. In the past, the medical community considered this incongruence to be a disorder. But medical experts today widely agree that being transgender is not a mental health disorder.
Leading medical organizations have taken steps in recent years to revise diagnostic manuals and standards of care to clarify that being transgender is not a mental illness.
We rate this claim False.
Interview with Michael Hendricks, a Washington, D.C.-based clinical psychologist, May 12, 2023
Interview with Dr. Jack Drescher, a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and past president of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry, May 12, 2023
PolitiFact, "‘Gender dysphoria’: What it is, what it isn’t and how history has changed its view," May 22, 2023
PolitiFact, "Yes, trans kids do exist. The claim that they don't is Pants on Fire!," July 26, 2023
Tweet, June 4, 2023
Meet the Press, "Full Ramaswamy: GOP has to 'be the party of free speech and open debate’' April 30, 2023
Tweet, Sept. 8, 2023
National Institutes of Health, "Sex, Gender, and Sexuality," May 18, 2023
American Medical Association, "AMA announced policies adopted on final day of Special Meeting," June 16, 2021
American Academy of Pediatrics, "Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents," October 1, 2018
American Psychological Association, "Sex," accessed Sept. 28, 2023
American Psychiatric Association, "Definitions of Gender, Sex, and Sexual Orientation and Pronoun Usage," accessed Sept. 28, 2023
National Institutes of Health, "Sex, Gender, and Sexuality," May 18, 2023
American Psychological Association, "Answers to your questions about transgender people, gender identity, and gender expression," March 9, 2023
PolitiFact, "What the Equality Act debate gets wrong about gender, sex," March 4, 2021
Boston Children’s Hospital, "Gender Dysphoria," accessed May 14, 2023
MSNBC, "Being transgender no longer a 'mental disorder" December 4, 2012
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Cleveland Clinic, "Gender Dysphoria: What It Is, Symptoms & Management," March 28, 2022
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, "A conceptual framework for clinical work with transgender and gender nonconforming clients: An adaptation of the Minority Stress Model," 2012
The Trevor Project, "2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, accessed May 17, 2023
Medical News Today, "How common are mental health conditions among transgender people?" May 20, 2021
American Medical Association, "AMA to states: Stop interfering in health care of transgender children," April 26. 2021
American Psychological Association, "Answers to your questions about transgender people, gender identity, and gender expression," June 6, 2023
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "Health Care for Transgender and Gender Diverse Individuals," March 2021
Pediatric Endocrine Society, "Transgender Care," June 17, 2020
Endocrine Society, Gender Dysphoria/Gender Incongruence Guideline Resources | Endocrine Society
American Psychiatric Association, "What is Gender Dysphoria?," August 2022
World Professional Association for Transgender Health, "Home page," accessed Sept. 28, 2023
MSNBC, "Being transgender no longer a 'mental disorder'," Dec. 4, 2012
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