Transman petitions WHO to delist transsexualism as a mental disorder

Maxwell Zachs is 25-years old and was born female. He is a citizen of London, England, has degrees in English literature, indigenous studies and constitutional law, and is a rabbinical student at a yeshiva in Sweden.  Three years ago he began his transitioned to male.  He began testosterone treatments in 2009 and had a double mastectomy and chest contouring in Thailand in 2010.  He recently was one of the cast of England’s My Transsexual Summer

Maxwell recently filed a petition at Change.org calling for the World Health Organization to eliminate transsexualism from its list of mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases.  He says that the designation only contributes to discrimination.

I know there is concern about Change.org.  I’m not the person who set up the petition, which last I checked had 46,814 supporters.

If you would like to get to know Max Zachs better, he has a blog.

There is nothing wrong with me. I am perfectly healthy, I just happen to be transgender.

–Maxwell Zachs

I’m a person like everybody else and I have the right to live my life without stigma, without people telling me I am sick because of how I live or how I look.  Gender is not an illness, it’s just part of who I am, like being Jewish or vegetarian or sometimes talking too much!


Transpeople are of different minds on this issue.  If being transsexual were no longer considered an illness, insurance companies would be free to refuse to pay for medical treatments (counseling, hormone therapy, and surgery) for us…just like they mostly refuse to do now.

The World Health Organization defines “transsexualism” to be

a desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by the wish to make one’s body as congruent as possible with one’s preferred sex through surgery and hormonal treatment; presence of the transsexual identity for at least two years persistently; and not a symptom of another mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, or associated with chromosome abnormality.

“Not a symptom of another mental disorder, such as schizophrenia” is hardly praise.  That sentence, all by its lonesome, stigmatizes us.

There is currently an “expert group” working on the update on the ICD-9, which will result in the ICD-10.  When the ICD-9 was published 25 years ago, homosexuality was removed from the list of mental illnesses.

A lot of things have happened in the last 25 years.  And one of the things has been a lot of social and cultural changes and the acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism.

–Gregory Hartl, WHO spokesperson

If they’re not ‘mentally disordered’ than they are ‘normal.’

–Jack Drescher, New York psychiatrist and member of the ICD-10 working group

You can’t bill for what you can’t code. And at the end of the day, the ICD is a coding book.

We are finally starting to see insurance coverage and I certainly do not want to lose that.

–Claire Louise Swinford, executive director of Transhaven

I took part in exactly this sort of debate in the mid-90s.  It was not a pleasant time.  I argued much as Ms. Swinford is.  At the time, however, I figured that our situation vis-a-vis society would improve.  It has…a very little bit.  Witness, for example, the reception of Lana Wachowski.  But there is still too much discrimination and bigotry directed at us…and too much violence…especially towards those of us who are poor and people of color.  Delisting takes away one of the major weapons that the bigots draw upon…the fact that we are considered mentally ill.

A middle-class woman can go out and get breast implants and $30,000 in facial surgery in attempt to please her husband… .  No one asks her for a psychiatric evaluation.

I’d like to see that go away and be more of an informed consent model.


I do not need a therapist to tell me I am a woman, but I do need one to deal with the crap the world throws at me.


Many countries would not cover this health-wise, especially because a lot of the medical evidence is inconclusive.  They might have to create a whole new category.

But if there is opposition from more socially conservative countries, it won’t pass.


1 comment

  1. Robyn

    …about who I am than I felt mentally before I transitioned.  

    This is living.  Before was merely striving to survive.  

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