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Resisting Pathology: GID and the Contested Terrain of Diagnosis in the Transgender Rights Movement

Sociology of Diagnosis

ISBN: 978-0-85724-575-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-576-2

Publication date: 3 August 2011


Purpose – To examine debates within the transgender rights movement over the GID diagnosis in order to demonstrate how diagnosis can be resisted as a source of stigma and social control at the same time that it is embraced as a means of legitimating experience and gaining access to resources, including medical services.

Methodology/approach – This chapter draws on qualitative data from: in-depth interviews with transgender rights activists and advocates, participant observation in transgender health care and activism settings, and content analysis of print and web-based materials on transgender health.

Findings – Transgender rights activists and advocates overwhelmingly reject the pathologization of gender variance. However, some actors advocate complete demedicalization, while others advocate diagnostic reform. Actors' advocacy for each position is influenced by the perceived costs versus benefits of diagnosis.

Social implications – The findings of this research shed light on the multiple and often contradictory effects of diagnosis. Diagnoses can both normalize and stigmatize. They can function to allow or deny access to medical services and they can support or act as barriers to legal rights and protections. Understanding these contradictory effects is essential to understanding contests over diagnosis, including the contemporary debate over GID.

Originality/value of paper – Through examination of an intra-constituent contest over diagnosis, this research demonstrates the need to distinguish medicalization from pathologization and illustrates the importance of examining the multiple and contradictory effects of diagnosis, both in and outside of medical settings.



Burke, M.C. (2011), "Resisting Pathology: GID and the Contested Terrain of Diagnosis in the Transgender Rights Movement", McGann, P. and Hutson, D.J. (Ed.) Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 183-210.



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