France has become the first country in the world to remove transsexualism from its list of recognised mental illnesses.

The decision was announced by France’s Minister of Health, Roselyne Bachelot, on the eve of last year’s International Day Against Homophobia, but did not come into effect until last month.

Bachelot made the announcement parallel to the launch of a campaign petitioning the World Health Organisation to do the same. The campaign was endorsed by some of the country’s leading minds who put their names to a letter published in French newspapers.

In France, hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery are funded by the state.

However, transsexuals must complete their surgery, effectively sterilising them, before the state will recognise their new gender.

The announcement comes as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) considers proposed changes for the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), scheduled to be published in 2013.

The DSM is the primary manual used for diagnosing mental illnesses in the English-speaking world. In it, transgenderism is currently referred to as ‘gender identity disorder’.

The working group assigned to revising sections covering gender identity disorder have published their proposals for change on the APA website. They have suggested dropping the word ‘disorder’ and changing the official name for the condition to ‘gender incongruence’ for the entries for “Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults” and “Gender Identity Disorder in Children”.

Members of the working group wrote that the proposed name was more appropriate because “[it] is a descriptive term that better reflects the core of the problem: an incongruence between, on the one hand, what identity one experiences and/or expresses and, on the other hand, how one is expected to live based on one’s assigned gender (usually at birth)”.

They also noted that a survey of organisations representing transgendered people carried out by the APA found widespread rejection of the term “because, in their view, it contributes to the stigmatisation of their condition”.

Proposals for a related entry, “Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified”, are yet to be published.

Another entry, “Transvestic Fetishism”, also has a name change proposal — to ‘transvestic disorder’ — in order to better distinguish between people with a cross-dressing fetish and those for whom it presents “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”.

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