What is Gender Dysphoria
Gender dysphoria is a conflict between a person’s biological sex and the gender with which they identify. This is sometimes described as feeling discomfort with their body or the expected role associated with their assigned gender.
People with gender dysphoria feel a significant conflict in their daily lives between the way they look and the way they identify. It is a feeling of being “in the wrong body”.
This is a difficult way to live and causes a lot of stress. Imagine going about your daily life but feeling as though you could never truly be yourself.
Gender dysphoria manifests in many different ways. A person may keep all these feelings bottled up, they may dress as the opposite gender, or as children they may prefer toys that are stereotypical of the opposite gender. Of course, none of these things are abnormal or a sure sign of gender dysphoria. Girls like to play with trucks too!
It’s also important to know that this is only considered a disorder if the person with gender dysphoria has distress in this life as a result.
Gender is defined as “the state of being male or female”. But, gender has to do with social and cultural differences rather than biological sex.
Most of gender is constructed by society and differs across cultures. This usually has to do with the gender role assigned to us by society.
In our culture gender has been divided into the masculine and the feminine. The pink and blue. We are starting to open our minds to other ways to think about gender but, for now, gender is mostly referring to male or female.
Dysphoria is defined as a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction.
In the case of gender dysphoria, this means a person is uneasy with their birth gender. Their gender identity doesn’t match up with what the people around them see. You can see how this would cause an immense level of unease!
We all want to be seen for who we are, and for many years a person with gender dysphoria may feel they have to hide who they are.
Which brings us to transgender people and how that differs or is related to gender dysphoria.
Trans people have a gender identity different from their assigned sex. It is important to mention here that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. Transgender people can be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual. They may even have no sexual orientation at all.
Now, you may be wondering if transgender people are different from people with gender dysphoria. In fact, they are connected. You see, gender dysphoria is the distress people feel from their gender identity differing from their assigned sex.
A person with gender dysphoria is transgender, their distress is gender dysphoria. Make sense?
Gender Dysphoria Symptoms
Now, you may be wondering, how can you tell if you have gender dysphoria? For most people it may be clear to you since you were a child or even later in your life. But, if you are unsure, here are some symptoms.
In order to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria a person must show symptoms for at least 6 months.
I’m going to start off with symptoms of gender dysphoria in children and teens because this is when gender dysphoria usually presents itself.
Refusal to play with toys assigned to their gender
Like I said before, this is a tough one. Children play with what they like. Girls can play with trucks, boys can play with dolls, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But, if there is an overly strong reaction and refusal to play with toys assigned to their gender because they are assigned to their gender, it could mean something.
This would mean, children refusing to play with “girl” things, if you are a girl, or “boy” things if you are a boy. Of course, gender nonconformity is common for children and is also totally normal.
Insisting they will grow up to be the opposite gender
Children may insist they will grow up to be a man if they are a girl, or a woman if they are a boy.
Disgust with their genitals
One sign of gender dysphoria is disgust with your genitals. Children may say they want to get rid of their genitals. They may also avoid changing clothes or showering as a way to not see their genitals.
Children have such a strong reaction to this because, as we see gender now, your sexual organs are the things we think determine it. So, a little boy may view his penis as the thing keeping him from being who he really is and want to avoid seeing it as a constant reminder.
In these cases, children do not identify as their given sex and so they strongly don’t identify with their sex organs.
Extreme distress about body changes during puberty
As children, there aren’t that many physical characteristics that differentiate little boys from little girls. We all run around outside and a child could easily dress in baggy clothes to make them feel closer to their gender identity.
But, as puberty hits, the gender differences become more pronounced. A girl that identifies as a male will find it more difficult to ignore her female looking body. As boys become more manly, they move further away from their ideal female body. They don’t identify as their sex and begin to lose control over their identity.
To children with gender dysphoria, going through puberty feels like being forced into a body that isn’t yours. This can cause extreme distress, anxiety, depression and, in extreme cases, suicide.
Gender dysphoria symptoms in adults
Gender dysphoria symptoms are largely the same in adults as in children. But, since the symptoms have likely gone on for longer, there are even higher risks of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
Gender dysphoria gone undiagnosed or repressed can lead to lots of problems. Substance abuse, as a way to escape from the distress, is very common. Also, undiagnosed gender dysphoria leads to a higher suicide rate.
Gender Dysphoria Diagnosis
Doctors have very clear guidelines for how they diagnose gender dysphoria. It has to do with the symptoms I explained earlier. Also, if these things cause extreme distress and mental health issues, it will lead to a gender dysphoria diagnosis.
Gender dysphoria is diagnosed in adults and teens if there is distress and problems functioning for 6 months and at least two of the following symptoms:
- A strong desire to be the other gender
- Desire to be treated as the other gender
- Wanting to change sexual characteristics
- A marked difference between expressed gender and given sex
For children, a gender dysphoria diagnosis needs at least six of the following symptoms and extreme distress functioning for six months:
- Preference for wearing clothing of opposite gender
- Preference for playmates of opposite gender
- Rejections of toys associated with gender
- Preference for cross-gender roles in play
- Strong desire to be the other gender
- Wanting to change sexual characteristics
- Insistence they are the opposite gender
- Repulsion of given sex organs
But, please remember that in children, cross-gender play and gender atypical behavior is a normal part of development and may not be a sign of gender dysphoria. Gender nonconformity is part of the luxury of childhood.
Gender Dysphoria vs Gender Identity Disorder
A few years ago, Gender Identity Disorder was the term used for gender dysphoria. But, the American Psychiatric Association changed it to gender dysphoria.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, replaced Gender Identity Disorder with gender dysphoria back in 2012. They did this because terms like “disorder” categorize transgender people as mentally ill which is not at all the case.
The APA wanted to make it clear that those with a gender identity different from their sex do not have a disorder.
The diagnosis comes is if there is an extreme amount of distress caused by not being able to identify as you actually are. Gender dysphoria is not a disorder, but it helps to diagnose so a person can figure out their next steps.
Gender Dysphoria Treatments
After a person is diagnosed with gender dysphoria they have a lot of options. If a person has a strong desire to live their life to fit with their gender identity they can.
Doctors use hormone therapy, talk therapy, and sexual reassignment surgery.
With hormone therapy and hormone treatment, a person can take testosterone or estrogen to more closely resemble their gender identity. Hormones add to what make us look like our gender so hormones can help a transgender person more closely resemble their gender identity without surgery.
Puberty blockers are also an option for children with gender dysphoria. These hormones help to stop the changes in children during puberty. This way, the physical changes that cause so much distress can be stopped and children can resemble their gender identity.
Sex reassignment is an option for adults. This uses a combination of hormone therapy, hormone treatment and surgery. This way, a transgender person can have sex characteristics that match their gender identity.
Sex reassignment is great for people that are totally positive they have gender dysphoria and want to live outwardly as they feel inwardly. Getting a body that finally matches the way they have always felt can greatly improve mental health.
Gender Dysphoria: Final Thoughts
Our society has grown a lot in our understanding of gender dysphoria. Our understanding of gender and sex has grown tremendously and there are more treatments available all the time.
It’s important to remember, not all girls like pink and not all boys like blue and this is normal and healthy. But, if you strongly believe you were born in the wrong body, that’s healthy too. It’s just taking the necessary steps through therapy and understanding yourself, until you feel completely comfortable with who you are.