Our baby names carry meaning. They can mean good judgment (Rashad), honor (Nora) or wisdom (Sage), among many other meanings. They can also identify one’s gender – Paula/Paul or Josephine/Joseph, for example. Sometimes, names are gender neutral like “Renee,” “Tracy,” and “Kim.” Whatever name we’re given at birth, that name becomes part of our identity. It’s the name we answer to.
What if somewhere during our childhood, adolescence or adulthood, we don’t exactly identify with that name anymore, especially if it’s a name that’s gender specific? What if, having been born female, we start to identify with boys? Or, if born male, start identifying with girls? This can be a confusing period for those who are experiencing gender dysphoria.
The term “gender” is a cultural construct. What that means is that society defines what constitutes a gender. For example, boys are not supposed to show emotions except anger, while girls are not supposed to show anger but are allowed to express other emotions. Boys can be athletic, but girls aren’t unless they’re in a special category called “tomboys.” Girls are forgiving but boys shouldn’t be and so on. There is nothing biological about these constructs. Humans constructed them for various reasons, such as the delegation of tasks and subjugation.
Dysphoria means a general dissatisfaction with life, and this dissatisfaction can be to such a degree that it interferes with one’s daily living.
So, gender dysphoria (formerly known as gender identity disorder) is dissatisfaction with one’s assigned sex at birth or the physical, sex-related characteristics because they do not conform to one’s gender identity.
It is important to note that not everyone who identifies with another gender has gender dysphoria. Many people are content with their assigned sex and/or their sex-related physical characteristics. Yet, for those who are not content, they might be experiencing gender dysphoria.
Symptoms of Gender Dysphoria
For a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, symptoms must be present for at least six months and significantly impact one’s day-to-day functioning. Not everyone with gender dysphoria will present with all the symptoms, but the majority must be present for a diagnosis. Some symptoms of gender dysphoria are as follows:
- One’s gender experience or expression (outward appearance and behavior) does not align with one’s primary/secondary sex characteristics (primary being one’s internal and external genitalia at birth and secondary being characteristics that emerge between pre- and post-pubescence like breasts or chest hair)
- A belief that one is more like the gender they identify with
- An intense wish that one had the sex characteristics of the gender they identify with
- An intense wish to be free of their primary and secondary sex characteristics (For children, this might be a wish to avoid developing their secondary sex characteristics.)
- An intense wish that they were recognized as the gender they identify with
- Feelings of depression, anxiety and/or social withdrawal
- Risky behavior
- For children, rejecting toys associated with the gender they don’t identify with and choosing friends of the gender they do associate with
The above list is not an exhaustive list of symptoms. There are many more symptoms and further divided into two categories: those who are post-pubescent (adults) and those who are children or teens. A gender dysphoria test can give more insight into this medical diagnosis and can be a jumping off point in determining if one does have this disorder and what type of treatment to seek. You can take a test here: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/gender-dysphoria-test.
A reminder might be warranted here. Gender dysphoria is about dissatisfaction about one’s sex that is incongruent with one’s gender identity. Gender dysphoria is not about pathologizing one’s desire to be of another gender.
Cause of Gender Dysphoria
In short, there is no known cause of gender dysphoria. Some psychologists believe that a mix of cultural, environmental, childhood and other factors might cause gender dysphoria.
Treatment for Gender Dysphoria
Although gender dysphoria has been recognized since the 1970s, this mental health disorder has received little attention. More studies are being conducted on the subject with the hope that understanding gender dysphoria better, treatment will evolve to meet the needs of people who have this disorder.
Medication therapy is not required to treat gender dysphoria but might be indicated for those people who are experiencing other mental health disorders in addition to gender dysphoria. Some of those disorders are depression and anxiety.
The main treatment option for gender dysphoria is talk therapy. Meeting with a therapist
one-on-one who has training and experience in gender dysphoria will help the person with this disorder learn how to cope with the incongruency they experience between their gender identity/expression and their primary/secondary sex characteristics. The goal is not to convince the person that they are of a certain gender but to support the person as they explore the identity they most align with.
For some, taking hormones or having gender reassignment surgery might be the path that leads them to feeling more at home in their bodies. For others, learning how to successfully live with their gender identity while living in a body that doesn’t conform to their identity and learning how to lessen the effects of gender dysphoria is the path that works best for them.
Ultimately, the type of treatment one seeks is dependent on the person’s goals. Sometimes, therapy isn’t enough, and this is where hormones and/or gender reassignment surgery will minimize the gender dysphoria they are experiencing. For others, hormones or surgery isn’t the goal but expressing their gender identity with the body they have is.
In essence, treatment goals and how to achieve them are individual. Gender dysphoria is treatable. With proper, individualized treatment and being surrounded by supportive people, a person with gender dysphoria can learn to manage their gender dysphoria and become more comfortable in presenting to themselves and the world their gender identity.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.