Gender Dysphoria Causes, Risk Factors, And Symptoms

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 12/29/2020

Have you ever wondered why someone you care about isn’t happy with their gender? Or maybe you have those feelings yourself but can’t explain why? Gender dysphoria is a mental condition that can be difficult to deal with and often confusing. Here’s what it is, what it looks like, and what might make it happen.

What Is Gender Dysphoria?

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Gender dysphoria is a dissatisfaction with your assigned gender that causes you significant distress. Your parents may have chosen a boy’s or girl’s name, dressed you in boy’s or girl’s clothing, and encouraged you to behave like the gender they thought you were. That’s the gender that was assigned to you and listed on your birth certificate, after all.

Yet, if you have gender dysphoria, your assigned gender doesn’t feel right for you. You think of yourself as the other gender. You experience gender differently. Or you express your gender identity in ways others don’t understand or accept. What’s more, this clash between your biological gender and your experienced gender causes you a lot of emotional pain.

Recognizing Gender Dysphoria

Before you can know the cause of your gender dysphoria, you have to know whether you have it or not. Recognizing this mental disorder starts with knowing the symptoms to consider.

GENDER DYSPHORIA SYMPTOMS

The symptoms of gender dysphoria include both the distress you feel and signs that your gender is different from your assigned gender. Here are the symptoms that show if you’re dissatisfied with your biological gender. You may have gender dysphoria if you:

  • Have a different gender identity than your primary or secondary sex characteristics.
  • Strongly wish you could eliminate your current sex characteristics.
  • Feel strongly that you want to be another gender than what you were assigned.
  • Want the sex characteristics of the other gender.
  • Wish others would treat you the way they treat people of the other gender.
  • Feel positive that you act and think like a person of the other gender.

In addition to these symptoms, you are so discontented with your assigned gender that you have clinically significant distress. That distress may be causing you emotional pain, affecting the way you behave or even making it hard for you to function in your daily life.

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BENEFITS OF TAKING A GENDER DYSPHORIA QUIZ

Anyone who wonders if they have gender dysphoria can find out quickly with an online screening test. This test includes easy-to-understand questions with several answers to consider. You choose the one that fits your experience. Then, this confidential test delivers results that indicate how significant your symptoms are.

Taking a gender dysphoria quiz might benefit you because it:

  • Reduces confusion about what you’re feeling
  • Shows if you might need to seek help
  • Offers a fast way to get objective feedback
  • Is a first step to dealing with fears about gender issues

HOW DIAGNOSIS WORKS

The diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a systematic process. Your mental health professional will take your medical, family, and personal history first. This gives them a foundation for understanding more about your biological gender. It also lets them know about some of the issues you might be dealing within your life.

After finding out about your history, the next step is usually a diagnostic interview. The therapist or psychiatrist asks you questions about how you think and feel about gender. They may ask you how you react to situations that are commonly associated with one gender or another. They’ll want to know whether you have strong desires to be or express a different gender. And they’ll ask you how your experience of gender is impacting your life.

Mental health doctors and counselors use the DSM 5 to compare your dysphoria symptoms to accepted criteria for diagnosis. If they determine that you do indeed have gender dysphoria, they’ll usually recommend treatment options.

About Gender Dysphoria, Mental Illness, And Causes

One way to begin resolving any confusion about gender dysphoria is to increase your understanding of how it relates to mental illness. It also helps to think about what it means to say something that caused your gender dysphoria.

GENDER DYSPHORIA AND MENTAL ILLNESS

Consider the question of “Is gender dysphoria a mental illness?” That question can add another layer of distress to the discomfort you’re already experiencing. And the answer may not be as clear-cut as you would like it to be.

On the one hand, the DSM-5, a manual for diagnosing mental disorders, includes a chapter on gender dysphoria. But on the other hand, the label “disorder” has been completely eliminated from that guide. What’s more, experts agree that having a gender identity different from your biological gender is not a mental illness. Instead, it’s natural for people to have different gender experiences and expressions.

It might help to compare how gender dysphoria and grief relate to mental illness. If you have just lost a loved one, it’s natural to feel upset and sad. You may even want to see a therapist to help you get through it. However, grief is not a mental illness. The same can be said of gender dysphoria. It’s a natural reaction to the mismatch between your assigned and expressed gender. It’s not a sign that you have a mental illness or that there’s something wrong with your gender identity. But you may need help to address the turmoil it’s causing in your life.

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Another misconception is that gender dysphoria has something to do with psychiatric illnesses that have nothing to do with gender. However, in one study, researchers gave both transgender males and females the psychological evaluation called MMPI. The scientists found that these participants showed no significant difference in the rate of psychopathology compared to the general population.

In other words, gender dysphoria has nothing to do with other psychiatric illnesses. It’s possible for people with gender dysphoria to have a mental illness like depression, PTSD, or schizophrenia, just as it’s possible for anyone else. But if so, these are entirely separate diagnoses.

WHAT DOES THE CAUSE SAY ABOUT THE CONDITION?

What do you think of when you consider the cause of something? Do you think of a cause as something that goes wrong? While that may be the case, it isn’t necessarily so. It might be that the cause is merely something that happens differently for one person than it does for another. It’s crucial that you don’t judge yourself or others harshly because something bad caused their gender dysphoria. It doesn’t mean you’re deficient. It just means you’re different than society expects.

What Causes Gender Dysphoria?

No one knows precisely what causes gender dysphoria. Beyond that, it’s still not exactly clear why people identify with a particular gender. The issues behind this condition may include biological differences, upbringing, and the social environment.

GENDER DYSPHORIA CAUSES

The development of gender is a process that starts before birth. In fact, it begins at conception, when one sperm succeeds in fertilizing the egg. Your genetic makeup is determined at that point, and it may have a bearing on your future gender identity. During and after birth, hormones continue the process of gender development. But hormones are often quite variable, depending on many biological factors. All these differences are part of what makes you the gender you are inside.

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But there’s more. The way your parents bring you up may cause you to feel more distressed about your true gender identity if it’s different from what they demand of you. Or they might teach you to love and accept yourself for who you are. These factors affect the dysphoric part of gender dysphoria.

And that isn’t all. The way society treats people who have different gender ideas than expected can have an impact, too. Suppose you’re living in a culture where disapproval of someone’s gender identity is considered okay. In that case, you might be less likely to experience the distress of dysphoria.

GENDER DYSPHORIA RISK FACTORS

In the past, experts suggested many theories about the risk factors of developing as a transgender person. However, none of the proposed risk factors have been proven. And it’s important to understand that the possibility of being transgender doesn’t pose any kind of problems on its own. It’s only when you experience discontent about the mismatch that you have gender dysphoria.

Therefore, gender dysphoria triggers have nothing to do with what your gender identity is. Some of the triggers are about what you and others expect of you and how they treat you. Other triggers are reminders that your body doesn’t match the gender identity that usually goes along with those biological characteristics.

Conclusion

Your gender identity matters. It affects the way you feel, behave, and interact with the world. It may influence the type of activities you want to engage in or the types of things you enjoy. As for gender dysphoria, that condition can cause you to become depressed or anxious as you try to live the way that seems right to you. If you think you might have gender dysphoria, take an online gender dysphoria assessment. Then, consider getting help in putting the distress behind you, accepting your inner gender identity, and making life choices that enhance your experience of gender.