What Is Gender Dysphoria?

Published 10/30/2020

Gender dysphoria is a complex and often misunderstood condition that affects a person’s identity, particularly regarding how they feel about their gender. In this article, you will learn more about what this term entails and how people can cope with it.

Defining Gender Dysphoria

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Gender dysphoria can be described as the conflict an individual has with the sex that they were assigned at birth and what they identify with.

While sex and gender are often two concepts that people often mistakenly use interchangeably and believe that they are synonymous, these two terms are actually quite different from one another.

A person’s sex is what is assigned at birth, and biologically, there are different indicators such as the chromosomes, genitals, and later on, hormonal differences and primary and secondary sexual characteristics, such as facial hair in males or the development of breasts in females.

On the other hand, gender is a lot less strict and can be used loosely. Gender can be influenced by a person’s culture or the people that they grew up around, and this is where concepts such as “men like blue and girls like pink” come from or the idea that males and females have a certain role within society or have certain expectations of them.

When people don’t identify with these gender norms, it can lead to significant distress, and this is where gender dysphoria can develop.

For instance, someone who is born a boy might not like the clothes or toys that his parents buy him or to participate in activities that boys might be expected to, and instead, he would prefer to enjoy things that girls are traditionally socialized to do.

This can create a great deal of conflict within a person, and they can find it extremely hard to express themselves, especially if they feel pressure from their family, peers, and the rest of society to look and behave a certain way.

Gender dysphoria, as a name, is a new addition to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition) by the American Psychiatric Association; however, it used to be known as Gender Identity Disorder in the past and was listed within a sexual disorders category.

Because of stigmatization involving the older term, and our understanding of the nuances of the condition evolving, it was renamed and given its own category, and in the next section, you will read about the different signs and symptoms of gender dysphoria.

Gender Dysphoria DSM Criteria

Getting diagnosed with gender dysphoria requires an understanding of all of the intricacies that the condition has, and the DSM-5 provides that and is used by professionals around the world.

Below you will find the current criteria that are used to identify people who have gender dysphoria, and it is separated between kids, adolescents, and adults: [1]

In adolescents and adults, gender dysphoria diagnosis involves a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender and significant distress or problems functioning. It lasts at least six months and is shown by at least two of the following:

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  1. A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics
  2. A strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics
  3. A strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender
  4. A strong desire to be of the other gender
  5. A strong desire to be treated as the other gender
  6. A strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender

In children, gender dysphoria diagnosis involves at least six of the following and associated significant distress or impairment in function, lasting at least six months.

  1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender
  2. A strong preference for wearing clothes typical of the opposite gender
  3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play
  4. A strong preference for the toys, games, or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender
  5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender
  6. A strong rejection of toys, games, and activities typical of one’s assigned gender
  7. A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy
  8. A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender

In kids, these behaviors can start to happen as early as two years old, and atypical gender behaviors during this time are quite common and not indicative that they will have gender dysphoria later on in life.

However, there are some studies that show that people who make more persistent, direct, and declarative statements like “I am a boy/girl”, rather than “I want to be a boy/girl” may be more likely to continue experiencing issues with gender dysphoria into their adolescence and during adulthood. [1]

Gender Dysphoria vs. Transgenderism: Is There A Difference?

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Many people who are unfamiliar with the terminology surrounding gender identity often have a lot of questions about it and one of the main ones involves gender dysphoria vs transgender people and whether or not they refer to the same thing.

Realistically, these two terms are very similar in a lot of ways, but not everyone who has gender dysphoria is transgendered, but it is typically the case.

Transgenderism refers to the expression that an individual can communicate with others, and someone who may be struggling with gender dysphoria is not transgender because they are still conforming to the expectations that people have regarding their biological sex.

There are many ways a person can identify themselves in transgenderism and it’s a large and fluid spectrum that can deviate from the notion of just being only male or female as genders.

For example, there are people who identify as non-binary, and this means that they don’t identify as male or female, or perhaps they feel that they have characteristics of both, or they believe they are completely different gender entirely. [3]

Because of this, they will often have their own preferred pronouns that they would like to be referred to as.

Another term that is still often used today, which is considered outdated, is transsexual, and this refers to the social, and often physical, transition to their desired gender and sex. However, this term should only be used if an individual identifies as being transsexual. [2]

Transitioning is just one way people cope with the gender confusion and incongruence that they face, and in the next section, you will learn about what options people have when it comes to treating gender dysphoria.

How Gender Dysphoria Is Treated

One issue that sometimes comes up when discussing treatment options for those who have gender dysphoria or are transgender is that some people believe that gender dysphoria is a term that can pathologize the way individuals express themselves.

When people think of “mental illness,” they tend to think of the most severe cases, but the truth is, mental illnesses are any condition that affects the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.

Depression and anxiety are both mental illnesses, and they are two of the most common ones, and based on this gender dysphoria is one as well because the gender incongruence creates negative feelings and emotions that significantly impact their well-being and ability to function.

When professionals treat gender dysmorphia, they aren’t looking to try to “correct” a person and get them to conform to what their biological sex is, rather, treatment aims to make people with gender dysphoria be more comfortable in their own skins.

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Therefore, the main ways people can get help with their thoughts and feelings regarding gender are through therapy and advice regarding transitioning.

Therapy can give individuals the skills they need to cope with the different thoughts they are having and learn how they can fully express themselves.

In many cases, many people will make the transition through hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery in order to be the person that they want to be and live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Do You Have Gender Dysphoria?

Dealing with gender identity issues and not knowing how to express yourself can be very confusing and stressful. If unaddressed, they can last a lifetime and be extremely harmful to a person’s mental health.

If you’ve read the signs and symptoms, and they sound like what you’re experiencing you may have gender dysphoria.

By having a better understanding of what you’re dealing with through these resources and speaking to a professional, you can learn how to cope with these challenges.

Conclusion

While many people would argue that terms like gender dysphoria present a negative connotation, they also serve a purpose, and that is to give people access to the care that they need. Without guidelines, like in the DSM-5, our understanding of these issues wouldn’t be as clear, and with education, people are able to improve their lives and those without gender dysphoria can also learn how to show support as well. To know more about getting diagnosed with gender dysphoria, click here

 

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2016, February). What Is Gender Dysphoria? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria
  2. American Psychological Association. (2014, December). Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender
  3. National Center For Transgender Equality. (2018, October 5). Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive. Retrieved from https://transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-non-binary-people-how-to-be-respectful-and-supportive