Be who you want to be!
Every day, more and more people have the resources to understand and become comfortable with their identity, including their gender.
You may have heard of gender dysphoria in discussions about transgender experiences. But what is gender dysphoria? What does it look like? How can you help others cope with it?
What Is Gender Dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is the feeling of disconnection, discomfort, or distress surrounding the conflict between the gender assigned at birth and the gender one identifies as.
In other words, individuals with gender dysphoria often feel as though the gender they are “inside”, personal gender identity, doesn’t match with the gender they are on the “outside”, physical sex characteristics.
Gender dysphoria often motivates those who struggle to make changes in their lives to address their symptoms. This can include behaviour, appearance dress, interactions with others, transitioning to a different gender socially and, or through, surgery and more.
Also related to gender dysphoria is gender confusion or questioning one’s established gender identity. Gender confusion can refer to uncertainty or unhappiness with one’s gender, and it might include elements of dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness but dealing with it can lead to other mental health issues, like anxiety or depression.
Signs of Gender Dysphoria
Gender dysphoria looks different for every person who deals with it. But some common trends are:
- A strong desire to be seen and treated as a different gender.
- Discomfort surrounding biological sex characteristics.
- Discomfort surrounding being treated and seen as the gender assigned at birth.
For many individuals who struggle with gender dysphoria, symptoms start during childhood. However, it can be difficult to diagnose gender dysphoria in children. Children may experience symptoms differently from adults, especially since they may have a harder time clearly expressing and understanding their emotions.
It might also be difficult to determine which behaviours indicate gender dysphoria and which behaviours are a typical part of the child’s identity changing and maturing.
Gender dysphoria DSM-5 symptoms for children are fairly like those for adults, but they can reveal themselves differently. Some signs of gender dysphoria in children can include:
- A strong desire to be another gender
- Displaying behaviours typically associated with the opposite or other genders
- Crossdressing, fantasy play as another gender
- A preference for toys or activities stereotypically used by the other gender
- Clear discomfort or distress around one’s biological sex. This can manifest in different ways that we are used to seeing in adults: for example, a child might be especially distressed about sitting or standing to use the bathroom.
- Preference for friends of other genders.
- Rejection of or dislike of things associated with assigned gender, this can include biological sex characteristics as well.
Some of the above symptoms for children can be normal parts of development and identity formation. However, continued and significant distress or discomfort surrounding one’s body is a key sign of gender dysphoria and should always be taken seriously.
Dealing with Dysphoria
Gender dysphoria can often make you feel like a prisoner in your own body. It can make you feel as though you can never be yourself, do not fit in, or like the life you are living is not the one you want.
All these things can be incredibly draining, saddening, and painful. If you are struggling with gender dysphoria or know someone who is, it is important to reach out for help if it is needed. Instances of serious mental health complications and consequences are especially high in the transgender community, arguably due to the amount of mental turmoil and anguish that comes with dysphoria and a social reluctance to accept transgender individuals and people who struggle with gender dysphoria.
Help is available to those who need it. Having a good support system of friends, family, and other loved ones is a great first step. You might also consider working with a mental health professional, like a therapist, to tackle your obstacles as you begin to understand your gender identity.
Supporting Those with Gender Dysphoria
Gender dysphoria can be debilitating for those who deal with it. It can also be hard for outsiders, or those who are unfamiliar with the topic, to fully understand or empathise.
So, how can you be an ally? How can we best try to understand and support friends, family, or others who are experiencing gender dysphoria?
The following are some tips to become a better, more thoughtful ally to transgender people and those who struggle with gender dysphoria in general:
- Do not assume gender! It is easy to look at someone and address them as a certain gender, with certain pronouns based on what we see. This can be extremely uncomfortable and upsetting for those with gender dysphoria, who often already feel like they are struggling to be recognised as who they are by the rest of the world.
- Use the pronouns an individual identifies with and is comfortable with. If you are not sure which pronouns to use, be sure to ask rather than assume.
- Respect the language and terminology someone uses to describe their gender identity.
- Do not ask about intrusive or personal matters, like biological sex changes, what someone’s “real name” is (the name they had before transitioning, also referred to as a “dead name”)
- Perhaps most importantly, use your platform and ideas to advocate for LGBTQIA and individuals and communities. One of the best ways to be supportive is to help make the world, in general, a better place for transgender people and those with gender dysphoria alike.
The bottom line, there is no right or wrong way to be transgender or to experience dysphoria: your personal experiences and feelings are valid and deserve to be expressed and embraced.