Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that comes with gender not matching the gender assigned at birth. It is an experience felt by some transgender people and other gender non-conforming individuals. This distress can lead to the development of other mental health concerns; however, gender dysphoria is not a mental health condition in itself.
Not all people who are transgender experience gender dysphoria but it is very common. It can also be experienced by non-binary, agender, and other non-gender conforming identities as well as people who are intersex.
Sex and Gender
Before discussing gender dysphoria, it is important that we understand the difference between sex, gender, and gender identity.
Firstly, sex is the biological component (i.e., chromosomes, genitals, hormones). It is generally coded in two categories, male/female; however, when someone's sex does not fit into either one of these definitions, it can be described as intersex.
Gender, on the other hand, refers to social and legal status, such as gender expectations, characteristics, and social behaviours. It is based on cultural standards, which means these expectations and categories can shift from place to place. However, generally, it is categorized and man/woman or masculine/feminine.
Lastly, gender identity is how one feels on the inside. Gender identity is how we express ourselves and our gender. We can express our gender through the clothes we wear or how we act.
None of these categories are strictly binary, and there can be many variations between them. When we talk about gender dysphoria, we are most often talking about when gender identity does not match the sex assigned at birth rather than gender as the social category.
Though common for trans people, gender dysphoria does not affect all trans people and can affect each individual differently. Not all people who feel gender dysphoria will be negatively impacted by it. Some may very rarely experience dysphoric feelings, but for others, the feeling could even last for months or years.
Outwardly expressing gender identity help many reduce gender dysphoric feelings, but there is no specific treatment for gender dysphoria.
Like mentioned earlier, gender dysphoria is not a mental health condition, but the distress caused can lead to anxiety, depression, stress, and feelings of isolation. Meeting with a therapist or counsellor may help people with gender dysphoria cope with these or other concerns.
Therapy may also help individuals work out their dysphoric feelings with a trained gender counsellor. Aligning physical characteristics with hormones and gender confirmation surgery may also help ease feelings of dysphoria (but these steps are not always necessary to live true gender in society). It may also help to legally change names and genders to match gender identity; allowing individuals to be legally and socially recognized as their true gender can ease the distress and discomfort associated with gender dysphoria.
*Individuals always have the choice to transition or not transition.
Family and peer support are vitally important for people struggling with gender dysphoria, as it can positively impact their mental well-being. Finding support groups or online forums can connect people experiencing something similar and help create a mental and emotional support system.
If you are suffering from gender dysphoria, it is crucial to take care of your mental and emotional well-being. There are many challenges that face transgender people, like transphobia, stigmatization, hurtful stereotypes, and societal judgment. Generally, social acceptance and the de-stigmatization of trans and gender non-conforming people is important in limiting the impact of gender dysphoria in our society.
Looking for support? Call Nomina Integrated Health and talk with one of our highly skilled therapists. Healing is possible.