What is gender dysphoria?

A global study found that approximately 0.1-4% of individuals experience gender dysphoria. The reason some trans individuals choose to change their name, style and body is often due to the experience of gender dysphoria. Not all gender diverse individuals will experience gender dysphoria, however it can be a very distressing experience for those who do. Whilst gender dysphoria is considered a DSM-5 mental disorder, it is not the gender diversity itself. Rather, gender dysphoria is the psychological distress that someone experiences because of the incongruence between their assigned sex at birth and their gender identity. This can differ for individuals, however is usually described as not feeling comfortable in their body (e.g. assigned female at birth and not feeling like a female or not wanting female anatomy). This will often lead to a desire to transition, which means living and being accepted as their experienced gender. This can be socially, medically or both.

What are the options for managing gender dysphoria?

The first step to managing gender dysphoria is often disclosing your identity and difficulties with a trusted person. This could be a friend, parent or health professional. Affirmation of your gender can be extremely helpful in easing gender dysphoria, and this can be done in a variety of ways. Usually, people will first transition socially with those they feel safe and comfortable with. This can involve changing your name and preferred pronouns and sharing these with trusted people, finding clothes you love and feel comfortable in, and changing your hairstyle.

Over time, some trans people will seek medical treatment to manage their gender dysphoria and to create harmony between their presentation and their gender identity. This can be through the use of puberty blockers, which are used for children who are prepubertal or have just commenced puberty, and can delay the onset of puberty. Additionally, hormones can be given to those over the age of 16 – our bodies naturally produce hormones that affect our body, and for trans people these natural hormones can increase dysphoria or create changes they don’t like. Gender affirming hormones can be given by certain health professionals to help ease gender dysphoria so people can live in line with their gender identity. Gender affirming surgeries can also be common for trans people (for those over the age of 18) and can include top surgery or breast augmentation, genital reconfiguration surgery, hysterectomies, orchidectomies and facial and tracheal surgeries.

What is the difference between gender identity and sexual identity?

 People often confuse gender identity and sexual identity, however they are separate experiences. One of the traits that make up our identity is sexuality, which is who we are attracted to. This could mean romantically (who you love) or sexually (who you want to kiss or be sexually intimate with). Sexuality falls on a wide spectrum and common labels include straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer and asexual. Those who are asexual experience little or no sexual attraction to others, and those who are aromantic feel little to no romantic attraction. Again, sexuality falls on many spectrums, and can be fluid and change, and people often fall in the middle, perhaps not feeling entirely straight, entirely gay, or entirely asexual. Everything is normal.

On the other hand, gender identity is someone’s own internal sense of self and their gender. Someone’s sex is their physical body – for example, often when we are born, the doctor will write a sex on your birth certificate based on certain characteristics such as genitals and hormones. Those who are trans feel incongruent with their assigned sex at birth, and this is where their gender identity will differ from their sex.

At the end of the day, whatever label people may or may not choose to embrace is up to them; it’s the word that you feel suits you best.

Spencer Health is proud the be a gender affirming practice and are welcoming of all clients who are looking for support with their gender identity or sexual orientation.

You may also be interested in: