What is gender dysphoria?

According to DSM-Ⅴ gender dysphoria is a condition characterized by persistent feelings of identification with another gender. Usually, one experiences distress with assigned gender and sex at birth. For the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the feelings associated with it must cause significant distress and impairment. Many people with gender dysphoria dress and act in accordance with their gender identity in contrast to the gender assigned at birth.

Gender dysphoria is considered a disorder if one experiences intense distress and impairment in major areas of life and cannot function healthily though, identifying with one’s gender identity instead of assigned gender is not a meant illness itself.

While Gender is attitudes, behaviors, and feelings associated with one’s biological self which is assigned by culture, sex on the other hand is biological features associated with sex hormones and genitals. Gender dysphoria is manifested in both sexes in different ways. For example, if a person has female sex characteristics she might identify as a man although continue to introduce herself as a woman in public or seek hormonal treatment and surgery for transitioning gender with which she identifies full time. Usually, people with gender dysphoria feel concerned and uncomfortable when they are regarded as a gender with which they do not identify.

Usually, gender dysphoria appears to manifest itself differently across age groups. Even though feelings of distress can appear in children, adolescents, and adults a child when assigned to one gender may state that they belong to a different gender or will grow up identifying as a different gender.

These children might show discomfort with their physical sex characteristics, dress and act differently than their assigned gender and show intense distress in feelings and behaviors.

While the direct and exact causes of gender dysphoria are not well understood it is hypothesized that a combination of genetic, environmental, and perinatal factors play a key role. The onset of gender dysphoria can be in childhood or adulthood. While at the age of around 2 the cross-gender behavior is starting to develop where a child starts to express interest in gender roles and activities, childhood-onset gender dysphoria can continue to adolescence and adulthood. Late-onset or adult gender dysphoria occurs during puberty or later in life in early to mid-adulthood. 

If a person with gender dysphoria is in debilitating distress, psychotherapy such as individual or family counseling is important as they provide novel skills to deal with overwhelming emotions due to social stigma and facilitates self-comfort. Early diagnosis, comprehensive treatment, and a warm, caring environment are crucial for positive treatment outcomes. Although hormonal therapy and gender confirmation surgery are the options, they are not for everyone since feelings of distress might continue after the treatment.