Gender Dysphoria: How to Manage It?

Gender dysphoria refers to the distress a person feels when their assigned gender does not match up to their gender identity. A person is assigned a gender based on their reproductive anatomy when born.

Key takeaways:
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    The term gender dysphoria refers to the distress or discomfort a person feels when the gender that was assigned to them at birth does not match their gender identity.
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    It is quite rare, occurring in approximately 0.01% of people assigned male at birth and 0.0025% of people assigned female at birth, and commonly appears in childhood.
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    The management of gender dysphoria is highly individualized and may consist of a variety of measures of the individual’s choosing, including psychology, gender-affirming surgery, and hormone therapy.

However, for some people, living in a body that doesn't represent their gender identity can cause them to feel uncomfortable or experience significant distress.

What is gender dysphoria?

The term gender dysphoria refers to the distress a person feels when the gender that was assigned to them at birth does not match their gender identity. People experiencing gender dysphoria may feel as though the sexual characteristics of their bodies do not align with how they view their gender identity, which causes an internal conflict that often results in psychological distress.

Gender dysphoria usually presents in childhood, although some may experience it after puberty or later in life. It is estimated that around 0.01% of people assigned male at birth and 0.0025% of people assigned female at birth suffer from gender dysphoria, with research finding that it is most common in transgender people.

The effects of gender dysphoria differ from person to person, and an individual may explore multiple ways of affirming their gender identity, including social and legal avenues, such as changing their pronouns or legally changing their gender, or surgical and medical avenues, such as puberty blockers and breast surgery. These means of gender affirmation are highly individualized, with people deciding to pursue all means of affirmation, none, or a variety.

While the term ‘transgender’ is used to describe people whose gender identity differs from their assigned gender at birth, it’s important to note that not everyone who is transgender experiences gender dysphoria, as many transgender people do not experience distress from their bodies. Similarly, not everyone who experiences gender dysphoria is transgender, as people who are non-binary and gender non-conforming may also experience distress from their bodies not aligning with their gender identity.

What are the signs that someone is experiencing gender dysphoria?

People with gender dysphoria often experience a strong sense of discomfort with the gender they were assigned at birth. This can manifest in many ways, including:

  • A strong desire to be treated as another gender.
  • A desire to present as another gender through clothing, haircuts, toys, and other means.
  • A desire to remove or hide primary and secondary sex characteristics.
  • A discomfort performing tasks associated with traditional gender roles.
  • In children, an instance that they are another gender from a young age.

Children and gender dysphoria

Many children are interested in clothing or toys associated with the opposite gender and express discomfort in presenting as their assigned gender. This behavior is a normal part of a child's development and doesn't signify the presence of gender dysphoria or identity issues.

However, a small percentage of children may continue to have lasting discomfort that continues into puberty and adulthood, which may result in gender dysphoria.

Diagnosis of gender dysphoria

A diagnosis of gender dysphoria can help a person make sense of their feelings towards their gender and help reduce anxiety and depression. To be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, an adolescent or adult must experience at least two of the following criteria for over six months:

  • A sense of conflict between their gender identity and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.
  • A desire to change their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics as they do not match their gender identity.
  • A desire to have the primary and secondary sex characteristics of the other gender.
  • A desire to be treated like the other gender.
  • A feeling that their behaviors and emotions are the same as the other gender.

How can you manage gender dysphoria?

The support offered to manage gender dysphoria is highly individualized and usually focuses on finding ways in which the individual can find ways to express their gender in a manner that aligns with their gender identity. This can be done in many ways, including.

Psychology. To help deal with conflicting thoughts and feeling in a gender-affirming manner. Psychology can also help deal with anxiety and depression, which is common for people experiencing gender dysphoria.

Puberty blockers. Medications to temporarily stop the onset of puberty for children.

Hormone therapy. Medications are used to help transition from one gender to another. For people assigned to females at birth, hormone therapy can induce muscle growth, body, and facial hair, and lower the voice. For people assigned male a birth, hormone therapy can induce breast tissue and fat redistribution.

Gender-affirming surgeries. Surgeries such as facial surgery, or ‘top’ surgery to remove breast tissue, can help people transition into their gender identity.

Gender dysphoria refers to a person's distress and discomfort when their assigned gender doesn't align with their gender identity. Although it is commonly experienced by transgender people, it may also be experienced by nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. Gender dysphoria may be managed through a variety of different gender-affirming measures, such as psychology, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery.

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