Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for June 2022 is Pride Solidarity. We invite submissions on the many layers of this theme throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly refer to our submission guidelines and email your articles to email@example.com
Gender dysphoria is a term used to reflect the discomfort and uneasiness that may be felt by an individual due to a persistent realisation that there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, but the discomfort or dissatisfaction caused by it may be so intense that it sometimes leads to anxiety, depression, or harmfully impacts everyday life, thus, causing mental health problems as well as other health concerns.
To better understand gender dysphoria, let us look into the concept of gender identity. Gender identity is how an individual feels about their gender in the context of their internal thoughts regarding their biological sex, based on whether they feel the two-match or not. Gender identity can be binary or non-binary.
Binary identity bifurcates into male and female, while non-binary gender identity includes people who do not feel one with their gender assigned at birth. For some individuals, gender is simply not significant to their identity, or keeps changing as their experience different things. Such individuals may also refer to themselves as gender non-conforming, agender, pangender, genderqueer, gender fluid, and the like.
When it comes to the mismatch of gender identity and biological sex, an example would be a person with male genitals and facial hair, who does not feel masculine or identify as male, as per socio-moral conduct, and vice versa.
Signs that indicate gender dysphoria include having changed appearances, interests, behaviour, and other characteristics. Some individuals may show signs such as discomfort, distress, depression, anxiety, or become socially isolated and withdrawn from others. Many individuals have an intense wish to get rid of their genitals and their secondary sex characteristics such as facial hair and breasts or in the case of young people, an urge to prevent the development of the same. They may also hope to have the genitals and secondary sex characteristics of another gender.
A frequent indication of gender dysphoria is the feeling of identifying with another gender. This could be due to the individual’s perception that their behaviour or reactions are more in line with another gender, and this might lead them to desire to be treated as the same gender that they identify with.
Gender dysphoria may begin in childhood or adolescence (could stem while an individual is experiencing puberty), and continue into adulthood. Some people experience gender dysphoria in varying periods. However, we must keep in mind that children showing interest in activities, games, toys, or clothes that are societally attributed to the opposite gender does not always necessarily mean that the child has gender dysphoria.
Commonly, children in their childhood enjoy different clothes, games, and more. This is simply a part of growing up and would not need any diagnosis. While, other children may have lasting emotions about identifying more strongly with another gender, and these feelings may only grow stronger as they grow up.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a book by the American Psychiatric Association, provides insights into the detailed diagnosis of gender dysphoria with separate criteria for children, adolescents, and adults. The DSM-5 states that an adolescent or adult can be said to have gender dysphoria when there is a clear difference between the gender an individual identifies with and the gender that they are assigned at birth for at least 6 months, while showcasing any of the symptoms that have been mentioned above.
The distress caused by experiencing gender dysphoria in individuals can be so severe that it may affect their everyday life and their functioning in social situations such as how they behave in environments like work or school. School is an important example as it can illustrate how children may, due to pressure to conform, dress a certain way.
Even if the way that they dress does not accurately represent their identity as fashion is a form of creative expression, students may refrain from dressing the way they wish to out of fear of being bullied or teased by their peers. Such internal conflict could lead the child to suffer from anxiety, depression, self-inflicted harm, substance abuse, and more. In extreme cases, a person might be even at the risk of death by suicide and without the right help, support or treatment, they may not feel better.
The treatment plan for every individual would differ from person to person. Social affirmations like declaring pronouns such as she/her, he/they, they/them, and more, legal affirmations through changing one’s name in legal government documents, and medical affirmations including pubertal suppression in the case of adolescents and gender-affirming hormones and surgery for adults, go a long way in effectively addressing gender dysphoria.
The timely and effective acknowledgment of gender dysphoria leads to many individuals experiencing gender euphoria, the joy of feeling wonderful about oneself, their body, and gender. Processes such as gender identity conversion therapy are not considered as approved treatment methods. Such practices are unethical and profoundly dangerous, as they not only harm those with gender dysphoria but also perpetuate negative ideas and misconceptions in society regarding gender expression.
Gender identity is a spectrum and nobody should have to feel boxed into what is assigned to them. Now more than ever, at a time when governments around the world are passing legislative bills that attack the rights of people from the LGBTQIA+ community, it is important that we educate ourselves and stand in solidarity with those who struggle with gender dysphoria.
Featured Image Source: Unsplash