Gender Dysphoria vs Transgender Identity
Since I'm openly transgender, I sometimes get comments that my identity is a mental illness because "gender dysphoria" is in the DSM-5, the official diagnostic tool for psychiatric disorders. To me, this reflects a misunderstanding about what gender dysphoria is and how it's treated. While most trans people experience dysphoria, especially before transitioning, not all trans people do for their whole life. For that reason, it's possible for someone to be transgender but not have gender dysphoria.
In this post, I want to explain the difference between gender dysphoria and being transgender. While dysphoria is a medical condition, the disconnect experienced between gender identity and biological sex isn't what makes it a disorder. It's the depression, anxiety, and distress caused by it, which can be alleviated or even eradicated altogether through treatment.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is defined as the distress a transgender person experiences due to the disconnect between their gender identity and their physical sex. A few common signs of gender dysphoria include:
- Longs to be the gender opposite the one assigned to you at birth
- Experiences dysphoria, which is the incongruence between your gender identity and biological sex
- Desire to have physical sex traits of the opposite gender
- Desires to get rid of your body's physical sex traits
- Depression or anxiety caused by dysphoria
While this condition is in the DSM-5, gender dysphoria isn't considered a mental illness. The reason its name was switched from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria in the most recent DSM is because being transgender isn't a psychiatric disorder. Once people with gender dysphoria receive treatment, they often don't experience as much depression, anxiety, or incongruence between their bodies and their gender identities.
My Experience with Gender Dysphoria
Growing up, dysphoria was a common experience for me–especially during my teen years, when puberty put my body and my gender identity even more at odds with each other. I remember reading a book called Parrotfish about a young trans boy who wishes he had been born a man and empathizing with his experience. In college, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and decided that the best path for me would be to socially transition. Not every trans person does for various reasons, but most take at least some steps towards living as their authentic selves (whatever that means for them).
Now that I'm pretty far into my transition, I don't experience gender dysphoria on a day-to-day basis. Overall, I'm grateful that I'm healthy and that I've been able to take treatments like hormone replacement therapy, a medication that has given my body male characteristics (like a deeper voice and some facial hair). My body may not be perfect, but whose is?
Winder, A. (2019, March 23). Gender Dysphoria vs Transgender Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/thelifelgbt/2019/3/gender-dysphoria-vs-transgender-identity