By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Gender is a basic element that helps make up an individual's personality and sense of self.
Gender dysphoria is a condition in which the patient feels that his or her gender identity is a mismatch with their actual biological sex.
Biological sex and gender identity
Biological sex is determined based on the appearance of the infant usually at birth.
Gender identity, however, is the sex the person feels themselves to be.
For example, a woman may have an anatomy and physical features of a woman but may feel like a man underneath and identify herself as such.
This is not a mental illness but is a recognised condition that may need treatment. (1-4)
Different names for gender dysphoria
Gender dysphoria is also termed gender identity disorder, transgenderism or transsexualism or gender incongruence.
People with a strong and persistent desire to live as their identified sex are sometimes called transsexual people.
These people may opt for sex-change treatment so that their physical appearance is consistent with their gender identity. (1-3)
When does gender dysphoria occur?
Gender dysphoria may appear at a very young age.
Normally children begin to identify their biological sex by the age of three or four.
This condition is usually manifested as a child’s refusal to wear their anatomical sex-specific clothes or dislike taking part in sex specific games and activities.
In most of the cases this may be just a normal part of growing up but in a handful this may persist into adulthood. (2)
Symptoms of gender dysphoria
The person with this condition may feel trapped inside a body that does not match their gender identity.
This may lead them to seek treatment to get rid of their biological sexual features like facial hair or breasts.
This may lead to anxiety or depressive disorders.
These individuals often face prejudice and misunderstanding in the society.
This may also affect their choice of sexual partners, display of masculine or feminine behavior, mannerisms and dress codes and self-concept and esteem.
Gender identity disorder is not the same as homosexuality. (1, 2)
Treatment of gender dysphoria
Treatment may involve psychological counselling and cross dressing.
For some, however, hormonal or gender reassignment surgery may be recommended in order to change their physical appearance.
Many transsexuals seek to have treatment to permanently change their bodies.
How many people are affected by gender dysphoria?
In the UK approximately 1 in 4,000 people is receiving medical help for gender dysphoria.
On average, men are diagnosed with gender dysphoria five times more often than women.
With rising public awareness more and more people are seeking help for the condition.
In 2004, the Gender Recognition Act was passed. It states that transsexuals and people with gender dysphoria can marry in their preferred gender, obtain legal documentation stating their preferred gender. This may include a new birth certificate and passport. (2)
Edited by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
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