What is Gender Dysphoria?

Also known as Transgender or Transexual

Gender Dysphoria is when a person feels emotionally and psychologically that their gender is different than that of the sex they were born as. Men are much more likely than women to experience gender dysphoria. Sometimes gender dysphoria is referred to as transexual or transgender. It is important to note that transgender may also include people who get sexually aroused by cross dressing, whereas in gender dysphoria there is no arousal, they are simply dressing in the clothes of the sex that they identify with. Oftentimes the person will wish they could be rid of the sex organs they are born with and have them replaced with those of the gender they consider themselves to be. People with gender dysphoria wish to be treated by others as that of their perceived gender, rather than the sex they were born as. Gender dysphoria can cause a person to feel extreme distress in many areas of their life, including but not limited to socially or occupationally (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). The reason that gender dysphoria is considered a disorder is not because of the discrepancies between a persons sex at birth and the gender they consider themselves to be but rather because of the distress that this discrepancy causes in their lives (Johnson, Shipherd, & Walton, 2016).

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Possible Causes of Gender Dysphoria

Currently there are only theories, not definite causes, explaining why some people develop gender dysphoria. It is theorized that higher or lower than normal levels of androgen hormones that a person is exposed to prenatally can cause gender dysphoria.There is also a group of cells in the hypothalamus of the brain that plays a role in sexuality. This group of cells are usually half the size in women than in men but studies have shown in the case of male-to-female gender dysphoria this cluster is nearly the same size of that seen in a woman’s brain (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). There is also some weak evidence that the role parents play in the home could contribute to gender dysphoria (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Treatments for Gender Dysphoria

Therapy for gender dysphoria involves helping a person understand their feelings about their gender and helping them come to their own conclusion about what treatments they would like to pursue. For adults three treatment options to be considered include:

  • Cross-sex hormone therapy to stimulate the development of the preferred sex characteristics, and to inhibit the characteristics of the birth sex
  • Full time sex role reversal in which the person lives as the gender they wish to be in all aspects of their life
  • Sex reassignment surgery in which over a period of several years a series of hormone treatments and surgeries remove the sexual features the person was born with and replace them with those of the desired gender.
Sex reassignment surgery is controversial and people who are considering it need to work closely with a therapist to help them with the emotions that it presents.
It is recommended for children and adolescence to wait until adulthood before using hormones or undergoing any surgeries. The recommended treatment for children and adolescence is counseling to help them understand the issues that their gender identity is causing in their life. (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Risks of Gender Dysphoria

People with gender dysphoria are at risk of discrimination and violence. They also may be denied employment or housing because of their differences. They may even contemplate suicide because of the way they are treated. One study about veterans with gender dysphoria showed, "31% said they thought about attempting suicide because of the stress associated with a transgender identity" (Johnson, Shipherd, & Walton, 2016) The following image is taken from The Canadian Press and shows some alarming statistics regarding discrimination, violence, and suicidal thoughts among transgender people in the general public (Ubelacker, 2015).
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Myths About Gender Dysphoria

According to the Center for Equality two of the most common myths about transgender people are:
  • Myth: Transgender people are confused.
  • Fact: They know who they are. It is society that has a problem with their gender identity and this causes them distress.
  • Myth: Transgender people are gay.
  • Fact: Gender identity is the way a person sees themselves. Sexual orientation is a completely separate issue and this determines what sex or gender a person is attracted to (Transgender 101, 2015).

Getting Help

If you are trying to deal with the distress of gender dysphoria on your own working with a therapist could be a great asset to you. It could help you work through your feeling and help you decide the next steps you may want to take in your physical treatment.
Some things to keep in mind while looking for a psychologist are if they are licensed, how long they have been practicing, if they accept your insurance or how much are the fees if not. It would also be important to ask if they have experience with gender dysphoria (APA, 2016).

The following link can be very helpful to help find a psychologist near you!

Resources for Help in a Crisis

Transgender Crisis Hotline: 877-565-8860
The Trevor Project 24/7 Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)
The National Suicide Helpline: 800-273-TALK (8255)


American Psychological Association. (2016). How to Choose a Psychologist. Retrieved February 15, 2016 from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/choose-therapist.aspx

Combatting Gender Dysphoria. Retrieved February 13, 2016 from: https://callhimhunter.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/combatting-gender-dysphoria/

Johnson, L., Shipherd, J., & Walton, H. M. (2016). The psychologist’s role in transgender- specific care with U.S. veterans. Psychological Services, 13(1), 69-76. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ser0000030

Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. (2014). Abnormal Psychology, 6th edition. New York, NY. McGraw Hill Education.

Transgender 101: Myths, Facts, Truths. (2015). The Center for Equality. Retrieved February 15, 2016 from: http://thecenterforequality.org/transgender-101-myths-facts-truths/

Ubelacker, Sheryl. (2015). ‘We realized this wasn’t a passing thing’: parents of transgender child. The Candian Press. Retrieved February 15, 2016 from: http://globalnews.ca/news/1940032/we-realized-this-wasnt-a-passing-thing-parents-of- transgender-child/