Gender Dysphoria is intriguing, as not too many people know how to really define it. Some wonder whether it’s real or not. Same-sex preferences seem to have found their definition, but not gender confusion. Many people assume that gender confusion is another form of homosexuality, but that’s not the case.
I simplify it this way for myself: We humans physically identify each other based on different visual markers, as either men or women. We weren’t really taught as kids to identify each other via emotional aspects as if blindfolded. What would happen if we ‘transcended gender’? Would we then identify each other based on behaviors, activities, and attributes that our society considers appropriate for one gender or the other? Would we place more importance on inner longings, to preferences of identification?
Having represented several clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and parenting experts, I learned a few things. Are there early signs? They say yes. Can this Gender Dysphoria be triggered by a physical ailment? They also say yes. Happiness and health have a direct correlation, and someone who does not identify with his/her desired gender may be agonizing with a core inner struggle.
Madeline H. Wyndzen, Ph.D., a transgendered professor of psychology (www.GenderPsychology.org), discusses her personal experiences and candidly shares her agony, “One day in middle school, after being pushed around again, a principal tried to teach me to ‘stop crying’ and ‘be a man.’ Bullies, teachers, and others taught me the same thing: there was something terribly wrong with my feelings. I tried so hard to purge from myself every expression of emotion. Really I only needed to be taught one lesson; we do not need to learn to be ourselves, we just are ourselves.”
Here are some signs that a child may be experiencing Gender Dysphoria:
- Strongly preferring to be referred to as the opposite gender. This can occur as early as elementary school.
- Strongly preferring to play with friends of the sex they wish to be identified with and preferring all identifying markers, from clothes to toys to activities.
- Obvious attempts at hiding physical gender markers especially at puberty and most importantly, showing extreme distress at changes around that time.
A few years back, I represented a leading Pediatric Endocrinologist, Francine Kaufman, MD. She specializes in treating disorders of the hormone-secreting glands that regulate countless functions, from thyroid to pituitary diseases. Here are few things I learned from her:
- Families struggle with real issues of gender confusion. Patients have come to her in their early pre-teens. Sometimes chemical imbalances and hormone deficiencies tilt identification preference. Sometimes it’s a combination of medical and emotional issues that trigger gender confusion. Our chromosomes can transcend the gender norms assigned to us by our sex. And sometimes, even to the birthing doctor, gender isn’t clear at birth as babies can show up with both female and male genetalia.
- Dealing with possible gender confusion isn’t easy. Frequently families will hide whatever is going on with their children in that regard. Not knowing who you really are has a strong stigma attached to it. But the way a family deals with that confusion is important because it can either scare or help their children. Dr. Kaufman shared with me how dismissal of those early signs and shaming had resulted in tragic results. Sometimes the agony is so intense it pushes kids to consider suicide. Any early distress about gender should be discusses with your child and appropriate professionals consulted.
- Try not to expect masculine and feminine behaviors to manifest in the lives of your children by the division of household responsibilities.
- Encourage your children to take part in activities that enhance their individuality and self-esteem, especially if skills and talents are unique or evident.
- Have an open mind. Don’t panic. Sometimes it’s a phase and sometimes it isn’t. Trust your instincts and what your child is trying to tell and show you, then go from there.
Talking openly about Gender Dysphoria with children who are experiencing it is important. The idea is to offer support in dealing with gender confusion, early on, by understanding its cause and symptoms, and talking openly about it with them (with the help of a professional if needed). It is fitting to end with these words:
“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” -Bell Hooks
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder