When somebody’s gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth, it may cause them to experience a form of discomfort or distress.1 The medical term for this experience is gender dysphoria. Although gender dysphoria is a diagnostic term, it is essential to understand that the health concern here is not the fact that someone’s gender identity differs from their biological sex. Instead, the concern is with the distress they experience and the impact it has on their life.2
Gender dysphoria can be experienced by different individuals in different ways and at different points in their lives. Some trans guys knew from early childhood that they didn’t identify as a girl. Others might not have recognized it until a later point in life. For some, the distress they feel might flare up after looking at themselves in the mirror. For others it might be when they are misgendered or get pigeon-holed by the roles mainstream society has assigned to a gender they do not identify with. Regardless of when or how these feelings manifest, it’s important to recognize that no one experience is less valid than any other.
In the past, and still today in some rare but abhorrent cases, doctors and psychologists have tried – and failed – to “cure” gender dysphoria by counselling people to accept the gender role they’ve been assigned. This is both wrong and negligent. Without question, any respected or credible medical, psychological, or psychiatric authority agrees that transgender conversion therapy (similar to “pray away the gay”) is neither helpful nor effective.3,4,5 Instead, quality care lies in affirming a person’s gender identity and helping them bring their body into alignment.
This journey will look different for different people. For some people, it might be enough to use a different name and pronouns. For others, medical treatments like hormones are helpful. And for some individuals, some type of surgery might be required.1 What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else, and vice-versa.
If you try to suppress or ignore the distress associated with gender dysphoria it can lead to a higher risk of mental health problems such as depression and suicidality.6,7 On the other hand, by taking the necessary steps toward transitioning – socially, medically, and surgically (if desired) – the stress of gender dysphoria, and its associated outcomes, will lessen, leading to better health and well-being.
If you know someone who is trans, or questioning their gender identity, you can be supportive by listening (not proding), keeping an open mind, and affirming their gender identity. Don’t make assumptions. Like we’ve discussed, just because someone’s gender identity does not conform to the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t mean that you know (or have to the right to know) what decisions they will make in regards to their body and the rest of their life.
Finally, if you want to talk to someone about your gender identity or the possibility of transitioning, speak with your family doctor. If you don’t think they will be supportive or be knowledgeable about issues related to gender identity, feel free to reach out to us (link) and we’ll see if we can find you one that is. Additionally, check out our “Access” section for LGBTQ competent counselling and mental health services.
And if you’re ever in an emergency or feel you need immediate support contact the distress line at 780-482-HELP (4357).