For most people, gender is a simple black and white (or, should we say, girl and boy) issue. For a minority, however, it’s something that causes nagging uncertainty and stress over many years. In recent years, gender identity has been talked about more and more in the media and even in schools. Because it’s no longer such a taboo subject, we understand more about gender issues today than our parents ever could. This empowers us to make choices that were simply not available to previous generations.
Facebook gives you 10 choices
Facebook for example, now allows users to choose from a long list of pre-populated gender identities, or to enter your own preferred terms. You can add up to 10 terms describing your gender on your profile and you can decide how public you want to make this information.¹ For many young people with gender identity issues, though, life isn’t that simple. The concerns they feel are sadly often compounded by the prejudice and misunderstanding of some of those they encounter day-to-day.
If you experience discomfort or distress because of a mismatch between your biological sex and gender identity, which is down to whether or not you were born with a penis, and the gender you feel yourself to be, this can lead to emotional distress. This is officially known as gender dysphoria which is a recognised medical condition, not a mental illness.² Some people with gender dysphoria decide to live according to their preferred gender, rather than their biological sex. These people are called transsexual or trans people.² Others may feel so pressured to conform with the expectations of society, including friends and family, that they live according to their biological sex, rather than the gender they relate to.²
The first signs of gender dysphoria can appear at a very young age. For example, a child may refuse to wear typical boys’ or girls’ clothes; or may not like playing with the toys that are typically popular with their biological sex.² In most cases, this is just part of growing up and is a phase that will pass in time. But, for those with gender dysphoria, this feeling of being at odds with your biological sex continues beyond childhood. Adults with gender dysphoria will often describe how they feel trapped inside a body that doesn’t match the way they feel. How frustrating is that?²
If you, or someone in your family, are struggling to deal with gender identity issues, then help’s available.² Firstly, go and see your GP and, if appropriate, they’ll refer you to a specialist Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). Staff at these clinics will work through your thoughts and feelings with you, make an assessment and provide any support you need. If the results of the assessment suggest that you or your child has gender dysphoria, they will work with you to come up with an individual treatment plan.²
Gender dysphoria treatment
Treatment for gender dysphoria aims to put an end to, or at least reduce, the distressing feelings of a mismatch between your biological sex and your preferred gender.² This can mean different things for different people. For some, it can mean dressing and living as their preferred gender. For others, it can mean taking hormones and possibly having surgery to change their appearance. Many trans people have treatment to change their body permanently, so they can live in keeping with the way they feel. It’s worth adding that the vast majority are happy with the results.²
How common is gender dysphoria?
It’s not known exactly how many people experience gender dysphoria. A survey of 10,000 people in 2012 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 1% of the population surveyed were living with some kind of gender issues.² While gender dysphoria appears to be rare, the number of people being diagnosed with the condition is increasing. This is probably down to the growing awareness of these issues.²
Feeling uncertain about your gender doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy sexual life, and your voyage of personal discovery may lead to a certain amount of experimentation in the bedroom. Sounds fun but make sure you’re looking after yourself and those you choose to be intimate with by always practising safe sex.