Mental Health Month: Gender Dysphoria

I’m hoping to write this Mental Health Month post with as much care and thoughtfulness that has been given to the other diagnostic labels we’ve covered this month. I am in severe back pain and terrified of going to Urgent Care in fear they’ll label me a drug addict. I’ve been accused of using meth by doctors in the middle of a panic attack, had my blood taken against my consent, and already had a Percocet prescription filled three or four months ago when I first injured my back. I did well, didn’t need the pills, got into physical therapy, but all of the stress and mental deterioration has set my back aflame. Severely.

I thought about postponing this post tonight because my mind is defeated. But I fear people will assume I’m giving unfair and biased treatment to Gender Dysphoria, as people who struggle with it are often treated unfairly and forgotten. My voices were having a nice time watching my suffering tonight. They told me “look at the fun we’re having!”

I’m defeated and emotionally fragile.

But tonight, we talk about Gender Dysphoria as a label and also as an experience.

There is only one diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria in the DSM (besides the unspecified/ other specified category) and that is called, well, Gender Dysphoria.

In simple terms, Gender Dysphoria occurs when someone (child or otherwise) feels their biological sex is incongruent with the gender they identify with. In children, as well as teens and adults, this must be observed for at least 6 months. Criteria includes a strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy, a strong desire for one’s body to match one’s experienced gender, cross-dressing and insistence that one is different than what they have been told to present as.

Why Do People Argue About This?

To be honest, I have no idea. Gender is indeed a construction, whether people want to believe that or not. We, as a society, have chosen what is masculine and what is feminine. This influences every facet of our lives, from the clothes we wear, the attitudes we bare, the emotions we stuff down, our careers. It even influences how well we do in math; girls are consistently praised less and encouraged less in elementary math. This is not on purpose, it becomes an unconscious habit.

People think that biological sex is black and white; you are either male or female. Hormones in development tell a different story.

Like the rest of the students who started college the same time I did, I was plunged into the diversity of people on campus. Well–gender diversity at least. There were more people open about their sexual orientation, their preferences, their pronouns. I didn’t care, honestly, if someone who presented as John wanted to be called Caroline and wear dresses. It really doesn’t affect my life. But I didn’t understand. How could someone feel like a different gender? When I was a kid, I preferred playing in the dirt and as a teen I preferred wearing baggy jeans and getting into fights. I made out with a girl in middle school. Did that mean I was supposed to be a man? What the hell was all this transgender stuff?

From someone who has never experienced Gender Dysphoria, let me tell you: it’s impossible to imagine how it feels. At least there’s a simulator for hearing voices, that can give a non-voice-hearer insight to what it feels like and sounds like. There’s no Gender Dysphoria simulator.

The depth of my outside understanding came from my Biological Psychology course my second semester of college. Sex hormones, in fact, have trouble making up their minds sometimes. Testosterone, for example, will get busy forming the physical parts of a man while Estradiol gets charged with forming certain pathways of the brain. Depending on the pathways that get more estradiol than average for what would be a biologically male child, the brain may end up having more feminine instinct.

That’s not exactly how it happens, but you get the drift: one hormone develops more in an area of the body while the opposite develops more in the brain. This has been documented. While I couldn’t find the great sources my professor from 6 years ago had–at least not publicly available ones–I did find this review that might be interesting to you. It talks about hormones, development, and further research specific to brain sex differences.

Gender Dysphoria does indeed appear to have biological and genetic connections. What is there to argue against?

Is Gender Dysphoria a Mental Disorder?

It is, after all, in the DSM-5. In the DSM-3 it was considered “transsexualism” and in the 4th it was called “Gender Identity Disorder”. The name has been through many transformations but the fact is they still want to classify this as a medical condition. I’m not quite sure why.

I don’t see how normally developing hormones is considered a disorder. There are no malformations or diseases that result from your brain developing with more female hormones and your body developing with more male hormones. I see that those who are forced to suck back their truth in fear of condemnation, homelessness, violence, and rejection, suffer from depression, anxiety, and consistently die from suicide. That’s not a result of Gender Dysphoria. That’s a result of societal intolerance and ignorance.

Humans come out in variety. Inter-sex is more common than people think; people are born with two types of sex organs, or half of one, half of another, and you wouldn’t know who they are on the street. The internal fight that carries on with people stuck in a world that sees everything in black and white would kill the average person. People think that the rate of transgender transformations going up means the youth is being corrupted, that too many boys are being told “it’s okay wear a dress” and too many girls are being told “you don’t need to have children”. The reality is spaces are getting safer. People are coming out because they can now. People in their sixties are stepping into a freedom they’ve never had. Children are being raised to embrace their feelings rather than stuff them. Gender Dysphoria and Transgender individuals have been around for as long as your average man and woman.

Gender Dysphoria itself, in my opinion, shouldn’t be in the DSM-5. Instead, I vote for added Gender Dysphoria specifiers on things like depression and anxiety. Hiding inside of yourself can cause a lot of internal turmoil. The cause of the dysphoria, however, is not a disorder. We might as well label being human a disorder at this point.

What About The Children?

I think parents get worried when their kid is learning about all these terms, like Non-Binary, Transgender, Cis, Assexual. They worry it will “confuse” them. And I think, as with anything, there are parents who go too far. Some pull their kids out of health class if they discuss gender differences, and there are some parents who force gender neutrality on their kids. None of this seems to help the cause either of them are so passionate about.

No one cannot hammer your kid into experiencing gender dysphoria.

You cannot force your kid into being gender neutral.

You can encourage them to express their feelings.

You can let them know that if they ever feel like they want toy cars instead of barbies, or visa-versa, that it’s okay.

Children will develop into who they are regardless of what you want from them–that is a given. It’s your choice to accept them, and their level of wellness, especially in the beginning, is in some way dependent on your acceptance. As they grow older, it’s then their choice to accept your position. Are you willing to risk losing your child, metaphorically and physically, just because you think stuff like gender dysphoria is some new-age hippie shit? That’s the question I feel parents should ask themselves.

I grew up hating anything girly. I refused to wear pink, yellow, or anything bright. I ripped apart every Barbie or doll I was accidentally gifted (the gifter not knowing my anti-girl tendencies). I had a collection of hot-wheels and other model cars, and all of the toys I played with were animals mostly, who’d i’d give voices and character to. I remember my mom asking me one day whether one of the toys was a boy or a girl and I shrugged and said I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. I wore baggy clothes, got along better with boys than girls (still do) and I greeted all my friends with a fist bump or one of those “masculine” hand shakes.

The point is, NONE of this resulted in me being confused about how I identify. I am comfortable with my biological, female sex. I have a boyfriend of 5 years, and am considering children in the future. I still dress in baggy clothes sometimes, I have a resting bitch-face I’m quite proud of, and honestly I had that problem guys do with women: I used to get friend-zoned constantly with guys. It’s a horrible experience. I don’t hesitate to punch someone in self-defense, but I like to have my nails done and my make-up on point and my club dress “lit af”.

Talks about tolerance and acceptance can’t turn anyone transgender or create true dysphoria. The arguments about whether people with gender dysphoria, and people who transition, are worthy of kindness is what’s going to confuse kids.

There are so many major points to hit with Gender Dysphoria. I can’t fit them all in this post. If you have more knowledge and experience than I do, please feel free to comment below, correct me, or contact me. If you want to share your story with Gender Dysphoria, let me know. I would love to put it on this site. Although it’s talked about often these days, it’s not always talked about in the right way. We need more voices and experiences to drive home that everyone deserves respect regardless of gender identity.

As always, thank you for reading. Please send good thoughts my way. Judging by the amount of mini breakdowns I’ve been having this week, it’s going to take a lot of self-love and self-care to keep me from going back on medication.

If you want to chat elsewhere, or share your story, catch me on my social media below:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @philopsychotic

If you enjoyed this post, please share, like, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue encouraging critical thinking for all.

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