Gender dysphoria, also known as gender identity disorder, is a term given when a person does not feel comfortable identifying as the gender that was assigned at birth. This condition is clinically labeled as a disorder, although that term is surrounded by much controversy, especially considering that research suggests that brain chemicals may actually be involved. Treatment for gender dysphoria varies according to the age of the patient and may include hormone therapy and eventually gender-reassignment surgery, although psychological counseling is recommended for people of all ages who question their gender identities.
Gender dysphoria can occur at any age, although it is commonly felt in children. For instance, a male child may become convinced that he is really a girl, in spite of having the anatomy of a boy. He may then attempt to dress as a girl and behave in ways that are more socially acceptable for girls than boys. Many children will no longer experience these feelings after puberty, while others will continue to struggle with gender identity issues.
A young child who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria but has not yet reached puberty will have a different treatment plan than older children and adults. This is due to the fact that this condition cannot be accurately confirmed until after puberty. For those in this age group, psychological counseling is used to help the child, as well as the child's family, cope with the conflicting emotions and social stigmas of feeling trapped in the wrong body.
Children with gender dysphoria who have reached puberty but are less than the age of 16 may undergo what is known as endocrine therapy. This type of therapy works by giving the child hormones that will help to suppress some of the natural hormones produced during and after puberty. Endocrine therapy helps to slow the development of reproductive organs and other physical features common to the gender assigned at birth.
After the patient with gender dysphoria has reached the age of 16, additional hormone therapy may be offered. Cross-sex hormones can help the patient develop more of the characteristics of the gender that he feels most closely expresses how he identifies. Doctors and therapists may then begin to discuss the possibility of gender-reassignment surgery, although most with gender dysphoria will not take this step.
Adults who have a confirmed diagnosis of gender dysphoria will often be referred to a gender identity clinic. This type of clinic provides mental and emotional support and also helps the individual learn to look and behave more like the gender that is most comfortable for him or her. Support groups are also available for family members who wish to be supportive in the new gender role. A small percentage of patients will decide to undergo gender reassignment surgery to look and feel more like the person they have always known themselves to be.