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Young Adult and Teen Gender Identity & Dysphoria

Owning your gender identity or sexual orientation can be an empowering but emotional process.

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What is gender identity?

Gender identity is a person’s sense of being male, female, a combination, or another gender. It reflects a person’s experience with their own gender and may not match with the sex that they were assigned at birth.

Research shows that young people today are more likely than any generation to date to consider themselves as something other than heterosexual or cisgender. In fact, 16 percent of Gen Z (anyone born between 1997 and 2012) identify as LGBTQIA+, compared with 9.1 percent of millennials and 3.8 percent of generation X.

LGBTQIA teen questioning their identity

Defining gender identities

Before we discuss how gender can impact mental health, let’s review ​​some LGBTQIA+ language— including sexual orientations and gender identities.

Lesbian

A person assigned female at birth who is physically, romantically, or emotionally attracted to another person assigned female at birth.

Gay

A person assigned male at birth or a person assigned female at both who is physically, romantically, or emotionally attracted to someone of the same gender.

Bisexual

Someone who is physically, romantically, or emotionally attracted to more than one gender.

Transgender

A term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression is different from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. 

Queer

A term for people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual or cisgender. In these cases, the terms lesbian, gay, or bisexual might be too limited, or may be associated with cultural connotations that don’t resonate with that person.

Questioning

A term to describe someone who is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Intersex

A term to describe a range of natural body variations that don’t fit into conventional definitions of male or female. For example, some people are born with biological traits, such as hormonal levels or genitalia, that don’t match what is typically identified as male or female. 

Asexual

A term used for people who don’t experience or experience a low level of sexual desire. Asexual individuals can still experience other forms of attraction such as romantic attraction.

+

Any other sexual orientation or gender identity along the spectrum of sexual and gender identities that wasn’t previously mentioned or has yet to be defined in common language. 

Cisgender

Someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. 

Heterosexual

A term for people who are sexually or romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex.

More LGBTQIA+ resources—including posts on coming out/inviting in and gender transitioning— can be found here.  

The link between gender identity and mental health

Young people who are gender diverse or don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth are more likely to face bullying, discrimination, and microaggressions, all of which can have devastating psychological consequences.

According to the 2022 National Survey on LGBTQIA+ Youth Mental Health, nearly half of LGBTQIA+ youth thought about attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. Anxiety and depression were also common, with 73 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 58 percent experiencing symptoms of depression.

Further, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth are at a greater risk for intimate partner violence and substance use disorders compared to non-LGBTQIA+ youth.

What is gender dysphoria?

LGBTQIA+ youth are also more likely to experience gender dysphoria, which is defined as the cognitive dissonance that occurs when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Dysphoria is somewhat common among teens, but it’s particularly challenging for LGBTQIA+ teens, especially when coupled with bullying, stigma, and mental health issues.

When left untreated, gender dysphoria can cause mental health challenges, including:

The benefits of gender-affirming care

Gender-affirming care refers to a variety of social, behavioral, and medical interventions that are designed to support the process of transitioning genders. This type of care is patient-centered, meaning it empowers youth to be their own advocates and active participants in how they care for their body.

The mental health benefits of gender-affirming care are well documented and supported by leading medical organizations. For example, gender-affirming hormone therapy is associated with significantly reduced rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among transgender and nonbinary youth. Gender-affirming care has also been found to improve body image and self-esteem.

Several examples of gender-affirming care include:

  • Social affirmations
  • Puberty blockers
  • Surgical interventions
  • Hormone therapy
  • Gender-affirming psychotherapy
LGBTQIA teens hanging out and supporting each other

Connect with mental health support

Think you might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional as you continue to explore or share your identity? Don’t ignore that hunch. Seeking early intervention can help you better cope with current mental health problems, as well prevent more serious complications in the future.

Charlie Health offers LGBTQIA+-focused mental health services so that kids, teens, and young adults have a safe place to express themselves without judgment. Individual and group therapy will help you to build the skills you need to explore your identity and orientation, express yourself to family and friends, and manage mental health issues. 

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that help is always available. For immediate support, visit your local emergency department, crisis center, or call one of the following resources. 

Charlie Health is committed to serving LGBTQIA+ youth in a safe, compassionate, and empowering environment. If you think that you might benefit from learning more about our virtual mental healthcare programs, reach out to learn more today

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