Gender dysphoria is defined as “the disconnect between experienced gender and assigned gender,” according to the Child Mind Institute. Simply put, gender dysphoria is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
WARNING: this post contains in-depth language and information about suicide. If you are in acute crisis looking for help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or dial 911.
Gender dysphoria is defined as “the disconnect between experienced gender and assigned gender,” according to the Child Mind Institute. Simply put, gender dysphoria is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria often shows up in trans people, among other members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Gender dysphoria can also be accompanied by body dysmorphia, which is a struggle with how to relate to one’s physical body (which may or may not be related to gender). When people experience both gender and body dysphoria though, the disconnect tends to center more on social roles and expectations than on their relationship to their own body. Teens are especially susceptible to dysphoria, with hormones raging, bodies changing, and pervasive peer pressure to conform to notions of “normal” or “cool.” Both body and gender dysphoria can be incredibly challenging to navigate for LGBTQIA+ teens, particularly when coupled alongside other mental health issues, family or community stigma, bullying, and social media.
At Charlie Health, we are proud to support our LGBTQIA+ patients by continuing to educate and spread awareness about issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community––gender and body dysphoria among them. It’s critical to continue to highlight the disproportionate mental health challenges that LGBTQIA+ youth face, including gender and body dysphoria. Significantly, a recent study of transgender teens found that more than 50 percent of transgender males and almost 30 percent of transgender females reported attempting suicide. On the flip side, only 18 percent of cisgender females and 10 percent of cisgender males from the study reported a suicide attempt. It’s one of our core missions to fight the youth suicide crisis head on. Below are resources for both our patients and their families looking to learn more about and support someone living with gender dysphoria.
LGBTQIA+ youth can affirm themselves with respect to gender dysphoria in a variety of contexts. The adoption of gender-affirming clothing and pronouns are often ideal, but not always possible in every situation (unsafe school environment, archaic dress codes, unsupportive family). In those situations, small things can help: a piece of jewelry, a meaningful bit of clothing, a subtle bit of make-up, or even just an affirming note that they keep in their book bag or wallet. It also helps to seek out communities and peers who practice affirming behaviors, as well as media in which they see themselves represented. It can sometimes be a challenge to find, but it's out there!
"Knowing" that you experience gender dysphoria can be hard. There are clinical criteria, and a trained professional can diagnose. It's difficult, though, since gender dysphoria can look like so many other things. Think of it this way: if you didn't know you needed glasses then tried on a friend's pair for fun, and suddenly the world looked clearer and better, you’d only know then that there had been something wrong before. Gender dysphoria can be like that: it's like you've been walking with your shoes on the wrong feet, but if that's all you've ever known, you might not be able to tell where the discomfort is coming until you get them switched around the right way.
Parents can help by listening to their kids, learning from their kids and other sources (especially the stories of other trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming people), and practicing love for their kids. Accept that gender dysphoria is real, and that if left untreated or unacknowledged, it can be devastating. Asking kids and teens how they can best support their vision of gender harmony can be immensely empowering and an amazing way to connect as a family.
Charlie Health’s team of licensed clinicians is here to support LGBTQIA+ youth struggling with mental health. Our programs are tailored to meet individual needs through assigning patients to therapists who understand their unique challenges, and placing patients in LGBTQIA+ specific group therapy to build connection and community. Reaching out for help is a critical step in your journey toward healing. Professionals are available to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and match you with a treatment program that fits your needs.