Despite the fact there is evidence that gender dysphoria has existed since early human civilizations, many people have not heard of this concept until recently. Gender dysphoria is defined by the National Health Service (UK) as “a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.”
If your teen claims that they have been experiencing gender dysphoria, this claim is something that needs to be taken seriously. Trying to simply dismiss their identity as “just a phase” can have profoundly negative impacts; gender identity is a complex issue that parents everywhere have a duty to try to understand.
In this article, we will briefly answer some of the most common questions that parents have about gender dysphoria in teenagers. By taking the time to understand this unique condition and how it is presented, you can become a supportive resource for your teen that they undeniably need in their life.
What is the difference between gender and sex?
Though the terms are often (wrongfully) used interchangeably, “gender” and “sex” describe two very different things. Sex is something that is purely biological. Sex is determined by an individual’s reproductive anatomy as well as their secondary sexual features (breasts, body structure, body hair, etc.).
Gender, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Gender is explicitly tied to an individual’s identity. Though the majority of the world’s population have a gender identity that is identical to their sexual identity, this is not always the case. Gender dysphoria is something that occurs when an individual is having difficulty reconciling the differences between their sex and their gender.
Are there more than two sexes? Are there more than two genders?
The two most common sexes and genders that can be found in the world are male and female. However, not only are there more than two sexes, there are also more than two genders. Biological sexes other than male (XY) and female (XX) include Turner’s (X), Klinefelter (XXY), XXY, XXXY, and several others. Though these naturally occurring conditions are not particularly common, they are very real and are certainly worthy of being recognized.
Gender—which is a product of identity, rather than biology—can also be presented in more than two different ways. In fact, there is no scientific limit to how many genders there could potentially be at a given point in time, just as there is no scientific limit to how many names there might be. If your teenager identifies as something other than male or female, their identity is still entirely valid.
How do I know if my teenager’s gender dysphoria is “legitimate”?
Gender dysphoria is a subjective experience, but those who claim they are experiencing gender dysphoria need to be taken seriously. There are only two pieces of criteria for someone to be legitimately diagnosed with gender dysphoria: their gender identity (subjective) must be different than their biological sex (objective) and they must also be feeling discomfort or complications caused by the differences between the two.
Many parents will dismiss their teenager’s gender identity because they believe it is “just a phase”, they are “trying to be trendy”, or they are “doing it for attention.” However, each of these negative reactions can be distinctively harmful. Even if your teen eventually changes their gender identity later in life, while they are experiencing symptoms of gender dysphoria, they deserve to be listened to and supported.
What are some conditions or issues that are correlated with the presence of gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria in teenagers is strongly correlated with a wide variety of additional psychological conditions. Many of the issues that correlate with gender dysphoria are likely caused by bullying, rejection, or other social forces. However, these issues could also be caused by other variables as well.
Individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria are statistically more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, and several other mental health conditions. They are statistically more likely to attempt suicide, especially if their condition is not taken seriously or properly addressed. In order to best combat these issues, adhering to the psychiatric principle of co-occurring disorders —attempting to treat the whole person at once—has been proven to be quite effective.
If my teenager is experiencing gender dysphoria, what can I do to help?
Some parents are often confused—or even worse, angry—when their teenager “comes out” and claims that they are experiencing symptoms of gender dysphoria. As a parent, there are many different things that you can potentially do to help.
The first thing you need to do is listen to what your teenager is experiencing and take what they are saying seriously. Additionally, you should remind them that you love them, you accept them for who they are, and that you will be there to support them no matter what. Your teenager may also initially benefit from meeting with a psychiatrist who will be more familiar with what they are experiencing.
What are some possible treatments available for gender dysphoria?
For individuals who are experiencing gender dysphoria, there are several different treatment options available. It is important to note that not all individuals who have differences between their gender and sex will want any sort of hormonal therapy, though there are some who certainly will.
Some individuals with gender dysphoria simply need someone to listen to. Working with a licensed clinician who is familiar with the issue can help them learn to better understand themselves and deal with certain social issues such as bullying. Other people who are experiencing gender dysphoria may eventually need hormonal therapy or reproductive surgery in order to be fully comfortable with who they are. This is an area of treatment that is rapidly advancing and improving over time; there are many qualified individuals who can advise you regarding treatment options and timelines.
Gender dysphoria is a very real condition. If your teenager has approached you and said they are experiencing comforts caused by the differences between their sex and gender, you need to be there as an open source of support. With the right resources and the willingness to take them seriously, you can help your teenager become comfortable in their own skin.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
Author Bio: Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment center with locations in Los Angeles, California. Specializing in teen mental health and psychiatric disorders, Polaris takes pride in offering individualized programs for depression, trauma, bipolar, substance abuse, eating disorders and other serious conditions. For more information on our programs, or to speak with an intake specialist, dial 1-844-836-0222.