The term “transgender” means a person’s assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity (a person’s psychological sense of their gender). Some transgender people may experience something called “gender dysphoria.” Gender dysphoria is the psychological distress that comes from a person’s sex assigned at birth not matching their true gender identity. Gender dysphoria can occur at any age. It sometimes starts in childhood; however, some people may not experience it until later in life.
Transgender people may pursue multiple ways to affirm their gender. These include social affirmation (like changing one’s name and/or pronouns), legal affirmation (like changing gender markers on a person’s government-issued documents), medical affirmation (like taking gender-affirming hormones), and surgical affirmation (procedures like vaginoplasty, facial feminization, masculine chest reconstruction, and many more). However, it is essential to note that not all transgender people will want to pursue all the domains of gender affirmation. In essence, a person’s experience with their gender is highly personal and unique to them.
How Common Is Gender Dysphoria?
Establishing a specific rate for how many people experience gender dysphoria is a complex task. This may be partly due to a lack of large-scale population studies regarding gender identity.
Gender Dysphoria Treatment
Everyone experiences gender dysphoria differently. Some people may have dysphoric feelings for months and sometimes, even years. While some people may be severely impacted by dysphoria, some may not experience the same kinds of distressing feelings. For some people, outwardly expressing their true gender can alleviate any gender incongruence and can even minimize dysphoric feelings. All in all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for treating gender dysphoria. However, for those experiencing distressing feelings, some treatment options can help alleviate gender dysphoria. Here are some common ways to treat gender dysphoria:
Working with a Counsellor or Therapist
For people struggling with feelings of dysphoria, working with a therapist or counselor can help. Finding a therapist who specializes in treating gender dysphoria and who are LGBTQ+-friendly is an excellent place to start.
When people experiencing gender dysphoria are also suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, a therapist can treat these issues, as well. A referral to a psychiatrist can be beneficial for some individuals, as these doctors can prescribe medications to treat certain conditions. Some people may want to continue therapy for treating other concerns even if they are not continually experiencing gender dysphoria.
It is important to note that therapy is not accessible to every individual. While every person deserves to access counseling or medical care, these options can be expensive. Some therapists offer sliding scales according to a person’s income to make counseling more accessible.
Hormone Therapy and Gender Affirming Surgery
Some transgender people find gender euphoria when aligning their physical characteristics with their gender. However, this isn’t true for all transgender people. Some may live as their gender without taking any hormones or undergoing gender-affirming surgery. However, for those who want to pursue hormones and/or gender confirmation surgery, it may help in alleviating their dysphoria.
Some ways that transgender people affirm their gender are hormonal treatment from a qualified physician, electrolysis or other hair removal options, gender-affirming surgeries from board-certified surgeons, cosmetic procedures, and more. If physically transitioning feels suitable for your journey, it generally has a high satisfaction rate. In addition, according to recent research, there can be a significant reduction in symptoms of distress during medical transitioning, especially after starting hormone therapy (Heylens et al., 2014; Keo-Meier et al., 2015). Another factor that created positive mental health outcomes for transgender people included timely access to care. By having quicker access to care and fewer barriers, there was a significant reduction in suicide risk among an extensive community sample based in Canada (Bauer et al., 2015).
However, like counseling and therapy, medical transitioning can be costly. Therefore, these options may not be accessible for everyone. For example, in the United States, coverage for gender-affirming surgery varies according to the insurance company, state, and procedure. In addition, most insurance companies (98%) covered chest masculinization, whereas only 20% of insurance companies covered nipple-areola complex reconstruction.
Family and Peer Support
One major component that must be recognized in reducing gender dysphoria is being accepted by family, loved ones, and peers. Family acceptance and peer support can have a beneficial impact on a transgender person’s identity. Overall, greater awareness and social acceptance of transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse identities can help alleviate any social dysphoria.
How people treat or manage their gender dysphoria is a personal choice. Many factors come into consideration, like the severity of the dysphoria, financial resources, physical health status, and a person’s social support network. Some people may choose not to undergo physical changes of any kind. Some might present themselves according to their core gender only in specific scenarios where they feel safe. Other people may make various changes to their name, pronouns, the way they dress, or general appearance and not opt for any medical changes. Finally, many adults experiencing gender dysphoria may seek changes to their bodies and choose to undergo medical transition.
In essence, there is no general gender dysphoria treatment. All in all, it’s up to the individual to decide what will be affirming for them.