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Gender and identity

Gender and identity
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Gender dysphoria

4-minute read

Gender dysphoria is ongoing serious stress that you feel because your gender – your sense of being male or female – doesn’t match up with the sexual identity and reproductive organs you had at birth. It can lead to mental health problems, such as depression, and to self-harm. If you have gender dysphoria, however, there are resources that can assist you.

What is gender?

Gender is your inner sense of being a male or female, or somewhere in between. It is a vital way of seeing and expressing yourself. The gender that you identify with might be the same as, or it might be different from the biological sex (boy or girl) that you were assigned at birth. 

How does gender dysphoria come about?

At birth, you are labelled male or female based on your ‘biological sex’ – your physical sexual or reproductive characteristics, such as whether you have a vagina or a penis.

Different people show their gender identity in different ways. Some people have a sense of their own gender identity that doesn’t match up with the sex that they have been born with. They might have been born female and later identify themselves as male; they might have been born male and later identify themselves as female. Or they might identify as somewhere in between a boy and a girl or a man and a woman. They might have another sense of their gender identity. These different situations can be described as ‘transgender’ or ‘gender diverse’. 

Some people with gender dysphoria have a very strong feeling of wanting their body changed so it fits their self-identified gender. They might want to have the physical features of that gender and be treated as having that gender identity. These feelings may become stronger around puberty and adolescence.

It is common for people with gender dysphoria to be anxious or depressed, or to think about hurting or even killing themselves. 

This is not the case for everyone who is transgender or gender diverse, and not everyone who is transgender or gender diverse will experience gender dysphoria. Gender diversity by itself does not cause mental health problems. 

Support for people with gender dysphoria

If you, your child or partner might be experiencing gender dysphoria, you can talk to a doctor or other health professional about what help you can get. 

There are also services like Headspace or QLife that can support people who are going through gender dysphoria or similar experiences.

Choices for people with gender dysphoria

If someone has gender dysphoria, there are different things that might help them. Treatment is focused on supporting the person and their family in working out what is best for the person. 

Psychological counselling, especially from someone who has experience in treating people with gender dysphoria, might be helpful. Some people also find it helpful to change their sex on official documents, like their passport or driver’s licence, to show the gender they identify with. In Australia, you will need a letter from your general practitioner or psychologist to change from male to female or vice versa on official documents. 

It is unethical for a doctor or psychologist to try to change your gender identity, and this is not an appropriate form of treatment. 

Hormone treatment can help some people with gender dysphoria. There are two types of treatment:

  • medication to block puberty, which can be prescribed for children from 10 years old
  • cross-sex hormone treatment, with hormones such as oestrogen or testosterone, which can be prescribed from around 16 years old. 

The type of hormone treatment will depend on whether or not you have been through puberty yet. It will be supervised by a specialist in hormonal treatment. Depending on your age, you may need permission from your parents and legal authorities to go ahead. 

Once you are 18, if you want to, you can consider surgery to change some of the physical features that don’t line up with your gender. Usually people have hormone treatment for some time before deciding on surgery. 

There are many kinds of treatment for gender dysphoria. Treatment will be tailored to your needs. You should feel free to ask your doctor any questions you might have.

Last reviewed: January 2017

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