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When someone is exploring their relationship with their gender identity, you often hear people say, “Oh, it’s just a phase!”
It’s clear from this remark that it’s meant to dismiss and invalidate another person’s exploration of their identity. When you say, “It’s just a phase,” that’s essentially the same thing as saying, “It doesn’t really matter,” or, “We don’t have to take it seriously.”
That attitude is problematic but the intent that lurks beneath the surface is even more insidious. “It’s just a phase” masks the deeper assumption that anyone who questions their gender identity must be inherently confused, rebellious, or even a bit unstable. This attitude is then used as a way of reinforcing compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory cisgender identities.
What is Compulsory Heterosexuality?
The term “compulsory heterosexuality” refers to the cultural phenomenon of implying that same-sex attraction is unacceptable. The same is true of compulsory cisgender identities. This occurs when people are made to feel that exploring their gender identity is unacceptable. In practice, this means that identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth is non-negotiable, even if living into that identity is painful, distressing, or confusing for you.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
Because compulsory cisgender identities are commonly enforced in our society, many people feel uncomfortable when they develop questions about their gender identities. So, here’s what you need to know about gender dysphoria.
Firstly and most importantly, gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. Despite the prevalence of discrimination in our society, there is nothing wrong with exploring your gender identity. Questioning your relationship with gender does not make you crazy or confused.
So, what is gender dysphoria?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gender dysphoria as “a distressed state arising from a conflict between a person’s gender identity and the sex the person has or was identified as having at birth.” Put simply, gender dysphoria occurs when you feel conflicted about your gender identity or the way you express your relationship with gender.
Experiencing gender dysphoria does not automatically mean that you are transgender. Yes, many trans people struggle with gender dysphoria and this can be an important cue that enables them to discover their authentic identity and self. But not all trans people experience high levels of gender dysphoria. Additionally, people who do not identify as trans may also experience gender dysphoria as they start to discover their gender identity.
Ultimately, your experience with gender dysphoria is much like your relationship with gender identity and self-expression: highly personal and unique to you.
How Do I Know if I’m Experiencing Gender Dysphoria?
You might be experiencing gender dysphoria if you feel uncomfortable with the sex characteristics of the gender identity that was assigned to you at birth. For example, if you were assigned female at birth and you feel uncomfortable with traditional expressions of femininity, you might be experiencing gender dysphoria.
In practice, this might mean that you don’t enjoy traditionally feminine things such as the color pink, makeup, manicures, dresses, or anything that strikes you as “delicate” or “girly.” You might experience a strong desire to be viewed or treated as a different gender. Or, you might feel repulsed by the sex characteristics of the gender assigned to you at birth or feel a strong desire for different sex characteristics.
What Can I Do if I’m Experiencing Gender Dysphoria?
If you are experiencing any of the feelings described above, you may find it helpful to take the Mind Diagnostics Gender Dysphoria Test.
Although this test should not be treated as a substitute for a consultation with a mental health professional, the Gender Dysphoria Test can provide some additional clarity and reassurance about the feelings you’re experiencing. The test can also give you some general advice regarding your next steps.
Going forward, as you continue to explore your relationship with your gender identity, it’s important to remember that gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. You don’t need any form of “treatment” that promises to “cure” you or to force your gender identity to conform with compulsory cisgender identities.
However, you may benefit from speaking with a therapist who can help you talk through your feelings and create a life that alleviates your distress. Just as therapy for anxiety helps someone to live a life free from anxiety, therapy for gender dysphoria can help you find strength and empowerment in the gender identity that feels right for you.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.