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When You Don't Feel At Home With Your Gender

Undiagnosed or Untreated Gender Dysphoria

Diagnosis and treatment are important. People with gender dysphoria have higher rates of mental health conditions. Some estimates say that 71% of people with gender dysphoria will have some other mental health diagnosis in their lifetime. That includes mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

Treatment

The goal is not to change how the person feels about his or her gender. Instead, the goal is to deal with the distress that may come with those feelings.

Talking with a psychologist or psychiatrist is part of any treatment for gender dysphoria. "Talk" therapy is one way to address the mental health issues that this condition can cause.

Beyond talk therapy, many people choose to take at least some steps to bring their physical appearance in line with how they feel inside. They might change the way they dress or go by a different name. They may also take medicine or have surgery to change their appearance. Possible treatments include:

  • Puberty blockers -- A young person in early puberty with gender dysphoria might ask to be prescribed hormones (testosterone or estrogen) that would suppress physical changes. Before making that decision, the young person should talk with a pediatrician and sometimes a psychiatrist about the pros and cons of taking these hormones, especially at a young age. 
  • Hormones – Teens or adults may take the hormones estrogen or testosterone to develop traits of the sex that they identify with.
  • Surgery – Some people choose to have complete sex-reassignment surgery. This used to be called a sex-change operation. But not everyone does. People may choose to have only some procedures done in order to bring their looks more in line with their feelings. 

With their therapists, people choose the treatment that is right for them based on what they want and what they already look like.

After transitioning, a person may no longer feel dysphoria. But the person may still need therapy. Friends, family, co-workers, potential employers, and religious groups can sometimes have a hard time understanding when someone’s gender appears to change. This and other challenges of transitioning can call for professional help.

Is It Just a Phase?

One of the most common questions that parents of children with gender dysphoria ask their pediatricians is, "Is it just a phase?"

Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure. Not all young children who feel this way do so in their teenage years or in adulthood.  

So how do parents know if they should let their son carry a girls’ lunchbox or let their daughter wear boys’ clothes? Experts advise that you take the lead from your child. Let your child be who he or she is, and get help if you or your child needs it.

Some young people and even adults may have mixed feelings about their physical gender. They often find it useful to talk with a counselor before or after taking steps to become who they feel they truly are.

If gender dysphoria continues past puberty, studies show that the young person will likely continue to feel that way. For people who feel long-term that their body does not match their internal sense of gender, it is not a choice. It is a burden they didn't choose, and they need professional and social support.   

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 24, 2014
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