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Gender Identity Disorder

Gender -- being male or female -- is a basic element that helps make up an individual's personality and sense of self. Gender identity disorder is a condition in which a male or female feels a strong identification with the opposite sex.

A person with this disorder often experiences great discomfort regarding his or her actual anatomic gender. People with gender identity disorder may act and present themselves as members of the opposite sex and may express a desire to alter their bodies. The disorder affects an individual's self-image, and can impact the person's mannerisms, behavior, and dress. Individuals who are committed to altering their physical appearance through cosmetics, hormones and, in some cases, surgery are known as transsexuals.

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What Causes Gender Identity Disorder?

The exact cause of gender identity disorder is not known, but several theories exist. These theories suggest that the disorder may be caused by genetic (chromosomal) abnormalities, hormone imbalances during fetal and childhood development, defects in normal human bonding and child rearing, or a combination of these factors.

How Common Is Gender Identity Disorder?

Gender identity disorder is a rare disorder that affects children and adults. It can be evident in early childhood. In fact, most people recognize that they have a gender identity problem before they reach adolescence. The disorder occurs more often in males than in females.

What Are the Symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder?

Children with gender identity disorder often display the following symptoms:

  • Expressed desire to be the opposite sex (including passing oneself off as the opposite sex and calling oneself by an opposite sex name).
  • Disgust with their own genitals (Boys may pretend not to have a penis. Girls may fear growing breasts and menstruating and may refuse to sit when urinating. They also may bind their breasts to make them less noticeable.)
  • Belief that they will grow up to become the opposite sex.
  • Rejection by their peer groups.
  • Dressing and behaving in a manner typical of the opposite sex (for example, a female wearing boy's underwear).
  • Withdrawal from social interaction and activity.
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

Adults with gender identity disorder often display the following symptoms:

  • Desire to live as a person of the opposite sex.
  • Desire to be rid of their own genitals.
  • Dressing and behaving in a manner typical of the opposite sex.
  • Withdrawal from social interaction and activity.
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

How Is Gender Identity Disorder Diagnosed?

Gender identity disorder typically is diagnosed by a trained mental health professional (psychiatrist or psychologist). A thorough medical history and psychological exam are performed to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis. Gender identity disorder is diagnosed when the evaluation confirms the persistent desire to be the opposite sex.

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