Are You Experiencing Gender Dysphoria?
Adolescence and young adulthood can be incredibly difficult times, especially in today’s world. If you’ve ever been to a concert or a loud sporting event, you know the feeling of having to shout to be heard, even by the person next to you. That’s what it can feel like if you’re confused about your feelings and your body. You want people to listen to you, but oftentimes the noise of the outside world masks your words, and people only hear part of what you’re saying, if anything at all.
This is how it can be if you feel like you don’t belong in your body.
When we are born, our parents can tell that we are either a boy or a girl based on our genitalia and DNA. Barring some genetic abnormality, those are the two sexes. And society has traditionally behaved and treated children accordingly. Little girls play with dolls, and boys play with trucks. But what happens if you’re a little girl who can’t stand dolls, loves football, and wants to run around with the boys and play sports? Or what happens if you’re a boy who doesn’t like to play sports but prefers things that are considered feminine—like dancing or music or art?
Forty years ago, if you were this little girl, you would have been called a tomboy. If you were this little boy, let’s be honest, ignorant people may have made fun of you. But there’s nothing wrong with a boy liking to dance (look at Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire) or a girl enjoying sports (look at the fact that women are now football refs). However, what wouldn’t have happened then is for society to advocate that you change your sex.
Today, that seems to be the response to anyone who may feel unhappy in their body or who doesn’t “conform” to society’s ideas of what a boy or girl should enjoy. But it seems like, just as in the case of all the noise at a concert or a sports event, individual cries aren’t heard. Individuals aren’t listened to. Individuals aren’t helped.
But we want you to know that we hear you. We are listening. We know your pain. And we want to help.
Gender Dysphoria Criteria
In order to really understand this situation, we must first understand what we’re talking about. Gender dysphoria is the term. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) is a comprehensive volume of diagnostic criteria for clinicians. For adolescents and adults, it defines gender dysphoria “as a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and their assigned gender, lasting at least six months.” To receive this diagnosis, you must manifest two of the following criteria:
- An incongruence between your “experienced/expressed gender and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics”
- A strong desire to be rid of your sex characteristics because of this incongruence
- A strong desire to be or to be treated as the other gender
- A strong belief that you have the feelings or thoughts of the opposite gender
In addition to these criteria, you must also experience “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
Gender dysphoria is not simply feeling that you don’t belong. It’s not looking in the mirror and wishing you looked different. It’s not an occasional dissatisfaction with your body or how you look. We have all felt those things at times. No one is 100% happy with themselves 100% of the time. Gender dysphoria is a marked incongruence with your gender and how you perceive yourself—and it must include significant and lasting distress about this.
Causes of Gender Dysphoria
A 2022 article on gender dysphoria on the NIH website reports that “the etiology [causes] of gender dysphoria (GD) remains unclear, but it is thought to originate from a complex biopsychosocial link.” It then goes on to list several conditions that may be underlying causes or that may lead to a person feeling gender dysphoria. These include people born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia or androgen insensitivity syndrome.
It reports, “Associations have also been found with in-utero exposure to phthalates in plastics and polychlorinated biphenyls” because “phthalates can lead to an increase in total fetal testosterone levels, which in turn increases the risk of autism spectrum disorder as well as GD.”
Some studies have found that gender dysphoria is more prevalent in people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or those with a psychiatric illnesses. And finally, researchers have also found that there may be an association with childhood abuse and neglect and gender dysphoria.
But regardless of the origination of your feelings, they are real. They hurt. And society wants you to believe that the only way to overcome these feelings is to live as someone different from the person you were created to be. In fact, society has made it easier to make these changes, as even some schools and hospitals will help young people change their gender without the consent of their parents. This is a terrible tragedy, as many parents love their children more than anyone else does. Their children’s pain is their own—even if the parents don’t know how to express it, and even if they don’t know how to help. During these difficult times, children need the advice and love of their parents.
But rather than helping you discover the reasons for your feelings and helping you find happiness in who you are as a person, society wants to affirm these feelings of confusion. We see this even from the esteemed Cleveland Clinic, which states that gender dysphoria “affects many—but not all—transgender people before they begin living as their authentic selves.”
Note the term “authentic selves.” Words matter. And that phrase, though two short words, makes it sound like you are not authentic as you are. I’m here to tell you that you are authentic. You are original. You are special. And you are loved.
Society doesn’t truly care about your well-being or your soul. Society wants to promulgate the lie that you can do whatever you want with your body—even mutilate it—in the attempt to find happiness.
But we want you to know that you can find help that doesn’t involve mutilating your body or living as the opposite sex. We want you to know that you can be happy as the person you are. We want you to see that there’s a better solution than the one society shouts at you. And we want you to know that you—and your feelings—matter.
Regardless of whether you are religious or of no particular faith, you have inherent dignity and value. The Catholic Church teaches that “everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”
Why does the Church teach that? You may think that she does not want you to be happy, but that is not true. The Church knows that you can only be fully happy if you love yourself for who God made you to be. He did not make a mistake when He created you either male or female. He created you in His image, and He loves you. This is true whether or not you choose to believe it.
Because of this truth, we want you to know there are options for finding the contentment you seek in the body you were given.
Ethical Treatment for Gender Dysphoria
Many people who believe or feel that they should live as the opposite sex will take steps to show this outwardly to the world. For instance, they may change their name, alter the way they dress, style their hair differently, and maybe even begin a course of drugs that keeps their body from developing naturally. Some may even undergo surgeries to permanently alter the outward appearance of their gender.
But you do not need to mutilate your body or take hormone-blocking drugs in an attempt to feel happy. Medical procedures should always be to heal and treat. They should never maim or hurt.
If you are unhappy, seek help. Talk to your parents, a trusted adult, or friends who truly care about your well-being. And then seek help from organizations filled with people who understand what you’re going through. There are many such places. We’ll highlight a few:
- The American College of Pediatricians has on its site a list of organizations that can help you work through your feelings of gender dysphoria.
- The Ruth Institute is an organization that advocates for families and that uses facts and data to help people see the threats to sexuality that bombard children and families.
- Partners for Ethical Care makes it their mission to protect children and adolescents. Like us, it believes that you were not born in the wrong body.
- The group Advocates Protecting Children offers some great resources (including facts and personal stories) on its site for those experiencing gender dysphoria.
All of these places are great starting points and will help you find the happiness you desire.
Though it may be difficult to understand, please know that you are valued. And your feelings and thoughts matter—not only to us but to those who care about you. Navigating adolescence and young adulthood isn’t easy, and it’s made considerably more difficult when you feel as if you don’t belong in your body.
But help exists to support you and teach you to love yourself. Allow these people to help you. They care deeply about your well-being.
And remember, you are not alone.
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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials, and website content. Fourteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of its Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program, an educational nonprofit program for k-12 students.