What is Gender Dysphoria?

Gender dyphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder, applies to someone who is unhappy with their biological sex and who wishes to belong to the other one.

For example, your daughter may say that she wants to be a boy, or your son may identify himself as a girl. Or perhaps you are worried about your child's cross gender behaviour, but they won't discuss it with you, and instead are isolated and withdrawn.

Or it may be you, as a young person, and you feel that your body is wrong, and that you should have been a girl if you were born a boy, or a boy if you were born a girl.

Gender identity is the sense of belief that "I am male" or "I am female". A child becomes aware of its gender identity before or around the age of five years, in many cases as early as 2 or 3 years of age. In most people their gender identity is the same as their sex, i.e. a woman or girl feels she is female and a man or boy feels he is male, but in a few people their gender identity and their sex do not match, and this can cause problems.

Gender identity issues vary considerably, some may be transient in nature, and some may not. They may arise when a child exhibits cross-gender behaviour to some degree or other. Some may be boys who prefer to take the female role or vice versa; others may have a compulsion to play with toys mostly used by the other sex (for instance, a boy who predominantly plays with dolls or a girl who always plays with action men and 'army toys'). Some children may only feel comfortable when playing with peers of the other physical sex, or may cross-dress from time to time.

Some children may be unhappy about their own biological sex and either wish to belong to the other one, or feel that they actually do; some adolescents may experience a crisis over a problem of gender identity or sexual orientation, or both. These situations can lead to considerable concern and distress for all those involved.

At school, children or teenagers with a gender identity issue are often subjected to abuse. Bullying can take many forms; isolation and exclusion, insults and name-calling, and even physical attacks. The child or teenager may have great difficulty in dealing with school life, and can struggle to respond appropriately. However, education about gender identity issues in the school environment is very important and can be highly effective when dealing with these problems.

Many adults with gender identity issues describe difficulties in childhood. Often they complain of having been very unhappy children and teenagers, and that their suffering had not been recognised early enough by parents and professionals.

The earlier this suffering can be recognised, then with the right support and treatment, young people can be helped to tolerate living in these distressing conditions until, having found a solution to the identity conflict, they can experience a happier and less traumatic adulthood.

Mermaids recognises that awareness of gender identity issues at an early age should be promoted, and that help is provided to families or individuals in order to alleviate any problems that might arise. It is often helpful to talk to others who have gone through, or are going through, similar problems. Contact with others, whether by telephone, letter, or in person, can help to deal with the feelings of loneliness and alienation that can arise.

Mermaids can provide strength and understanding in very difficult situations. Discovering that we are not alone can bring great comfort.