sad person looking in the mirror

What is Gender Dysphoria? – A Guide

Gender dysphoria is a mental health condition in which an individual experiences intense feelings of psychological distress and discomfort due to the discrepancy between their internal gender identity and their external physical sex characteristics. This can lead to emotional distress, confusion, and a sense of disconnection from their own identity.

Gender dysphoria can affect many individuals, regardless of age or gender. Though gender dysphoria is much more common in the transgender community, anyone can experience it. For example, a person with a gender identity that doesn’t fit the gender they were assigned at birth may experience gender dysphoria. These feelings can be compounded by societal expectations, lack of understanding, and lack of acceptance.

When gender dysphoria begins to take its toll, it can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. Many people with gender dysphoria experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. They may also feel isolated and find it difficult to engage with people and activities.

The physical toll of gender dysphoria can be just as difficult as the mental and emotional ones. Gender dysphoria can cause physical discomfort, chest pain, difficulty sleeping, and even headaches. Gender identity issues also affect a person’s ability to focus, leading to difficulties in school or work.

The good news is that gender dysphoria is entirely treatable and can be managed with the right support. Supportive and understanding family, friends, and medical professionals can provide the care and understanding necessary to help someone with gender dysphoria. This can include counseling and gender-affirming hormone treatments.

Symptoms of gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is an increasingly discussed topic in today’s society. However, the understanding of what it is and its associated symptoms can be unclear. People who experience signs of gender dysphoria may display a variety of different symptoms.

Physical symptoms:

• A strong desire to rid oneself of their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair and breasts.

• A strong desire to acquire the physical characteristics of their desired gender.

• A strong aversion to the appearance of their own body, including physical and/or sexual characteristics.

• A strong sense of discomfort and unease when wearing clothes associated with their assigned gender at birth.

woman looking in the mirror

Psychological symptoms:

• Extreme distress in social situations due to anxiety and fear of judgment.

• A strong belief that they should have been assigned a different gender at birth.

• A persistent feeling of being the wrong gender, even if they may have felt comfortable with their assigned gender in the past.

• A feeling of disconnection from their own body and a sense of loneliness and alienation.

• Feelings of guilt and/or shame related to their gender identity.

Social symptoms:

• A strong desire to be treated in a way that is more consistent with their gender identity.

• A strong desire to express themselves in a way that is more consistent with their gender identity.

• A strong need for social acceptance and validation from others.

• A fear of discrimination and/or rejection from family, friends, and peers due to their gender identity.

Gender dysphoria is a very real and potentially debilitating condition that can have a profound impact on an individual’s life. 

woman feeling lonely

Causes of gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a medical condition experienced by many individuals around the world. It can manifest in various ways and have different causes, but understanding these potential causes can help provide insight into the condition as well as how it can be managed. 

Gender dysphoria is commonly seen in the transgender community but can also affect people who identify as cisgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, and other gender identities. In order to understand the causes of gender dysphoria, it is important to understand how gender identity is formed.

Gender identity is formed in the first few years of life and is often shaped by the environment and socialization. Young children are often exposed to messages from family, peers, and the media that suggest gender roles and behavior that might be uncomfortable to them. 

People with gender dysphoria may feel that their gender identity is not accepted or supported by their families, peers, and the media. This lack of support and acceptance can be very traumatic to those who are struggling with their gender identity.

The exact cause of gender dysphoria is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Research has suggested that genetics, prenatal hormone levels, and early childhood experiences may play a role in the development of gender dysphoria.

Biological causes of gender dysphoria

The biological causes of gender dysphoria are still largely unknown. However, some research suggests that hormones present during fetal development may play a role in determining gender identity. For example, some studies have found that people with gender dysphoria have lower-than-average levels of testosterone during their prenatal development. This suggests that the differences in hormone levels may be a factor in how gender identity develops.

Alternatively, some studies point to genetic factors or even prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals as potential causes.

transgender flag

One study found that the brain structures of transgender people and cisgender people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth were different in areas associated with gender identity. This suggests that gender identity is linked to brain anatomy, and that there is a biological basis for gender dysphoria.

Other research has looked at the role of genetics in gender development. Studies have found that some cases of gender dysphoria appear to be linked to certain genetic variants. This suggests that genetics may play a role in gender dysphoria.

Finally, hormonal differences have been associated with gender dysphoria. One study found that trans men had higher levels of testosterone than cisgender men, while trans women had lower levels of testosterone than cisgender women. This supports the idea that gender dysphoria is linked to differences in hormone levels.

Social causes of gender dysphoria

Social factors may also contribute to gender dysphoria. This includes discrimination, pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, and lack of acceptance of gender diversity.

Discrimination is a common experience for people with gender dysphoria. Discrimination can come from family, friends, and even strangers. The discrimination faced by gender-diverse people can lead to feelings of isolation and despair and can contribute to the development of gender dysphoria. Trans people may feel that they are not accepted by society, and this can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

Pressure to conform to gender stereotypes can also be a factor in gender dysphoria. These stereotypes dictate how people should behave based on their gender. For example, boys are often expected to be tough and stoic, and girls are often expected to be nurturing and sensitive. People who do not fit into these gender roles may experience gender dysphoria as a result.

gender stereotypes

Psychological causes of gender dysphoria

Trauma is a common cause of gender dysphoria. Trauma can be the result of physical or sexual abuse or other traumatic events. These events can lead to feelings of worthlessness, fear, and confusion and can contribute to the development of gender dysphoria.

Anxiety and depression can also lead to gender dysphoria. These mental health disorders can cause people to feel isolated and disconnected from the world around them. This can lead to feelings of confusion and distress related to gender identity.

The causes of gender dysphoria can vary from person to person. It is important to recognize that gender dysphoria is a complex condition and is not caused by any one factor. If you are experiencing gender dysphoria, it is important to seek help and support from a qualified healthcare provider.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Gender dysphoria can manifest itself in different ways throughout a person’s life, and it can be experienced to varying degrees. In some cases, it can cause significant distress and can interfere with everyday life. This can be an incredibly difficult experience for many individuals and requires diagnosis and treatment in order to manage the symptoms. 


Gender dysphoria can present itself differently from person to person; some people may feel uncomfortable with certain parts of their body or have difficulty expressing themselves according to their gender identity. Additionally, gender dysphoric individuals may also struggle socially by feeling isolated or disconnected from others because of their gender identity mismatch.

Diagnosis of gender dysphoria is typically done by a mental health professional. The diagnosis is made based on a person’s reported symptoms, history, and observed behaviors. The process of diagnosing gender dysphoria involves assessing the individual’s own gender identity, their physical body, and their environment. During the assessment process, a healthcare professional will take into account any social or psychological factors that may be contributing to the individual’s distress.


Treatment for gender dysphoria depends on the individual’s needs and can include counseling, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery. 


Psychotherapy is a key element of gender dysphoria treatment. Counseling can help individuals to cope with their feelings of gender dysphoria, and it can also help them to develop a positive self-image. Therapists help people with gender dysphoria explore coping strategies for dealing with dysphoria-related distress and improve their self-esteem. Therapy can be conducted on an individual basis or in a group setting. The goal is to help the individual better understand and accept their gender identity, enabling them to live a more comfortable life.

Psychotherapy session

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Hormone therapy is a medical treatment that involves taking hormones to change the body’s physical characteristics to align with the individual’s gender identity. It is typically only prescribed to individuals over the age of 18 and is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy. This type of hormone treatment is usually recommended for individuals who are seeking a physical transition. Gender-affirming hormone therapy helps to alter the body’s hormones and physical features so that it better matches the individual’s gender identity. Hormonal therapy can also be used to reduce gender dysphoria symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

Gender reassignment surgery

For some individuals, gender dysphoria surgery is a viable option. Gender-affirming surgery is a medical procedure that involves surgically changing a person’s genitals to match their gender identity. Surgical procedures are typically only used as a last resort when other treatments have been unsuccessful. Gender affirmation surgery typically involves removing or altering parts of the body that do not match the individual’s gender identity. Surgical treatment can include top surgery (breast removal/augmentation) or bottom surgery (genital reconstruction).

Gender reassignment surgery

Social transition

Social transition is an important part of the process for those with gender dysphoria. It involves individuals taking concrete steps to live their life in their affirmed gender and expressing that within the world around them. Social transition can have many components, from changing one’s name, pronouns, and clothing choices to undergoing hormone replacement therapy or medical interventions.

This process is personal, as everyone has different needs and wants when it comes to transitioning. Many people may feel a sense of relief once they start living in their affirmed gender and express their preferred gender identity, while others may require more time to adjust before feeling comfortable in this new identity. By exploring personal comfort levels, individuals can make decisions that are right for them when it comes to social transition.

Gender dysphoria is a complex condition, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. It is important to discuss all options with a qualified healthcare professional in order to find the best gender-affirming treatment plan for each individual. With the right help and support, individuals with gender dysphoria can live an authentic and fulfilling life.

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