What is gender identity disorder?
A person with a gender identity disorder is a person who strongly identifies with the other sex. The individual may identify with the opposite sex to the point of believing that he/she is, in fact, a member of the other sex who is trapped in the wrong body. This causes that person to experience serious discomfort with his/her own biological sex orientation. The gender identity disorder causes problems for this person in school, work or social settings. This disorder is different from transvestism or transvestic fetishism where cross-dressing occurs for sexual pleasure, but the transvestite does not identify with the other sex.
What characteristics occur with gender identity disorder?
Boys with gender identity disorder tend to prefer to dress in girls’ clothes. They often avoid competitive sports and have little interest in rough and tumble games. They frequently prefer to play games with girls, and they enjoy girls as playmates. They usually enjoy acting as a female figure, such as a mother or a princess, in the games they play. Boys with gender identity problems pretend not to have a penis; they want it removed, and they wish they had a vagina.
Girls with gender identity disorder prefer to wear boys' clothes and want to look like a boy. They prefer boys as playmates and often enjoy competitive contact and rough play. Girls with gender identity disorder wish they could grow a penis, and do not look forward to growing breasts or menstruating. They would like to be a man when they grow up.
Adults with gender identity disorder sometimes live their lives as members of the opposite sex. They tend to be uncomfortable living in the world as a member of their own biologic or genetic sex. They often cross-dress and prefer to be seen in public as a member of the other sex. Some people with the disorder request sex-change surgery.
Does gender identity disorder affect males, females, or both?
Gender identity disorder is more prevalent in males than in females.
At what age does gender identity disorder appear?
This disorder can be evident in early childhood. Most people know whether they have a gender identity problem by the time they reach adolescence.
How is gender identity disorder diagnosed?
A mental health professional makes a diagnosis of gender identity disorder by taking a careful personal history from the client/patient. No laboratory tests are required to make a diagnosis of gender identity disorder. However, it is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might mimic or contribute to a psychological disorder. If there is any question that the individual might have a physical problem, the mental health professional should recommend a complete physical examination by a medical doctor. Laboratory tests might be necessary as a part of the physical workup.
Frequently, people with gender identity disorder complain that they were "born the wrong sex." They describe their sexual organs as "ugly" and may refrain from touching their genitalia. Although the genitalia of people with gender identity disorder is normal, those with the disorder may show signs of trying to hide their secondary sex characteristics. For instance, males may try to shave off or pluck their body hair, or they may take female hormones in an effort to enlarge their breasts. Females may try to hide their breasts by binding them close to their chest walls.
How is gender identity disorder treated?
Psychological therapy can alter the course of gender identity disorder. Early intervention can lead to less transsexual behavior later in life. The initial focus of the treatment is to help the individual function in his/her biologic sex role as well as possible.
Adults who have severe gender identity disorder which has persisted for many years sometimes request reassignment of their sex, or sex-change surgery. Prior to this kind of surgery they usually go through a long period of hormone therapy which attempts to suppress same sex characteristics and accentuate other sex characteristics. For instance, males that have gender identity disorder will be given the female hormone, estrogen. The estrogen causes the male breasts to enlarge, testes to become smaller, and body hair to diminish. Females with gender identity disorder will be given the male hormone, testosterone, to help them develop a lower voice and possibly a full beard. Following the hormone treatment, the adult will be asked to live in a cross-gender role before surgery to alter their genitalia or breasts is performed.
What happens to someone with gender identity disorder?
If the disorder persists into adolescence, it tends to be chronic in nature. There may, however, be periods of remission.
What can people do if they need help?
If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.