Gender Identity Disorder

What is Gender Identity Disorder?

Gender identity disorder (GID) is otherwise known as gender dysphoria. It isn’t a mental disorder.

Instead, gender identity disorder stems from the suffering (dysphoria) transgender individuals feel due to the disparity between their self-identity and their physical build.

Overview of gender identity disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, transgenderism is not a mental disorder. With that cleared away, gender identity disorder merely refers to the discontent someone may feel as he or she identifies as the opposite sex.

A disconnect between the body and mind

To better understand what gender identity disorder is, let’s refer to a case in point highlighted on WebMD. A meatpacking “male”¬Ě, so labelled at birth with muscles and genitalia to match this description, feels like a female inside. These feelings have been perpetuated since childhood and lives well into adulthood. The conflict between the physical reflection in the mirror and the person’s mental state is so intense it causes significant distress, discontent, and dissatisfaction in everyday life. This is a classic example of what it means to have gender dysphoria.

Today, many strides have been made by the transgender community and a lot of work has yet to be done in terms of breaking down barriers and raising awareness of gender dysphoria.

Symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder

Some of the main telltale signs that someone may be secretly or openly suffering from gender identity disorder include:

  • Persistent self hatred and a repulsion at the sight of his or her private parts
  • Anti-social behaviors and shutting down around peers
  • Prolonged episodes of depression and anxiety
  • A preoccupation with getting rid of one’s private parts

These are just some of the symptoms, and the disorder presents itself differently in each age group. For example, toddlers may gravitate to the opposite sex’s toys, clothes and fantasies, and adults may have a preoccupation with cross dressing.

Gender Identity Disorder Causes

There seems to be growing confusion as to the exact causes of GID. There is no one definitive cause, according to experts in the field.

Is society to blame?

Some scholars believe that one of the main contributing factors for GID is strict societal norms. For example, most cultures are structured in such one-dimensional ways, it results in hostility, indifference, and intolerance to transgender people.

For example, there are usually binary systems of identification and labels of “he” or “she” imposed on each person from birth. Girls are expected to play with dolls and wear pink while boys should be rugged, dirty, and wear blue.

Sounds familiar?

Society as a whole, therefore, may worsen the dysphoria felt by a transgender person.

To support the idea that sociocultural norms are in part to blame for GID patients, let’s examine an example of a culture that offers at least three gender identification patterns. These include male, female, and male-females.

The latter of the three in Samoa are not stigmatized and are openly accepted by their family and society as a whole. Gender identity disorder is therefore null and void among this group, further supporting the belief that the condition is deeply rooted in societal standards.

Sex segregation in schools

Another good point to add is that one of the basic foundations of society is education. In the very fabric of our schools, oftentimes activities are segregated by gender.

Gender identity disorder may be exacerbated when bullying happens and the affected party is relentlessly harassed by peers.

New legislations have been passed in this regard to deter stigmatization and to promote equal rights across the board. There has also been a strong push to encourage equality via transgender bathroom laws.

Biological causes of gender identity disorder

A lot of people that are unfamiliar with the normal experiences of a transgender person and their daily struggle to fit in sometimes assume that when someone identifies as the opposite gender, the cause is psychological.

However, researchers are finding growing evidence that genes are partly to blame. Scientists back up these claims by studying identical twins with the same background, upbringing, and DNA, who both want to identify as another gender than what was listed on their birth certificate.

The case study involved a half a dozen individuals in a group of more than 300 people.

Based on these studies, researchers concluded that the overexposure to certain hormones in the gestational stage predisposed the child to acquire gender identity disorder. There is therefore a biological marker for this condition.

Treatments for Gender Identity Disorder

To help someone with gender dysphoria live their fullest life and overcome the barriers of transitioning, health care experts recommend a series of treatments involving being understanding and supportive of the person’s preferred identity.

In addition to a strong support system, gender identity disorder can be alleviated by completing a transition through prescribed treatments, such as:

Changes in lifestyle

Transgender individuals begin transitioning by changing the dress code and openly identifying as the gender they naturally identify with.

Medical interventions

Some examples include hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, reconstructive surgery, hair removal, electrolysis, and more, in order to bring about permanent physical changes. These bodily alterations aid in decreasing general distress.


A psychologist can help a transgender patient come to terms with the lifelong challenges that may be faced as a result of the disorder. During counseling, patients learn coping mechanisms for leading a happier life. A large majority of patients with GID, for example, are plagued with guilt and shame due to cross dressing, as this behavior is still frowned upon in society. Counseling, or psychotherapy, is a good way to let go of the angst felt by transgender people.

It is indicated that loved ones should participate in designated counseling sessions, to get some insight into the inner turmoil felt by the patient. This is particularly true of spouses of transgender individuals.

The best treatment plan of action for GID

Today, the gold standard for treating GID is a combination of both counseling and medical interventions. Both go hand in hand for helping patients make a smooth transition. As innovative treatments for gender identity disorder are highlighted, it’s worth noting that in years past, the primary treatment was psychotherapy alone.

Therapists would typically attempt to change the patient’s thought patterns to match their natural born biology or sex at birth. These treatments, however, proved unsuccessful, and thankfully this is all changing.

How to get the right treatment for GID

Some medical treatments for GID are engulfed in controversy. Case in point: gender reassignment surgery, which happens to be a permanent and irreversible change.

To protect the interests of patients, protocols have been put in place to help doctors make the right decision when treating someone with gender identity disorder.

GID treatment specialists often refer to the guidelines put forth by the following organizations:

  • The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)
  • Standards of Care
  • Gianna Israel and Donald Tarver’s Transgender Care

The above organizations are primarily focused on reducing harm when treating patients who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

A little about gender identity disorder in children

When it comes to diagnosing and treating GID in children, should parents turn a blind eye and hope that the child outgrows this stage, or, should moms and dads make the move to transition a minor into their preferred gender?

These questions are hotly debated by scholars. Researchers have argued that even though children can be diagnosed with GID, a large proportion of this demographic eventually grow up and show no signs of gender identity disorder in later adulthood.

The middle ground between the two points of view is a puberty blocker.

How can this help, you may ask?

This is a medical intervention which essentially postpones puberty. In doing so, it gives the child some room to get to know themselves, understand the world around them, and in the end make a calculated decision about whether or not to complete a permanent change.

In essence, puberty blockers prevent buyer’s remorse where permanent gender reassignments are concerned. These puberty blockers are now available in many parts of the world for children as young as 9 years of age.

How GID is Diagnosed

In the past, GID was classified as a sexual disorder. As more and more research is conducted and society’s attitudes to the plight of transgender people are slowly but surely shifting for the better, these false labels are being removed from academic literature.

For example, The American Psychiatric Association grouped the disorder in its own class and has put forth certain criteria to aid in the accurate diagnosis and treatment of GID. Another authoritative board for referring to when making a diagnosis is The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which outlines three subsets of conditions to make an accurate analysis of GID or sexual maturation disorder, as it’s so classified by the board.

The rule of thumb for diagnosing gender identity disorder is that the patient experiences some of the symptoms described below for a period of more than six months.

Gender Identity Disorder Prevention

As discussed earlier, there is no concrete proof for GID. It is a natural trait that people are born with.

Dysphoria can be alleviated to some extent. Parents of transgender children, for example, can seek out early interventions and talk therapies to lessen the dissatisfaction felt by the child. The therapy helps patients come to grips with their own reality.

Studies also show that transgender people with a stronger support system involving family and friends were less likely to attempt suicide.

The repercussions of gender identity disorder

When someone suspects that he or she has GID, it’s important to seek counseling. The distress felt also increases the patient’s propensity to a life of depression and isolation as well as low self-esteem. Research by mental health experts moreover purports that people with GID are often co-diagnosed with other mental disorders.

Co-diagnosed mental disorders include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide attempts

A heightened risk of suicide in people with GID

People with GID are also extremely vulnerable to a host of self-destructive behaviors and many report having thoughts of suicide. The ratio of suicide among transgender is alarming. In a review of a group of more than 6,000 transgender individuals, roughly 40 per cent have attempted suicide at least once – compare this percentage to the 1.6% suicide rate of the general population as a whole.

GID should, therefore, be taken seriously by loved ones and treatments sought out as soon as possible.

It should also be reiterated that a strong support system from the get go lessens the level of dysphoria felt by patients.

Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2017
Last Updated:
December 26, 2017
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