Before discussing gender identity disorder, it’s important to be aware of related words, terms and definitions. Sex, gender, gender roles, sexual orientation and sexual identity are sometimes used interchangeably but in reality they mean very different things.
- Sex refers to the biological, physical attributes that characterize you as being either male or female. These attributes include: genes that determine sex, your gonads, your internal reproductive organs and your external genitalia.
- Gender refers to psychological or behavioral characteristics that are most frequently ascribed to one sex or the other.
- Gender identity is defined in several ways, depending on which dictionary you consult. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary states that gender identity is a person’s sense of being male or female, caused by genetic and environmental influences. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary suggests that gender identity is the inner sense of maleness or femaleness. It adds that differentiation of gender identity begins in infancy, continues throughout childhood, and is reinforced during adolescence. Lastly Segen’s Medical Dictionary asserts that gender identity is the inner conviction that one is male, female, ambivalent, or neutral.
- Transgendered refers to someone whose gender identity is different from what society expects from the gender (male or female) based on the sex at the time of birth.
- Gender roles refer to the behaviors, attitudes and personality traits that society considers to be typical of a male or female. An example is: a young female girls typically playing with dolls while a young male typically plays with toy cars.
- Sexual orientation refers to a person’s sexual preference when it comes to males, females or both.
What is Gender Identity Disorder?
Gender identity is usually linked to gender roles. Most people base their behaviors on how societal beliefs concerning gender roles. If you have a gender identity disorder, you may feel like you are more instinct with opposite sex then your birth sex regardless of your appearance and/or physical attributes. You may also believe that you were born the “wrong sex” and trapped in the wrong body.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) characterizes gender identity disorder as a strong and persistent desire to become the opposite sex. If you have this disorder, you may dress in what is stereotypically the attire of the other gender, you may pretend to be the other sex, you pursue activities usually associated with the other sex and/or prefer interact with members of the opposite sex. Males with gender identify disorder may find their male anatomy undesirable, while females with this disorder may try to hide or delay development of breasts and other parts of the female anatomy.
It is important to understand that many groups and individuals take strong exception to the idea that gender identity issues represent a “disorder” at all. According GID Reform Advocates, our identities are not disordered at all.
Most of the time, gender identities and gender roles fit together: a woman who believes herself to be female presents that aspect of herself to the outside world by behaving like a woman. Similarly, a man who views himself as male follows the typical gender roles of a man. But to people with gender identity disorder, this process is much less straightforward; psychologically and emotionally, they feel like they’re members of the opposite sex, regardless of their physical attributes. They often believe that they were born and are trapped in the wrong body.
Watch a portion of a multipart television news program in which children as young as 6 and their parents discuss gender identity disorder and the emotional turmoil it can cause and explain the ways in which they have adjusted to the issue of gender identity.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) describes the essential features by which a diagnosis is made as a strong and persistent cross-gender identification that is not only a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex. In children, this can be seen in their insistence that they are actually of the opposite sex. Boys and girls may persist in their desire to dress in what is stereotypically the attire of the other gender, they may pretend to be the other sex, they pursue activities usually associated with the other sex, and prefer playmates of the opposite sex. Boys with gender identify disorder may believe that their penises or testes are gross and will disappear. Girls maintain that they will eventually develop male genitalia and will definitely not develop breasts or menstruate.
It is important to understand that many groups and individuals take strong exception to the idea that gender identity issues represent a “disorder” at all. According to the organization, GID Reform Advocates “our identities are not disordered at all.”
What Cause Gender Identity Disorder?
Researchers have not discovered a definitive cause of gender identity disorder. Some feel that it is based on psychological dysfunction or sociological pressures, while others suggest a connection to fetal and newborn hormone levels, specifically, androgen.
How Common is Gender Identity Disorder?
There is little information available about the exact numbers of children, adolescents and adult who have been or could be diagnosed with gender identity disorder. However, the numbers of sex reassignment surgeries (SRS), performed over the last fifty years, indicates that one out of every 2,500 males born in the United States have altered their appearance to reflect what they feel is their true gender. Furthermore, these numbers do not reveal the number of men and women who struggle privately with their gender identity.
Where Can I Find Additional Information on Gender Identity Disorder?
- MD Junction: People Helping People offers forums, articles, and research information to those who may be struggling with gender identity disorder. They can be found at www.mdjunction.com/gender-identity-disorder.
- GID Reform Advocates mentioned earlier in this article, provides information and links to support and other advocacy groups.
- Organization Intersex International (OII) stated that they are the largest intersex organization, with members in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The organization’s website can be found at www.intersexualite.org/.
Kaplan, H. I., & Sadoc, B. J. (1996). Concise textbook of clinical psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
Zucker, K. J. (2006). Gender identity disorder. Behavioral and Emotional Disorders in Adolescents: Nature, Assessment, and Treatment. New York: Guildford Press.