They describe the feeling as “something is fundamentally wrong with my body compared to how I want it to look and how it should be.”
Like depression or anxiety, gender dysphoria can come in waves. You can have a day or a week where you feel especially dysphoric, and others where it is less prominent. It is normal for the level of dysphoria to fluctuate based on situations and events, especially ones where people feel focused on their bodies.
Is gender dysphoria a mental illness?
Before, we get into this question, we have to ask ourselves “what is a mental illness?”
There’s this big book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a.k.a. DSM). It’s currently on the 5th version. The DSM is updated every decade or two by a committee of therapists, psychiatrists, and others. They determine what things get classified as disorders. Although the committee is recently moving in a more research-based direction, this wasn’t usually the case. In the past, criteria was mostly determined by personal opinion and committee vote. (I have a friend who served on a past committee).
This committee of people are making the determination of what does and doesn’t get in a book. Were any of these people (openly) transgender? Nope. Were they trying to get feedback from the transgender community on their decisions? Nope.
That’s a major problem! When people in powerful positions assign labels (and lay out what the experiences should be) of others without their input, bias is automatically introduced.
Now we know how it got in the big book of illnesses, but is it an “illness?”
If you ask insurance companies, they’ll say yes. Insurances can require you to have certain labels in order to pay for therapy, hair removal, or surgeries.
In my opinion, it’s not that simple.
People are suffering when they experience dysphoria. That’s real. But it doesn’t mean you’re “ill” or “sick?”
If you’re a girl but you were assigned male at birth, it makes sense you’d feel bad. I wouldn’t call that an “illness.” Your experiences are valid and real, whether or not they’re “illnesses.”
Do I have to have gender dysphoria to be trans?
Like I outlined before, the label didn’t come from trans people and is mostly useful in getting insurance companies to take you seriously and pay for transition.
A much more effective litmus test for being trans is asking yourself “am I the gender they assigned me at birth?”
If the answer is “no,” “I don’t know or really care,” “sort of…” or “not really…” congrats, you’re transgender!
We don’t need gatekeepers in their fancy clothes and long certifications to outline our experiences. If you experience gender dysphoria, that sucks and we can work together to help you feel better. If you don’t feel dysphoric, we can focus on all the other aspects of living congruently with who you are inside.
Want more support? Vered Counseling offers in-person and online counseling for transgender and gender nonconforming folks. Read more about our therapy for transgender teens or counseling for transgender adults.
Want straightforward education and problem-solving? see if a transgender road map session would be right for you.