We are constantly changing. Some of us work to bring these changes about consciously, and perhaps more quickly than they might organically occur, given our defenses and the tendency to stay in the comfort zone, even when it's pretty uncomfortable; others can go through much of their lives without feeling the need to consider what they'd like to change. Those lucky few don't tend to present for therapy. Therapy is all about change. Telos Therapy, I like to think, is about change from the inside-out. As such, being in therapy is challenging. That's the point. By confronting ourselves, and some of our deeply held belief systems and schemata that keep us stuck, we avail ourselves of space to consider, and room to grow.
For some clients, change is not simply a hope but absolutely fundamental. They don't seek subtle changes that perhaps only they, and possibly those closest to them, might become aware of. They want radical change. Clients who present with issues relating to gender dysphoria fall into this category. Labels aren't generally something I go in for, but here I make an exception for the simple reason that the terms are unfamiliar to so many. Accuracy is important. Particularly when you're describing someone's identity. From my perspective, it's about respect. Just as I query the pronunciation of a name with which I'm not familiar, I always ask clients how they refer to themselves, before taking my lead from them. There are a great many ways in which individuals may choose to describe themselves. For some this changes as fluidly as their mood, so assumptions are to be avoided.
For transpeople, Carl Jung's sentiment, "It is the privilege of a lifetime to become who you truly are" holds a poignant and often painful resonance.
For the uninitiated interested and yet still baffled, here's a brief introduction to some important terminology...
There's no denying that gender dysphoria is a complex condition that can be difficult to understand, particularly if you happen to have been born into a body that feels like home. There are a number of gender related terms which are misunderstood and commonly misused. Mistakes are excusable, but ignorance is not.
If one was to boil it down to its essential ingredients, gender dysphoria is a condition that describes the feeling of being trapped in a body of the wrong sex.
An individual's gender identity is the gender that someone feels they should be.
A transsexual is someone with an extreme and long-term case of gender dysphoria, who seeks to alter their biological sex so that this matches their gender identity. Someone who seeks to alter their sex can do so using hormone treatment and/or surgery. A person who seeks to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone surgery to alter their sex (also known as transition) may be known as a trans man (female to male, or FtM) or a trans woman (male to female, or MtF). The term ‘transsexual’ should not be confused with transvestitism or cross-dressing, which typically involves dressing as the opposite sex for emotional or sexual pleasure. Transvestites are content with their gender identity but enjoy the fantasy of pretending to be a member of the opposite sex. It is also important to remember that gender dysphoria has no bearing on a person’s sexuality. Just like anyone else, a person with gender dysphoria has a sexual identity which is an entirely separate issue.
It gets more complicated as gender can be defined using very narrow medical terms such as what types of chromosomes you have or what types of genitals you were born with. Most transsexuals, and gender dysphoric individuals (and many experts in the treatment of gender dysphoria) find this type of narrow definition both unhelpful and offensive.
My personal feeling is that gender is a matter of personal preference. If you regard yourself as a man, or a woman, then you have the right to be treated as one. As such, I tend to use the term gender to refer to the feeling of being either male or female (or, neither or, both). Your gender can be determined by the way in which you project yourself in public, your private persona and the way in which you conduct yourself in the company of those you know and trust, or your legal status - since the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
Still query-ing? There are some great resources out there...
Available on iPlayer for a few days
Provides policy advice and inputs on Government consultations that affect trans people.
Madeline H. Wyndzen, Ph. D., a transgendered professor of psychology,
discusses her personal experiences with gender dysphoria and critiques the mental illness model of 'Gender Identity Disorder'.
A listening ear, a caring support and an information centre for anyone with any question or problem concerning their gender identity, or whose loved one is struggling with gender identity issues.