About gender dysphoria
What causes gender dysphoria?
Gender diversity is, and has always been, a natural part of human life. A person's transgender identity is not a medical problem.
Gender dysphoria develops when you suffer distress related to the relationship between your gender and your physical anatomy, or how your gender is perceived by others. In part, this distress may be related to whether you are accepted and valued by family, friends and your community.
Talking therapies and counselling
It can be really helpful to get counselling from someone who knows a lot about gender dysphoria and can offer support through any changes associated with transitioning. Therapy is intended to help you adapt to and feel okay about your situation.
All types of therapy/counselling should be provided to you and your family and whānau in a manner that is respectful of you, and with which you feel comfortable and free to ask questions. It should be consistent with and incorporate your cultural beliefs and practices.
Biological treatments, like taking hormones and physically altering sex characteristics, can reduce the feeling of mismatch between your body and gender. Depending where you live, you may be able to access hormone therapy by providing informed consent to your GP (agreeing to the treatment yourself, after being given all the necessary information), or you may need an assessment by a mental health professional. Your doctor should be able to guide you through the process.
If you're prescribed hormone therapy, you will be taken through the names of the medicines; what physical changes you can expect from taking them; how long it will be before they take effect; how often you should see a doctor while you are taking them; and what the potential side effects and risks are.
Many transgender people have treatment to change their body permanently so that it is more consistent with their gender. This might include genital surgery, hair removal and chest/breast or other reconstructive surgeries. In New Zealand, letters of support are generally required from two mental health specialists for genital surgery, but this is usually reduced to one opinion for non-genital surgery, such as facial surgery and breast (chest reconstruction) surgery.
Support for children
Some young children who experience gender dysphoria go on to identify as transgender teens and adults, yet some do not. Individual and family therapy is recommended for children to create a supportive environment at home and in school.
Supporting someone else
As well as managing gender dysphoria, transgender people can experience depression, anxiety and distress linked with discrimination and social exclusion.
Transgender people can and do live happy, fulfilling lives. This is made a lot easier when the people around them are encouraging, supportive, and loving. Gender dysphoria can be much harder to go through when a person is not supported or accepted by whānau and family, or when they are judged, bullied, or discriminated against.
If someone has told you they are transgender, be respectful of this. It may take you some time to get used to the change, but they are still the same person you know and love, and your aroha and acceptance is what they need most. It’s okay if you feel confused, upset, angry, or even a sense of loss at first. All they need to know is that you still care about and love them. If this change feels too overwhelming, let them know you need time to process it, and get support for yourself, such as counselling.
Thanks to Moira Clunie for reviewing this content. Date last reviewed: March 2022