For some, gender dysphoria is a lifelong condition. But there are many different ways to change how you feel in and about your body.
Gender dysphoria isn’t a “phase” that comes and goes at will. It usually stays with a person throughout their life, though it can ebb and flow in degree and severity.
Your personal feelings of dysphoria may lessen in severity or disappear altogether over time. Treatments like talk therapy and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), for example, can help change your perspective and perception of your body and gender.
But your overall environment plays a substantial role in how you feel and how you move through the world. Persistent myths and misconceptions around gender diversity and gender dysphoria can affect your access to affirming medical care and other social services.
If a person has come ”out” to others as transgender or gender diverse, taking steps to transition socially or medically can greatly reduce and possibly eliminate gender dysphoria over time.
If a person comes out and doesn’t have access to gender-affirming care or support structures, it may have a negative impact on their mental health. This can compound feelings of gender dysphoria.
If a person hasn’t come out — to themself or others — they might experience intense feelings of gender dysphoria or regret until they do.
While young children can often find ways to step outside their assigned gender roles without repercussions, it can become more difficult as adolescence progresses and societal expectations ramp up.
An older adult who hasn’t transitioned might find more factors to mitigate, including existing family dynamics and potentially unsupportive workplaces, which could increase dysphoria.
However, those who transition at older ages can still find welcoming communities and the relief of living as their true selves.
Understanding yourself is the first step to deal with dysphoria. That’s a tall order for anyone, so it’s best to start small — if you aren’t already, begin to take note of what makes you feel good and what doesn’t.
By finding gender euphoria in tangible ways, you can start to mitigate your dysphoria as it occurs.
If you’re transfeminine, for example, you may find that painting your nails (even if it’s just your toes or a clear coat!) can make you feel more aligned with who you are.
If you’re transmasculine, letting your body hair grow out or wearing masculine-coded underwear might help with dysphoria.
You might also try:
- playing as a character that feels aligned with your gender in video or tabletop role-playing games
- picking out an outfit that you truly want to wear rather than one you’re expected to
- using a more gender-affirming (or gender-ambiguous) name for your pickup order or different pronouns around friends
These tips are part of what’s referred to in the trans community as ”social transitioning.” It’s usually the first step in someone’s transition and can last for several months or years.
After socially transitioning, you might feel ready for medical, surgical, or legal measures, like changing your gender marker. But you also might not, and that’s OK. These measures aren’t a requirement for happiness and fulfillment, and many people chose not to pursue them.
If you are interested in medically transitioning to address your gender dysphoria, check out some of our other work on gender-affirming care:
Gender dysphoria can be hard to work through — but it’s not impossible. In addition to the tips mentioned here, it can be extremely valuable to find a therapist to help affirm your transition and help you care for your mental health along the way.
Gender dysphoria vs. gender euphoria
When someone is experiencing dysphoria, they experience mostly negative feelings associated with being misconstrued as or feeling like the wrong gender.
Gender euphoria, on the other hand, is the literal opposite — feeling happy in one’s gender or feeling at peace and aligned with their gender. Some trans people find it’s more pleasant to concentrate on things that bring them gender euphoria than trying to eliminate all gender dysphoria.
If you aren’t currently in a place to socially or medically transition — or do not wish to transition in any way — there are still ways to be at peace in your body without conforming to what people might expect.
Talking with your loved ones about your difficulties with gender dysphoria can help. Talking with an affirming healthcare professional about your experience may also be beneficial.
Ideally, it’s best to build community with others who understand your gender, but at the end of the day, no one experiences gender in the same way. Try to find the things that make you happy and that feel like you.
When you experience moments of gender dysphoria, approach them with curiosity and experiment to see if there are ways you can distract yourself from it.
Cisgender people who experience dysphoria or find themselves misgendered by the general public can also benefit from the same techniques that bring gender euphoria to trans and gender-diverse folks.
Embracing your authentic self
You don’t owe anyone any gender expression or presentation you aren’t comfortable with. If you’re a trans man, for example, you don’t have to take testosterone to be respected as a man.
Your identity and expression are valid regardless of whether you can’t or don’t want to take HRT. Having a strong sense of self, caring friends, and supportive people around you can help affirm who you are without having to medically transition.
If you’re nonbinary, gender-fluid, agender, or do not adhere to the typical binary expectations of gender, there may not be a version where transitioning looks linear for you. And that’s OK!
Whether you’re cis, trans, nonbinary, or would prefer not to be labeled at all — the best version of yourself is where you feel the freest, most authentic, and content in your gender.
Still have questions? Let’s look at some of your most asked below:
Is gender dysphoria genetic or environmental?
The exact cause of gender dysphoria is unclear. There isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest that it’s genetic or environmental, but like many complex conditions, it’s most likely influenced by both.
If you’d like to help researchers improve what we know about gender dysphoria, check out ClinicalTrials.gov to learn more about ongoing studies.
Is gender dysphoria in the DSM-5?
Yes, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is included in the current “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR).”
The DSM-5-TR defines gender dysphoria as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and their assigned gender, lasting at least 6 months.”
It also includes a list of criteria to help define the varying symptoms of gender dysphoria in children, adolescents, and adults.
How is gender dysphoria diagnosed?
Although there isn’t an official diagnostic process for gender dysphoria in the United States, a diagnosis is often necessary to receive gender-affirming medical care.
The criteria outlined in the DSM-5-TR primarily focus on how much distress a person is experiencing and are subjective at best. A person’s diagnosis often hinges on the competency of individual healthcare professionals, their geographical location, and any applicable laws.
If you’re trying to access gender-affirming care, look for healthcare professionals who practice ”
If your state or country doesn’t have an informed consent model, a therapist or psychiatrist can often assist with diagnosis and care.
Can gender dysphoria be misdiagnosed?
Yes, gender dysphoria can be misdiagnosed. There’s no medical test for gender dysphoria, and the DSM-5-TR’s criteria are highly subjective.
However, research shows that few people who start to transition revert to their assigned gender — and the primary cause for ”detransitioning” is social pressure to do so, rather than a misdiagnosis.
Can you be transgender without experiencing dysphoria?
Yes! Many trans and gender-diverse people feel that they’re best aligned with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, but they do not feel uncomfortable with the gender presentation of their bodies.
They may choose to embrace elements of social transitioning, like a different name, but they may never be interested in hormones or gender-affirming surgeries.
If you’re starting to question your gender, here are some more resources for you:
- What Does It Mean to Be Gender Nonconforming?
- What Does It Mean to Be Transmasculine?
- What Does It Mean to Be Transfeminine?
You also do not have to be trans to experience gender dysphoria. If you feel that your body is misaligned from your gender in any way, you may have dysphoria. Cis women with smaller breast sizes, for example, may feel they look ”less feminine” than those with larger busts.
Can cisgender people also experience gender dysphoria?
Yes! For instance, many cis women have facial hair and pluck or shave it to appear more feminine. If the presence of this facial hair causes them great personal and social stress — this could classify as gender dysphoria.
The term “dysphoria” is used in other clinical and psychiatric terms as well (i.e., rejection sensitive dysphoria), coming from Greek origins (dusphoros or “hard to bear”).
Getting support for your gender journey
What does support look like for a healthy gender journey?
- Social support: A support network can include a therapist, family, friends, and other trans people in the community (check out local LGBTQ+ support groups or resource centers!).
- Find your style: In the U.S., there are more and more salons and barber shops that support trans people. Thrifting for new clothes or having clothing swaps with friends for new affirming clothes can be an easy way to get a new wardrobe.
- Know your rights: Here’s an easy guide to learning about your rights as a trans person in healthcare.
- Take care of your physical health: Access to gender-affirming care (this can include informed consent to start HRT, insurance, social and legal transitioning) can affect all aspects of your overall health, so it’s important to work with knowledgeable healthcare professionals.
- And your mental health: If you check your local LGBT+ health centers, they will likely have resources on local support groups. You can also work with a trans-affirming therapist.
Can gender dysphoria ever be “cured”? It’s a complicated question that deserves a complicated answer.
Yes, it’s possible to treat gender dysphoria and become more comfortable in your body. But dysphoria may not go away completely — it often moves in different directions.
Transitioning can help immensely with living a fulfilling and happy life. Whether that includes a new hairstyle, using HRT, getting gender-affirming surgical procedures, or other measures is entirely up to you.
No matter what you decide, having supportive people around is essential. Sharing your feelings with trusted loved ones and building community with others can go a long way in alleviating dysphoria.
Soren Hodshire (he/him/his) is a queer trans writer based in Chicago, Illinois. After getting his Bachelor of Arts in cultural studies and minoring in women, gender, and sexuality studies, Soren has been organizing, writing, fundraising, and facilitating for queer and trans organizations. He’s deeply committed to community building and solidarity across marginalized groups. When Soren isn’t writing or watching video essays, you’ll find him listening to a podcast. You can follow him on Twitter (as long as it still exists) and Instagram.