What’s the Difference Between Being Gay and Having Gender Dysphoria?


Most children between the ages of 3 and 4 years have more-or-less determined their gender. It usually goes something like this: “Mom, am I a girl or a boy?” to which mom patiently replies “You are a boy (or girl).” “How do you know?” “You have a penis/vagina and you like to do boy/girl things.” Satisfied, the child takes note of everything and agrees, and, to the amusement of teachers at preschool (or even Kindergarten), they proclaim this to everyone who will listen.

Establishing gender

Sometimes, however, the child knows that this isn’t right – that they are different and even though they may look like a boy or girl, they are not that sex inside. It’s a constant struggle, especially if the child is unable to approach his parents about the subject. Sometimes, they simply hide it under androgynous clothing for years until they finally have to tell someone. Then, they are finally able to truly be who they feel they were meant to be. This declaration can happen as early as elementary school, or later as a teen. The young child may start to act differently and request parents to call him or her by a different name. Or they may begin to question the rules of identifying themselves by a certain sex. They may start to befriend others who, like themselves, have had the same experience. You may notice withdrawal if you are a parent or teacher, and your child may not want to play with anyone else, thinking there is something wrong with him or herself.

Perhaps, when a child first asks that question, the more appropriate response would be, “Do you think you are a boy or a girl?”

Gender dysphoria is not homosexuality

“Dysphoria” means dissatisfaction, anxiety, and restlessness. Gender dysphoria is not homosexuality. This condition simply occurs when someone is intensely aware that although they have been created as one sex, they strongly identify with the opposite sex. In other words, although they have a penis or vagina, their internal sense of self says it doesn’t belong on their body and something is wrong. This is not who they really are. Another name for this state of being is “transgender.” 

How do you know if your child is transgender?

There are certain symptoms to consider. Young children may strongly identify with the sex that they believe what they truly are, refusing to sit on the toilet if they are a girl, or refusing to stand if they are a boy. They may resent their sex organs and say they want ‘rid’ of them. They may insist that despite their apparent sex, they will grow up to be a man (if they are a little girl) or a woman (if they are a little boy). They don’t want to wear the clothing typical of their sex and may, if challenged, adopt androgynous clothing. They may not want to play the typical games or play with the typical toys that others of their sex enjoy, and puberty brings extreme anxiety and frustration. 

Transgender teens and adults may want to do away with their sex organs and may avoid showering or changing clothes so they don’t have to touch them. They know that they are not the sex that is apparent to everyone else and they may dress according to what they feel is their true sex. They may decide to take the steps to medically become the other sex. Making the declaration when you are adult can be agonizing. Without support, it may lead to mood and eating disorders, attempted suicide or mental health  issues. 

Parenting a child with gender dysphoria

Parents may not know how to react when they are first told, and everyone faces the challenges that lie ahead in different ways. Transgender individuals may eventually choose to take hormone therapy or have surgery, or they may resign themselves to simply behaving and dressing in the way that suits their inner self. In either case, it’s not easy for families to accept the fact that their precious little girl is, instead, a sweet young boy, or that their gentle young boy is, rather, a dear young girl. This is a challenge for everyone in so very many ways. The family may have to battle bureaucracy: the school system, the government, the medical profession and personal stresses. It takes its toll but this is life for parents of transgender children and puberty can literally test everyone involved.

It can be agonizing to live the life of one sex, knowing that you are truly destined to be the other, but this does not mean that the person suffering from gender dysphoria is homosexual. The latest example that’s been widely publicized is Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner. “Is it a publicity stunt or is it real?” she asked him. His amused response makes it clear that, to him, it’s reality and that’s just the way it is. 

Homosexuality is not gender dysphoria

Being gay means that a person is attracted to others of the same sex, physically, emotionally and sexually. It is sometimes seen as being more common than gender dysphoria. More gays and lesbians have been depicted in movies and television shows than transgender people, so it’s more familiar.

Regardless of whether someone is transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian, or has no interest in sex whatsoever, it’s hard to be different. Support and understanding is key.