Jargon Busters: Understanding Gender Identity Disorder

How do you know that you’re a woman or a man? Does it just come down to the genitals you have, or did you work out your gender identity on more factors? Gender is not a cut-and-dry sexual health issue; it’s not just a case of penises for boys and vaginas for girls. Rather, there is a number of people for whom the body doesn’t match up with what’s going on in the mind, which is commonly known as gender identity disorder. Usually, struggles with gender identity begin in early childhood, but it can happen at any age. Gender identity disorder can be confusing, both for those whose wellbeing is affected by it, and their friends and family. So, let’s clear up the jargon.


1. Transexual: The community of people with gender identity disorder is commonly described as “transsexuals” by medical professionals. This term was coined Dr. Harry Benjamin, one of the pioneering doctors to research and work with gender identity disorders, using the research of Magnus Hirschfeld, of the Institute for Sexual Science, and Alfred Kinsey, of the Kinsey Institute, as his springboard.


2. Transgender: “Transgender” is used as a general, non-medical term to describe anyone whose gender identity is different from their physical sex at birth. If you’re transgender, you may wish to live as a different gender than the one you were born with, and may put your physical wellbeing at risk to do so. You may undergo gender reassignment surgery – or a sex change – to transform your body to reflect who you are underneath. However, you might not think your gender wellness merits these types of surgeries, and that’s OK too.


3. Transman or Transwoman: If you were born as a biological man but you identify as a woman, you are known as a transwoman, or transgender woman. A biologically born woman who identifies as a man is known as transman, or transgender man.


4. Third Gender: You might not want to refer to yourself as male or female, but rather find that your identity lies somewhere along a spectrum. This is sometimes referred to as “third gender”, but some people prefer no label at all.


5. Transvestite: You may have head someone who dresses in clothing more typically worn by the opposite sex labelled as a “cross-dresser,” “transvestite,” “drag queen” or “drag king”. However, the important distinction to make here is that these words don’t describe a person’s gender.


6. Transition: Instead of sticking to the sex you were assigned with at birth, you may decide to move towards the gender you perceive yourself to be. This shift is described as “transition”. Sex reassignment surgery may be part of your transition, but this isn’t always the case.


So how do you know if you have gender identity disorder? Diagnosis involves a consultation with a mental health professional, who performs sessions of psychotherapy and formulates a diagnosis. The DSM-IV breaks gender identity disorders into several types: Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood, Gender Identity Disorder of Adolescence or Adulthood and Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Additionally, the ICD-10 provides five diagnosis types for GIDs: Transsexualism, Dual-role Transvestism, Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood, Other Gender Identity Disorders and Unspecified Gender Identity Disorder. The ICD-10 states that you are diagnosed as transsexual when you have a desire to live as and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, along with the desire to transform your body with gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy. Your gender identity needs to be present for at least two years, and the desire for gender change cannot be a symptom of another disorder or a chromosomal abnormality.

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