Beginner's guide to GENDER part 1/2: identity, dysphoria, transexualism, sex reassignment

When a baby is born, the first thing most people ask is: ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ Most people never question the gender they are assigned at birth, but for some people, it is the most important question they can ask.

This article explains how and why people may feel they belong to the wrong gender, and looks at the options they might have for dealing with it...

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What is gender identity?

The term ‘gender’ refers to the differences between men and women that are social rather than biological. It’s generally assumed that someone’s gender follows on from his or her biological sex.

The assumptions made about someone’s gender at birth hugely influence everybody’s expectations of how that person will grow up to be as a man or as a woman. These two paths have very different sets of expectations and behaviours, which are thought of as appropriate to that gender.

However these vary between different societies and cultures, and some cultures even accept the idea of a third gender, which lies somewhere between male and female.

‘Gender identity’ basically means how someone categorises themselves as male or female.

Children develop their sense of gender identity at a very early age, usually by the age of two. At this age, most children begin to make some sort of verbal distinction between words such as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ or ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’.

From then on, a process of ‘gender-role learning’ occurs, during which a child’s behaviour is continually matched against a set of standards shared by parents, teachers and other children.

Problems can arise when a child’s perception of their own identity doesn’t match up with other people’s perceptions of them!

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria, also known as ‘gender identity disorder’, is a scientific medical term for anxiety, confusion or discomfort about birth gender.

Those who feel they have been born into the wrong gender are often aware there is ‘something wrong’ early in childhood.

Because society places great emphasis on sexual and gender classification, and on gender-appropriate behaviour, such a child will feel very different from their peers, and uncertain about their identity.

This feeling of being the wrong gender may come and go over the years, but it creeps into all aspects of life.

Milder forms of gender dysphoria can mean occasional feelings of belonging to the opposite sex, and may cause people to dress as the opposite sex once in a while.

For others, anxiety about being ‘in the wrong body’ can be the major driving force in their lives, leading them to seek gender reassignment, commonly known as a sex-change or transsexualism.

Others question the rigidity of gender roles, and seek to establish a ‘transgender’ identity.

To diagnose gender identity disorder, according to the DSM-IV (the commonly used psychiatric-psychological diagnostic manual), there has to be evidence of a strong and persistent ‘cross-gender identification’, meaning the person wants to be, or is insistent they already belong to the opposite sex.

They must be persistently uncomfortable in their current gender role, and feel that it’s quite inappropriate to them.

It’s not about wanting to get some cultural advantages out of changing sex. Nor would the diagnosis necessarily be made, for instance, if someone has one of the rare physical ‘intersex’ conditions, such as, androgen insensitivity syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia, with some of the physical characteristics of the other sex.

There has to be evidence of clinically significant distress, or damage to important aspects of the person’s life to diagnose gender identity disorder.

* Untuk perbincangan lebih lanjut tentang isu-isu lelaki dan gender, sindrom disforia gender dan label-label sosial kontemporari seperti 'lelaki lembut', 'pondan' dan sebagainya, sila rujuk beberapa bab berkaitan dalam buku 'Menjejak Sang Neomaskulin' terbitan Buku Prima (2008).


This is but one posting in a series of postings regarding gender, gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder, male to female transexualism and the controversal issue of sex reassignment surgeries.

You might like to start your journey into gender discovery or affirmation by reading the concise but informative postings below (in chronological order). In time, more postings will follow!

Beginner's guide to GENDER part 1/2

Beginner's guide to GENDER part 2/2

Beginner's guide to GENDER (addendum)

Reitz Gender Test part 01 - Introduction

Reitz Gender Test part 02 - test items 1 to 16

Reitz Gender Test part 03 - test items 17 to 32

Reitz Gender Test part 04 - test items 33 to 48

Reitz Gender Test part 05 - test items 49 to 65

Reitz Gender Test part 06 - Typical Male classification

Reitz Gender Test part 07 - Feminine Male classification

Reitz Gender Test part 08 - Androgyne classification

Reitz Gender Test part 09 - Probable Transexual classification

Reitz Gender Test part 10 - Classic Transexual classification


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