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Gender identity disorder is a condition characterized by a persistent feeling of discomfort or inappropriateness concerning one's anatomic sex. The disorder typically begins in childhood with gender identity problems and is manifested in adolescence or adulthood by a person dressing in clothing appropriate for the desired gender, as opposed to one's birth gender. In extreme cases, persons with gender identity disorder may seek gender reassignment surgery, also known as a sex-change operation.
Gender identity disorder is distressing to those who have it. It is especially difficult to cope with because it remains unresolved until gender reassignment surgery has been performed. Most people with this disorder grow up feeling rejected and out of place. Suicideattempts and substance abuse are common. Most adolescents and adults with the disorder eventually attempt to pass or live as members of the opposite sex.
Gender identity disorder may be as old as humanity. Cultural anthropologists and other scientists have observed a number of cross-gender behaviors in classical and Hindu mythology, Western and Asian classical history, and in many late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
Gender identity and gender-appropriate behaviors are generally learned. This learning first occurs at home and later outside the home. Behavioral experimentation, particularly when a child is young, is considered normal. As they grow, children will often experiment with a variety of gender role behaviors as they learn to make the fine distinctions between masculine and feminine role expectations of the society in which they live. Some young boys occasionally exhibit behaviors that Western culture has traditionally labeled "feminine." Examples of these behaviors include wearing a dress, using cosmetics, or playing with dolls.
In a similar manner, some young girls will occasionally assume masculine roles during play. An example of this behavior includes pretending to be the father when playing house. Some girls temporarily adopt a cluster of masculine behaviors. These youngsters are often designated as tomboys. Most experts agree that such temporary or episodic adopting of behaviors opposite to one's gender is normal and usually constitute learning experiences in the acquisition of normal sex role socialization.
In pathological cases, however, children deviate from the normal model of exploring masculine and feminine behaviors. Such children develop inflexible, compulsive, persistent, and rigidly stereotyped patterns. On one extreme are boys who become excessively masculine. The opposite extreme is seen in effeminate boys who reject their masculinity and rigidly insist that they are really girls or that they want to become mothers and bear children.
Such males frequently avoid playing with other boys, dress in girls' clothing, play predominantly with girls, try out cosmetics and wigs, and display stereotypically feminine gait, arm movements, and body gestures. Although much less common, some girls may similarly reject traditionally feminine roles and mannerisms in favor of masculine characteristics. Professional intervention is required for both extremes of gender behavior.
This disorder is different from transvestitism or transvestic fetishism, in which cross-dressing occurs for sexual pleasure. Furthermore, the transvestite does not identify with the other sex.
Adults with gender identity disorder sometimes live their lives as members of the opposite sex. They often cross-dress and prefer to be seen in public as a member of the other sex. Some people with the disorder request sex-change or sex reassignment surgery.
Persons with gender identity disorder frequently complain that they were born the wrong sex. They may describe their sexual organs as being ugly and may refrain from touching their genitalia. People with gender identity disorder may try to hide their secondary sex characteristics. For instance, males may try to shave off or pluck their body hair. Many elect to take female hormones in an effort to enlarge their breasts. Females may try to hide their breasts by binding them.
Author Info: L. Fleming Fallon Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2003
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