Sexual Behavior

GENDER IDENTITY

Many people conflate sexual orientation with gender identity because of stereotypical attitudes that exist about homosexuality. In reality, these are two related, but different, issues. Gender identity refers to one’s sense of being male or female. Generally, our gender identities correspond to our chromosomal and phenotypic sex, but this is not always the case. When individuals do not feel comfortable identifying with the gender associated with their biological sex, then they experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a diagnostic category in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that describes individuals who do not identify as the gender that most people would assume they are. This dysphoria must persist for at least six months and result in significant distress or dysfunction to meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. In order for children to be assigned this diagnostic category, they must verbalize their desire to become the other gender.

Many people who are classified as gender dysphoric seek to live their lives in ways that are consistent with their own gender identity. This involves dressing in opposite-sex clothing and assuming an opposite-sex identity. These individuals may also undertake transgender hormone therapy in an attempt to make their bodies look more like the opposite sex, and in some cases, they elect to have surgeries to alter the appearance of their external genitalia to resemble that of their gender identity (Figure). While these may sound like drastic changes, gender dysphoric individuals take these steps because their bodies seem to them to be a mistake of nature, and they seek to correct this mistake.

Photograph A shows Chaz Bono as a child. Photograph B shows Chaz Bono as an adult.
Chaz Bono, a transgender male, is a well-known person who transitioned from female to male. (a) In the 1970s, the world knew Chaz as Chastity Bono, the daughter of the famous entertaining duo Sonny and Cher; here young Chastity is pictured with Sonny. (b) Later in life, Chaz transitioned to align his physical body with his gender identity. (credit b: modification of work by "dvsross"/Flickr)

Hear firsthand about the transgender experience and the disconnect that occurs when one’s self-identity is betrayed by one’s body. In this brief video, Chaz Bono discusses the difficulties of growing up identifying as male, while living in a female body.