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gender dysphoria


Every day was a struggle for him. A struggle with herself.  A struggle with his mother. No, that ‘herself’ was not an error. She disliked how her mother called her Ravi. How she was treated like a boy. She wasn’t a boy. She was just born one. Maybe God made a mistake. Or maybe she was wrong. Her mother always said so.

The other day, mom hit her for dressing up in her sister’s clothes and playing pretend house with her. Ravi always enjoyed playing pretend- house. She felt she made an excellent mommy. Mom walked in and said “Why do you do this Ravi? You’re a BOY”. “But I’m not a boy”, Ravi said. Why won’t she understand? Why won’t Daddy understand?

Ravi dreaded school. For her, school meant a lot of bullying. Ravi wasn’t like the other boys, you see. She wasn’t a boy to begin with. She was laughed at for walking and talking like a girl. Pushed around and smacked for playing ‘girl games’. Ravi used to insist on using the girl’s washroom. She hated peeing standing. She hated the ‘boy part’ between her legs. She used to try tucking it away as much as she could.

One day, a teacher caught her using a girl’s stall. “I’m a girl”, Ravi said. He got a sound beating that night. The next night she heard Mom and Dad talking. “Maybe we were poor parents” Mom said. “Why did God give us a crazy child?” Dad replied, “My SON won’t act like a girl and run around bringing disgrace to the family. Fix this.” Then Mom cried a lot.

Ravi hugged her knees and cried all night. She felt at unease with herself. She was a girl. She felt like a girl. But then, why was she a boy? Was she a girl in a boy’s body? Or was Mom right? Was she just crazy? She hated herself for who she was. And for making Mom cry.

The next day, Mom took her to a dark place in a chawl. The bearded man there was scary. She told him what Ravi was doing. She said Ravi was a bad boy. That Ravi was crazy. She said he was abnormal. The bearded man looked at Ravi sternly. Then he beat him as he chanted.  Said that would drive the girl out of him. It didn’t. The girl stayed. Ravi was the girl. The girl was Ravi.

All those changing pronouns in the above story must have been pretty confusing. How confusing do you think it was for Ravi? How do you think she felt when she was being exposed to a barrage of emotions of confusion, anxiety, sadness, guilt and feeling misunderstood?

What is Gender Dysphoria?

An issue explored in the above narrative is the concept of gender. What is gender and how is it any different from sex? Sex is something that is biologically assigned. Gender is a social construct. It is the society-dictated “boy-ness” or “girl-ness” of an individual. So, the biological sex comes into conflict with social dictates of male and female gender roles and behaviour. This creates an identity conflict in some individuals, bringing about intense amount of sadness and confusion and guilt. That is gender dysphoria.  It usually starts being evident ever since childhood.

How Does Gender Dysphoria Manifest?

Children around the ages of 3-4 tend to indicate their displeasure at their assigned gender, state that they wish to be or insist they belong to the opposite sex, preference for cross dressing and wearing stereotypical opposite sex clothing and a strong and persistent preference for cross- sex roles in make believe play.

Children with gender dysphoria tend to strongly reject typical toys or games played by members of their gender, have strong desires to have playmates of the opposite sex and engage in games that are conventionally those of the opposite sex. There is a strong dislike of their sexual anatomy and an equally strong desire to have primary (penis/vagina) or secondary (menstruation) sex characteristics of the other sex.

Boys may assert that his penis or testes are disgusting or will disappear or assert that it would be better not to have a penis, or aversion toward rough-and-tumble play. In girls, there may be rejection of urinating in a sitting position, assertion that she has or will grow a penis, or assertion that she does not want to grow breasts or menstruate, or display a marked aversion toward normative feminine clothing.

In adolescents and adults, it is manifested by a stated desire to be the other sex, frequent passing as the other sex, desire to live or be treated as the other sex, or the conviction that he or she has the typical feelings and reactions of the other sex, preoccupation with getting rid of primary and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., request for hormones, surgery, or other procedures to physically alter sexual characteristics to simulate the other sex) or belief that he or she was born the wrong sex.

A pervasive distress and sadness exists across age groups, especially with growing environmental pressures to conform. This may cause immense social and occupational impairment and may lead to development of other serious mental health concerns and even suicidal tendencies.

How Does The Indian Society Look at Gender Dysphoria?

Most of us would consider this wrong. Something abnormal. Something to be shunned and punished. Strictly. It is seen as something unnatural. Something that we are not accustomed to seeing. And hence it creates a lot of anxiety in us. If you ask someone, or even ask yourself, what makes a boy, a boy, what answer will you get? He walks like one, dresses like one, “ACTS” like a boy.

But who made these categories? Who decided how we will act? Us.  The society. Where then, is choice? Can our lives really be rigidly categorized? Can there really be objectivity when it comes to this? Can our psychological, emotional and behavioural make-up and repertoire really be limited to and by a few words? How is the person’s right to choose, bad? Are there really strict guidelines or criteria for how we SHOULD be?

Remember, gender is a social construct. We created it. We were told by our parents and their parents before that and we will tell our children that “You are boy only if you are so and so” “You are not a girl if you act this way”. Think about your children. Think about how you teach them in obvious and subtle ways what they should be. Are we not limiting them? Are we not curtailing their growth as a holistic person? Are we not causing intense distress in them if they accidently “fail” to be what we dictate?

The society decided this was right and this was wrong. Is the society always right?

Post Contributed by: Ashwini Date


  1. Very insightful. Specially loved the way the article starts with a relatable and well-put forward story.

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