Gender Confusion: Your Questions Answered

This rarely talked about, often-misunderstood topic has been thrust into the bright lights of the international media thanks to Bruce Jenner’s recent interview about his Transgender journey. Emma Bangay takes a closer look at the topic of Gender Confusion - the facts and the fiction.

Ever since Bruce Jenner stepped out wearing nail polish and started growing his hair, speculation grew as to whether or not he was transitioning into a woman. While his journey (now publicly revealed) has garnered a tonne of support worldwide, there are many others experiencing the same struggles and just as many people confused as to what Transgender actually means and entails.

Here, Dr. Nikki Goldstein, Sexologist and Relationship Expert, helps to clear any misconceptions and provide a greater insight as to what 'Gender Confusion' really is.

What is Gender Confusion?

What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice? Not always. Some people experience significant discontent with the gender they were assigned at birth. This confusion of ones gender has many names, and many forms. Widely described as 'Gender Confusion' or 'Transgender', it is formally diagnosed by psychologists and physicians as Gender Identity Disorder (GID) or Gender Dysphoria. The latter, a gross misrepresentation, Nikki believes. “I hate the term ‘disorder’ when it comes to gender," she says. "It’s not a disorder. It’s about these people feeling different and that is where the confusion lies for them; trying to separate their individual, natural self from what society dictates," she says. “Labels can be terribly limiting and confining, and this can add to the struggle of not identifying with ones gender." 

What causes Gender Confusion?

Is it nature or nurture? That is the "million dollar question," says Nikki. It is still not known what factors or influences lead to Gender Confusion but theories range from a prenatal hormone imbalance causing a disposition in the unborn child, through to family dynamics causing an impact – and that is not taking into account the ongoing onslaught of gender-specific social standards and expectations everywhere, everyday...

How Is Gender Confusion diagnosed?

Diagnosis is not taken lightly. Some ongoing, long-term symptoms of GID include the individuals' persistent, strong and ongoing cross-gender identification and unrelenting discomfort with their biological gender role. In children, symptoms for diagnosis include all of - or a combination of - the following:

  • A repeated stated desire to be, or insistence of identifying as, the opposite sex.
  • A preference for ‘cross-dressing’ (i.e. wearing the clothes of the opposite sex).
  • A strong, ongoing preference to play make believe and role-playing games as the opposite sex or persistent ideologies of being the opposite sex.
  • A solid and unrelenting preference to participate in the stereotypical games of the opposite sex.

Society and gender

"If we were living in a world that didn’t have any social gender influences; such as gender specific toys, colours, affectionate terms such as ‘princess’ for girls and ‘champion’ for boys, it would be interesting to see how gender forms,” observes Nikki. “If we were all born on deserted islands, how would our gender naturally evolve?”

The ways that transgender people are talked about everywhere from social media through to scientific studies is changing, as is social awareness, acceptance and acknowledgement. So to understand Gender Confusion and Transgender people is to be fluid thinking and wholly accepting, from grassroots level through to government. This is evident in the recent establishment of a new gender-neutral title ‘Mx’ to join honorifics such as ‘Mr., Mrs., Miss and Ms.’, as a title on driving licenses, official forms, databases and also added to the Oxford English Dictionary for inclusion in its next edition.

Understanding and accepting Gender Confusion

The transition from gender to gender is often long and rarely smooth sailing. Although Bruce Jenner is now being hailed a hero, it has taken him 65 years to get where he is today. As Nikki points out, this double-life can lead one into the darkest of depressions. “Hopefully, Bruce Jenner’s recent interview will help in the open discussion and acceptance of gender confusion," she says, "but in reality, it’s a very difficult journey with a high incidence of depression and attempted suicide along the way."

“It’s not like you wake up one day and, take hormones and you're 'the new you'," she emphasizes. "It’s confusing and emotionally debilitating and there are many hurdles to deal with including losing the support of family and friends, not to mention situations where you have your own family and have to step away from - and redefine your role within - that.”

Three myths surrounding Gender Confusion and transition

  • “I would say the belief that your gender determines your sexual orientation,” says Nikki. The two are often confused but simply put, gender identity is about ‘who you are’ whereas sexual orientation is about ‘who you are attracted to.’ So, Transgender people can be heterosexual or homosexual.
  • That people who are Transgender have to have surgery to become the opposite sex. “Not so,” says Nikki. “I don’t believe you are only a woman if you have a vagina, or only a man if you have a penis.”
  • That Gender Confusion is a mental illness. “This is a big one I hear a lot, especially after the Bruce Jenner interview, but this is not the case at all," says Nikki.

For information, help or support surrounding your gender identity, contact:
Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Dysphoria Service
The Gender Centre

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