Gender Identity Disorder: Definition and Social Perception of Gender Dysphoria

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  • 0:05 Gender Identity Disorder
  • 1:13 Diagnosis
  • 3:14 Historical & Changing Views
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What happens when someone is born a woman but feels like they should be a man? In this lesson, we'll look closer at gender identity disorder, its symptoms, and changing views on it as a mental disorder.

Gender Identity Disorder

In 1993, Brandon Teena was raped and murdered because his friends found out that he was born Teena Brandon. The man they'd been hanging out with, they discovered, was born a woman and they reacted violently to that news. In psychological terms, Brandon Teena had gender identity disorder, a psychological disorder that involves identifying with the opposite sex rather than the one a person was born as.

Gender identity disorder can be viewed as a discrepancy between sex and gender. Sex is based on the genitalia that you are born with: someone with a vagina is a woman, while someone with a penis is a man. On the other hand, gender is the sex with which you mentally identify.

In most people, sex and gender match: women feel like women and men feel like men. But in someone with gender identity disorder, their sex and gender are different. This can lead to people feeling like they are trapped in the wrong body. Brandon Teena, for example, had the sex of a woman but the gender of a man.


Imagine that you are a psychologist and someone comes to see you. This person was born a woman, but dresses as a man and identifies himself as a man. He wants to go through sex reassignment surgery to become a man physically as well as mentally and emotionally, and his doctor has asked that he see you as part of a pre-operation procedure.

Most psychologists use a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, or DSM for short, to diagnose patients with mental disorders like gender identity disorder. The DSM is on its fifth version, called the DSM-5. However, the fourth edition, the DSM-IV, is more commonly used. So you're using the DSM-IV and you look up gender identity disorder. There's a checklist there of the symptoms of the disorder. It is:

  1. Persistently associating with the opposite sex. This identification should be mental and emotional and not tied to wanting to have the advantages of the opposite sex. For example, if your patient wanted to be a man merely because men are more respected and get paid better, you could not diagnose him with gender identity disorder.
  2. Feeling uncomfortable with your physical sex. Your patient, like other people with gender identity disorder, feels like he was born in the wrong body and is not comfortable with his female sex organs.
  3. The patient was not born with both sex organs. Sometimes, people are born with both male and female sex organs. A person who was born intersex has other biological explanations underlying their gender confusion and, therefore, is not considered to have gender identity disorder.
  4. The condition causes distress or impairment. If your patient is upset and/or is unable to succeed in his job or in social situations, they are experiencing distress and/or impairment.

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