Perception vs. Actuality: Understanding Gender Identity

Amber Rose is a frequent, valued contributor to our blog and she writes this month about reconciling the potential conflicts between one’s gender identity and one’s sexuality — otherwise known as gender dysphoria. It is honest and, at times, painful to read. However, we hope you will find it informative, helpful in your understanding of this experience — perhaps, helpful with your own transition. The concepts discussed here are well-articulated and we encourage you to share Amber’s essay with others whenever a concise explanation of transgender identity can be useful. Casey Weitzman, M.A., L.M.F.T.

Understanding gender Identity by AMber RoseI identify as a transgender woman. This is my actual gender identity. I also identify as lesbian. This is my sexuality. These are two completely distinct terms, not to be used interchangeably. Some of those who are cisgender seem to like to think that trans* individuals – should they go through hormones and/or genital reconstruction, or not – actually change sexes. This is not what happens. Trans* individuals go through a process known as [a] transition. Transitioning is a journey of self-acceptance, self-actualization, and being able to be oneself. There is no change of sex; trans* persons are who they are BEFORE and AFTER any hormone replacement therapy and/or genital reconstruction. The person who they are, is inside them already, and does not just magically appear after some hormone treatments; being able to, however, let their actual selves out, is something else entirely.

Coming out was incredibly difficult for me. It didn’t really matter what I wore, the way others perceived me, was always as male; that is, until a little over two years ago. Male was my perceived gender identity; or in other words, how I was seen and identified by others. My actual gender identity has never changed. For the larger portion of my early life, this disharmony between my actual gender identity and my perceived gender identity, was — quite possibly — the worst thing I have ever experienced. Much later, I came to find out that this void created by the disharmony between one’s actual gender identity and one’s perceived gender identity, was called gender dysphoria. I now come to understand gender dysphoria as: The physical, mental, emotional, and psychological distress created by one’s actual- and one’s perceived gender identity being out of sync. The amount of pain and anxiety formed, depends upon how disharmonious the two identities are with one another.

I went through most of my early life being perceived and socialized as male. The more I neglected this other part of me, the more intense the gender dysphoria became. For some trans* persons, this imbalance becomes so powerful that it pulverizes them, figuratively speaking. This can be likened to diving in the ocean: the further one descends, the more difficult it is to see, and the harder the water molecules press on them; Eventually the water molecules become so dense, that a human being is crushed to death. In other words, they will feel as though they’re entirely alone; and this — this feeling of complete isolation — in-and-of itself is enough for a person to want to take their own life.

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One’s actual gender identity is how individuals, themselves, identify with respect to gender.

One’s perceived gender identity is how others identify and see them, with respect to gender. This is merely one’s perception of someone else’s gender; as well as a possible projection, resulting from the discomfort some feel, when they cannot figure out another’s gender.