Body Dysmorphia and Gender Dysphoria

Yesterday I had a chat with a young agender person I know about dysmorphia and dysphoria.    I wasn’t all that sure what the two words meant so I’m writing this blog post to get clear in my own mind.

Body Dysmorphia –   “Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look.”

Gender Dysphoria – “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity…This mismatch between sex and gender identity can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings that are called gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate.

When I went back and read my opening paragraph to this post I wondered if I had used the right term to describe the gender identity of the young person I know.   Should I have used transgender?

Agender is a term which can be literally translated as ‘without gender’. It can be seen either as a non-binary gender identity or as a statement of not having a gender identity. People who identify as agender may describe themselves as one or more of the following:

  • Genderless or lacking gender.
  • Gender neutral. This may be meant in the sense of being neither man or woman yet still having a gender.
  • Neutrois or neutrally gendered.
  • Having an unknown or undefinable gender; not aligning with any gender.
  • Having no other words that fit their gender identity.
  • Not knowing or not caring about gender, as an internal identity and/or as an external label.
  • Deciding not to label their gender.
  • Identifying more as a person than any gender at all.

Transgender people are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex…  Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc., or may consider conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable. The term transgender can also be distinguished from intersex, a term that describes people born with physical sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”

I am still having a lot of trouble remembering to use genderless pronouns.   e.g they instead or he or she.   I was relieved to read that many older people are having trouble with this – particularly those of us who were taught rigid rules of grammar when we were young.

Many young people are currently questioning many assumptions about gender.   I am finding this spirit of inquiry is making me question  my conditioned ideas on the subject.

‘Research in neurology, endocrinology, and cellular biology points to a broader biological basis for an individual’s experience of gender. In fact, research increasingly points to our brains as playing a key role in how we each experience our gender.  Bodies themselves are also gendered in the context of cultural expectations. Masculinity and femininity are equated with certain physical attributes, labeling us as more or less a man/woman based on the degree to which those attributes are present. This gendering of our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive and interact with us.’

Further on in the article quoted above I read that many young people are currently seeing gender as a spectrum rather than a binary.

I love that idea though it may take me quite some time to fully comprehend the deeper implications of it.

There is so much learn about gender issues.   For me it’s about keeping an open mind and reading up on the subject.   One article I read said it’s not really up to the person experiencing gender issues to explain their position to others.   It’s up to all of us to do our own research and reading.    I agree with that but I also think clear and open communication is vital.

softer trees (2)




20 thoughts on “Body Dysmorphia and Gender Dysphoria

  1. Thank you for this exploration, Suzanne. What unhappiness we create being unable to let ourselves or others BE themselves. All the expectations and laying down of laws that we foist around the place, instead of simply being glad to be alive 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tish. You are very right. Imposing old ideas of gender on young people struggling to establish their own identity in this complex world is very limiting. I think I will have to write more than one blog post on this subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A challenging post, full of challenging ideas and definitions that are a bit hard for me to grasp. I too agree that people shouldn’t have to explain themselves, but I also think that questions are better than non-acknowledgment, and that in such complex and slippery terrain “own research” could get it wrong for an individual. I agree that open communication is vital, but a lot of information won’t hurt. My sister-in-law of 30 years expressed great irritation with me recently because I’d never asked about her clearly visible physical condition. Mea culpa. Is this cognate with anything?


    1. Yes, I agree. It’s a minefield. I think the problem with questioning is that many of the people feeling these gender identity issues are quite young – 15 to 18. Often they are are emotionally frail and questioning themselves deeply. A tremendous amount of sensitivity is required, It is very different to relating to adults. The concepts of gender identity are difficult to grasp. I am grappling with this stuff because it is very close to home for me.
      I do agree with what you say about own research but am also very aware of how insensitive questioning can really impact negatively on a young person struggling to understand themselves anyway.


  3. Being an older person (62), I was somewhat overwhelmed when I came across some scathing interactions between people on Wattpad about gender – or lack of it. I found the concept confronting as it seemed that I no longer had the right to think of people in a male/female sense.

    These new labels, even when taken on willingly, put people into smaller and smaller boxes – the very thing they think they are breaking free from. That said, I respect their right to do so.

    I’ll be interested to read of your findings on this very sensitive subject.


    1. Hi Christine, I am older too and did through a time of disbelief when a young family member came out as agender. The last year has been a steep learning curve for me. It does seem strange to us older people. At present I am working on acceptance. You have inspired me to write more about this soon though. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have no trouble adapting to different sexual orientations but to have none at all is almost beyond the scope of my mind to handle. I have empathy for the frustration they feel, though, with others unwillingness to learn.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agender is different to asexual. You are really motivating me to write some more about this. It helps me clarify my thinking about it all to write. I will get another post up about it during the week. Thanks so much for your feedback.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. No that’s it. Binary genders are male and female. Non binary gender is the term some young people use to describe the agender state. There are lots of variations on the words . The young person I know uses the terms agender non binary but there are many others. Try googling agender and non binary if you want to know more. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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