Updated: Dec 19, 2021
Abstract : I had gender dysphoria growing up with brothers as the only daughter, playing sports as a "tomboyish" girl and where boys were highly and unjustly favored in our family and culture... and especially after a childhood trauma had gone and low self-image and shame around the effects.
After I became a believer in my late teens, I chose to take a step in accepting how I was created by piercing my ears and wearing earrings and then it has been a longer journey dealing with my trauma and accepting all that has shaped my sexuality. I am glad that I chose to take this step and many steps since to accept myself more and more. It has taken a long time to accept my same sex attractions and attachment issues. And more recently coming to more fully accept my bisexuality and being grateful to be a woman who is not as stereotypically feminine and yet is of worth and wonderful as I am.
Disclaimer: I am writing my own personal story and journey with Gender Dysphoria. I want all people with gender dysphoria to know that I have lots of empathy, understanding and compassion for all who are going though or have ever experienced gender dysphoria or have loved ones going through this and I am not in any way against people who have transitioned or have had a different journey than I have had. I share my story to help others either going through gender dysphoria or have a loved one going though GD.
GDAC: Can you please tell us a bit about your childhood experience of gender dysphoria?
In Asian cultures, and definitely, in traditional Chinese culture, boys were highly and unjustly favoured over girls since boys carried on the family name and it was a very hierarchical and patriarchal culture. I was told that when I was born my grandmother asked my aunt if my mother had a boy or a girl and when my aunt told her that the baby was a girl that her excitement and face dropped and she said in a disappointed tone “oh too bad.” And then she was sad and frowned. In contrast, to what I was told when my older brother was born and he was the first son of the first son, she was ecstatic and praised and gave high esteem to my mother and lots of special food and announcements were made.
Also, the gender dysphoria grew as I was growing up with brothers and the only way to play together with them was to learn to play lots of sports. I enjoyed playing sports, but my mother would say that it was not okay to play sports as a girl and that it was bad being “a tomboy”. I also did not like shopping or make-up nor was I as neat as my mother expected me to be “as a girl” and my mother was really hard on me for not being similar to her and what she liked. But I kept playing sports as a "tomboyish" girl because I really liked sports and it was part of who I was, but I had lots of confusion and struggled with internalized negative views of myself and hated myself like any person who has faced prejudice and discrimination would.
Do you think there were any factors which contributed to your gender dysphoria?
Yes, this is my personal story so I know this does not apply to everyone, but my GD was made much worse after I experienced childhood trauma that made me feel shame and hate myself and my female body. Especially after this trauma, the gender dysphoria became much worse because I did not want to be a victim and live in fear. I hated myself and felt shame over being female and probably psychologically, rather wanted to identify with those with power. Now, I was also confused with these new feelings of shame over my sexuality that came very much from the trauma. I already had been told and treated in demeaning and disrespectful contemptuous ways for being female and faced exclusion and bullying from my elder brother “because you are a girl” and verbal emotional abuse and mistreatment from my mother. So this all resulted low self-image and shame around the effects and all the ways that the oppression of my culture’s sexism and unfair treatment of me and typical expectations of females and males was so unjust such as expecting me to do more housework and cleaning and be cleaner than the boys with no thanks or recognition because that was what was expected of girls and daughters. It was a form of oppression to always be treated as a “second-class citizen of less worth” and not allowed to go to school camp and other things that my brothers got to go to. Males had all the advantages in my family and in my culture and the way I was being treated within these circles, especially by my mother and grandmother and how I saw them treat other women and how my father modelled how to treat my single unmarried aunt (his younger sister) as the lowest person on the pecking order. Then it became me when I was treated as the rest of the family as the “scapegoat” and identified problem in this dysfunctional family system as family systems theory would call it.
How did your GD evolve over time? Do you still experience it as an adult?
After I became a believer and follower of Jesus Christ in my late teens, I chose to take a step in accepting how I was created by piercing my ears and wearing earrings as a step towards accepting the way I was born as a female. Then it has been a longer journey dealing with my trauma and accepting all that has shaped my sexuality. It has taken a long time to accept my same sex attractions because I experienced so much pain in the first times I tried to come out to someone. There was also lots of negatives in the conservative church circles I was part of for many years so I just hid this part of my sexuality, especially because I was truly attracted to men as well. I did not understand much about sexuality at that time and had this hidden part of myself that I felt so much shame over and felt I had no one in the community that I was part of back then to talk to about it.
I am glad to be part of a church community presently where people who have come out are part of the membership. It was through a long healing journey in which Jesus showed me love and acceptance and worth in my true identity. Then I had to heal from my Father wounds and experience God’s Father heart and then years later in my healing journey, the Holy Spirit showing me God’s Mother heart and then even more, brought more and more healing to my attachment issues. And finally, accepting my bisexuality and being grateful to be a woman who is not as stereotypically feminine. I actually really like the more stereotypical “feminine” qualities that I do have of nurturing, gentleness, emotional sensitivity, artistic and musical appreciation and tender care and compassion.
Had medical options been available to you as a child, do you think you would have wanted to transition to male? (Why or why not?)
I think I would have taken that route because I was so unhappy and confused as a child and as a teenager, but I am actually glad that I was not offered this medical option so young because I would not have known what I was really doing and the difficulties that could come. As a child or teen, I had an unrealistic view of all the advantages I would have as a male that I wanted, but had no idea of living as a trans person or the identity issues and other challenges that is part of this journey. I still would have had to deal with the pain of accepting myself and dealing with all the complex trauma and harm that came through others and a whole family and cultural system of gender injustice and mistreatment of me which is where the dysphoria came from. Also, I have a friend (not Asian) whose son transitioned through hormones and then surgically into a female, but still has mental health challenges and is mentally very unhappy, suicidal, depressed and ashamed to be seen by relatives and friends who knew her as a him before, so she just hides herself from all the people who knew her before her transition and has developed social anxieties and is still very dissatisfied and confused as a young person.
What advice would you give a young person who’s confused about their gender or who has gender dysphoria?
I would advise them first, not to rush into a really big decision that will affect the rest of their lives and to go to psychotherapy with a good counsellor whose agenda is not to push them too quickly into hormones nor surgery to see what is at the roots of their dysphoria. I would have them talk to lots of people who have had gender dysphoria and people who have transitioned, such as yourself Aaron who work in the mental health field, especially with young people who could help them with looking at and untangling their gender dysphoria and identity and issues of acceptance/self-hatred or self-love and any depression or suicidal ideation and other mental health challenges and work towards the best way forward whatever that is.
What advice would you give to a parent of a child with GD?
I think I would advise parents to show their child love and acceptance wherever they are at in their journey with their gender and sexuality especially because it is made so much worse if parents are not supportive. I would advise them to help their child to find some really good therapists and people like you Aaron who could help them without pushing their child too quickly to make such an important decision that will affect them permanently for the rest of their lives. Also, I would advise them to not get manipulated by therapists or clinicians who would push anything or at a pace they were not all comfortable with nor to give way to the “fear of suicide” as the reason to push hormones or surgical sex change through. I have seen that happen. I think I would advise really listening to your child and having lots of dialogue where you listen well and try to understand what your child is going through and give them unconditional positive regard as much as you possibly can. What they need most from you is your love, acceptance and listening to try to understand them so they can also learn to love and accept themselves in whatever way they will journey and grow. I think there are organizations that are helpful for parents such as “Generous Spaciousness” which is especially is good for parents with a Christian faith background. They help with dialoguing in a good way and with resources that they can share. Also, of course your organization GDAlliance. Do you have some suggestions Aaron since you are much more experienced as someone who had gender dysphoria and went through transitioning and have worked for many years as a mental health clinician with children and teens?
It has taken a long time to accept my same sex attractions and attachment issues. And more recently coming to more fully accept my bisexuality and being grateful to be a woman who is not as stereotypically feminine and yet is of worth and wonderful as I am.
I am privileged to live on the traditional unceded territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam nations and grateful for their faithful steward ship of this land.
A note from GDAC:
We agree with Christina's suggestions of offering love, support and listening, without rushing into labelling or into medical options. Children are much more likely to desist than adults are, since their identities are still being consolidated. Most children with GD grow up to be gay/bisexual adults. Please see our Resources and Education pages for additional information.
Thank-you for sharing your story with us Christina!