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28 April 2007

What is Gender Dysphoria?

'Dysphoria' is Greek for discomfort. Some dictionaries list 'fidget' as among its meanings. I quite like the idea of being a gender fidget - it has a nice implication of every-day subversion of imposed gender. I am certainly uncomfortable with gender as it is constructed in post-industrial societies, and probably with most pre-industrial societies. However 'gender dysphoria' as used is not this innocent. 'Transvestism' and 'transsexualism' (note the *ism*) were used by medical men to describe a pathology, the former by Hirschfeld and the latter by Cauldwell and Benjamin independently. The two terms were taken on by society at large and applied to any form of cross-dressing or sex-change respectively whether pathological or not. By the early 1970s doctors were terminologically dysphoric particularly about the word 'transsexualism' because it had lost its medical connotations, and so Norman Fisk (1973) proposed 'gender dysphoria syndrome' to remedicalize the concept. It was then intended to be an umbrella phrase for all the gender disorders, but with time has become particularly associated with the desire for a sex-change.

I do not use 'gender dysphoria syndrome' or 'gender dysphoria' as it is commonly abbreviated, because its users normally assume that transsexuality is a pathology. To use 'gender dysphoria' and not to mean a pathological state is to ask to be misunderstood.

'Dysphoria' as a general concept is psycho-babble that cries out for us to take the piss. A few sentences above I referred to 'terminological dysphoria'. Equally any circumstances leading to any kind of change could be referred to as a dysphoria. People change jobs because they have occupational dysphoria, they move to live elsewhere because they have geographical dysphoria, they channel surf because of signal dysphoria, and so on. The fact that only 'gender dysphoria' is regarded as a pathology is a political fact.

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