Both our gender identity and sexual identity make up a fundamental part of who we are. Some people identify with a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. Gender Dysmorphia involves a conflict between the gender an individual identifies with, and the one they were physically assigned. For people with gender dysmorphia, this conflict can involve being uncomfortable with their body, expectations of social gender roles, or both.
Whilst some individuals recall intense feelings from a young age and express they have always felt trapped in the wrong body, others find that more subtle conflicting feelings related to their gender identity intensify later in life – sometimes even after getting married and having kids. In the latter case, this is often not because the individual has changed their mind, but because they have previously denied or ignored these feelings.
When a loved one tells you they are transgender or are struggling with gender identity, it can be difficult to know how to react and show support. It is not uncommon for family members to feel scared and confused about what this means for their loved one. If a family member has already transitioned, you may be struggling to accept the change, or you may even be experiencing loss, and feel that the person you knew is gone. These feelings are normal, and can be worked through with a psychologist.
On the other hand, sexual orientation/identity is completely separate, and distinct from gender identity. Sexual identity refers to a person’s thinking about who they are romantically and sexually attracted to. Sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex, to exclusive attraction to the same sex. If you feel a family member is struggling with, or concealing their orientation, it may be a source of tension within your relationship. Alternatively, if a family member has revealed they are gay or lesbian, you may be struggling to come to terms with this impact this will have on the future of the family – for example, as a parent, you may be upset about the prospect of having grandchildren. In some cases, distress and emotional distance can result from a family member revealing their sexual orientation – for example, if this conflicts with the moral or religious beliefs of another family member.
If you are struggling with the gender or sexual identity of another family member seek the advice and support of one of our psychologists. Some of the ways our psychologists can help include: