What is gender dysphoria? Is bigender a real thing and how does it affect children? Learn more about what bigender and gender dysphoria mean here.
Introduction – Bigender kids and gender dysphoria
Bigender gender dysphoria is an issue that affects many people, including children. It can be difficult for parents to understand what their child might be experiencing and how they should support them. This blog looks at some of the issues faced by bigender kids and explores ways in which you can help your child explore their identity with confidence.
Read on for more information about bigender kids, as well as advice on how best to support your child through this process.
What is gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is when a person’s body, based on their sex assigned at birth, does not match their gender identity. For bigender people, they can often feel like too much of one gender or the other. This is due to the fact that bigender people have two different ‘halves’ in their genders. This mismatch between bigender people’s bodies and their bigender identity can lead to intense discomfort towards, or hatred of, oneself. This is often referred to as gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association describe gender dysphoria as the “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” You can read more about gender dysphoria on their web page here.
While older bigender individuals can be open about their bigender nature with others, many bigender kids hide it for fear of being bullied by peers who may not understand bigenderism.
Gender dysphoria can be difficult enough when you’re an adult, but what happens when you’re a kid? Being bigender is hard enough if you’re old enough to know your own mind – but how are children supposed to deal with this at such a young age?
While bigender children may be a big topic of discussion right now, gender dysphoria is not something to be taken lightly in bigendered people at any age. There are community support groups and resources available for bigendered kids who suffer from intense discomfort towards their body due to its lack of matching up with their bigender identity. However one must keep in mind that bigendered people often learn how to deal with such things at a later stage in life than most other people, so it could be presumptuous to assume that bigendered children will react in the same way as bigendered adults might when faced with similar issues.
What are the symptoms of gender dysphoria?
Some bigendered people may experience symptoms of gender dysphoria in their youth, while others may not. Gender dysphoria symptoms vary from person to person, and can present themselves differently depending on the individual;
Symptoms can include;
- A strong discomfort towards their body which causes them to become preoccupied with the idea that they were born into a different one, than the one they identify most with.
- An intense hatred for certain features about themselves because it is too masculine/feminine for their preference.
- Reluctance to participate in activities that require them to go outside of the home, such as social outings and school events.
- Playing with a range of toys, particularly those that are stereotypically ‘girls’ toys (if they are born male, potentially identifying as female) and vice versa.
- Behaviour that is withdrawn and anti social, potentially due to peer bullying.
- Feelings of despair regarding the future
What is the difference between bigender and gender dysphoria?
Bigender people identify as two genders; both a male and a female, while gender dysphoria refers to the distress and discomfort a person experiences when their biological sex does not match the gender they identify with. For some bigenders, being a bigender person is more of a lifestyle choice than it is about addressing gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is different from sexual orientation, which refers to the gender a person is specifically attracted to, or from homosexuality, which refers to the physical and romantic attraction to a person of the same sex. Bigender people may present themselves in either masculine, feminine or androgynous ways, depending on which gender they feel they identify more with at the time. They may also identify as transgender, or as gender fluid, which describes someone whose gender can change back and forth over time, regardless of whether they are an assigned male or an assigned female. Healthline.com provide more information on what it means to be gender fluid, here.
For a bigendered person, there is a disconnect between physical sex and gender identity. Physical sex assigned at birth is based on parts an infant possesses which are often classified by medical professionals as either male or female, while gender identity is something that many bigendered individuals feel matches neither their gender presentation nor the societal expectations related to sex and reproduction. These two concepts do not necessarily match up for bigendered people who have internal feelings that contradict their actual genitalia.
Gender dysphoria is the discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between your assigned gender and your gender identity. Biological sex can be described as a person’s anatomy (includes genitalia, gonads, hormonal secretions), hormones, and chromosomes. While gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these options, two gender identities, or some other gender. Bigenderism can be an umbrella term, so for bigender individuals – those who identify as bigender – their bigender status means that they feel their bigenderism psychologically reflects an inner combination or juxtaposition of female and male aspects in terms of appearance, behavior, and/or identity.
For bigendered children, who have either bigender or non-binary identities, there may be cause for concern when parents find out that their child identifies this way. While some older kids will say they may be exploring what different identities mean in order to decide which one best suits them, bigendered kids may actually have serious gender dysphoria that requires immediate attention. It’s also been observed that bigender kids usually develop symptoms of gender dysphoria before developing bigender identity.
A bigender child will likely have a hard time expressing their identity to friends, teachers and family without support. For bigendered kids going through puberty, being bigendered can be even more complicated due to the physical changes happening in their bodies.
What causes bigenderism?
Many people think that bigenderism comes from mental disorders. While it can be caused by serious psychological conditions, not everyone with this condition is mentally ill.
Being bigender is caused by a combination of genetics, hormones, and psychology.
Some bigendered individuals claim that their bigenderism is a result of biology or genes, implying that bigenderism may be a feature of the brain that develops before birth. However, some bigendered individuals also claim that their bigenderism is a result of trauma or abuse during early childhood. (You can read my article on Child Protection here for more information on keeping kids safe and preventing abuse).
Bigenderism also appears it may be more common among individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
Can gender dysphoria be a phase?
Some bigender kids believe so, but it might be a tough road for them to travel before they can reach that point of self-acceptance.
For bigendered kids questioning their identity, bigenderism can be a phase. But if bigendered kids actually have gender dysphoria, it is important for parents to take this seriously. Gender dysphoria can lead to serious psychological problems later in life if left untreated or ignored, so a doctor can provide medical advice about gender identities and about hormone therapy if they believe that is the right course of action, or refer you to a specialist who is more qualified.
It’s normal for bigendered young adults to experiment with different identities over the course of several years before settling on one that they feel most comfortable with. Some bigenders will go through an entire lifetime without ever feeling completely identified with either masculine or feminine characteristics. While some bigendered people may never know exactly where they fit on the gender spectrum, not everyone requires an exact label in order to feel happy and whole.
For most bigendered kids, bigenderism is a part of who they are. Being open with your child about bigendered identities can help them feel better about themselves and improve relationships with friends and family. Bigender children may have a particularly difficult time explaining bigendered identities to teachers or classmates without support from home. When bigendered kids do have a bigender identity crisis, it’s important that parents provide comfort and understanding rather than criticism or judgment. Since bigendered children usually require more parental care during puberty, it’s especially important for parents to be supportive during these critical years in their development.
The challenges faced by kids struggling with gender identities
Since bigendered kids need to go through puberty and deal with the physical changes that come along with it, bigendered children usually have a more difficult time developing their identity than bigender adults.
For bigendered kids going through puberty, bigenderism can be especially difficult as they must navigate physical changes that come along with adolescence. Puberty is a hard thing to navigate and while adolescents of any gender may experience confusion during this period of rapid development, bigenders face additional obstacles due to their unique identities.
Since bigender kids aren’t always supported by friends and family members, they often feel alone in dealing with bigenderism for a variety of reasons. Bigender kids will probably encounter some degree of intolerance from peers who don’t understand the concept.
Bigender kids who do not receive support from home or school may find themselves struggling to fit in both masculine and feminine social circles throughout adolescence. If bigenders cannot openly express their bigendered identity at school or among friends, they may become more inclined towards depression, self-harm or substance abuse.
The challenges faced by bigender kids are only magnified by the lack of bigender role models in bigendered kids’ lives. While bigendered adults are slowly becoming more common, bigender children are still scarce enough that they can be bullied or ostracized for their identity. For bigendered teens, bullying is a serious problem.
Bigendered teens experience high rates of depression and anxiety in part due to bullying, but bigender adults also report experiencing similar mental health problems when they were young.
In addition to bigenderism creating a lot of confusion for children as they grow up, parents should also be aware that bigendered kids may struggle with specifically gendered social spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms. Teachers and classmates might also struggle with bigendered identities, causing bigender children to feel isolated during their school years.
On the other hand, there is good news; bigenderism can be a positive experience for bigendered kids, especially when they have the support of their family and friends from home and from school. A bigender child who feels accepted by themselves and others will likely have an easier time understanding who they are and what role bigenderism plays in their life.
Ways that teachers can help kids with gender expression, and to thrive in school
Although bigenderism does not always make bigendered kids happy, educators should strive to provide an accepting environment for bigendered students as much as possible. This may include being careful when it comes to use of pronouns, it may be a general attitude of understanding and empathy and a willingness to educate themselves. Teachers who accept bigendered students as they are will likely reduce the number of mental health issues related to bullying and self-esteem.
Bigenders usually require more parental care during puberty than cisgender people because bigender puberty is often very different from that of cisgender adolescents due to physical changes that come along with adolescence like menstruation and deepening voices. Educators should reach out to these bigendered students to ensure bigendered children receive the attention they need.
While bigenders may require separate facilities like washrooms and locker rooms, bigendered children should be allowed to access facilities at their discretion and feel supported and comfortable to do so. Educators should work with bigendered students to help them feel comfortable in gendered spaces while also offering bigender kids an opportunity to get involved in the education process, such as participating in student council for example, and perhaps organising bigender-specific events.
Educators should also work with bigenders to create a safe environment where both cisgender and bigender children will not be bullied by other classmates because of their gender expression, or for any other reason for that matter, or feel uncomfortable. At the same time, it’s also important for educators to ensure that they themselves are educated on bigenderism as well as gender dysphoria so that they can educate their students on what this means as well as some of the challenges faced by those who have bigenderism or gender dysphoria to spread general understanding, awareness and acceptance.
Bigender teens report facing a greater number of mental health problems than cisgender individuals, so bigendered youth who feel accepted by their friends and family generally have a better understanding of themselves and tend to do better in school.
How to support a child with gender identity issues
Every child is unique and has their own way of perceiving the world around them. It’s up to parents to support their bigender kids in a way that works for them, but one thing is clear: bigender kids who feel they have a male/female side running the show are often struggling with gender dysphoria, a deep unhappiness about their body and social role. The good news is bigender children can be helped by loving supportive parents- these bigender kids can lead fulfilling lives if they get proper treatment within the family context and within their community. Loving your bigender child means accepting that he or she may switch genders depending on how they feel. Some bigender kids like to switch every few hours, while others may only make the switch occasionally at home or with friends. They should be supported to switch to the gender they prefer, without feeling uncomfortable.
Bigender kids will face less challenges and mental health issues if their bigenderism is accepted and supported by their parents and immediate family. It can be difficult at first – bigender children can change into a different gender in front of you and it can take some adjustment to not react emotionally out of your own discomfort and instinct to want them to conform to male or female roles.
Personally, as an early childhood teacher I have come across several children in my classroom who are exploring their gender identity as early as 3 and 4 years old. I have taught a boy who at 4 years old, refused to wear the pants their parents wanted them to wear and insisted on dresses only. They wanted to be referred to as a girl and as they were starting primary school the following year, this child was experiencing severe anxiety at the thought of having to wear a boy’s school uniform, begging his mother to wear the dress uniform, to which she was extremely reluctant.
I also know of a friend’s child (her daughter) who at 5 years old, wanted to cut all her hair off, would get upset when anyone said “good girl” to her and wanted to change her name to ‘Mike’. She would become very stressed about the clothes that were in her wardrobe and would only wear her older brother’s clothes. She would ask her parents to only call her a boy and tell everyone she knew that she was a boy, not a girl.
As I have experienced, the most significant factor in ensuring the mental health of these children is the attitude and acceptance of the adults closest to them. As educators, we were always accepting and supportive of these children, programming activities according to their interests, whatever they happened to be. Sometimes this was free dancing to particular songs, sometimes it was doll play, trucks in the sandpit or dress ups. We don’t categorise particular activities or educational experiences as gender specific anyway, Children, whether bigendered or not, often like to play with a variety of toys and activities, and their choice of these activities is not an indication that they are exploring their gender identity or not.
Gender identity issues are becoming more common among bigender kids. Parents of bigender kids need to be aware of how to support their children in regards to these issues, especially with the onset of puberty. It may be very useful to search for support and contacts within a bigender community.
First, create an environment where bigender kids feel they can freely express themselves. Make sure bigender children have plenty of time doing what they enjoy – if they want to talk about their bigender experience, what makes sense to them or play games that involve one gender or another or switching genders, then let them do so without interruption.
Second, take bigender kids seriously when they talk about being unhappy with their body because it can be more than just “a phase”. Even more importantly, avoid making your child feel bad or guilty by saying things like “I’m so sorry this is happening to you” or “I wish it wasn’t so hard for you.” Try not to react out of your own discomfort, feelings are just as valid in children who are bigender, and choice of words are important. The bigender experience should be understood and respected by parents no matter how it makes the parent feel personally.
Last, bigender kids should be encouraged to express both genders in different contexts – this will help bigender children accept their bigenderism instead of feeling “trapped” in their assigned gender. Do not insist bigender children dress according to gender norms or play with certain toys if they don’t want to. Allow them to dress in whatever makes them most comfortable, and play how they want to play. This will ensure bigender kids are able to freely express themselves without being forced into a single gender role that doesn’t fit them psychologically.
Sex reassignment may be something a bigender child will want to explore when they are a bit older and so a medical professional can provide much more info on this, including discussing hormone replacement therapy and the sex change surgery itself, if it so comes to that. Taking hormones can have many side effects so it’s important to ask your doctor lots of questions about how this might affect you.
Summary – Bigender kids and gender dysphoria
While there is no one-size-fits all approach to raising a child, especially those exploring their own gender identity, the best thing you can do for your child is to be supportive and understanding. There has been a recent shift away from using ‘gender identity disorder’ as a diagnosis, so as to make the exploration of gender identity more accepted within general society, and consider how a bigender person feels when they hear this term. Genderrights.org.au provide lots of information, resources, training and support for those exploring gender identities. You can find them here.
This article has explored some of the issues commonly faced by children with gender dysphoria, but we’ve also provided tips on different things parents can do to help their kids explore and understand who they really are, with confidence. We hope this information will provide guidance as you move forward in supporting your child to be the happiest, healthiest, most confident version of themselves they can be.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, seek help from a medical professional or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.