The Cognitive Dissonance Surrounding Gender Dysphoria

  • 2022
  • Community
Michael Campbell, Governance Officer

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever” 
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Let’s be honest, the majority of us were educated in environments that made the world look black and white. There was a “right” and there was a “wrong”.  If you had a task, you were taught to complete it “this way”, not “that way”.  This was amplified by what we read in our textbooks, watched on our Saturday morning cartoons and sometimes were told by the adults in our lives.  It molded us into effective workers who are capable of keeping the world as we know it moving forward. However, it’s only as we get older that we realize we have the right and duty to question the barriers of what we were taught to conform to as kids.

A year ago, my daughter approached my wife and I and asked if we knew what the word “gender” meant.  Of course we did…..right?  There is no way that our teenage daughter would be able to teach us about something as simple as gender….right?  This is something that we had answered in every medical test, any official form and any application we had ever submitted.  So we answered, “gender is either male or female”.  She laughed at the answer we gave and simply responded to it with, “wrong”.  She brought in a dictionary and read the full meaning, 

“The male sex or the female sex, especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones, or one of a range of other identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.”

Our daughter then seized the opportunity to provide us with a full detailed description of the LGBTQIA+ community, each unique flag that represented each aspect, the reason for each flag and her thoughts on each.  Now remember that I started this off with “let’s be honest”.  All of this did not immediately register to me.  I knew that the rainbow flag was a symbol of gay pride, because that’s what I had learned growing up.  My parents were always unbiased about who loved whom and I learned from that.  I was shocked during this conversation with my daughter because I also fell into the “I have a couple of gay friends'' trap.  How was I losing this “right vs. wrong” conversation with my teenage daughter?!

Then I took a step back.  I watched the enthusiasm emerging from my first born.  I saw the passion as she fully detailed the modern struggle of the LGBTQIA+ community.  This previously shy teenage girl, who had been bullied in previous schools, who suffered from anxiety and who generally preferred isolation was verbalizing something so important to her that my wife and I released all of what we thought we had known about the subject and just sat and listened.  This was important.  I knew at that moment that this world was not just represented by a rainbow, but of multiple shades and for multiple reasons.

Now, I know that this subject is highly debated.  However, what is solidified in a school setting is the ability for students to learn in a safe environment.  As I researched more about this topic, I found multiple articles about why schools should notify (or not notify) parents of a student's request to identify as something other than the gender associated with them at birth.  What emerged from this research was something different.  My research ended up focusing on what is now known as “Gender Dysphoria” (previously referred to as Gender Identity Disorder). 

Gender Dysphoria - A clinical symptom that is characterized by a sense of alienation to some or all of the physical characteristics or social roles of one’s assigned gender; also, gender dysphoria is the psychiatric diagnosis in the DSM-5, which has focus on the distress that stems from the incongruence between one’s expressed or experienced (affirmed) gender and the gender assigned at birth. 
~ American Psychological Association

A shocking number of people who express/identify as a gender not in correlation with the gender others would assign to them suffer from clinical depression, anxiety, impairment in school performance and later career performance.  This is not because these individuals identify as a different gender.  This is because they feel as though it must be kept a secret.  This dissonance increases without a true support system that should include family, friends and colleagues.  

While the term “Gender Identity Disorder” had previously stigmatized the fact that an individual could identify as a different gender,  “Gender Dysphoria” focuses on the clinically caused distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.  This is important for families, schools and the community to focus on.  This is a part of the safety that schools should ensure is available to its students, especially an inclusive school.

The fact that a student may identify as a gender that would not be apparent by looking at them is a sensitive subject that should be discussed with them.  The fact that those students may develop a deep-seated depression, fall into anxious episodes easily, isolate themselves to the point where their grades truly suffer and live in fear is not acceptable in today’s society.  

At The Harbour School, we have incredible teachers who truly put their all into the art of education.  They earn the trust of their students and may refer them to the school counselor if they see trends of psychological distress.  The school counselor works tirelessly to assist children learn ways to cope with stress and communicate for themselves if they feel they can’t.   In all occurrences, the focus is on the students and their wellbeing.  The politics of the LGBTQIA+ struggle doesn’t exist while on the grounds of the school.  However, the mental and physical safety of the students is paramount.  

As a father of three, I’ve witnessed each of my children struggle and overcome hurdles.  That’s an everyday occurrence as a parent.  I’ve also always attempted to pass on the lessons I’ve collected thus far in my life.  When one of my children demands that they need the first flashy thing that comes along, I routinely follow the status quo by saying “wait, trust me” while I try to keep their temptations in check.  But this conversation with my daughter stuck with me.  This isn’t a trend that will come and go.  It’s not a flashy new toy that will be tossed out as soon as something new comes along.  This is an identification that millions of people around the world value as a part of themselves. Our duty as a school is to provide the support to sway the onset of psychological distress, not the identification of gender that may differ from what you or I may think.

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