“My daughter is changing into a male and I feel like I'm in a movie. I want to be there and I want to be loving, but it's scaring me. ”
The words gender and sex are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings; sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender more often refers to cultural and social differences, and sometimes includes a broader range of identities than the binary of male and female.
For the longest time, it was assumed that sex and gender were linked and fixed; that all males are or should be masculine and that all females are or should be feminine. In many cultures, there are very rigid expectations around how boys and girls must behave, as well as stereotypes of acceptable feminine and masculine behaviours.
A person whose gender identity is in contrast to the sex they were born with may identify as transgender. To express their gender, transgender people may 'transition' from the sex that they were assigned at birth (biological sex) with the help of medications or surgery. However, this may not be an option for everyone. There is more information on this in the Seeking support section below.
How a person identifies their gender depends on what they feel, which may change or stay static. Gender identity and expression can be considered on a spectrum. Some people may identify more female, or male, while others may feel more in between, or neutral. Those who feel their gender changes from time to time, may be described as gender fluid.
Gender expression and mental health
The expression of your gender through the way you behave and dress is an important part of your self-identity, and is central to your mental health and wellbeing. Many transgender people hide their gender expression in public for fear of negative reactions, violence or discrimination.
Transgender people experience high rates of physical and non-physical abuse. These fears can lead a transgender person to deny their gender or live a “second life”. This internal conflict raises the risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, and self-harm.
If you are a transgender person, you may be going through distress and internal conflict. Common factors that can affect emotional health and wellbeing include feeling “different” from people around you, feeling pressure to deny or change your gender expression, and verbal or physical bullying about sexuality. Transgender-based discrimination can make it difficult to enjoy life fully. If you notice that this is affecting your sleep, appetite, concentration, or relationships, it might be time to get some help.
When a strong desire to be a different gender is causing significant distress for at least six months and is making it difficult to enjoy life or do the things you normally do, you may be experiencing the mental health condition known as gender dysphoria, which can lead to depression. Transgender people are also three times more likely to experience depression than people in the broader population.
Seek support from the start
Getting help when mental health problems begin to develop can prevent more serious problems in the future. Some transgender people find it especially hard to ask for help. This might be because of past discrimination by health professionals, concerns about privacy, or difficulty talking to strangers about sexuality and gender. It’s important to find someone you trust to confide in to support you through this. This might be your doctor (GP) and/or other health professionals who have experience working with sexuality and gender issues.
Self-care is important
General self-care can make a positive difference to your wellbeing. Small changes such as improving the quality of your sleep and diet, exercising, or cutting down your use of drugs or alcohol can be really helpful over time. If you're stressed out, try finding time for enjoyable activities, try to make connections, and spend time with supportive people you trust and who accept you. If you need urgent assistance, contact Lifeline - 13 11 14.
Many people will support you, but it may take a lot of time. Loved ones probably won't know how to react, and will be in shock. Support and acceptance can be difficult for others as this is a complex subject; one that has not been talked about in previous generations. Most people don't understand, and fear what they don't know.
Slow acceptance from loved ones, family, friends is not a sign of not loving you or caring about you. They will have questions and concerns for your current health and what all this means, especially if physical transitioning takes place. These are life-changing decisions. This isn't your fault. You have had a longer time to consider this and to come to terms with how you feel about it.
This is where it is recommended that families and/or other nominated support people join you on your journey. Encourage them to participate in your experience. Patience, education, and open, honest communication is vital.
However, if you feel unsafe around anyone, including loved ones, at any time, and they are not being respectful or are being discriminatory, it is vital to ensure you have a safe support network to fall back on. If anyone is violent or threatens violence, please call 000.
Also ensure that when you seek professional care that you are supported appropriately, with ongoing medical and psychological monitoring so as to better manage any unexpected side effects or impacts. When considering medications, hormone therapy, and/or surgery, explore all the treatment options that are available. What suits one person may not suit someone else. These steps are life-changing decisions that can cause irreversible permanent changes, even if the process is discontinued.
You do not have to do this alone; there is support available to you. Seek out supportive health, family, friends and support networks during this challenging time. Do whatever you need to stay safe, and remember to look after yourself.
Caring for someone else
It can be difficult seeing someone you care about experience a mental health issue, or struggle with daily life. If a loved one is going through a transition, experiencing gender dysphoria, or just needs someone to talk to while they figure out what’s going on, there are things you can do to help. Just being there can make a difference. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen without judgement, ask what is happening for them and help them to access professional support. At the same time, try to learn more about what they might be going through, and remember that it’s okay to be confused and worried at first.
While it's important to look after your loved one, it’s critical not to forget your own wellbeing. Caring for someone can be rewarding, but it can also be emotionally and physically challenging. Recognising the crucial role that you play as a carer is an important first step.
If you're caring for a loved one and need support, but you aren't sure where to start, you can find more information on our carers page.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool (opens in a new tab).