Development of sexual identity in childhood and gender dysphoria

The other day I found out that an acquaintance of mine had decided to leave everything behind and make his life, together with his partner, at sea, making his boat his home. At first I was very shocked by his idea, but then I thought: “After the confinement that we lived through during the pandemic, this boy does not want to risk going through the same thing again. And there it has occurred to him to leave ”. His decision couldn’t be further from the way most of us live. Personally, I imagine myself living on a boat and it gives me a park. But I have to confess that I found it exciting to put myself in their place, what would it be like to live like this, accompanied by that blue mantle every day, without neighbors, only with the noise of the sea in the background as opposed to residing in the classic block of buildings? And I remembered that you can be and relate to the world around us in many different ways. The diversity of human beings is complex, rich and wonderful. The preferences, the ways of feeling, the way of behaving of each one, in short, how to live, is a personal and unique option, if you have the courage to develop it.

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It is true that saying that each person is a world. In psychology that is clear. Although the problem for which a person decides to come to therapy is something well-known, such as anxiety, the way in which he experiences it, thinks and feels makes him unique, makes it “his”. There is no way to help anyone if they are not understood as being different from others. You don’t have to be a psychologist to perceive these differences. Our friends, family and acquaintances are different from us and also from each other. This diversity enriches us, because thanks to it we can put ourselves in places and perspectives that we would never experience if it weren’t for someone else telling us about it, making it reach us, making it live for us. That wealth exists in everything that the human being is and, of course, sexuality, and everything related to it, was not going to be an exception. We are sexual beings from the moment we are born until we die and each person lives it in their own particular way.

But what is the process by which we learn to live our sexuality?

We are born different. Genetics has prepared for us a sex, the so-called biological sex It includes different chromosomes, disparate genitalia, and different hormones. That is what nature gives us, but it is only the beginning of the story of what sexuality will be like in each of us.

  • As children grow and develop, they begin to realize that they are boys or girls at 2 or 3 years of age. And that means that they perceive differences between one sex and another. Bath time is a golden occasion to make these differences palpable.
  • At 5 or 6 they know how to distinguish each sex through external attributes, such as clothes or hair, and they believe that it depends on these attributes to be a man or a woman. A little later they will realize that this is not the case and that being a man or a woman, biologically speaking, is something that remains constant. The biological, the cultural and the learning are mixed in this way. As they become aware of physical differences, they develop their gender identity, their “feeling” as a boy and a girl, and their differences. And in the consolidation of that feeling, which entails, like everything that involves emotions, a long time, they experiment with everything they catch.. With games that can be considered culturally more akin to the other sex, with clothes, with ways of behaving of all kinds. They are, through play, living what it means, in each culture, to be a boy or a girl. Fortunately, this distinction about what is proper to boys and girls is breaking down. All games are valid for everyone. Letting them experiment with what they want will gradually make them choose what they want. makes happy, beyond being labeled as typical behaviors of boys or girls.
    • We must move away from rigid classifications that do not represent reality. Some people are concerned that a boy will experiment with his mother’s makeup or that a girl may want to play rugby. There is nothing problematic about it and it indicates nothing more than a natural desire to get to know yourself. The “cross-sex games”, which is how these types of games are called, are part of a healthy childhood. Parents must provide them with access to all kinds of materials and experiences that can enrich them. These games and preferences have nothing to do, at these early ages, with whom they will choose in the future as a sexual partner, which is called sexual orientation. Let’s not run so much. Of course, parents may be concerned about how socially a girl who likes rugby or a boy who wants to wear painted nails to class will be seen. Which indicates that there is still much to do in the acceptance of what is different in relation to what is culturally expected.
Development of sexual identity in childhood and gender dysphoria

In full self-knowledge

During this journey of self-knowledge, they sometimes express their dislike of being boys or girls. You have to embrace these discomforts, asking them what makes you think or feel that. Sometimes it is simply because they feel limited by not being allowed to do certain things that are “frowned upon” according to their gender; and what they are proclaiming is their desire to want to do them because it makes them happy, nothing more. You have to accompany them as in any aspect of their development, in this case too, avoiding overinterpreting what they say, listening to them very carefully.

There are other cases in which, for whatever reason, biological sex does not coincide with their feeling of being boys or girls, which materializes in a way of behaving (gender role). In all cultures, a boy is expected to behave one way and a girl another. There are times when children are not comfortable with what is supposed to be expected of them, socially, based on their gender role. This should not become a problem if a boy or girl could express their gender role in any way that seems appropriate, even though others may think that they are behaving more typical of the other sex. As I said at the beginning, the wealth of the human being is immense and we cannot restrict it into two closed categories. If the family and society in general embrace this way of expressing the boy or the girl, who does not have to adhere to the expected behaviors of either sex, but rather to what makes him or her happy, without harming that yes, to himself and to others, the problem ends here.

Another issue is that in the course of their development of sexual identity the boy or girl shows, not a rejection of their gender role but also of their body, specifically the most characteristic physical features that distinguish us as men and women.

  • It can be especially painful for an adolescent to perceive that he begins to develop secondary sexual characteristics, such as the beard, which is the confirmation of his physical development as a man or woman, when he feels intensely that he does not identify with that body, nor with the roles of gender expected of him. This is called gender dysphoria and refers to the discomfort that these children or adolescents may feel in these cases. You cannot run away from the body and wake up every day in front of the mirror with an anatomy and an identity that you feel does not correspond to you, obviously it can cause a lot of discomfort, as is logical. The discomfort does not have to indicate anything pathological but that there is an issue to pay attention and resolve. The idea is that people can be happy finding and respecting their way of living and being in the world. If we eliminate suffering in others, we all win. How? That would give for another post.


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Development of sexual identity in childhood and gender dysphoria


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