Understanding gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is something that many trans, gender diverse and non-binary (TGDNB) people will experience over their lifetime. We spoke with a clinical psychologist and four young TGDNB people to learn more about what gender dysphoria is and how to cope with it.

Image of a pink-haired teen sitting on the steps outside their home and looking at their phone. Their service dog sits at their side.

What is gender dysphoria?

The term ‘gender dysphoria’ describes the serious distress that someone may feel when their experienced gender doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth.

If you’re not sure exactly what this means, read up on the difference between gender, sex and sexuality, or check out everything you need to know about gender identity.

Not everyone agrees on what gender dysphoria is. This is because it’s technically a medical condition that can be diagnosed, but the term can also refer to a feeling that a TGDNB person may have at various times in their life.

Dr Morandini is a clinical psychologist who specialises in supporting people with their gender and sexuality. He suggests that gender dysphoria can be complex and covers a whole range of experiences. 'The clinical definition tries to catch a really broad set of feelings of distress or non-alignment with one’s gender,' he explains.

While not everyone will share the same experience, there are some common symptoms of gender dysphoria that are usually either anatomical or social in nature. ‘Anatomical’ refers to the body, meaning these symptoms are related to how you feel about your physical characteristics. Common anatomical symptoms of gender dysphoria include:

  • feeling a strong desire to hide or erase the physical signs of your sex assigned at birth (e.g. breasts, facial hair, deepening voice)

  • feeling discomfort with or disgust towards your genitals.

This can be very hard to cope with, especially if you’re struggling to complete daily needs like showering, dressing and urinating without being distressed by your genitals or other sex characteristics.

Oftentimes before getting into the shower, I feel upset with the way my body looks when I see it in the mirror.

Max*, 17

Social symptoms of gender dysphoria include any responses that relate to how your gender is perceived by others. They can include: 

  • having a strong desire to be seen and treated as a gender different from your assigned gender at birth

  • being distressed by people perceiving you as the gender you were assigned at birth.

What does gender dysphoria feel like?

Gender is very personal and unique, so gender dysphoria can feel very personal, too. It’s normal to not have the exact same experience as another trans, gender diverse or non-binary person. How you experience dysphoria doesn't make your identity any more or less valid than other people’s. In fact, some trans people don’t experience gender dysphoria at all.

Unfortunately, gender dysphoria often has a big impact on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It can leave you feeling distressed, anxious, sad, angry or even a bit empty. 

It feels like someone swapped what you’re supposed to look like for a different version of you that feels wrong.


For some people, gender dysphoria can feel physically uncomfortable. ‘Gender dysphoria feels like I’m standing outside my body, looking in. It feels sticky and oily and uncomfortable,’ says Sola* (17). Max agrees: ‘I also feel quite disconnected from some parts of my body, like they aren’t really attached.’

Chase (24) says that gender dysphoria feels ‘debilitating at its peak’, which he experienced just before he started to transition. ‘It's mental anguish when what you see in pictures and in the mirror isn't an accurate representation of who you truly are inside.’

How to cope with gender dysphoria

Seek out gender affirmation

Everyone deserves to feel safe, healthy and comfortable in their own body. One way to feel at peace and deal with gender dysphoria is to seek out gender affirmation. 

Gender affirmation is a deeply important part of the TGDNB experience, as it allows people to live as their true selves. There are many different types of gender affirmation, and not every person experiencing dysphoria will want or need to seek all types of gender-affirming care. 

‘In the same way that there's different paths to gender dysphoria, there's different ways that people are able to alleviate feelings of incongruence and distress,’ says Dr Morandini. 

‘Social affirmation’ refers to changes you can make to affirm your gender outside of medical or legal means. Social affirmation can look like many different things, including binding, tucking, changing your pronouns, wearing your hair and clothing differently, or coming out to friends and family.

There are so many ways, whether it’s a combination of social and medical affirmation, or just social affirmation, that people are able to find peace in themselves.

Dr Morandini

‘Medical affirmation’ refers to accessing medical care such as hormones and/or surgical intervention to affirm one’s experienced gender. Not everybody has access to, or is seeking, gender-affirming medical care, so it’s important to know that it’s not the only way to cope with dysphoria. 

Chase had a long medical affirmation journey, which he coped with by recognising what was within his control at the time and trying to stay positive. ‘To make the day easier, I could wear what I wanted and have my hair how I liked. I had to be patient and not let it take over my life. I couldn't put my life on pause while my gender dysphoria was at its peak, so I kept going to school every day and found positivity even during the most challenging times.’

Celebrate moments of gender euphoria

The term ‘gender euphoria’ refers to feeling happy and at peace with your experienced gender and gender expression. Just like gender dysphoria, gender euphoria is an incredibly personal feeling.

‘Gender euphoria is feeling content in my body and myself because when I look in the mirror, I see the man I've always seen myself as growing up to become,’ says Chase.

Gender euphoria is contentedness. I feel comfortable and present and able to engage with the world around me fully because I’m not in my head. It just feels right.

Charlie*, 25

Some people feel that gender euphoria is something that comes from their own personal acceptance of themselves. For others, having the support of friends and family can help them feel euphoric. And it may be that a mix of both personal acceptance and support from others is what will work for you. 

Charlie says that, despite gender euphoria being a personal feeling, the encouragement of their friends and loved ones can make it easier for them to feel comfortable in their gender expression. ‘My partner has actively helped me find clothes to buy that I would feel more comfortable wearing, and my best friend has bought me a binder. I find it incredibly hard to accept my gender, so while these acts are really practical and helpful, having my loved ones on my side really affirms my identity.’

Practise mindfulness

Dr Morandini suggests that mindfulness strategies (like the five senses grounding method), attention strategies, and reframes can all be helpful in hard moments.

I do things that make me feel happy, like listening to music, drawing, or watching my show.


The idea of using mindfulness strategies to cope with gender dysphoria can be frustrating, because it might not feel like enough support for your needs. But you deserve to have a break from the tough feelings, even if it’s just for the hour you spend practising mindfulness or doing something you love.

Look to your community for love and hope

There are so many incredible trans, gender diverse and non-binary icons out there to look up to. Expanding your circle and learning about the history of your community can help you feel less alone. It can also show you that there is no template for how to be a trans person. 

Your gender expression is yours to shape and be proud of. So, take inspiration from the people in your community who are thriving at all points along their own gender journey.

It can really help to speak with other trans or queer people who can understand or empathise with your gender dysphoria experience. In-person or online support groups (like the ReachOut Online Community) are a great way to meet people and share your story. Learn more about how to find trans-friendly clubs and community groups.

You can also reach out to QLife, the national LGBTIQ+ helpline, for support and advice. The service is free, anonymous and operates between 3 pm and midnight every day. Call them on 1800 184 527 or use the QLife online chat.

Work with a mental health professional

There are professionals out there who specialise in gender affirmation, transitions and gender dysphoria. Working with a professional who has experience with trans clients can help you to feel understood and supported on your journey. 

You can search online for therapists who work with trans people, or use this list of gender-affirming doctors to find a health professional who can support your needs.

Waiting to see a doctor or health professional can take some time, so it helps to have other support options on standby. For immediate mental health support, get in touch with Lifeline, Kids Helpline or 13Yarn (for First Nations people). These support services are all confidential and available 24/7. 

*Some names have been changed to maintain anonymity.