Gender Dysphoria: A Mini-Ethnography

Essay by onesmartwomanCollege, UndergraduateA, March 2006

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The transsexual subculture of America believes that their gender dysphoria is biological. Transsexuals often take steps to match their physical attributes to their gender identity. Typically, members of this subculture are very isolated and have very few resources from which to draw.

According to material provided by the sample group, transsexuality, also called gender dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder, is "A misery with regard to gender... a state of conflict between gender and physical sex." ( The editors of this website purport that "A transsexual is a person in which the sex-related structures of the brain that define gender identity are exactly opposite the physical sex organs of the body." (

I met Rachelle in her two-story, single-family, suburban home. The living room was surrounded with family photos, a fish tank, and entertainment center complete with digital cable. We sat in a nicely decorated room on two comfortable love seats.

The windows were covered in cotton draperies with a sheer window paneling that let in rich, warm light. Her five year old daughter sat on the floor playing with my daughter and my cell phone, or working on the homework sent home with her from her kindergarten class.

Rachelle, formerly Derek, is a transsexual. Rachelle was the main focus of a study on transsexuals in Fort Collins, Colorado. Rachelle, who has been aware of her gender dysphoria for three years, recently "came out" to her extended family members, friends, and co-workers. Prior to coming out, only Rachelle and her partner, Sarah, were aware of her condition. During the three years between discovering that she was gender dysphoric and coming out Rachelle lived as Derek.

In retrospect, Rachelle says that all of the signs of her being a transsexual had always been apparent. According to, the "conflict, between...