Ideas about gender-identity formation have important implications for child rearing and education. Most parents want to help their child identify with and feel positive about his or her gender. Those few children who fail to develop a clear inner sense of themselves as male or female consistent with their biological sex may have significant social adjustment difficulties; they are sometimes given psychological treatment for a condition called gender-identity disorder.
According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR (rev. 4th ed., 2000), gender-identity disorder is defined by a strong and persistent cross-gender identification. In a child, it is manifested by such features as repeated statements of the desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other gender; preference for or insistence on wearing stereotypical clothing of the opposite sex; strong and persistent preference for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or fantasies of being the other gender; an intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games of the opposite sex; and a strong preference for playmates of the other sex. A boy with this disorder may assert that his penis is disgusting or will disappear, or that it would be better not to have one. He may show an aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and reject male stereotypical toys, games, and activities. A girl with this disorder may reject urinat-
Gender-role acquisition refers to the processes through which children learn what is expected of members of their gender and come to exhibit primarily those personality traits and interests. (CLEO Photography)
ing in a sitting position, assert that she has or will grow a penis, claim that she does not want to grow breasts or to menstruate, or show a marked aversion toward feminine clothing.
Adults who continue to have a gender identity that is inconsistent with their biological sex may desire surgery and hormonal treatments to change their sex. This rare condition, called transsexualism, is more common among biological males than females. Although many people have interests, personality characteristics, or sexual preferences commonly associated with the other gender, they are not transsexuals; their inner sense of their gender is consistent with their biological sex.
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