What is the orthodox understanding/explanation of someone who is born one gender and years later feels they are the opposite?
Is there remedy?
Before getting into the Orthodox understanding of this, let me just say that a person that has such feelings must be undergoing emotional stress and trauma, as it is very uncomfortable to live with thoughts of not knowing your identity. Regarding your question, Orthodox Judaism believes that G-d created the world and all of us. We also believe that whatever happens in this world is divinely planned, and that G-d created every human being and everything in the world for a specific job that He wants that creation to accomplish. While in many areas we have leeway as to which job we should do, because there areas that are not clear, however there are certain areas where these jobs are clear and we may not change our job because our creator didn’t create us to do that job. For example, in Judaism only descendants of Judah can be a king, and only a descendant of Levi can be Kohen (priest) or a Levi. If the king will decide one day that he wants to be the high priest, and enter the holy of holies on Yom Kippur, he will be punished because he is not allowed to serve at that capacity. The same would be the opposite, if the High priest would decide that he wants to be the king, he will also be punished for it. This is because we are not our own creations, therefore we don’t decide what job G-d has for us. There is one part of our job in this world that is extremely clear, even from the day we are born, our gender, and our role in the world’s procreation.
Aside from this, Orthodox Judaism believes that we are endowed with a holy soul and intellect, but on the other hand we also have a physical body, which has an animalistic craving for physical pleasures. We are taught that we are to work at controlling our base desires, and to live a happy life, within the parameters of the torah and our intellect. We all have desires. If someone has a desire for drugs, does that mean that he should just do it? If he has a burning desire to kill someone, should he just do it? No. Not everything that we desire is correct for us to do. Nike (Just do it!) didn’t create the world – G-D did, and we are taught to follow His divine guidance and directives.
Where do these feeling that one is the opposite gender than what they were created as? I can’t say definitively, but when we live in a society that is very permissive, where everything goes and is accepted, and it encourages all sort of mixing of the genders, it can confuse people, and cause them a lot of stress.
A person that feels that he/she is the opposite gender then what was divinely set up for them should seek help, because something is wrong. This person does not have any feeling of fulfillment, and is living his/her life feeling very out of place, and has a real identity crisis, which is very painful. For example, (not that I mean to compare the two, but only to give over an idea), if a person will decide that he wanted to be a chicken. He insists that although he has the body of a person, inside he really feels and associates with being a chicken. He says that he enjoys staying under the table and eating the pieces of bread that fall under the table, enjoys making cock-a-doodle-doo sounds. He would love to lay eggs, but unfortunately his body won’t allow that. We would all say that if he has such feeling that is very sad, and we would feel bad for him. Do we feel bad for all the chickens around? No, because this is the way they were created and wired, therefore they are fine with their situation. However, for a different creation to try and be something that they were not destined to be, will be very awkward, painful, and largely unsuccessful. A man can try whatever he wants he will never be able to bear a child, because that is not what he was wired to do. This person would be well advised to seek guidance with someone that can help him work through this difficulty, and not try to change him/herself, but to find fulfillment in what he/she really is. This way the person will feel naturally happy and fulfilled- the feelings that G-d, our creator wants us to have.
I am attaching an article written by R’ Yehonatan Salem on gender roles, you might find it helpful. One Plus One Equals One
We live a very confusing society, and I wish you much success in navigating your life correctly.