Transgender is a gender identity and/or expression and is a term which covers a variety of identities and expressions which are different that the one assigned at birth. Gender identity is the gender which you feel best describes who you are. Gender expression is the ways in which you express who you are (in the context of gender). When a person is transgender they may identify with the gender opposite the one they were assigned at birth or they may not identify with any gender (gender queer) or they may identify with multiple genders (qender fluid). Sexual orientation is completely different from gender identity/expression. Sexual orientation describes who you are physically attracted to (or not physically attracted to).
Different Transgender Identities
Transwoman (Male-to-Female): Individual assigned male at birth but who identifies with the “woman” gendered roles and behaviors and who feels a strong, intrinsic identification with femaleness.
Transman (Female-to-Male): Individual assigned female at birth but who identifies with the “man” gendered roles and behaviors and who feels a strong, intrinsic identification with maleness.
Transsexual: An individual who has undergone some or all appropriate clinical treatments for gender dysphoria.
Gender Queer: identity which rejects traditional binary views of gender. May encompass one or more of the following:
- Bigender: identification with and fluctuation between both traditional “man” and “woman” gendered behaviors (and sometimes a third gender).
- Gender Fluid: identification with both traditionally “man” and “woman” gendered behaviors (and sometimes a third gender). Gender fluid individuals may identify with one gender more on one day and another on another day.
- Third Gender: identification with a gender other than man or woman.
How Does Gender Identity Relate to Sexual Orientation?
Gender expression and identity is different than sexual orientation. Transgender people can be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and more! Moreover, a person’s sexual orientation can change throughout their lifetime, and their attractions can change during their transition.
Transgender Identity and Psychological Disorders
Being transgender is not a mental disorder as being transgender does not automatically entail significant emotional distress and psychological disability. Many transgender people live successful and fulfilling lives in a variety of scientific and artistic disciplines. Because of the intense stress trans people experience in their individual processes of coming out and becoming a better version of themselves (stresses such as rejection from family and friends, the cost of health care, social alienation, etc.) many trans people suffer from higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than the rest of the population. Most major medical and psychological organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics denounce views or therapies which would attempt to “fix” transgender people or make them feel abnormal and embrace evidence-based practices which seek to improve the quality of life for transgender patients.
Debunking Some Myths about Being Transgender
If I transition I will regret it. This is a valid concern but is unsupported by research. In fact the majority of transgender individuals (94%) report an improvement in life satisfaction and quality of life due to transitioning. Moreover, most transgender individuals (96%) report having improved well-being due to transitioning.
If I transition, then I will have worse mental health. Again, this is a valid concern. However, research indicates that 9 out of 10 transgender individuals reported improved personality post-transition. Moreover, 85% of transgender individuals report improved emotional stability.
I’m only transitioning because I feel pressured to do so. It’s reasonable to come up with excuses to not transition. However, transgender individuals overwhelmingly report (96%) overall satisfaction from transitioning (hormone replacement, 97%; chest surgery, 96%; genital surgery, 90%).
If I embrace my gender identity, then I am denying my faith. Faith and spirituality can be incredibly important to many people. Faith and spirituality are also incredibly important for many transgender individuals. You may be surprised how many people in your worshiping communities who will support you. Moreover, if you are concerned about expulsion from your religious organization, there are several religious groups which are known to be supportive of transgender individuals and their allies such as the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian-Universalist Association, the Humanist Society, Reform Judaism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Metropolitan Community Church. Check out your local worshiping community to see if they are supportive!
For Those Questioning
First, you should take a few deep breaths. You are going to be alright. Second, we recommend that you seek professional therapeutic help as soon as possible. Not because there is anything wrong with you, but because having a good and competent therapist will help you to navigate the stressful journey you are about to begin. Finally, you should seek out a local LGBTQ support group. Most large cities, and many small cities (especially those with universities) should have some type of support group such as a Gay-Straight, Gender & Sexuality, or Pride Alliance. Many cities often have trans-specific groups which meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are going through an experience that hundreds of thousands of people are also going through. Transitioning in a transphobic society can be incredibly tough and upsetting. However, this experience can also be very rewarding, and you will be much happier for it. Please know that you are valuable and you are loved. There are resources available to help you find your way.
I don’t even know what (or who) I am anymore.
That is a normal part of the process. As you continue your transition you will find that you’ve been this person all along. However, it can be distressing changing your name and pronouns, learning how to live as a gender you were not socially conditioned for, and navigating social situations which vary from warm and accepting to cold and hostile. You will feel lost for a while. That’s why it’s important to find a good therapist and a good support system. Many people also find it helpful to meet other trans people and talk to them about their experiences. This can happen in-person or online. You can also read trans-specific literature which can help you better understand your identity.
My family may not accept me. What should I do?
You might be right. Your family may not accept you. In fact, they may take resources away from you (such as your car, access to healthcare, financial support, housing, etc.). These are important things to consider as you begin the process of coming out. This is another reason it is incredibly important to have a social support system in place to help you in the process of coming out. As hard as it may be, you have to make this decision for yourself. You will never be happy unless you are being genuinely you. You may have to postpone coming out until after you have financial or legal independence from your parents. Talk to your therapist or counselor about coming up with a game plan for your coming-out process. Learn more about coming out to family and friends.
Should I come out?
Only if you are comfortable with coming out. Many people start the process of coming out by telling only a few friends or family members they know they can trust. Once they are comfortable with being out to those people, then they widen the group of people they are out to. Finally, once they are comfortable with most of their friends and family members knowing, then they will tell everyone and begin living full time as the gender they identify with. Learn more about coming out.