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Transgender is a term that includes the many ways that people's gender identities can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. There are a lot of different terms transgender people use to describe themselves. For example, sometimes the word transgender is shortened to just trans, trans*, or trans male/trans female. It's always best to use the language and labels that the person prefers.
Transgender people express their gender identities in many different ways. Some people use their dress, behavior, and mannerisms to live as the gender that feels right for them. Some people take hormones and may have surgery to change their body so it matches their gender identity. Some transgender people reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between just "male" and "female," so they identify just as transgender, or genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else.
Transgender people are diverse in their gender identities (the way you feel on the inside), gender expressions (the way you dress and act), and sexual orientations (the people you're attracted to).
When people's assigned sex and gender identity are the same, they're called cisgender.
Gender dysphoria is a term that psychologists and doctors use to describe the distress, unhappiness, and anxiety that transgender people may feel about the mismatch between their bodies and their gender identity. A person may be formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria in order to receive medical treatment to help them transition.
Psychologists used to call this "gender identity disorder." However, the mismatch between a person's body and gender identity isn't in itself a mental illness (but it can cause emotional distress), so the term was changed to reflect that.
People often confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. But being transgender isn't the same thing as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Gender identity, whether transgender or cisgender, is about who you ARE inside as male, female, both, or none of these. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight describes who you're attracted to and who you feel yourself drawn to romantically, emotionally, and sexually.
A transgender person can be gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual, just like someone who's cisgender. A simple way to think about it is: Sexual orientation is about who you want to be with. Gender identity is about who you are.
Passing describes the experience of a transgender person being seen by others as the gender they want to be seen as. An example would be a trans woman using the women's bathroom and being seen as female by those around her.
Passing is extremely important for many transgender people. Passing can be emotionally important because it affirms your gender identity. Passing can also provide safety from harassment and violence. Because of transphobia, a transgender person who passes may experience an easier time moving through the world than a person who is known to be transgender or looks more androgynous.
But not all transgender people feel the same way about passing. While passing is important to some people, others feel the word suggests that some people's gender presentation isn't as real as others. They may feel that passing implies that being seen by others as cisgender is more important than being known as transgender. Some transgender people are comfortable with and proud to be out as trans and don't feel the need to pass as a cisgender person.
Transgender people have a range of experiences with transitioning. Some may transition socially, legally, and medically, some may transition only socially, and some may not do any of these.
Transitioning is the process of changing the way you look and how people see and treat you so that you become the gender you feel on the inside. Transitioning can means lots of different things. It can involve medical treatment and hormones. It can involve changing your name and preferred pronouns. It can involve changing your appearance and dress. It can involve coming out to your friends and family. It can be a long and ongoing process. Or it can be something that happens over a short period of time.
There are two different types of transition, or ways to affirm your gender: social transition and medical transition.
Social transitioning may include:
For trans men, or FTM, medical transition may include any of the following:
No, not all transgender people transition. For those who do, not all transition in the same way. Some may transition socially and not medically. Some may transition medically by doing one or only a few of the procedures listed above. Some may take hormones and decide not to have any surgeries, or just choose one kind of surgery and none of the others.
There are many reasons for the differences in how people transition. These medical procedures can be very expensive, which means that not everyone can afford them. Some transgender people may have health insurance that covers transition-related procedures, and some may not. And finally, but most importantly — not all trans people want all of the available medical procedures.
Regardless of whether a transgender person chooses to transition and how they choose to do it, they're no more "real" than other trans people who don't transition. Someone's gender identity should always be respected no matter how they decide to transition socially or medically.
Transgender people have the same health care needs as cisgender people, such as basic physical exams, preventive care, and STD testing. But you may also have special health care concerns and needs. If you wish to transition medically by using hormones or having surgery, expert care is needed to avoid problems.
Accessing health care can be challenging for transgender people. Not all nurses and doctors are sensitive to trans issues or informed about the health care needs of transgender people. You may worry about revealing your gender identity regardless of whether you wish to transition medically. You might not feel comfortable with your body or feel comfortable having a nurse or doctor examine you.
Transgender people who want to transition medically should look for qualified nurses and doctors who can provide the best treatments and care. Unfortunately, these treatments are not easy to access for many people who want them — they can be expensive and are often not covered by insurance. You may need a parent or legal guardian's permission if you're under 18. Sometimes finding a provider who offers these treatments can be difficult depending on where you live.
Because finding doctors who will help you safely through medical transition can be difficult, some people use hormones that they obtain from other sources. Using hormones without medical guidance is dangerous — it can increase your risk for blood clots, high blood pressure, liver disease, and other serious complications. If you use needles to give yourself injections without learning how to do it safely from a nurse or doctor, you could increase your risk for HIV, hepatitis, and other infections.
Transgender people who want to feminize their bodies and can't access surgeries may get people who aren't nurses or doctors to inject "street" silicone into their bodies. Street silicone might give your body feminine curves, but it's extremely dangerous and can lead to infections or even death. Some people who use street silicone eventually need to have it removed from their bodies by a doctor.
Planned Parenthood health centers are open to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Whether you're transgender or cisgender, you can visit your local Planned Parenthood health center for STD testing, birth control, physical exams, other sexual and reproductive health services, and referrals. Find your nearest Planned Parenthood health center and learn about the services it offers.
At this time, only some Planned Parenthood health centers are able to offer hormone treatments for trans people:
Coming out as transgender may mean that you tell people about your preferred pronouns (if you wish to be referred to as he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.). It may also mean that you ask people to call you by a new name and to think of you by the gender identity that you're comfortable with.
Coming out as trans is a very personal decision and different for everyone. Some people choose to come out before they medically or socially transition, and some choose to come out after or during the process. You may choose to come out to different people at different times, or to not come out to some people at all. All of this is okay — only you can decide what's right for you.
Although both involve telling friends and family about your identity, there are differences between coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and coming out as transgender. A lot of people know what it means for a person to be gay, but there's still a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about what it means to be trans.
And sometimes coming out or being outed as transgender can mean your identity is misunderstood, disrespected, or disbelieved.
If you choose to come out as transgender, make sure it's to people you trust and that you have a support system in place. This can include friends, family, or a support group. It's important to feel as confident as possible that coming out won't jeopardize your safety, health, or living situation.
There's no one correct way to come out to your family and friends. You're the expert in what feels right to you, and who it feels safest to tell.
Here are some general tips for coming out:
The Human Rights Campaign's Transgender Visibility Guide is a good, step-by-step resource for helping you come out as trans and also includes information to help the people in your life understand your identity.
You can find support in a lot of places, including:
Not everyone lives in a place that has lots of trans people or an LGBTQ community center. If this is your situation, check the Internet for communities and support.
Transphobia is the fear, hatred, disbelief, or mistrust of people who are transgender, thought to be transgender, or whose gender expression doesn't conform to traditional gender roles. Transphobia can prevent transgender and gender nonconforming people from living full lives free from harm.
Transphobia can take many different forms, including
Transphobia can create both subtle and overt forms of discrimination. For example, people who are transgender (or even just thought to be transgender) may be denied jobs, housing, or health care, just because they're transgender.
People may hold transphobic beliefs if they were taught them by other people, including parents and families who encourage negative ideas about trans people and who hold strict beliefs about traditional gender roles.
Some people are transphobic because they have misinformation or have no information at all about trans identities. They may not be aware of transgender people or trans issues or personally know anyone who is trans.
The stress of transphobia on trans people can be very harmful and can cause:
Outing is the act of revealing someone else's transgender identity or sexual orientation without their consent or permission. Sometimes outing is intentional and sometimes it's accidental, but by sharing information about someone's gender identity against their wishes, you risk making them feel embarrassed, upset, and vulnerable. You may also put them at risk for discrimination and violence.
If someone shares their trans identity with you, remember that this is very personal information and it's an honor that they trusted you enough to tell you. Always ask them what you're allowed to share with others, and respect their wishes.
People who experience transphobic harassment often feel alone and afraid to tell anyone what's happening. You should never have to deal with transphobia, and you're not alone.
You may find support from:
Not everyone lives in a place that has a supportive school administration or an LGBTQ community center. In this situation, the Internet can help you find online communities and support with dealing with transphobia and discrimination.
If you're a young person who's experiencing transphobic harassment at school, it's important to tell someone, even if that seems scary. Young people who experience transphobia at school sometimes stop going, which can affect your grades, friendships, and future plans. Some schools may have an anti-bullying and harassment policy, and some states have adopted a Safe Schools Law, which means that your school administrators are legally required to stop the harassment. If possible, find a teacher or adult who's an ally to LGBTQ students and ask for their help.
If you're experiencing transphobia and it's causing you to feel depressed or suicidal, there's help available:
No one has the right to discriminate against another person, or to hurt them emotionally or physically. There are things you can do to help stop transphobia:
When addressing transphobia in others:
It's okay if you mess up a person's pronouns or name by accident sometimes, especially if their transition is new to you. If this happens, apologize and make an effort to use the correct pronoun in the future.
When it comes to language, the following things are bullying:
Support is important. Transgender people are more visible in the media and in our society than ever before. Transgender communities are fighting for equal rights. While great progress has been made, there's still a lot of work to do to make sure everyone feels safe expressing their true gender identity and are given the same rights as cisgender people.
Far too many transgender people are negatively affected by transphobia. Transphobia can result in violence and even murder. It can also result in depression, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. A 2011 survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality showed that 41% of trans people had attempted suicide, as compared to 1.6% of the general population.
It's important that everyone — cisgender and transgender — work together to create communities that are welcoming to trans and gender nonconforming people. Everyone deserves to live in a world free of violence and discrimination, including those whose gender identity and expression doesn't match their assigned sex. Everyone can play a part in supporting transgender people and making communities safer and more inclusive.
Respect the words a person uses to describe themselves. Transgender and gender nonconforming people use many different terms to describe their experiences and not all terms fit all people. Some trans people may use terms that others are uncomfortable with. It's important to ask people what language they want you to use. It's okay to ask someone for their preferred name and pronouns. Always use the name and pronouns they choose.
If a trans person isn't sure which identity label fits them best, give them the time to figure it out for themselves. The terms or language a person prefers may change over time, and that's totally normal and okay.
Q&A with Dr. Cullins