According to GLAAD,

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate.

Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match. In other words, a relatively new term, “genderqueer” is used bymany transgender youth who identify as neither male nor female, as both, or as somewhere inbetween, and who often seek to blur genderlines.

People in the transgender community may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer. Always use the term preferred by the individual.

Trying to change a person’s gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person’s sexual orientation — it doesn’t work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.

Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and it’s important to know that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.

Transgender is an adjective and should never be used as a noun. For example, rather than saying “Max is a transgender,” say “Max is a transgender person.” And transgender never needs an “-ed” at the end.”

How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?

We use the acronym LGBT to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The first three letters (LGB) refer to sexual orientation. The “T” refers to gender identity.

Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual), while gender identity describes a person’s, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about your own sense of yourself.

Transgender people have a sexual orientation, just like everyone else. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.

What is gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply-felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender.

Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of a person’s gender identity, which may or may not conform to socially-defined behaviours and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

What is gender non-conforming?

A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

What do the initials FTM and MTF stand for?

FTM stands for female-to-male and refers to someone who was designated female at birth but identifies and expresses himself as a man. Many FTM transgender people prefer the term “trans man” to describe themselves.

MTF stands for male-to-female and refers to someone who was designated male at birth but who identifies and expresses herself as a woman. Many MTF transgender people prefer the term “trans woman” to describe themselves.

Who Are Transgender People?

Transgender people include female-to-male transsexuals(FTMsor transsexual men), male-to-female transsexuals (MTFs or transsexual women), crossdressers(the term preferred to “transvestites”), drag queens and kings, and individuals who adopt a rangeof genderqueer identities andlabels.

How does someone know that they are transgender?

Transgender people experience their transgender identity in a variety of ways and may become aware of their transgender identity at any age. Some can trace their transgender identities and feelings back to their earliest memories. They may have vague feelings of “not fitting in” with people of their assigned sex or specific wishes to be something other than their assigned sex. Others become aware of their transgender identities or begin to explore and experience gender-nonconforming attitudes and behaviors during adolescence or much later in life. Some embrace their transgender feelings, while others struggle with feelings of shame or confusion. Those who transition later in life may have struggled to fit in adequately as their assigned sex only to later face dissatisfaction with their lives. Some transgender people, transsexuals in particular, experience intense dissatisfaction with their sex assigned at birth, physical sex characteristics, or the gender role associated with that sex. These individuals often seek gender-affirming treatments.

Why are people transgender? What causes it?

There are a number of theories about why transgender people exist although there is not yet scientific consensus.

When you look across cultures, you will find that people have had a wide range of beliefs about gender. Some cultures look at people and see six genders, while others see two. Some cultures have created specific ways for people to live in roles that are different from that assigned to them at birth. In addition, different cultures also vary in their definitions of masculine and feminine. Whether we view someone as transgender depends on the cultural lenses we are looking through as well as how people identify themselves.

Biologists tell us that sex is a complicated matter, much more complex than what we may have been taught in school. A person has XX chromosomes is generally considered female, while a person with XY chromosomes is generally considered male. How- ever, there are also people who have XXY, XYY, and other variations of chromosomes; these genetic differences may or may not be visibly apparent or known to the person. Some people are born with XY chromosomes, but are unable to respond to testosterone and therefore develop bodies with a vagina and breasts, rather than a penis and testes. A variation in gender may just be part of the natural order and there are more varieties than we generally realize. People with biological differences in gender may be considered intersex; they may or may not identify as transgender.

There are medical theories about why people are transgender. Some speculate that fluctuations or imbalances in hormones or the use of certain medications during pregnancy may cause intersex or transgender conditions. Other research indicates that there are links between transgender identity and brain structure.

Some people believe that psychological factors are the reason for the existence of transgender people. It is clear that there are people who are aware that they are trans- gender from their earliest memories. Many trans people feel that their gender identity is an innate part of them, an integral part of who they were born to be.

Then there are people who feel that everyone has a right to choose whatever gender presentation feels best to that individual. People should have the freedom to express themselves in whatever way is right for them.

Sex and gender are complex issues. A huge variety of factors are at work in making each individual the person that they are and there is no one reason that causes people to be transgender. Trans people are part of the variety that makes up the human community.

According to APA, “There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender. The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation. Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.”

How prevalent are transgender people?

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of transgender people, mostly because there are no population studies that accurately and completely account for the range of gender identity and gender expression.

What pronouns do transgender people use?

Many transgender men go by he/his/him and many transgender women use she/her/hers. There are alternatives, ze/zer/zis, for example. A handful of cultures and countries around the world have adopted a third gender pronoun. Sweden added “hen” as a gender neutral pronoun to its national encyclopedia this year, amid some controversy.

According to Glaad answer, “for some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. If you happen to know a transgender person’s birth name (the name given to them when they were born, but which they no longer use), don’t share it without that person’s explicit permission. Sharing a transgender person’s birth name and/or photos of a transgender person before their transition is an invasion of privacy, unless they have given you permission to do so.

If you’re unsure which pronoun a person prefers, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?” Then use that person’s preferred pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.”

So, what are the right/wrong terms to use?

“Transgender” is an adjective, not a noun. Your friend is trans or a transgender person. They are not “a transgender.” “Tranny” is a repulsive slur, a “cross-dresser” is not a trans person, and “transsexual” is out-of-date. While some are fine with the terms “FTM” (female-to-male) and “MTF” (male-to-female), let those you interact with take the lead in applying either of these to themselves before you do. The best option? Just leave the labels out of it. Trans women and trans men are just women and men.

What's the big deal with pronouns?

When you use the wrong pronoun for someone, you are invalidating their identity. As you can imagine, when it comes to shifting gender identifications, pronoun usage can become complicated. Some people simply switch to the pronouns that conform to their gender identity; others choose to use neutral pronouns, like “they,” “them,” and “their.” You might also encounter terms like “ze” and “hir,” which are intended to be used without gender specificity.  

What do I do if I accidentally use the wrong pronoun or name?

“Trans folks who are transitioning are very aware that many people knew them under other names and pronouns, and it’s perfectly normal if they slip from time to time,” Labelle explains. “The most important thing to do is to acknowledge your mistake, correct yourself, and apologize — you don’t have to make it dramatic, either!” In fact, it’s better if you aren’t dramatic about it; a simple apology and renewed dedication to doing better will suffice.

What if, no matter how many times I hear about an aspect of being transgender, I still do not quite get it?

Keep asking questions and do not make assumptions. As stated, every transgender person’s experience is different and their own. Questions do not harm, but assumptions do.

So if someone talks to me about being a transgender person, can I talk about how that person is transgender with others?

Do not out transgender people. Outing a transgender person without their permission can put that person at risk. Whether done by a transgender person or by someone else, outing can result in harassment, discrimination and attacks. Even if a transgender person is out to you, they might not be out to others. If you are confused about how to refer to a transgender person who has come out to you, ask them.

How are Transsexual individuals different from Crossdressers?

Transsexual individuals feel that their gender identity does not coincide with the gender they were assigned at birth.They may undergo hormone treatments and gender confirmation surgeries to align their anatomy with their core identity, but not all desire or can afford to do so. Although crossdressers wear clothes that are considered by society to be inappropriate for their gender, they do not want to change their birth gender and generally do not alter their bodies through hormones or surgeries.

What is a cis male or cis female?

Cisgender men and women are living the gender identified at birth. They are not transgender. Cis is the prefix meaning “on this side of” whereas trans is a prefix meaning “on the other side of.”

In other words, cisgender — often abbreviated as “cis”— is the term used for those who are not transgender. It’s for people whose gender identity is aligned with the one assigned to them at birth. You will also hear terms like “cis male” or “cis female” to refer to individuals with that life experience. It’s pronounced “sis.”

Is transgender the same as being a transvestite?

No. Transvestism is the practice of wearing clothes that are traditionally defined as being intended for “the opposite sex.” It’s also sometimes called “cross-dressing.” Neither of these terms have to do with gender identity — and they are pretty outmoded in a world where (gasp) men can wear dresses and women can wear suits. Let’s leave this in the past.

What is gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply-felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender.

Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of a person’s gender identity, which may or may not conform to socially-defined behaviours and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Why do people crossdress?

Crossdressers wear the clothing generally associated with the opposite gender because it gives them a sense of happiness and fulfillment. They may also wish to ex- press more than one aspect of their personalities—both a sense of masculinity and a sense of femininity—that are part of them.

Crossdressers, drag queens and drag kings like to change their appearance at times while generally identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth.

People used to believe that crossdressing was a purely sexual fetish. Now, however, we know that for most people it is much more complex than that. While crossdressers may find it sexually appealing and gratifying, they may also experience emotional and psychological fulfillment from it. It is one way that people may express who they are.

How do I interact with someone who is trans, or who I think might be trans?

Refer to, respond to, and interact with all people by the gender they identify as, regardless of what their body looks like or the gender you think they might be. It’s a matter of basic human decency. In fact, just be nice to everyone around you.

Are transgender people gay?

Being transgender is about gender identity and expression, not sexuality—these are different, though not entirely unrelated, concepts. For example, transgender people are often perceived by society as lesbian or gay, and thus are discriminated against in similar ways.

According to Meghan Stabler, Human Rights Campaign “Being transgender is about an individual’s gender identity, while being gay is about an individual’s sexual orientation, which is our attraction to people of the same gender, different genders or both. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.

Is transgender just a phase?

Doctors say yes, sometimes among children ages 12 and under. But after puberty, many of these same physicians will say that the identity young teenagers embrace will be their gender for the rest of their lives. The most definitive research supporting puberty as the defining period for children who want to change their gender comes from the Netherlands. But there is very little rigorous research on this question and most other medical issues for transgender children and teenagers.

There are also no firm rules about when doctors begin puberty blocking drugs that buy children and their parents more time to decide the child’s gender identity.

How long does it take to become a transgender person?

A transgender person is, and has always been, a transgender person. But between understanding this, coming out to friends and family, and transitioning, there can be gaps of many years, especially if the person lacks access to a supportive community and/or medical care.

Are male-to-female people the only kind of transgender people? Or are there transgender people who are female-to male?

There are transgender women as well as transgender men. There are several highly visible transgender women, such as “Orange is the New Black” breakout star Laverne Cox, MSNBC’s “So Popular!” host Janet Mock and “The Matrix” co-director Lana Wachowski — several, at least, compared to visible transgender men. As a result, many people are more familiar with transwomen than with transmen. But the visibility of transmen, such as activist and reality star Chaz Bono and “Transparent” cast member Ian Harvie, is increasing.

How do I know if a person has fully become a man or a woman?

Basically, it’s none of your business. Transgender is not about “becoming” something you are not. It’s about being able to live your life as your true self. Accept the gender identity of the people you interact with. Never define a trans person in terms of who they “were” in the past. (That means no asking for their “REAL” name.) Purposefully frame your statements in a way that affirms their gender identity. “When you were younger” isn’t offensive. “When you were a boy,” on the other hand, is.

Are there any questions it's not okay to ask?

“You should not ask about their medical transition, or any invasive personal details, unless they bring it up,” says Micah. I doubt you commence every Sunday brunch by asking your cis friends about the status of their genitals, so please refrain from doing the same to a trans person. It’s dehumanizing and gross. (For a quick master class on this, watch Laverne Cox talking to Wendy Williams.) Remember: Gender doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s body or presentation — or whether or not they have taken hormones, had surgery, or in any way altered their outward appearance.

Is "gender dysphoria" the same thing as being trans?

Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress due to a conflict between their gender identity and their assigned gender. Many trans people feel detached from their bodies since their physical characteristics do not align with the traditional presentation expected of the gender with which they identify. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, but for those who do, the symptoms can impair their daily functioning. Dysphoria can be triggered by anything from how a hand looks in a photo (too masculine? too feminine?) to being misgendered by a stranger.

Is being transgender a mental illness?

No, but this remains a stereotype about transgender people. Gender Identity Disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-4th Edition (DSM-IV), a guide used by mental health professionals to diagnose psychological conditions.

Transgender identity is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Rather, transgender people experience a persistent and authentic difference between our as- signed sex and our understanding of our own gender. For some people, this leads to emotional distress. This pain often can be relieved by freely expressing our genders, wearing clothing we are comfortable in, and, for some, making a physical transition from one gender to another. For people who identify as transsexual, counseling alone, without medical treatment, is often not effective.

Our society is, however, very harsh on gender-variant people. Some transgender people have lost their families, their jobs, their homes and their support. Transgender children may be subject to abuse at home, at school or in their communities. A lifetime of this can be very challenging and can sometimes cause anxiety disorders, depression and other psychological illnesses. These are not the root of their transgender identity; rather, they are the side effects of society’s intolerance of transgender people.

Do all people who transition have surgery?

No, many transgender people can successfully transition without surgery. Some have no desire to pursue surgeries or medical intervention.

At the same time, many transgender people cannot afford medical treatment nor can they access it. In light of these injustices, it is important that civil rights and protections are extended to all transgender people equally, regardless of their medical histories. It’s also critical to continue advocating for full access to health care coverage for transgender people.

How do transsexual people change genders? What is the process like?

Note: The answer for this question applies only to transsexuals, not to transgender people in general. Remember that not all transgender people want to transition.

There are a variety of paths that people follow, but many use a series of guidelines set out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. These guidelines are called the Standards of Care (SOC) and they outline a series of steps that people may take to explore and complete gender transition. These may include:

  • Counseling with a mental health professional
  • A “real life” experience where an individual lives as the target gender for a trial period
  • Learning about the available options and the effects of various medical treatments
  • Communication between the person’s therapist and physician indicating readiness to begin medical treatment (usually in the form of a letter)
  • Undergoing hormone therapy
  • Having various surgeries to alter the face, chest and genitals to be more congruent with the individual’s sense of self

Not all transsexual people follow these steps nor does the community agree about their importance. The Standards of Care not legally mandated. We believe that people should make their own decisions about their health care, in consultation with medical or mental health professionals as appropriate to their individual situation.

Transsexual people may undergo hormone therapy. Transwomen may take estrogen and related female hormones; transmen may take testosterone. It is important that people obtain hormones from a licensed medical professional if at all possible to be sure that the medications are safe and effective. Doctors should monitor the effects on the body, including checking for negative side effects. Some of the effects of hormone treatment are reversible when a person stops receiving hormone therapy; other effects are not.

Hormones impact the body by:

  • Estrogen for MTFs
  • Softening the skin
  • Redistributing body fat to a more feminine appearance
  • Reducing some body hair
  • Lowering the voice
  • Causing the growth of body and facial hair
  • Redistributing body fat to a more masculine appearance
  • Causing the menstrual cycle to end
  • Testosterone for FTMs

Hormones can have an impact on some people’s emotional states.Many people report feeling more at peace after they begin hormone treatments, but hormones may also cause other fluctuations in mood. For many transgender people, there is no discernible difference in moods after beginning hormone treatments.

Some people and their doctors decide to pursue a full dose of hormones while others choose to go on a lower dose regimen or not take hormones at all for personal or medical reasons. Hormone therapy is covered by some medical insurance.

Some transsexuals have surgery to change their appearance. There is no single “sex change surgery.” There are a variety of surgeries that people can have, including:

  • Genital reconstructive surgery, to create a penis and testes or clitoris, labia and vagina
  • Facial reconstruction surgery, to create a more masculine or feminine appearance
  • Breast removal or augmentation
  • For FTMs, surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus
  • For MTFs, surgery to reduce the Adam’s apple or change the thorax.

Surgery is often excluded from health insurance plans in the United States. At NCTE, we believe that the decisions about appropriate medical procedures should be made by people and their health care providers, not by insurance companies or government bodies.

Whether or not someone has had surgery should never make a difference in how they are treated.

In addition to the medical procedures, transsexual people often follow a series of legal steps to change their name and gender markers. The process may vary in each state.

Some of the things that may need to be changed are:

  • Legal name and/or gender change (done through the courts)
  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security Account
  • Passport
  • Bank accounts and records
  • Credit cards
  • Paychecks and other job-related documents
  • Leases
  • Medical records
  • Birth certificate
  • Academic records
  • Different states have different procedures for changing driver’s license and state IDs.

What are the costs of transitioning?

Medical costs are high and are often not covered by insurance. The majority of transgender people cannot afford to pay these costs out of pocket.

There are social costs to transitioning. Because discrimination is widespread, transsexuals face a great deal of prejudice. This may mean losing a job or career, including their source of income, or not being able to find a job at all. Under- and unemployment in the transgender community is many times the national average. People may have to go from well-paying stable jobs to minimum wage work, seasonal employment or unemployment. This impacts their ability to support themselves and their families.

Some people are ostracized from their families, losing relationships with parents, spouses, children, siblings and others. They may be forced from their home by family members or no longer be able to pay their rent or mortgage.

While there are many costs associated with transitioning, there is also a cost when people who desire it do not do so. They may live a lifetime in which they never feel congruence between their body and their sense of self. They may be depressed and unhappy, or even suicidal, because they are not able to dress, live or work as they are comfortable. They may not have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams or live as they wish to live.

Some transgender people are able to keep their jobs, stay with their families and main- tain their support networks—while enjoying their life much more fully because they have transitioned.

How are transgender people discriminated against?

Like gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, transgender people face discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations and services. They are also potential targets for hate crimes and incidents:verbal harassment, threatening telephone calls and emails, and acts of violence committed by the same people who hate lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Transgender people, though, are much more likely to fall victim to discrimination and hate crimes than non-transgender LGB individuals, because they often possess physical or behavioural characteristics that readily identify them as transgender. They are also often denied health care, including access to hormones and gender confirmation surgeries.

Why is transgender equality important?

Transgender people face staggering levels of discrimination and violence. In 2013, 72% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women. According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Task Force:

  • Transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty.
  • Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
  • 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
  • 22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color. Almost half of the respondents (46%) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
  • Transgender people still cannot serve in the US Military.

Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face shockingly high rates of murder, homelessness, and incarceration. Most states and countries offer no legal protections in housing, employment, health care, and other areas where individuals experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression.

How can I be supportive of transgender family members, friends, or significant others?

Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts. Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior.

Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.

Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.

Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.

Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.

Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.

Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.

Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.

Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care.Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.

How can I be a better ally?

The first step is listening: Listen to your friend, respect their requests, and allow them to direct the language you use. The second step is work. Since you’ve known this person by a certain name, it may take a minute to change habits. But, work at it. This is not a small deal — and getting to the point where you’ve internalized a pronoun shift shows you’ve internalized (and validated!) their transition.

Where can I find more information about transgender people?

There are plenty of resources for you if you are curious about transgender experiences. 

There is TransCentralPA and the LGBT Community Center of Central PA. There are also films you can watch, like the MTV documentary “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word,” books you can read like Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness” and sites you can consult like the 2015 GLAAD Media Award-nominated blog The Art of Transliness. Those are recent examples, and if you have any to recommend, please share them by letting us know in the comments.

If you are concerned about how to discuss transgender issues on PennLive, here is the guide to addressing LGBT issues without violating community rules.

Learn more about transgender people and history

In spite of the tremendous challenges that come with living in a culture that does not treat transgender people equally, transgender people have made – and are making – significant contributions to society. You can read about some strong transgender advocates in the annual Trans 100 list. For a look at the history of transgender people in America, please check out Transgender History by Susan Stryker.

Compilation by Xiluva Costa

View the original sources:
HRC
National center for transgender Equality
Glaad
Wbur Common Health Reform and Reality
Refinery29
UMassAmherst
APA
Pennlive