What does it mean to be transgender?
Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for transgender.
When we’re born, a doctor usually says that we’re male or female based on what our bodies look like. Most people who were labeled male at birth turn out to actually identify as men, and most people who were labeled female at birth grow up to be women. But some people’s gender identity – their innate knowledge of who they are – is different from what was initially expected when they were born. Most of these people describe themselves as transgender.
A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born. Some transgender people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female. There are a variety of terms that people who aren’t entirely male or entirely female use to describe their gender identity, like non-binary or genderqueer.
Everyone—transgender or not—has a gender identity. Most people never think about what their gender identity is because it matches their sex at birth.
Being transgender means different things to different people. Like a lot of other aspects of who people are, like race or religion, there’s no one way to be transgender, and no one way for transgender people to look or feel about themselves. The best way to understand what being transgender is like is to talk with transgender people and listen to their stories.
How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?
We use the acronym LGBTQ to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community. The Q can also sometimes mean questioning.
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 the gender binary.
Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about who you are.
Like everyone else, transgender people have a sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. 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’s the difference between sex and gender?
Sex refers to the designation of a person at birth as either “male” or “female” based on their anatomy (e.g. reproductive organs) and/or their biology (e.g. hormones).
Gender refers to the traditional or stereotypical roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society consider appropriate for men and women.
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.
How do you know which bathroom a transgender person should use?
A transgender person should use the restroom that matches who they are.
The medical community (and increasingly, employ-ers, schools and courts) now recognize that it is essential to the health and well-being of transgender people for them to be able to live in accordance with their internal gender identity in all aspects of life—restroom usage is a necessary part of that experience.
In Doe v. Regional School Unit, the Maine Supreme Court held that a transgender girl had a right to use the women’s restroom at school because her psychological well-being and educational success depended on her transition. The school, in denying her access, had “treated [her] differently from other students solely because of her status as a transgender girl.” The court determined that this was a form of discrimination.
The right to use restrooms that match who one is has also have also been recognized in the workplace and are actively being asserted in public accommodations. In Iowa, for example, discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been prohibited by law since 2007 through the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
What is “informed consent”?
“Informed consent” means that a person has the cognitive ability to make a decision, and also that they have been presented with all of the information and knowledge they need to make that decision.
We are very committed to providing our patients will lots of education and information about the various risks, benefits, and effects of hormones so that they can make the best decisions about their own bodies and health care.
We also trust that you know your body better than anyone. We fiercely acknowledge that trans, genderqueer, and non-binary gender identities are not a mental illness or a disorder.
What’s the difference between being transgender and being intersex?
People sometimes confuse being transgender and being intersex. Intersex people have reproductive anatomy or genes that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female, which is often discovered at birth. Being transgender, meanwhile, has to do with your internal knowledge of your gender identity. A transgender person is usually born with a body and genes that match a typical male or female, but they know their gender identity to be different.
Some people think that determining who is male or female at birth is a simple matter of checking the baby’s external anatomy, but there’s actually a lot more to it. Every year, an estimated one in 2,000 babies are born with a set of characteristics that can’t easily be classified as “male” or “female.” People whose bodies fall in the vast continuum between “male” and “female” are often known as intersex people. There are many different types of intersex conditions. For example, some people are born with XY chromosomes but have female genitals and secondary sex characteristics. Others might have XX chromosomes but no uterus, or might have external anatomy that doesn’t appear clearly male or female. To learn more about what it’s like to be intersex, check out this video or click here.
While it’s possible to be both transgender and intersex, most transgender people aren’t intersex, and most intersex people aren’t transgender. For example, many intersex people with XY (typically male) chromosomes but typically female anatomy are declared female at birth, are raised as girls, and identify as girls; in fact, many of these girls and their families never even become aware that their chromosomes are different than expected until much later in life. However, some intersex people come to realize that the gender that they were raised as doesn’t fit their internal sense of who they are, and may make changes to their appearance or social role similar to what many transgender people undergo to start living as the gender that better matches who they are.
What does it mean to have a gender that’s not male or female?
Most transgender people are men or women. But some people don’t neatly fit into the categories of “man” or “woman” or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don’t identify with any gender. Some people’s gender fluctuates over time.
People whose gender is not male or female may use many different terms to describe themselves. One term that some people use is non-binary, which is used because the gender binary refers to the two categories of male and female. Another term that people use is genderqueer. If you’re not sure what term someone uses to describe their gender, you should ask them politely.
It’s important to remember that if someone is transgender, it does not necessarily mean that they have a “third gender.” Most transgender people do have a gender identity that is either male or female, and they should be treated like any other man or woman.
For more information about what it’s like to have a gender other than male or female or how you can support the non-binary people in your life, read our guide “Understanding Non-Binary People“.
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.
Is being transgender a mental disorder?
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated. Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is under revision and there may be changes to its current classification of intense persistent gender incongruence as “gender identity disorder.”
How do I make sure my trans or gender non-conforming child’s school is a safe and supportive environment?
Safe, supportive and welcoming schools play a pivotal role in ensuring students are engaged in learning and that nothing hinders their ability to achieve their best in the classroom. The School Safety Technical Assistance Council seeks to help all schools in Minnesota ensure that all students in Minnesota regardless of their color, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation are afforded a safe, supportive and welcoming school environment where they can achieve success. A workgroup was formed to develop a toolkit to help school districts and charter schools create school environments where transgender and gender nonconforming students are safe, supported and fully included, and have equal access to the educational opportunities provided to all students as required by federal or state law.
How do I treat transgender people with respect?
GLAAD’s “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” page offers tips that can be used as you move toward becoming an ally or a better ally to transgender people. Of course, the list is not exhaustive and cannot include all the “right” things to do or say because often there is no one “right” answer to every situation you might encounter.
When you become an ally to transgender people, your actions will help change the culture, making society a better, safer place for transgender people – and for all people (trans or not) who do not conform to conventional gender expectations.