What does it mean to be transgender?

When a baby is born, one of the first things people want to know is whether it's a boy or a girl. It's a very powerful identifying tool – little boys and girls often have stereotypes and expectations placed on them.

In transgender people, their internal gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them when they were born. This dissonance causes strong feelings of unhappiness and discomfort, medically defined as gender dysphoria. Transgender people can identify as men, women, both or neither, as well as somewhere in between.

Many trans* people realise their gender identity doesn't match their physical appearance very early in their lives. However, it's not uncommon to discover what causes your feelings much later in life. There are many different narratives – each of them equally valid. For many transgender people, the only way to feel more comfortable in their skin is a process called transition – which involves hormone therapy and sometimes surgery. That helps them gain the physical characteristics of the gender they feel they are inside and allows them to finally feel true to themselves.

Researchers believe that transgenderism has biological causes rather than psychological ones.

 

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How does it feel to be trans*?

‘People say we are brave. I don’t see it like that, I see it as just putting yourself right, as you should have been forever. I wouldn’t swap the person I am becoming for anything and that makes me happy and proud of who I am’

‘As someone who has yet to transition, an ongoing feeling of entrapment and fear for what transition might hold, continuing confusion and wrangling with inner feelings vs exterior biological features...’

Quotes from the Group

'Evolution'

‘It is difficult knowing how to behave, but it gets easier’

‘It's a long journey; a test of strength and character, but so worth it’

'Breakthrough'

'Trapped'

'‘It can be really hard, waking up, looking into the mirror and not seeing what you feel should be there’'

'‘Enlightening’

'II have never been happier or felt more confident with myself’'

‘'Finally, I feel normal and my children have no problem with who I am’'

‘'After transitioning it's like a massive weight has been removed from my mind and I just feel normal for the first time ever'’

‘I would not be alive still, if it wasn't for the fact I'm now living the life!’

‘Transitioning is a never ending spiritual journey of self-awareness’

"Freedom"

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The Transition Process

 

There is a distinction between people with gender dysphoria and people who cross dress. Cross dressers step in and out of the role, while the gender dysphoria often pushes people suffering from it to transition completely and live as their true gender full time.

Transition can take months or even years to complete, and often proves to be a very emotional and complex, yet – for most – satisfying journey. During this time the trans* person gradually learns to look and dress, work and socialise as their internally felt gender. It means different things to different people. Often, the biggest and most important step is access to Hormone Replacement Therapy. Estrogen (for those transitioning from male to female) and testosterone (female to male) preparations can at times completely erase feelings of depression and anxiety felt by trans* people.

Hormones influence many characteristics such as body fat, hair and muscle. Some, but not all, will undergo significant surgery to align their sexual characteristics away from the sex they were assigned at birth to match their internally felt true gender. One of the most important aspects of transition though is usually being seen and accepted as their true gender by others.

The process usually starts with the person seeing a GP, who can then refer further to a local mental health team that makes sure their difficult feelings don’t have other underlying reasons. Then they can be referred to one of the specialist Gender Identity Clinics where, with a team of psychiatrists, therapists and consultants, they decide on what treatment is best for them.

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Terminology

The word trans* is a useful umbrella term designed to include the entire spectrum of identities related to challenging the idea of gender.

Transition is the process of changing your appearance and presentation to live permanently in a gender role that fits your internal sense of gender. This can take several years to complete.

Transgender people are all those whose gender identity and presentation doesn’t fit the traditional gender stereotypes.

Transsexual people are those who choose to transition medically – by using hormone replacement treatments and sometimes surgery.

Transvestite or cross dresser is someone who dresses and presents as a different gender, but doesn’t intend to take on the role full time. This might be for a variety of reasons – emotional, erotic, or self-expression.

Trans woman is a person who was born male but identifies as female, which often involves transition.

Trans man is a person who was born female but identifies as male, which often involves transition.

Genderqueer, non-binary or androgyny are terms used to describe people who don’t feel they fit in either male or female roles. Those people can identify as none, both or between genders, or sometimes a third gender altogether.

Intersex people have bodies that don’t completely match either sex. This can mean a combination of chromosome configurations (XY women, XX men, XXY people etc.) or ambiguous genitals. Intersex people sometimes don’t agree with the gender they were raised as and choose to transition.