Before I even begin, I want to take the time to point out that I am only transgender in so far that my gender is different to the one assigned to me at birth. It is not possible for me to encapsulate all of the trans experiences in our world, so I apologize if anything I say isn’t complete enough and if I unintentionally insult someone due to my lack of knowledge. I can only rely on what my little corner of the trans world provides me, and what others in the trans community have been kind enough to teach me. As ever, my only intention is to educate others, not hurt.
According to Merriam Webster, transgender is defined as “of relating to, or being a person, whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”
However, like many things in this community, evolution has been fast and staples like the dictionary haven’t been able to keep up to its metamorphosis. In its current state, the word is an umbrella for all terms that have “transcended” the gender binary. So now it technically means those who have, or are transitioning from one end of the gender binary to the other, and those who are non-binary (Nonbinary being any other kind of gender that isn’t on one end of the binary or not apart of it entirely).
There are two other common terms you might have heard of that sometimes get tossed around in this community in which I feel the need to define in order for you to understand how and when to use them:
Transsexual– Defined by Merriam Webster as “of relating to, or being a person, whose biological sex differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.” There is obviously some overlap here with the term transgender, but most of the trans community feels that this doesn’t capture their experience enough; it is insulting because it implies that their sex is the only thing that is changing, not their identity. There is also the fact that this term has been used so frequently as a derogatory one. Some individuals do prefer this term, however. I have especially noted it seems to be more common with older members of this community. A lot of the reason for this was that the term was present at the time of their transition and/or the realization of their true identity; thus, they prefer to keep it.
Transvestite– Defined as a person who derives pleasure from presenting themselves with accouterments (clothes make up etc.) primarily associated with the opposite sex. Please consider taking care when it comes to this term because you could easily insult a transgender or transsexual individual when using it. This term implies that their journey to self-discovery, their struggles in existing in a body that isn’t of their true self, is merely exemplified in changing their clothes or voice.
There are many kinds of transitions that transgender humans can take. Physically, individuals can do what is called top or bottom surgery (undergoing surgery to remove and/or add their identities genitalia or other secondary sex characteristics such as breasts and facial hair). There is also facial reconstruction surgery in which someone has specific parts of their bones shaved or removed in order to look like what people typically associate with the gender they wish to present as. For example, when a person born sexually as a man wishes to transition into a woman, they will put her under and surgically open her face to shave her cheek bones to appear more sharp and feminine, thinning her nose, and shrinking the curve of the cranium.
Some people also take up hormone replacement therapy in which you inject yourself with a specific hormone to have your body develop characteristics of a different sex from their current biological one. For instance, with a woman transitioning into a man, he will be injected with testosterone and steroids which will deepen his voice, he will develop chest and facial hair and more muscle mass, etc.
An interesting fact about the facets of transition is that some elect to do this before puberty and it is shown that hormone replacement therapy/surgical changes are easier on the body at this period of time. Nonetheless, there is push back on this socially in that individuals at this age don’t have the legal autonomy to make these decisions without the consent of their parents, who then have their own prejudices on the idea. Probably the most prevalent bias with parents is that they believe their children are “too young” to know themselves yet and fear that these huge changes might not be wanted later after they have already been done.
There are also the mental and social transitions that transgender individuals go through. Due to lack of education and ever-present discrimination, there are a lot of limits to education in the transgender community. Unfortunately, it is common for people who are born with a sex assigned to them at birth that is different from what they actually identify as, to not understand why they feel so different or why they just feel wrong. Even more upsetting is the dysphoria that often comes with that, which is a cognitive dissonance so intense that it causes dissociation, depression, and a huge potential for other mental illnesses. Often this isn’t relieved until the individual goes through enough changes until they feel as if they are in the correct body.
As far as the social transition, these individuals have to take steps to change how others interact with them, as well as remind them to keep up said changes. Say, for instance, someone that was assigned as a woman at birth has to come out to her family, she faces challenges when she then asks them to refer to her as “she,” constantly reminding them to not misgender her (due to them having so frequently called her “he”), changes her legal information, and so much more.
Discrimination Within and Without
The final facet of this population I would like to touch on is the types of discrimination they face. For people who embrace a rigid gender binary, they may feel their identity isn’t valid due to them not being assigned the gender they are at birth. Some feel they can’t possibly exist as another identity because they were raised with the values and nuances of a different gender. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times my friend who had transitioned from a man to a woman was told she couldn’t be a woman because she never experienced the typical harassment or sexism that women so often experience until she transitioned. They even experience discrimination within the transgender community as well.
As I explained earlier, a lot of transgender individuals experience dysphoria; however, some do not. On top of that, some individuals do not elect to take surgeries or hormone therapies. Despite both of these types of individuals being just as valid as those who do, they experience ostracism just the same because they feel that they lack the suffering and didn’t put in the same effort that they did to exist as themselves (this is often coined as the term “Transmedicalism.”)
The Next Step In Your Journey
I really enjoyed educating and spreading awareness about some of the identities in the LGBTQ+ community and hope that these blogs helped you to see some of what this community goes through and brings you one step closer to being a greater ally.
The next step belongs to you. There is only so much you can learn from a piece of writing, and so much more to be enlightened about regarding the human condition. By adding your own perspective and seeking out your own knowledge you are able to form your own educating opinions and make our world a little bit brighter.