Understanding the Transgender Community
The world can be a confusing place, especially if you feel different from your biological sex. You struggle with society’s judgments and ridicule because you don’t fit into their mold of normalcy. This is what people who are transgender face every day.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand the transgender community. We want to invite you to learn and educate yourself about the transgender community. Whether you are here to learn about the transgender to the community or you are processing the transition—we welcome you. It is our hope that you learn something here so you can start a conversation.
What is Transgender?
Forget everything that you know about transgender for a moment. Let’s get to the definition of transgender in its rawest form. A person who is transgender is someone who does not identify or struggles with identifying with their biological sex. An example of this definition is when someone doesn’t feel or identify with being male, but, feels they are or can identify with being a female.
Now that we have defined transgender to its form let’s start building on its foundation.
Transgender Dysphoria is the stage where someone feels that there is a misfire between their biological sex and their gender identity. Transgender Dysphoria, also known as gender identity disorder (GID), can cause a person to feel agony and pain. It can cause depression, anxiety, and restlessness as someone is internal struggles with how they feel what they were assigned. Some of the symptoms of transgender dysphoria are:
- Body image crisis: Someone may feel disgusted with their body and refuse to touch or look at their genitals. In the most extreme cases, a person may avoid showers or have sex because they find displeasure with their genitals.
- Assurance: A person has assured themselves their biological gender is not in alignment with their body.
- Removal: In the most severe cases, a person with transgender dysphoria wants to remove genitals and any traits of their biological sex.
Is there a cure for Transgender Dysphoria? Yes. Acceptance, support, and love. Helping someone through Transgender Dysphoria and offering support is one way to start and help that person find relief during a difficult struggle.
Think about the last decision you made, one where you were 100 percent sure that it was what you wanted. You had no regrets about your choice. No qualms. You accepted whatever consequence that came as a result of it.
You felt good about your decision, right? That is what transgender identity is. When a person finally makes that step by saying “my body was born a boy, but I know that I was meant to be a girl. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”
People who have identified themselves as transgender has made a lasting decision on what they feel their true gender identity is. They may be rejected by society, lose friendships, be isolated by family, or rejected by employers. However sad those scenarios are, this is the beginning stage of transformation—this is where they begin to admit and accept themselves.
The word transformation means that something is in the process of transforming. When it comes to transgender transformation, it doesn’t mean that things are being added or removed right away. It means that the process of transforming is active in the mental, emotional, and the physical. Transformation means doing things such as:
- A person dressing like the gender of his or her choice
- Investigating, considering, and starting hormone therapy
- Considering gender reassignment surgery
Transgender Transformation is a process and is not about perfecting the new gender assignment, but, embracing it and learning how to live life differently.
Transgender and Sex
Often, we think sexual orientation is the same thing or another way of explaining transgender. To be clear, transgender and sexual orientation are two different things. So, let’s explore the difference of the two:
- Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation refers to the physical or romantic attraction a person feels towards a specific, or both, sexes.
- Transgender: Transgender addresses a person’s gender identity and their feelings about their biological sex.
Since it doesn’t sexual orientation and transgender don’t go hand in hand, what about their physical attraction? If they transform, does that mean they love the opposite sex or the same sex? To answer all of those questions, it depends on the individual.
Being transgender doesn’t have anything to do with your physical attraction. For example, a person who transformed from female to male may be attracted to men and vice versa. Sometimes, a person who transformed finds themselves attracted to other people who are transgender. Others may be sexually attracted to both or neither. We will get a little more in-depth later, so keep those thoughts brewing.
Exploring Transgender Surgery
When a person has accepted their gender identity, they may decide to make it a permanent fixture and have transgender surgery. Transgender surgery is often called sex reassignment surgery and accomplishes exactly that.
The Transgender Pre-Operation
Transgender surgery is a long process and because it’s irreversible, forces the transgender individual to face harsh realities before making such a permanent decision. The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania has suggested putting requirements in place before a transgender operation. Some of the requirements specific to their center include:
- Someone with gender dysphoria
- Been on hormone therapy for a minimum of a year
- Living as a transgender person for a minimum of a year
- Referral by at least two mental health therapists that specialize in gender identity.
- Physically healthy and emotionally stable
Most transgender surgery specialists require similar prerequisites before performing the operation. Also, it is important that deciding to have this surgery means that you need to have a strong emotional support system as this is a life-altering decision.
Transgender Men and Surgery
A transgender man is someone who had transitioned to male, when in fact, they were born female. Once they have decided they are transgender, they will start living their life as a man before they complete the surgery. Daily routines may be doing things like dressing like a man, hiding their breasts and other female features, and hormone therapy.
The transmen surgery is a more complicated surgery because there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to detaching oneself from the female body. Here is a look at what a transgender man’s reassignment surgery entails:
- Mastectomy: A mastectomy is the removal of the female breasts. Depending on the size of the transman’s breast, the mastectomy can either be a one-time shot or a multiple surgery kind of deal.
- Hysterectomy and Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: A hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus, and the bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This procedure is done to prevent pregnancy, ovarian and uterine cancer, menstrual cycles, and menopause and is especially an important process for transmen who are not comfortable with gynecological care.
- Genital Reassignment: This is a reconstructive procedure and often referred to a GRT. This process can be down two ways. First, through metoidioplasty which is where androgenic hormones enlarge the clitoris. The second option is using free tissue grafts from the stomach, thigh, or arm to construct an erectile prosthetic—this process is called a phalloplasty. Regardless which procedure transmen has, the urethra can be rerouted to allow urination through the penis. The labia majora is then brought together to form a scrotum, and prosthetic testicles are either inserted or left out.
Transgender Women and Surgery
Now, let’s talk about the transgender woman. A transgender woman is someone who has transitioned to female. However, they were biological born to be male. Just like transgender men, once a transwoman decides to live their life like a woman they begin to engage in the woman culture. To sound like a lady and have some of the same physical characteristics as a lady, they can start hormone therapy.
In the final stages, a transgender can decide to have surgery to become a woman. Let’s explore the transwomen’s reassignment surgery:
- Genital Surgery: The genital surgery for transwomen is a lot different than that of transmen. First, it begins with that is called a vaginoplasty. Vaginoplasty is the process in which transwomen are removing their testicles and inverting their penis into a flap. If the foreskin is still attached, it too will be a part of the inversion process. The purpose of the flap is to allow transwomen to have the same sensation like that of a vagina. If a vaginoplasty has failed, there are alternative options such as skin grafting to create a vaginal wall so that there is feeling in the newly constructed vagina.
- Facial Feminization: Facial feminization is the process when a transwoman has cosmetic surgery to create the female bone and cartilage structure. The most prone area to facial feminization is the cheeks, nose, eyebrows, and the jawline.
- Voice Feminization Surgery: Voice feminization surgery is a procedure that adjusts the vocal chords to accommodate the female pitch. It is a risky surgery and can cause permanent damage to the vocal chords.
- Breast Augmentation: Part of the full transformation of transwomen is breast augmentation. Surgeons perform this procedure if hormone therapy has not produced the results that they were hoping.
- Tracheal Shave: The purpose of the tracheal shave is to reduce the cartilage in the throat, thereby diminishing the visibility of the Adam’s apple in a transwoman.
After the transition is said and done, the post-operation may look different for transmen and transwoman. Genitalia will heal differently and at different times. For transwomen, this process may take a little longer considering they had both a hysterectomy and mastectomy. Both will experience different sexual anomalies. It’s a big shock to their body, and it may take some time for it to accept its new role.
It’s rare that someone who has the operation has regrets. However, it happens. After the surgery, it is important to have a safe haven and an active support system. In 2011, a study was conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It concluded that 324 transgender men and woman who had the surgery:
“have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviours, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.”
The Other Stuff
Okay, now that we have defined what transgender is and the process of becoming fully transgender, we can tackle some other conceived notions about the issue. So, take a deep breath—here we go.
Transgender and Dating
We touched on this topic earlier and said we would explain it later. Guess what? It’s later. So, let’s talk about sex, dating, and everything in between. Earlier, you learned that transgender and sexual orientation are two entirely different things. You also learned that transgender men and women that have reassignment surgery go to pretty great lengths to transform to the gender with which they identify. What does that mean for dating relationships? Well, nothing.
People who are transgender often go on to have happy, healthy, monogamous relationships just like everyone else. It also doesn’t mean that they have to switch their attraction to a new sex. In fact, some people who have had become transgendered reported that sex has become more pleasurable for them, especially those who had the gender reassignment surgery.
So, all in all, being transgender doesn’t change how you feel when it comes to your attraction. You can be attracted to whoever you want—male or female—it’s your prerogative.
The Murky Water
Treading on new dating territory can be exciting. However, for a transgendered person, it is a lot different. We still live in a world with skewed perceptions and loud judgments. Therefore, it should come to no surprise to anyone that trying to actual date a person is proven to be harder.
Can a transgender person go on to have a normal dating life? Absolutely. Will it come easily? Not by a long shot. Due to the societal definition of masculinity, the concept of dating is particularly challenging for transwomen. BuzzFeed blogger and transwomen, Raquel Willis, describes her personal experience with being transgender and dating. In her article, The Transgender Dating Dilemma, Willis gives an account of a response to a man she was dating:
“I imagined the worst, but I said it anyway. “I’m a transgender woman,” I emphasized the woman part. That didn’t stop the intense expression of confusion that spread across his face. “So you’re a man?” he asked. “Do you know how lucky you are that I’m not, like, crazy? Because I know plenty of guys who would really do some shit to you.” “No, I’m a woman, a transgender woman,” I answered, trying to make him understand. But I knew it didn’t matter what I said. His entire view of me had changed, and there was no going back.”
The important thing for a transgender person to know is that being honest with yourself, also means, that you are honest with others. It may be scary or seems hard. However, one thing that Willis’ article revealed is that she wouldn’t put herself in the position of being alone with someone who didn’t know she was transgender. If you are transgender, the key is not to be misleading but also be safe. As in every relationship, trust is a major factor.
The Support System
This concept has been emphasized. However, it needs a small section. Those who are transgender need a support system. It is not easy feeling like you are waging a war alone, especially, when you are up against such a judgemental world. Don’t try to go at this alone. You will fail miserably.
Definitions You Should Know
Transvestite, transsexual, crossdresser, tranny—the list can go on. Let’s tackle some of these terms that you might hear:
To some, cisgender is a new term that has recently come about. For others, this name
is as old as dirt. Cisgender is a person that identifies with the biological sex that they were given. For example, if they are a girl and they have accepted themselves as such. Individuals who are transgender refer to people who are not transgender as cisgender—they do not refer to themselves as cisgender.
Most people think it’s a new term because it’s one they haven’t heard before. However, the term has been around in the scientific community for a long time. The transgender community has adopted it as a way to separate themselves from people who live their lives as their birth sex.
A transvestite is someone who only dresses in the clothes of the opposite sex. It does not necessarily mean that someone is gay or in the process of transitioning—those are common misconceptions. As a matter of fact, in some cultures, it is done for religious purposes.
However, if we are thinking in the terms of the now, the word itself some consider derogatory. The transgender community takes particular issue with it because it is not addressing their actual gender identity, just the fact that they are wearing clothes of the opposite sex. It’s just best you leave this term where it belongs—in the past.
Tell a crossdresser they are a transvestite and they may get a little upset. That is why it’s important you know the difference. A crossdresser is a person who dresses in the clothes of the opposite sex for a sole purpose of identifying themselves with a particular societal norm. That’s a fancy way of saying that a crossdresser dresses in different clothing to identify with a particular group. There are various types of crossdressers, they include:
- Gender Disguise: This form of cross-dressing has been for the sole purpose of passing for the opposite sex. This is especially popular for women who wanted to be a part of the boys club or even get offered positions that were specifically for men. Don’t worry; men did the same thing. Gender disguise was especially attractive if they didn’t want to get drafted. Gender disguise is also pretty popular in literature and film. It goes as far back as Shakespeare when women couldn’t work or act. Guess who had to dress up like Juliet?
- Transvestic Fetishist: Again, for arguments sake remember that being a “transvestite” has nothing to do with transgender. However, a transvestic fetishist is someone who crossdresses because for them, you guessed it, it’s a sexual fetish. Most of the time, transvestic fetishists are heterosexual males.
What is a Drag Queen (or King)?
Alright, most articles will tell you that a drag queen or king is a glorified crossdresser. However, they deserve their own category. Drag Queens and Kings are crossdressers, but, they cross-dress for the sake of performing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are gay or straight, and, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are transgender. As a matter of fact, most drag queens and kings only perform as such and don’t crossdress outside of performing.
Transsexual Versus Transgender—What’s the Difference?
Although the term transsexual should be considered an old school term, for some, it is
a definitive form of identity. The name is similar to that of transgender—it is a person who inwardly doesn’t feel as though they align with their biological sex.
Some people consider themselves transsexuals and do not and will not identify as transgender. There are variations between the two, so let’s explore them.
The Difference between Transgender and Transsexuals
Let’s review what we have learned about transgender people so far. An individual who is transgender is someone who identifies that they are not internally in alignment with their biological sex. Often, they are identified as having a condition called gender dysphoria.
Here is where things get interesting. For those who are transsexual, they do not identify with the label of transgender because they believe that the term transgender is an overall term for everything that has to do with gender identity and sex. For transsexual, they are blanketed underneath the term transgender along with:
- Drag Queens and Kings
A little confusing? Let’s break it down even further. Picture the word transgender as a massive umbrella. Underneath the umbrella are the categories transsexual, cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, and transvestites. What do they all have in common? They all have to do with gender identification. Out of that group, transsexuals are considered to be what society knows as transgender because they are the only ones underneath that umbrella that experience gender dysphoria.
Why Can’t It Be Transsexuals for Transsexuals and Transgender Be Everyone Else?
It would indeed seem simpler; however, society has made it made it difficult. There is a negative connotation to the word transsexual because some automatically are attracted to the word ‘sex’ in its name, completely ignoring the trans or the ‘al’ ending. Therefore, transsexual has incidentally become politically incorrect, which is why more often than not you hear transsexual referred to as transgender.
Some Other Stuff You Might Hear
There may be some other misconceptions about transgender people you hear along the
way. Let’s go ahead, take a look, and debunk some of those things:
- Transgender People Have AIDS
This is a very common misconception, not only amongst transgender people but also the LGBT community. Let’s be clear, anyone that has taken a health course knows that HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, etc. We all also know how this virus can be transmitted. This is why it’s important for everyone to protect themselves, everyone.
- Transgender People Live Recklessly
Stop watching so much television. Transgender people like to have fun just like everyone else. However, it doesn’t mean that they are living dangerously. As discussed earlier, transgender people go on to live productive lives. Also, everyone can sometimes get a little crazy. We shouldn’t factor that in a stereotype for an isolated group of people.
- You Can Tell Someone is Transgender
Nope. That is a myth. Unless you know someone personally, you never know if someone is
transgender. This topic has been a hot button issue lately, especially with public restrooms. How would you like to know that it is most likely you used the stall next to a transgender person and never knew it? Don’t ever make assumptions. You may be surprised.
- Transgender People Don’t Know if They Are Transgendered
Yes, they do. This one is just plain offensive. It is almost as telling someone of a particular race that they don’t know that they are their race. Transgendered people wouldn’t be transgendered people if they didn’t already know something is amiss.
- Transgender People Are Mentally Ill
Cisgender people can be mentally unstable too. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against age, sexual orientation, race, or religion. It is a disease and affects millions of people every day. Millions. It is humanly impossible for all of those millions of individuals to be transgender. It is a mixture of people that have one thing in common—mental illness.
- People who are Transgender Are Gay
Nope. We established that several times. Being transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation, only gender identification. Tell your friends.
- All Transgender People Are Leftists
No. Transgender people are people. Believe it or not, some transgenders are very conservative with their political beliefs. But for the most part, everyone has the same goal, equal rights—and not being stereotyped.
- Transgender People Were Sexually Abused; That is Why They are Transgender
No. No. No. This is a typical statement and overused misconception. Transgender people are transgender because their mind and body are not congruent with their biological sex. This, in no shape or form, has anything to do with sexual abuse. That is absurd. Sexual assault is an awful experience for anyone regardless of their gender.
- Transgender People Perform in Drag Shows
If you are transsexual and identify as transsexual and use the umbrella rule of transgender, then technically yes. However, we are going to be politically correct. This is not a popular thing amongst the transgender community because being transgender, unlike a drag show, isn’t a form of art. Rhetorically, it’s a way of life—a state of being. So, this idea would be false.
- Transgender People Aren’t Real Men or Women
Well, that’s not very nice, and it’s also not true. This foe does nothing more than dehumanizing a people because of who they choose to be. That can’t make anyone feel good about themselves. Would we ever say that to a woman who struggled with breast cancer and had a mastectomy? Would we ever say that to a man that suffered from prostate cancer? Probably not. Gender identification is something personal, for everyone. So this stereotype is far from the truth.
How to You Can Bring Awareness
The best thing that you can do for the transgender community is to educate yourself. We can only dispel the rumors by learning about one another and being advocates for each other. Society would like us to believe that the LGBT community is strange creatures of the Black Lagoon. Honestly, they are people just like you, living their lives in the midst of what can sometimes seem like unsettling chaos.
Tolerance and Acceptance
Congratulations! You have just armed yourself with virtually all of the information that you need to know about the transgender community. Regardless if it was curiosity that peaked, you know someone who is transitioning, or you are struggling, you have taken the first step towards tolerance and acceptance.
For all of the transgender folks out there, here is something you should know altogether. Being transgender or transsexual (whatever you prefer) doesn’t make you a freak or a weirdo. It makes you a human being with feelings. It means that you are not like the rest, you are set apart in your identity, but you are no different than anyone else. Use this opportunity to educate those who are ignorant, and yet, want to learn about your struggles.
Now, go and live your life. Freely and boldly.