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What does it mean to be transgender?

Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
edited November 20 in Coffee lounge
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is a time to remember all those whose lives have been lost due to transphobic violence.

I think that one of the best ways to reduce transphobic violence is to promote a greater understanding of what it means to be transgender, so I've included some information below.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg though, so I'd encourage you all to go away and read more about the experiences of transgender people throughout history, leading up to today, and find out what we can all do to make our society more inclusive.

What is Transgender Day of Remembrance?

Stonewall have some information on Transgender Day of Remembrance, and outline that:
It is a day when the Trans community and our allies come together to remember the dangers of ignorance, hatred and bigotry. 
It is an opportunity to remember those who have died simply for being themselves.
There's also an interesting blog post on the Stonewall website by someone who came out five years ago, that ends with:
The key message that I wanted to convey here is to make this day what it needs to be for you, whether you're trans or a cisgendered ally, but equally make this day about continuing to raise awareness with those who, like myself five years ago, didn't even know Transgender Day of Remembrance existed, let alone cared about the issues that surround it. People can only focus on those things that they have awareness of.

If we could all make one person who didn't know about today aware of what this day symbolises for transgender people then we'd have at least doubled our arena of awareness.

What does it mean to be transgender?

There's a lot of misunderstanding around what it means to be transgender, so I wanted to explain a few key terms and concepts.

Starter glossary

There are lots of terms and phrases you might see used during discussions around gender, so I've explained a few of them below. Please note that this list is not conclusive, and there are many other terms people may use to describe themselves. The most important thing is to use the language that the individual prefers. If you're unsure, then ask them.
  • Transgender: when someone identifies with a different gender identity or expression than that which they were assigned at birth, which will usually have been based upon their sex
  • Transsexual: an older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have, or seek to, change their bodies through medical interventions. Used as an adjective, e.g. transsexual man, transsexual woman
  • Trans: used as an umbrella term to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella
  • Trans man: someone who has transitioned into identifying as a male
  • Trans woman: someone who has transitioned into identifying as a female
  • Transition: altering your sex or gender is not a one-step process. It can involve your own personal journey of understanding your experience, coming out to those around you, taking legal steps, changing your name, presenting yourself differently through clothes or a haircut, for example, or undergoing medical procedures, such as surgeries or hormone therapy. Everyone's experience of transition is different, and not everyone will take the same steps
  • Cisgender: someone who is not transgender
  • Genderfluid: when someone doesn't identify as having a fixed gender, their gender identity fluctuates
  • Genderqueer: describes a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍, i.e. they exist outside of the binary
  • Non-binary: see above. Some people who identify as non-binary also identify as being trans, as they identify with a different gender than that which they were assigned at birth
  • Transphobia: encompasses a range of negative feelings, attitudes, and actions against trans people, or transness in general
  • AFAB and AMAB: assigned female at birth, and assigned male at birth
  • TERF: trans exclusionary radical feminist, usually used to describe a feminist who excludes the rights of trans women from their advocacy of women's rights
  • Pronouns: in relation to gender, pronouns refer to the words you use to describe someone's gender in place of their name. These include, she/her, he/him, and they/them. Some people prefer to use other pronouns, so it's a good idea to ask someone what their preferred pronouns are. If you use the wrong pronouns accidentally, quickly apologise and correct yourself, it's worse to make it a big deal
  • Deadnaming: when you use the birth, or former, name of a trans person without their consent
blue and pink trans flag

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Sex is the biological classification of a person as male or female, usually made at birth. Additionally, some people are intersex, which is a general term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. 

Gender identity refers to the internal, deeply held sense someone has of their gender. Gender expression refers to how someone presents themselves on the outside. Gender is increasingly being understood as existing on a spectrum, which means that someone could identify as male, female, or anything in-between or outside of that binary. The concepts of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are also increasingly being challenged, so that someone who identifies as male, for example, might not fit into traditional ideas of what it means to be 'masculine'.

What does it mean for someone to be transgender?

As explained above, the term 'transgender' refers to when someone identifies with a different gender identity or expression than that which they were assigned at birth, which will usually have been based upon their sex. Some trans people identify within the gender binary of male and female, but some non-binary and genderqueer people also identify as being trans. 

Many people often assume that someone who is transgender will definitely want to undergo medical procedures, such as surgeries or hormone therapy, but this isn't always the case. Whether or not someone wants medical procedures, and what kind of procedures they might want, is totally down to them, and doesn't make them any 'more' or 'less' trans.

What is gender dysphoria?

The NHS website explains that:
Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.

This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.
Many people with gender dysphoria have a strong, lasting desire to live a life that "matches" or expresses their gender identity. They do this by changing the way they look and behave.

Some people with gender dysphoria, but not all, may want to use hormones and sometimes surgery to express their gender identity.

Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, but some people may develop mental health problems because of gender dysphoria.

How do sex and gender relate to sexuality?

Gender identity and sexual orientation aren't the same, and trans people can identify with any sexuality. As always, you shouldn't make assumptions about a person's sexuality, and you should use the language they prefer when describing their sexuality. 

Transphobic violence

According to this report by Stonewall and YouGov:
  • 2/5 trans people, and 3/10 non-binary people, have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last year
  • More than 1/4 of trans people in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse from a partner
  • 1/8 of trans employees have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year
  • More than 1/3 of trans university student have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year
Data obtained from police forces across the country by the BBC found that the number of hate crimes against trans people recorded by police forces in England, Scotland and Wales has risen by 81%.

Citizens Advice have some more information on sexual orientation and transgender identity hate crime.

What can you do to educate yourself, or get advice and support? 

I first started to educate myself more on what it means to be transgender when I was in secondary school, and a friend came out as a trans guy. I went to a single-sex girls' school, so I realised that this must have been a particularly challenging thing for him to do. I therefore wanted to try and learn more about what it meant to be transgender, and what I could do to make him feel more comfortable.

The way I found I learnt most about transgender experiences was through watching YouTube videos made by trans creators. This post is getting too long, but let me know if you're interested in me posting the links to some of the channels I watch in the comments! 

Here is a list of some organisations that you might also want to check out:
Is there anything else you'd like to know about gender, and what it means to be transgender? Do you have any experiences you'd like to share? What else do you think needs to be done to make society more inclusive of transgender or genderqueer people? 
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Replies

  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    edited November 20
    Thank you for sharing that @66Mustang :) I'm so glad you felt comfortable doing so. 

    I definitely agree that the idea certain genders have to do certain things is silly. I'm perfectly comfortable identifying as female, which is what I was assigned at birth, but I'm not the most 'feminine' person around in many ways! So many of the categories for what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' seem so arbitrary and limiting to me. 

    I'm pleased you're working on it with a professional, and I hope that'll help you to understand yourself a bit better. There's no pressure to label it, but it's okay to want to label it as well. Everyone's different.

    Very best of luck on your journey, and remember that we're always here if you need us.
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  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,804 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks very much for the kind words @Tori_Scope:smiley:
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Of course, it's no problem @66Mustang :)
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  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    I've now added my preferred pronouns to my signature, as after writing this I thought it might be a nice idea. 

    There's absolutely no pressure at all for anyone else to do the same, I know that many of you value the anonymity and privacy we offer here, but if you want to do this too, here's how:
    • Click the 'cog' icon below your name on the far right
    • Click 'edit profile'
    • Select 'signature settings' from the menu on the right hand side
    • Write in the box, and click 'save' 
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  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,842 Pioneering
    Sending you a big virtual squeeze @66Mustang Thank you for sharing that with us.  I can imagine it wasn't easy but we are here to support you always.  I hope your work with the professional bods helps.  

    I agree with all you have said about gender and if you ever fancy an interesting read about how our gender roles are socially constructed/determined, look up the American theorist Judith Butler.  She talks so much sense!
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  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,804 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks :smiley: I will take a look!
  • chiariedschiarieds Community champion Posts: 5,246 Disability Gamechanger
    My eldest grandchild, last summer, & shortly before their 18th birthday, decided she would be rather be called 'him.' My daughter texted me about this, &, thanks to this forum, I 'probably' had a little more understanding.
    Shortly afterwards, he visited with his family. My daughter asked in front of him, should she take him to the Drs. I said, he's here, & can answer for himself ...... he's an adult now, & will go to the Drs if, & when, he wants, which made him smile. He's not considering surgery My son also said to him, thank you, so now there's no pressure for me to have any (male) children (his sister used to say you'll have to have boys, as she'd had 3 girls......my son & his wife had decided they didn't want to have children mainly because my family has a genetic disorder, which they didn't want to pass on). Anyway., my son's comment raised an ever bigger smile in him!
    What impressed me the most, was that this very smartly dressed young person (shirt, tie, waistcoat & trousers) has always been very quiet, yet sat close to us adults, & talked more than I've ever known him to do. He's chosen a new first name for himself, & seems so much more confident. So, as my son said, I now have a new grandson! :)
    @66Mustang - just be who you want to be, & so pleased you were kind enough to share your thoughts with us. :)
  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,804 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks for sharing your experience @chiarieds :) and thanks for your kind words.

    I have met a few people at the clinic I go to who have transitioned from female to male or vice versa and gaining more confidence is something that they all have in common.

    That said I feel I am a bit different...I am not too worried about how I outwardly present and am perceived - if someone refers to me as “he” or “they” or even “she” (it has happened when I had longer hair!) it does not bother me. It’s more that I have struggles in my own mind and I need to find a way to deal with those.

    I have a kind of “mind reading” issue where I make an assumption about what others are thinking: I assume most of the public expect men and women to be a certain way and that if I break that expectation I will get a negative reaction. This is exacerbated by the fact that I’ve always been one to try to live up to expectations - if someone expected me to study maths at school, I would choose it so as to not break their expectation.

    However I am learning that this is often not the case with gender - I think a problem I have is that most of my social experiences are from school - once I left school I didn’t mix with anyone outside of the family. At school, boys had to be “boys” and I have assumed the adult world to be the same. It’s only now that I’m slowly learning that it’s OK to be male but be embracing of your more feminine traits as well, or vice versa.

    It is a lot more complicated than I’ve made it sound but I am having trouble getting my thoughts down into words. Hopefully I’ve managed to get the general idea of it across though! :smile:
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,292 Pioneering
    Don't worry @66Mustang, it all makes sense, and thank you for being so open, it can be a difficult subject to speak about.

    I think it's quite common for people to worry about what others are thinking, in many ways we care more about what others are thinking rather than what we think ourselves.

    I'm glad that society seems to slowly but surely be moving away from the 'boys need to be boys' narrative, it's healthy for people to embrace the sides of their personality that might often be associated with a different gender.

    As you say, schools don't help with bringing that out of people, I would quite often be laughed at for liking what others saw as girly music, even though to be it was just music. I've been happy that as I've grown older, people don't seem to care as much and just accept those parts of others.
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  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,804 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks @Ross_Scope, yes I agree it is good the restrictions are breaking down now both for males and females and of course all other genders
  • encaserencaser Member Posts: 38 Connected
    In an historical sense, there are many countries and cultures that have had people either known to be but not discussed openly and/or accepted as living in the 'role of the other' if you will. Hawaiians, for example, have for centuries past had those born with male sex features and organs but can choose to live as women do and fulfil the roles and duties of other women and therefore be accepted and even join/marry a male.
    There are many texts on the subject but most tended to be held in the category of sexual identity, anthropology works and sociology and cultural specific works, as opposed to universal aspects of all societies.
    The acceptance of homosexuality and/or bisexuality in genders being universally possible is still debated, asexual people still being labelled as 'frigid' or mentally unbalanced and, therefore, transgender people are in for a battle. Interesting times, though.
  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,804 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 23
    @encaser yes it’s quite an interesting area. On a similar note as what you say about Hawaiians I remember hearing about how in Ancient Greece it was seen as good for a male to be homosexual as women were sadly seen as an underclass so to be with a man was more “prestigious”. It’s a very interesting topic, gender! Maybe it could be described like religion in that while it is interesting and has some good elements it has also put a lot of restrictions on progress, created battles, adversity, etc...
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    There are also the Hijras in India. I remember watching a documentary about them once.
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  • WestHam06WestHam06 Community champion, Scope Volunteer Posts: 837 Pioneering
    Thank you @Tori_Scope for starting this post. Thank you to everyone for sharing their own experiences, I'm pleased that people feel able to do this on here. We, as as community, are always here to support one another. 
    @66Mustang I can empathise with what you say about trying to meet the expectations that others and society have and worrying what people will think if I don't meet these. Please, just be who you are, each and everyone of us is unique and has something positive offer. I hope that the work you continue to do with the professionals helps you. Thank you for sharing with us. Best wishes, thank you.
  • encaserencaser Member Posts: 38 Connected
    edited November 23
    66Mustang said:
    @encaser yes it’s quite an interesting area. On a similar note as what you say about Hawaiians I remember hearing about how in Ancient Greece it was seen as good for a male to be homosexual as women were sadly seen as an underclass so to be with a man was more “prestigious”. It’s a very interesting topic, gender! Maybe it could be described like religion in that while it is interesting and has some good elements it has also put a lot of restrictions on progress, created battles, adversity, etc...
    Sexual identity through culture is a very large topic and there are historical instances where practice of homosexuality between males, for example, was seen as not a constant but a transitional stage to manhood in some cultures. It was normal for young males to have sex with older ones as a kind of learning experience from which they would 'progress' onto heterosexuality.

    The significant importance of understanding the difference in gender as a physical sexual descriptor, as opposed to one of cultural construct in gender roles etc. that are socially prescribed and can be fluid over time given change in attitude is key, to that of a person self-identifying as to who or what they believe themselves to be - or not be, as in non-binary people!.
    One's identity is not seen to be prescribed or chosen now, it simply is. Or at least, that is the hope in transgender communities.
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