Figures such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) have played a large role in catapulting the words transgender into the mainstream over the past few years. Regardless of how much the LGBT community has grown in recognition and support, there is still vast amounts of misinformation out there.
It is important to get clear on a few key issues and dispel the myths to educate the general public on not only what it means to be “trans” but what it is like to live a trans life.
Those who identify as transgender are people. Case and point. Ask many of those who identify as transgender how it came to be that they identify this way and you will likely get a similar response stating that they are simply in the wrong body. Regardless of how masculine or feminine he/she may look on the outside, it could be in stark difference from the gender they feel on the inside.
It’s also important to not put all transgender persons into a box. Each person is unique and he/she has a unique story. While many of those in the trans community report having a different gender identity than what he/she was assigned at birth, it is a vast oversight to assume that this is the case for each and every individual.
Further, there are several false beliefs about the trans community that continue to contribute to the negative stigma and non-acceptance of trans people that perpetuates violence and hate. This blog seeks to share accurate information about this community in hopes of bridging the gap to acceptance.
Let’s start by making a few key distinctions and get clear on some general terms that will aid in understanding more.
What are the gender terms?
Gender identity is an extremely personal part of who we are and it’s how we perceive ourselves in the world as it relates to being a man, woman, or another gender outside of societal norms
Gender expression refers to the characteristics and behaviors a person identifies with that can be viewed as masculine, feminine, a mix of both, or neither.
The gender unto which you were born based on your genitals; your biological makeup
Who you are attracted to (i.e. homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual)
In today’s society, there are literally hundreds of different types of gender identities that it seems as though people are simply making up new ones by the day! However, it is important to keep in mind that the concept of gender is a social construct and is therefore fluid; you are whichever gender you say you are. If there isn’t currently a label to accurately describe your preference, then you’re within your rights to simply make one up that best suits you.
While understanding gender identity can easily become very overwhelming, it typically isn’t so difficult to understand who trans people are and how they identify. However, why they identify this way and how it came to be is a little more obscure to those who are uninformed.
Let’s look at some common myths surrounding trans people:
1: Transgender people are confused or tricking others
Oftentimes people will think that those who identify as transgender are simply doing it for attention, to be able to act out on unconscious, malicious desires, such as pedophilia, or that they just haven’t figured themselves out yet. While these circumstances can and do occur, this is not the norm within the transgender community.
Consider this: imagine if you were offered a large sum of money to physically transition to the opposite gender. Would you do it?
For those who identify as cisgender (those who identify as the gender that matches their genitals), most would respond stating that they would not do it as they would rather continue presenting themselves as the gender they were born and identify to be. Most people would conclude that it just simply wouldn’t feel right. Now take that sense of it not feeling right and imagine being born into the opposite body. This gives a sense of what it feels like to be transgender.
2. Sexual orientation is linked to gender identity
This one can get confusing but the most important thing to remember are the definitions of the terms. Sexual orientation is to whom you are attracted and gender identity is who someone is. For example, a transgender person can identify as a man even though he was assigned female at birth and also be gay (biologically he was born as a woman, identifies as a man, and is attracted to men). Getting to know the individual is the best way to fully understand this concept as these features become more easily understood through interaction.
3. Transgender people using the same bathroom as their gender identity is dangerous
This one is a hot topic, particularly in states like North Carolina where bathroom choice has been an ongoing issue. But get this, in the US, there’s not a single reported instance of this kind of voyeurism occurring in states with legal protections for trans people. Read that again - not a single case! Terms like “not even remotely, “ “zero allegations,” and “no factual basis” are the norm as it pertains to these issues in these states.
It makes you wonder about the thoughts and beliefs of those living in states without trans protection and where they come from.
4. Transitioning is as simple as one surgery
Not. Even. Close. The transitioning process is a long, challenging process that is fraught with personal, legal, financial, and emotional challenges.
Additionally, not all those who identify as transgender desire and seek to complete a physical transition - some seek to come out to some but not others verbally, some may just decide to legally change their name but chose to stay in the same body.
However, for those who do chose to pursue a full transition oftentimes it is a long, arduous process in which they must navigate local, state, and federal laws before they are able to transition.
For my clients who have chosen to transition, I have found that there is a tremendous amount of prep work mentally and emotionally that must happen before they can even think about making the full leap. It is crucial to have a support system in place to help guide you on your journey and ensure your own safety.
5. Children are not old enough to know their gender identity
A study from the TransYouth project found that children as young as 5-years-old respond to psychological gender-association tests, which evaluate how people view themselves with gender roles, as quickly and consistently as those who don’t identify as trans.
The goal is to identify if the individual identifies as gender dysphoria (distress one experiences as a result of his/her sex and gender assigned at birth), gender noncomformity (does not match masculine or feminine norms), or early experimentation (trying on different sexual orientations before able to decide which is right for them).
Doctors urge to watch for consistence, persistence, insistence, and history of gender nonconformity when it comes to determining the child’s gender identity. One developmental psychologist believes that by age 6 you should know your gender identity or “something may be wrong with you.”
6. Transgender people are mentally ill
This one, by far, is the one that burns me up the most! While transgender individuals can suffer from mental illness, being transgender is NOT, in and of itself, a mental illness.
In the past, if a transgender individual sought psychotherapy, he/she might have been issued a psychological diagnosis of gender identity disorder. This diagnosis indicated that the individual was suffering from symptoms of mental illness based upon his/her gender identity.
However, with the latest publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 in 2013, this diagnosis has been removed and replaced with
The distress a person experiences as a result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. In this case, the assigned sex and gender do not match the person's gender identity, and the person is transgender.
Notice that the diagnosis is no longer considered a disorder but rather a psychological condition. This is tremendous progress!
While it is still very challenging for a transgender individual to navigate a predominantly cisgender world, tremendous amounts of progress have been made over the past few years.
Racism, prejudice, and hate are mitigated by ignorance. The more accurate information we have the better we are at understanding and appreciating one another’s differences.
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with gender dysphoria or any issues related to the material shared here, counseling may help. I am an experienced, caring therapist and I offer LGBT affirming, supportive counseling services in my Charlotte, NC counseling clinic.
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