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What is trans?

smiling woman in shades

You might have questions about the trans community - and be surprised by how diverse it is. Here are some answers.

  1. Variance
  2. Trans terms
  3. Pronouns
  4. Sexuality
  5. Support

Variance

Society tells us there are two genders – male and female, but gender is often something much more open and fluid. If you're ‘gender variant’ you may identify as male and female and switch between presenting as male, female or a mixture of both.

Trans people are brought up to be one gender – usually the one we were assigned at birth - but we may identify more with the other gender or with both.

There are a number of possible approaches to dealing with this experience and celebrating our lives as we actually are. Some approaches will be right for some people, others will be right for others. There is no one path that fits everybody, no single correct choice and no magic wands.

The best solution is to accept who you are and how you wish to live your life, and to embrace this. The choices you make about expressing yourself in terms of gender should flow from that.

For some people that might mean taking hormones and having surgery and a transition from living full-time with one gender presentation to living full-time with another.

In the trans community there's a lot of discussion about ‘getting your inside and your outside to match’; but each of us has to work out whether the healthiest option for us is to change our bodies or to accept them. There's no right way or wrong way to live in your body - therefore there's no right way or wrong way to be male or female, or to be trans. Everyone is individual. The right thing for you may be to keep your body as it is but embrace your gender identity if it's different than your body, or you may wish to express elements of all genders.

The right path for some people will mean adopting a mixture of those elements of each gender role that suits them best and makes them happiest. At different times and in different situations they might present as one gender or another, or as their chosen fusion of both. While some people with fixed ideas of gender may see this as a problem, those who make this choice can find it very rewarding. They may also find that many people are attracted sexually and emotionally to this rich - if complex – gender variance.

Trans terms

The word ‘trans’ is often used as an umbrella term to describe people who feel their gender is, or has been, different from the one they were labelled with at birth (in more recent times even before their birth).

Our communities are very diverse. People continue to define who they are, to become the same as their internal self, and express their gender (or non-gender) in the way that is right for them.

Some may feel they have a ‘trans history’ and are the men and women they have always known themselves to be. Some may feel ‘trans’ is a social and political identity while others will have never identified with the term ‘trans’.

Trans people may:

  • have a gender identity and/or gender expression differing from the gender they were assigned at birth
  • identify as transsexuals, cross-dressers, transmen (or trans men), trans women (or transwomen), trans masculine, trans feminine or other people on the gender-variant spectrum 
  • identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF) 
  • choose to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.

The important thing to remember is to use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.


Terms trans people may identify with:

Trans men - people who are labelled/assigned female at birth but who have an internal sense of gender which is male.

Trans women - people who are labelled/assigned male at birth but who have an internal sense of gender which is female.

Transsexual – people who usually have a deep conviction and internal sense that their gender identity doesn't match that of their appearance or the gender they were labelled at birth. They may wish to present to the world the gender they truly are. If you're transsexual, the ‘condition’ is called gender dysphoria which is a medical condition. Many will undergo hormone therapy (oestrogens or testosterone, depending upon their birth gender and their internal sense of gender). Many will also have ‘gender confirmation surgery’ to become congruent with the internal sense of gender identity.

Bi-gender - someone who sees themselves as both masculine and feminine.

Cross-dressers - are usually comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth and don't wish to change it but enjoy wearing clothes usually identified with the opposite sex.

Gender non-conforming/non-binary - individuals whose gender expression is different from society’s expectations based on their assigned sex at birth.

Gender Queer - may identify as being between genders, or as neither man nor woman. Some may pursue physical changes, many will not.

Cisgender - synonym for non-trans people. It comes from the Latin ‘cis’ which means ‘on the same side’ and is used to describe someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth.

Pronouns

It's important to consult with each trans person and agree their preferred forms of address. Respect their choice by only using the words the individual uses to describe themselves. It's essential not to label someone, refer to them, use or record a form of address in a way not previously agreed with the individual concerned.


He, she, ze or they?

Misuse of pronouns (such as ‘he’ or ‘she’) has been identified as the most common form of verbal harassment that trans people face. In Galop’s employer toolkit, Shining the Light, Ben Gooch writes: ‘Trans people are consistently told by society, their friends and families that they're not the people they know themselves to be. It’s important to get a person’s pronouns right so that you can treat them with respect.'

The binary pronouns of male and female – ‘he’ and ‘she’ - are terms many trans people will be comfortable with; but many other trans people do not identify with them. Some trans people would prefer you to use non-binary pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘ze’, for example.

Some trans people would prefer you not to use a pronoun at all when referring to them, in which case use either:

  • a proper name of the person’s choice
  • a neutral term - such as ‘the person’ or ‘the individual’
  • a non-gender specific role - such as ‘the customer’, ‘the patient’, ‘the client’ or ‘the service user’.

Remember:

  • For some people ‘trans’ is an identity in its own right.
  • It’s about becoming and being ourselves - an individual’s gender expression.
  • For some people it’s about having a ‘trans history’ - that is, somebody seeing themselves as male or female but no longer trans. Some people may never have identified as trans.
  • It's important to not make assumptions about trans people’s identity, or to assume that all gender variant people identify with any of these terms.

Sexuality

Trans people can be any sexuality or none. Like everyone, as long as they're considerate and consensual, they deserve respect. Being trans can affect your sexuality in many ways.

As a trans woman you may continue to be attracted to the same gender or genders, but you may change from viewing yourself as heterosexual to identifying as lesbian.

If you transition in this scenario, you would then date women who are attracted to women. This can change how and where you seek partners.

Additionally, many trans women report changes in their sexuality after taking oestrogen. Transitioning and meeting other trans people can significantly change your view of gender and, consequently, of models of sexuality. You may feel that possibilities such as pansexuality and queer express your sexuality better.

If you transition medically, you may find that hormone treatments and/or surgery can lower your sex drive considerably. This is largely due to decreasing levels of testosterone. But this can vary and you may or may not be put off by the prospect.

How you express your sexuality can also change. Being free to express yourself as female, or however you identify, means you may want to abandon more traditional dominant, masculine sexual practices. This can be highly liberating. Equally, you may find that your old sexual expressions continue to suit you well.

Wherever you stand in terms of whom you’re attracted to and how you’re attracted to them, it's important to care for your wellbeing, sexual and emotional health.

Support

If you have a trans person in your life it can sometimes be difficult at first to know how to support them. Here's some advice.


Partners of trans people

Being a partner of a trans person can be a satisfying and deeply rewarding experience, whether you're having a sexual relationship, a short or a long-term relationship.

However it may often feel as if your partner is the centre of attention, whether in your social and family life, or in a medical situation. You may need to take steps to ensure that you feel included in things. Talk to your partner, share your feelings and get involved if you can.

You can do a lot to support a partner going through transition, who may be confused, frustrated or angry. Talking with them about visits to clinics or medical appointments, and offering to go with them, may help lessen the sense of isolation they can feel.

Partners of trans people who are going through changes in their body or appearance can also feel confused. If your long-term partner is starting transition, this may not affect your relationship. However, outside pressures can affect your relationship – friends, family or your employer may see things differently, or you may even become the victim of hate crime. The law protects partners of transsexuals from discrimination, so seek professional help if you experience any difficulties.

You might feel a sense of loss for the person you knew before transition or find your emotions confusing and upsetting. If your partner is living in stealth, the secrecy may be stressful for you. Likewise your partner might be ‘out’ about their trans identity and their openness may cause you problems. It often helps to have an understanding person with knowledge of trans issues, such as a counsellor, to share these experiences with.

Any relationship can be challenging as well as deeply satisfying. With mutual understanding and respect, a relationship with a trans person has as much potential as any other. Many partners find their relationships with trans people enriching and exciting - may yours be so!

Where to find support:

Depend  

NHS Choices - My trans partner


Parents of trans people

If your child is trans, you may be finding it difficult to get used to their new identity. As the parent of a trans person, you've brought them into the world and raised them in their assigned birth gender. If you have a young child, you may be wondering what steps to take now – Mermaids is a good starting point as they help trans children and will be able to advise you.

It can be difficult for parents to see their child, whatever their age, transitioning, however supportive you intend to be. It can also be upsetting to see your child feeling hurt or struggling. With your support, your child will be able to go through their transition, whatever form that takes, more easily and hopefully feeling supported.

Where to find support:

Mermaids 


Children of trans parents

If one of your parents is trans it can be difficult to come to terms with no longer having the ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ you knew. You may go through a process similar to grieving, but hopefully as you get to know your parent in their new identity you'll develop a new way of relating to them that you can enjoy. You may, however, find that your relationship changes very little.

If you're school-aged, you might be worried about how your friends will react. It’s worth talking to your parents about this, especially if you've experienced any bullying. They'll be able to speak to your school if necessary.


Friends and family of trans people

If you have a friend or family member who is trans they'll be grateful for your support. Trans people aren't always accepted by their friends and family so your support may be what makes a difference. Read around the website to get some more information on issues facing trans men and women and don’t be afraid to ask your friend or relative questions.

Where to find support:

Mermaids 

Useful links:

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)

 

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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 23/3/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 23/3/2018

Content Author: Michelle Ross

Current Owner: Michelle Ross

More information:

Endocrine Therapy for Transgender Adults in British Columbia: Suggested Guidelines. Physical Aspects of Transgender Endocrine Therapy. Marshall Dahl, M.D., Ph.D., F.R.C.P.C., Jamie L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., Joshua Goldberg, Afshin Jaberi, B.Sc.(Pharm), R.Ph.

Assessment of Hormone Eligibility and Readiness. Walter Bockting, Ph.D., Gail Knudson, M.D., M.P.E., F.R.C.P.C., Joshua Goldberg. January 2006

GIRES. Gender Identity Research and Education Society. Terminology. 2012 

GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). A Guide to Hormone Therapy for Trans People. 2007

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