I Might Be Transgender
Not everything is quite what we were told to expect as kids. The more we learn, the more it seems that there aren't a whole lot of hard and fast rules in the world. For example, a lot of people take for granted that their sex is the same as their gender. Think Again! Everyone has a gender identity. Gender identity is our internal sense of being male or female. For most people, our basic awareness that we are male or female matches our physical body. When we’re born, people decide if we’re male or female based on our genitals. But for young people and adults who are transgender, their basic sense of being male or female – their gender identity – does not match their body. So a transgender person may have a male body, but feel inside that they are female. Or a transgender person may have a female body, but feel inside that they are truly male. Your sex is biological, a combination of the physical parts you were born with —like your genitals — and hormonal differences that start long before birth. Gender refers to society's expectations about how we should think and act as girls and boys, and women and men. As Mary Boenke, the chair of the Transgender Network of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), puts it, "Sex is between your legs, and gender is between your ears." For example, women in many cultures are expected to be passive and emotional and men are expected to be aggressive and rational. Gender Identity is how you feel about and express your gender and gender roles —clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. The term Transgender (or Trans, TG, or Genderqueer) can be used to include a lot of different people. For some, being transgender means their sexual anatomy conflicts with their gender identity. For example, someone being born with a penis might be declared a boy at birth, but grow up thinking, feeling, and wanting to be more like a girl. Some trans people take hormones and/or have surgery to alter their physical bodies to match their gender identity. Transgender can also include those who do not accept the strict gender roles society dictates for them and those who enjoy varying their gender expression. • Cross-dressers are people who dress and act as the opposite sex. Drag kings and drag queens are cross-dressers who generally exaggerate stereotypical gender roles for entertainment and performance. • Transsexuals are people who live as their preferred gender full-time and may take hormones to alter their secondary sex characteristics — like voice, body hair, and muscular development. Some transsexuals have surgery to change their genitals to match their internal gender. Transsexuals can be female-to-male (FTM, or transmen) or male-to-female (MTF, or transwomen). • Intersex people may have sex organs that appear to be somewhat female or male or both. Or they may have sex chromosomes that are different from the usual XX (female) or XY (male). Many intersex people do not identify as trans. There are many trans people out there. Some people know from a very early age that their feelings about their gender are not what society expects of them. For others, it takes years or decades to understand their gender identity. While it is still not easy to be Trans, there are now more resources for information and support available to trans people and their friends and families. Finding information and other people who know what it is like to be transgender are first steps for Trans people to gain understanding and acceptance. How Do I Know if I'm Transgender? You may feel that you are more comfortable expressing yourself as a gender other than the gender you were born or assigned at birth. This gender might be the "opposite" of the gender you were born or assigned, or it might be neither male nor female but something else entirely! You may feel extremely uncomfortable with the gender-specific parts of your body. For example, you may have breasts and prefer not to have them. Or, you might not feel uncomfortable with your gender-specific body parts and, at the same time, feel a deep need to have other body parts. You may feel more comfortable relating to people who perceive you as the gender you see yourself. You may simply feel you would be more truly yourself in another gender. People who are transgender may feel any or all of these emotions. Am I Normal? Being transgender is as normal as being alive. Throughout history, many people have felt they were transgender. Transgender people are everywhere. They are teachers, doctors, construction workers, and waiters. They are in high schools, attend colleges, and probably work in many of th eplaces you go . You may interact with other transgender people every day and not know it! Though being transgender is not "typical," and you may encounter many people who do not understand or who feel uncomfortable or even discriminatory; you are certainly normal. What's It Like to Be Transgender? Some young people who are transgender feel a great relief that they have discovered how they are most comfortable expressing themselves. Other youth feel frustrated at being discriminated against or because they aren't yet able to transition. Still other young people find that being transgender is just one part of who they are and that they mostly think about all the things that many youth think about—school, dating, work, and family. There are as many ways to be young and transgender as there are ways to be young. Whom Should I Tell? There is no obligation to tell anyone about your identity. However, many people find it very important to share who they are with others, especially if they plan to transition publicly. If you decide to share your identity, first tell people with whom you are comfortable and that you feel will understand. They might include a trusted friend, teacher, counselor, sister, brother, parent,or maybe even someone here at Kaleidoscope. Some young people stop there and choose to transition more fully later in life, but other youth choose to begin to live full-time as their identified gender. If you choose to do this, you may need to come out to many different people. You should definitely look for support when going through this process from trusted adults, Kaleidoscope, friends, family, or maybe a therapist. What Will Happen When I Come Out? Some people feel relieved and happy when they come out. Others feel as if they are thrown into a lion's den, with challenges from parents, friends, and family. You will most likely experience a bit of both. Some transgender youth may face violence at school or in their home. Please, make sure you have people you can talk to before you come out publicly, just for this reason. As you come out, you may find the Gender Discussion Group at Kaleidoscope a useful resource. To make coming out easier, surround yourself with as much information, knowledge, and support as possible. What Does It Mean to Transition? Should I Do It? Some people who come out as transgender choose to change their name, their pronouns, their style of dress, and their appearance to be congruent with their gender identity. Still others choose to take hormones and have surgery to medically alter their appearance. As you decide which, if any, steps to take, it can help to talk about these feelings with others, such as a mental health professional who is competent with gender identity issues, friends and family members you trust, and other transgender people. You should express yourself the way you feel most comfortable, without pressure from others. Medical transition, the taking of hormones and having one or more surgeries, is a big step. For some, it is absolutely necessary. Most people who choose to transition medically strongly need identity and body to match. They want to be seen all the time and without question, as the gender they feel they are. To medically transition, you must first see a therapist and, in most cases, be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. In most states, if you are under 18, you will need a parent's permission to undertake medical transition. If you plan to pursue medical transition, it is important that your transition be supervised by a medical professional. Undertaking transition without professional medical guidance can have severe health risks. What Does Being Transgender Mean about My Sexual Orientation? Am I Gay or Straight or What? Being transgender has to do with your gender identity: how you feel about who you are. It has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, which is about who attracts you. Some transgender people are attracted to men, some to women, some to other transgender people, and some to people regardless of their gender. People may define themselves with different labels, depending on who attracts them. For example, some transgender women who are attracted to men define themselves as straight, because they are attracted to the opposite gender. Other transgender women may feel attracted to men and define themselves as queer, to challenge the notion of "opposite" genders. Regardless of who attracts you, rest assured that many transgender people have happy, healthy relationships with people whom they love. You deserve to date people who respect you for who you are! What about Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV, and Pregnancy? Remember that not having sex is the surest way to avoid unintended pregnancy as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In fact, many youth choose to show affection through activities such as hugging, kissing, talking, and massage. If you choose to have sex, be responsible and talk with your partner about methods of protection for both of you. It's your responsibility and your partner's to protect both of you from unwanted outcomes. Transgender people can have a hard time finding safer sex information that speaks in language that reflects how they feel about their body. Because many may feel that their biological body doesn't reflect their gender identity, they may use different terms for body parts. Finding information that corresponds to an internal/emotional body concept can be difficult. No matter what, protect yourself and your partner! Use a latex condom and if pregnancy is a possibility for either of you, also use another effective method of contraception, such as birth control pills. How Do I Learn to Like Myself? If you have just come to recognized that you are transgender, remember that you are normal and you are likeable, just as you are. With big discoveries come big life changes, and it is normal to feel nervous,upset or anxious about the days ahead. Remember, too, that discovering something this important about yourself can be a truly amazing experience. You are one step ahead on the journey of discovering who you truly are, and with that journey, the world becomes full of possibilities as well as challenges. You are getting to know another part of yourself, and this is truly a wonderful opportunity! What Resources Exist for Transgender Youth? Remember that you're not alone, and there is help out there: Web site for youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. It has some great information for transgender youth, as well as online message boards where you can talk with other young people who are facing the same or similar issues. www.pflag.org offers lots of information for friends and family of transgender people. At All Under One Roof LGBT Center you will find many programs and activities, offering friendship, support, and/or referrals to professionals who can help support you in your area. Talking to others who are experiencing some of the same things can help you learn to like yourself while, at the same time, giving you opportunities to help others.