Most of us are assigned a gender at birth depending on which sexual organs we are born with. Many grow up never giving their gender a second thought, but for some, that gender assignment may begin to feel inaccurate as time goes on. Many transgender people describe experiencing themselves as being different from peers of the same sex. Many transgender individuals describe a deep discomfort about being referred to as “good boy” or good girl” by parents, friends, teachers and so forth. This sense of “jarring” of identities can begin in early childhood for some people, and later on for others.
There’s a lot of confusion and misconceptions around gender, sex and sexual orientation, so let’s start with clarifying the terms:
The way a person thinks, behaves, dresses and speaks which distinguishes them as being masculine, feminine or androgynous (neutral).
The way we define and identify ourselves as belonging to a certain gender, in a way that fits with our sense of self. Our gender identity does not always match our biological sex and the gender that we were assigned at birth. Gender identity is not so much acted out, than our own subjective experience of who we are in relation to our self and others.
The physiological makeup of our body, reflecting our reproductive organs. Commonly, babies are divided into two groups; males and females. However, roughly 2% of babies are born with mixed reproductive organs/ and or chromosomes and do not fit neatly into either category.
The way we identify ourselves sexually. Common sexual identities are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, heteroflexible, undecided and so forth. Our sexual identity does not have to match our sexual behaviour. For example, a woman may only have sex with another woman but still identify as bisexual. A gay man may have sex with women and still identify as homosexual. Similar to gender identity, our sexual identity is more closely tied to the way we experience ourselves rather than the way we act. Our sexual identity does not depend on our gender or gender identity.
This is an umbrella term including all kinds of people who do not feel that they can comfortably place themselves within the gender binary of male/female, or whose gender identify is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The process of identifying ones gender and undertaking changes that allows living in a way that is more congruent with one’s preferred gender. For some, this means dressing differently, voice changes, changes in appearance, hormone therapy, any form of gender affirming surgery (not necessarily involving the genitals).
The terms and labels that we use to describe our sex, gender and sexuality are complex and can be confusing at the best of times. Many transgender people, especially younger individuals, express a lot of confusion and distress about working out why they feel different and what it means. Often, transgender individuals express frustration over being misunderstood because they are different from their peers. A female-to-male transgender person may be mislabelled as a tomboy or a lesbian. Likewise, a male-to-female transgender individual may be mislabelled as being gay by friends and family. Some transgender young people are told that it is “just their hormones” playing tricks on them or that they are going through “a phase”.
This sort of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge is unfortunately common in todays’ society, which makes it difficult for a person to work out their gender identity. Many transgender people experience being harassed made fun of, excluded and other forms of bullying by peers and others. Understandably, these experiences can be extremely distressing and cause feelings of anxiety, shame and lead to isolation from family members and significant others. Sometimes fears around being rejected by family and peers can lead to delaying seeking support.
For some transgender individuals, the journey of affirming their gender identity means transitioning into their preferred gender. This may include dressing differently, growing/cutting hair, changing voice, breast binding, hormone therapy and surgery. Others may feel that identifying as transsexual feels most congruent with who they are. Some individuals choose to live as their preferred gender in society but are not interested in neither surgery nor hormone therapy. Every person’s transitioning journey is different from the other and most importantly, there are no hard and fast rules about how to start or where to end your journey. Nevertheless, having frequent conversations with someone whom you can trust to explore your identity and preferences with is recommended and will help you feel more confident about your decisions.
If you are wondering about being transgender, or if you know that you are transgender and don’t know how to tell people, speaking to a counsellor who is familiar with these issues may help you feel supported and safe to explore your options. Similarly, if you know of someone who is transgender and you need support around their transitioning, speaking to a counsellor could help you get the support you need and work out how you can best support that person.
If you would like to learn more about Beign Transgender or would like to make an appointment please contact us