When a child is born, a doctor says, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.”
Assigning someone’s sex is based on biology — chromosomes, anatomy, and hormones. But a person’s gender identity — the inner sense of being male, female, or both — doesn’t always match their biology. Transgender people say they were assigned a sex that isn’t true to who they are.
Many people have assumptions about what it means to be transgender, but it isn’t about surgery, or sexual orientation, or even how someone dresses. It’s how they feel inside.
People Transition to Be True to Themselves
When people make changes to match the way they feel inside, it’s called transitioning.
Deciding to Let Others Know Is Stressful
When transgender people tell others about their gender identities, it’s referred to as “coming out.” It’s an unveiling of truth, like telling someone your sexual orientation.
It’s a big step. There’s no way for a person to know how others will react.
Some people are supportive right away. Others may need time to process the news before they can understand how they feel about it. And some may never be accepting. It can come as a shock, and it’s a lot to take in, just as there’s a lot that goes into deciding to transition.
Transgenderism Isn’t a Mental Illness
Many trans people seek counseling, but being transgender isn’t a mental illness. Many trans people are depressed or anxious or become socially isolated, but often it’s the fear that loved ones will reject them (or have already done so) that bring those feelings.
For many, the decision to come out brings relief and pride.
Here are some tips to help you understand and communicate respectfully with someone who is transgender:
How to Offer Support
- You can’t tell someone is trans by looking.
- Don’t assume anything about their sexual orientation.
- If you don’t know what pronoun to use, ask them. (And if you make a mistake, just apologize.)
- Don’t ask what their “real name” or “birth name” is.
- Avoid backhanded compliments like “You look just like a real woman.”
- Don’t ask whether they plan to take hormones or have surgery.
How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?
We use the acronym LGBTQ to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community. The Q can also sometimes mean questioning.
Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual), while gender identity describes a person’s, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman, or someone outside of the gender binary.
Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about who you are.
Like everyone else, transgender people have a sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.
- Transgender Youth Equality Resources
- World Professional Association for Transgender Health