FAQ & Glossary

question_markFAQ:myth_truths

Myth: Being transgender is a choice (or gay/lesbian for that matter).

Fact: Transsexuals do not choose to be transsexuals, just as no one can decide their own gender.  More scientific evidence from research looking at biological causes, such as differences in the human brain and genetic factors, are showing this is determined at birth.

Myth: Youth are not old enough to know their gender identity; they are identifying as transgender just to be trendy.

Fact: Because of greater awareness about gender and transgender issues, more and more young people are becoming empowered to express their identity at young ages.   Identifying as transgender brings with it challenge and often discrimination.  It is not something people do to be cool or due to lack of attention.  Like in many other areas of life, some students may be exploring their gender expressions and the labels they use to describe themselves.  Such exploration is a normal part of adolescent development.

Myth: Transgender people deceive others about what their “true” gender is.

Fact: Transgender people are not deceiving others by expressing their gender identity.   For example, when a student transitions from male to female, she is expressing her true self to the world.  She deserves to be recognized and respected like any other girl should be.

Myth: Transgender women are not “real” women and transgender men are not “real” men.

Fact: Peopleʼs “true” gender is not defined by the sex they were assigned at birth.  Our true gender is based on our gender identity.  When a person who is transgender expresses an identity different from the one they were assigned at birth, the gender they are expressing IS their REAL gender.

Myth: Transgender and gender non-conforming students are actually gay.

Fact: Sexual orientation and gender identity are different.  A personʼs sexual orientation is related to whether the person is romantically attracted to men, women, or both. Gender identity, on the other hand, is about the personʼs own internal identification as male, female, or a gender in between male and female.  Just like cisgender people, transgender people can be of any sexual orientation.

Myth: Itʼs okay to make fun of girls who are too masculine and boys who are too effeminate because that is just harmless teasing.

Fact: Teasing is never harmless, particularly regarding gender stereotypes.  Gender non-conforming youth are often very clear about their gender identity.  Their appearance or expression may seem confusing, but that is only because it doesn’t fit into stereotypes we have about gender.

OTHER MYTHS:

All transsexuals need to have gender reassignment surgery.

Psychotherapy can cure transsexualism.

Transsexualism is a mental illness.

Transition means you’re going to get your penis cut off.

“It’s a trap” / Trans women are just gay guys trying to attract straight dudes. (Dangerous in that a great many trans women have lost their lives to sexual partners who felt they were “tricked”).

We want to sleep with you.

You can spot us a mile away.

One is the male, one is the female.

We can’t have children.

We can’t be monogamous.

We’re all into leather or feathers.

We want to convert your children or recruit adults.

We hate the opposite sex.

We had a bad relationship with the opposite sex and hence are the way we are.

We don’t have long term relationships.

We had overbearing mothers and undercaring fathers.

We’re not entitled to equal rights.

We are all alike.

Our lives are tragic stories.

We’re all promiscuous.

We can change.

It’s just a phase.

We’re pedophiles.

We just haven’t met the right man/woman yet.

The only thing that makes us different is what we do in bed.

We flaunt our sexuality.

We’re the cause of AIDS.

                   glossary

GLOSSARY:

GENERAL GENDER/SEXUALITY TERMINOLOGY

Sex: The classification of people as male or female.  At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitals.

Gender Identity: One’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman, or a boy or a girl.  (For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.  Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.)

Sexual Orientation: Describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person.  Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same.  Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual.  For example, a man who transitions from male to female and is attracted to other women would be identified as a lesbian or a gay woman.

TRANSGENDER-SPECIFIC TERMINOLOGY

Transgender: An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.  The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people.  Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF).  Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual.  Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transsexual: An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. While some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves, many transgender people prefer the term transgender to transsexual.  Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, as many transgender people do not identify as transsexual.  It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

Female to Male (FTM): A person who transitions from “female-to-male,” meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a male. Also known as a “transgender man.”

Male to Female (MTF): A person who transitions from “male-to-female,” meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and lives as a female. Also known as a “transgender woman.”

Gender Expression (Presentation): External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine,” “feminine” or gender-variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics.  Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.

Cisgendered : An obscure term for non-trans people, meaning that someone’s body and gender identity match, where an individual’s self-perception and presentation of their gender matches the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s birth sex.

Cross-Dressing/Cross-dresser: To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex.  Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it.  “Cross-dresser” should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex or who intends to do so in the future.   Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity.  Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation.

Transvestite (Derogatory): A term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory by many. (see Cross-Dressing)

Queer: A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender people.  Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a sense of gender.  Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.

Genderqueer: A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.

Gender Non-conforming: A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

Bi-gendered: One who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female.

Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

Drag Queen: generally used to refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.  It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.  (Drag King: used to refer to women who dress as men)

Gender Identity Disorder (GID): A controversial DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender- variant people. Because it labels people as “disordered,” Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive.  The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don’t conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play or behavior.  Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and/or institutionalization.  Replaces the outdated term “gender dysphoria.”

Intersex: Describing a person whose biological sex is ambiguous.  There are many genetic, hormonal or anatomical variations that make a person’s sex ambiguous (e.g., Klinefelter’s Syndrome).  Parents and medical professionals usually assign intersex infants a sex and perform surgical operations to conform the infant’s body to that assignment.  This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults speak out against the practice.  The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for transgender.

Transition: The period during which a person begins to live as their self identified (new) gender.  Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step process; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time.  Transition includes some or all of the following personal, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more forms of surgery to reflect their new gender presentation.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition (see Transition above).  Preferred term to “sex change operation.”  Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS.

FFS: Facial feminization surgery.

Clock (verb): To be recognized as transgender. (e.g., “I just got clocked by that person sitting over there.”)                                                                                 

Passing: A term used by transgender people to mean that they are seen as the gender with which they self-identify.  For example, a transgender man (born female) who most people see as a man.

Stealth: Someone whose trans status is not known by anyone they interact with on a daily basis, especially a sex partner.

Trans-phobia: The fear and hatred of transgender people.  Many transgender people deal with this themselves, called “internalized trans-phobia,” and it’s highly connected to one’s inner critic.

Internalized trans-phobia**: refers to feelings some people have inside about their being trans that they might not even be aware of.  It refers to how some people hate that part of themselves and are ashamed of it.  The phrase comes from the similar experiences of gay folk who sometimes have “internalized homo-phobia”.

Biological Real/Genetic/Natal Girl : A very loaded term used to describe cisgendered women.  Considered highly offensive.  Considered derogatory by transwomen who feel that chromosomes are not the defining characteristic for womanhood.  Some do not consider these preferred terms, because it implies a trans person has no biological basis for identifying as female.

Admirer/Chaser: Someone who is attracted to transgender people.  Used to describe someone whose sexual orientation leans towards people who are gender-different, and who may be attracted to such a person based on their combination of sex characteristics, or is attracted to the very essence of gender in that person, regardless of their combination of genitals or secondary sexual characteristics.

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**I wanted to reference a great article written by A.B. Kaplan about Internalized Trans-Phobia since it’s such an important issue for transgender people.

Internalized Trans-Phobia
by A.B. Kaplan on March 25, 2011

I recently wrote a short section on “internalized trans-phobia” for a forthcoming book.  So I thought I’d share it here.  (Note it’s aimed at a somewhat young audience).

What is it and how do you get it?

Internalized trans-phobia refers to feelings some people have inside about their being trans that they might not even be aware of.  It refers to how some people hate that part of themselves and are ashamed of it.  The phrase comes from the similar experiences of gay folk who sometimes have “internalized homo-phobia”.

How does this happen?  This happens because of discrimination, ignorance and stigma in society against people who display gender non-conforming behavior.  In other words against men and boys who appear feminine or girls and woman who appear masculine or “butch” or people who are more gender-queer and don’t appear to be completely male or female.

Historically, trans-folk have been the butt of jokes, been made fun of, laughed at, been misunderstood and have been the object of derision and violence.  Transgendered people have been seen as “less than”.

This attitude has been widespread and so to finally arrive at the idea that this could be you; that you could be a member of this hated group can be very scary.  Not only that, but by growing up in a culture and society where this attitude is common, you take it in and part of you believes it whether you want to or not. This can happen because we often learn the attitudes and beliefs of those around us before we become self-aware enough or wise enough to start questioning them.  We often learn these things from trusted people around us – parents, teachers, church leaders, etc.  so that we tend not to question them.  We learn that a certain group of people can be mocked before we know that we are in that group – and then we are stuck in the position of hating something about ourselves.

Sometimes the messages or feedback we get from parents and teachers when we are very young contribute to feeling bad about being gender variant.  Like a parent disapproving of acting too “boyish” or “girlish”.  These messages can be very quick and subtle, like a Mother telling her young son not to “stand like a ballerina”.

This is what causes internalized trans-phobia.

What are the effects of Internalized Trans-Phobia?

Feelings of hate and shame for yourself which you might not even be aware of can result in low self-esteem and depression.  They can cause you to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and inferior, even unlovable.  They can make you feel like hiding a big part of yourself or pretend to be someone else.  They can make you to not want to be around people, to withdraw or be a loner.  These feelings can certainly make you feel very unhappy and angry.  Some people take a long time to come out as trans because they have so much internalized trans-phobia.  It can hold you back in life, not only in terms of finding a way to be the gender you are, but in many areas of your life such as forming deep and satisfying connections to others.

Sometimes internalized trans-phobia can keep you from connecting with other trans-folk.  When one has a deep hatred of the gender-queer inside it can get confusing to be around other trans-folk.  You may see them in the way you learned early on – as freaky, or not good-enough in some way.  The negative feelings can get pushed outward in this way.

What can you do about it?

The first thing to do is to try be aware of it.  Try and acknowledge it if you have it. This is hard to do because we usually automatically try to avoid things about ourselves that we are embarrassed about.  One can feel ashamed of being ashamed!  It gets complicated so it really helps to have a therapist who is knowledgeable about gender issues to do this work with, but a supportive friend or a support group can work too.  It helps to have lots of people in your life who are supportive and positive about your being trans.  It takes time to “undo” deep down beliefs about gender-variant people, just like it took time to get them.

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  1. Pingback: Choosing Self Validation Over a Contingency Based Friendship: A Letter of Self Love | Menopause Before Puberty: Thoughts and Discussions on Transgenderism, Sexuality, and Other Trans-Related Issues

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