Transgender - The facts

With the rise of transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, it seems that people are becoming more aware of trans persons. However, despite this, it is easy to be ignorant towards others when you don’t understand who they are and how they are different. As the world is becoming more accepting of different lifestyles and identities, it’s time to become educated in how to be more respectful and understanding.

What is transgender?

Transgender is a term which represents people whose gender identity or gender expression is different to the sex that they are assigned at birth. Much like sexual orientation, you cannot change gender identity. Rather, transgender persons choose to modify their bodies in order to match their gender identity. This can be hormonally, surgically or physically through clothing. But any medical procedure does not ultimately ‘make’ a transgender person. Transgender also includes other terms such as transsexual, genderqueer, gender fluid and non-binary.

How long has transgender history existed?

Transgender history dates back further than many people realise. In ancient history from Native America, Asia and Europe, there is evidence of transgender persons and cults practising activities such as dressing in the opposite gender’s clothes, and males removing their genitalia and taking on roles that are traditionally done by members of the opposite sex. It was only in 1965 that the term ‘transgender’ was coined by a psychiatrist named John F. Oliven.

Transgender and sexual orientation

Contrary to popular belief, transgender and sexual orientation are not the same thing, and ultimately do not correspond with each other. Being a trans person is to do with gender identity- your internal and personal awareness of being male or female, or being outside of gender binary completely. Sexual orientation is regarding attraction to another person. The sexual orientation of transgender persons can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or asexual, just like the sexual orientation of cisgendered persons.

Transgender and pronouns

It’s important to ask a trans person what pronouns they use to identify themselves. It’s impossible to know what someone’s pronouns are just by what they look like. Some people will identify as he or she and use gender-specific pronouns, such as he/him/his or she/her/hers. Alternatively, some trans persons use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them/their because they feel these pronouns better describe them. The importance of using the correct pronouns lies in respect; using an incorrect pronoun when you already know their preferred pronouns or haven’t asked can be seen as disrespectful and repressive.

We are all people

As humans in an ever-changing world, we have a responsibility to be understanding and learn about people that are different to ourselves, no matter who we are. Transgender people are not all the same and being transgender does not define who they are. To learn more, read some of the resources that can be found on the LGBT foundation site and others like it.