Transgender

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An activist at a transgender rally in Paris, 2005

Transgender is a term used to describe people who may act, feel, think, or look different from the gender that they were assigned by society based on their sex. The word transgender is used to include many groups of people who share one important "trait" (a way of feeling or behaving) but may not be the same in other ways. The common trait for transgender people is that they call themselves "transgender" and feel that their given gender is not quite right. Sometimes the word "transgender" is also used by people who prefer it to the word "transsexual".

The picture in the introduction shows, as an example, a person at a transgender rally in Paris. This person identifies herself as being of the female gender, but she shows by the sign on her hand that she has XY chromosomes. This means she was born with male sex organs.

Definitions[change | change source]

This boy, painted by Makovski in 1869, is not fitting the "gender binary" pattern. (See definition)

Because the word "transgender" is used to cover a wide variety of people, it is called an "umbrella" word. Many different types of people think of themselves as "transgender". Many different types of people are called "transgender". Different English speakers define words in different ways. For these reasons, the term "trans people" is often used.

Some common definitions of the words used in this article are listed here. These are common ways but not agreed to by everyone:

  • Sex means whether someone was born with a male or female body.
  • Gender means whether a role or way someone acts is masculine or feminine, though it can also mean neither masculine nor feminine.
  • Gender identity is a person's sense in their mind of whether they are a man or a woman or something else.
  • Binary or "Gender Binary" is the common idea that there are only two groups a person can belong in: male or female. The "Gender Binary" idea also means that thoughts and actions can be classified as "male or female". For example, if a male child wants a doll, he might be told that he is "acting like a girl". If a female child climbs a tree, she is called a "tomboy". Nowadays, in many societies it is considered wrong to force children into traditional gender roles.

These definitions are important to help understand that what people look like outside (sex) is not always the same as how they feel inside (gender.) Some people do not fit well into the gender binary idea. People who are transgender should be called by the pronoun (he or she, among others) that matches their gender identity, so this article will do that.

Who is transgender?[change | change source]

There are many groups who are included under the term transgender. Some of the bigger groups are:

The artist Marcel Duchamp photographed by the artist Man Ray
  • Transsexual – is another term for transgender. Many do not like this term.
  • FTM (acronym)– means 'female-to-male.' It is someone who was born in a female body but identifies as male. An FTM person is also sometimes called a transgender man, a transsexual man, or a trans man.
  • MTF – means 'male-to-female.' It is someone who was born in a male body but identifies as female. An MTF person is also sometimes called a transgender woman, a transsexual woman, or a trans woman.
  • Transvestite – is someone who is born one sex but likes to sometimes wear the clothes and act like the other sex. Also known as "cross-dresser".


The following do not fall under the definition of transgender:

  • Intersex - is a medical word for people who are born with both some male and some female biological traits.


The following may or may not personally identify as transgender:

  • Genderqueer – is someone who rejects the whole idea of a gender binary and may identify as a number of varied gender terms.

History[change | change source]

It is believed that the 19th century Military Surgeon James Barry was born a woman but spent his entire adult life as a man.

People like those who, in modern Western societies, are now identified as transgender or transsexual, have been documented in many cultures and for thousands of years. However, only in the last century have science and medicine been able to meet some of the needs for bodily change of trans people who want to change their body.

People who have traits that are different from the gender they are born with, have been accepted in some societies, both historically and now. For example, some Native American tribes accepted two-spirit people[source?]. Similarly a Tongan person born with a male body who acts and dresses in a female way is known in the local dialect as a "fakaleiti".[source?]

The "hijra" in India are born physically male, but live as women, including dressing and socializing as female. In the past they used to castrate themselves and even remove the penis in order to urinate through a small hole. Now, with the arrival of western medicine, many hijari choose to take hormone therapies and sometimes have surgery to change their physical gender. Many of these people still call themselves "hijari", but some now call themselves "transsexuals" or "transgender women". The role of hijari in society is complex and varied throughout all of India.

In Western Society, there have often been people who have chosen to act and dress in a way that was not gender specific, or was not that of the gender they were born with. This is not the same as being transgender. Cross dressing actors were very popular in the theatre of the late 19th century.

An example of a transgender person is the 19th century military surgeon who was known as James Barry. It is now believed that Barry was born female but disguised his sex all his adult life. Barry's work, which saved, and helped thousands of lives by improving treatment of wounds to stop amputations, would not have been possible, as a woman, because as a female he could never have attended medical school or entered the army.[1]

A 20th century example of a transgender person is Jan Morris, a geographer, explorer and journalist, who began life as James Morris. As "James", Morris married and had children, but felt female and eventually became Jan Morris.[2]

Issues[change | change source]

T and LGBT[change | change source]

Transgender people are not always accepted in every society. They can suffer discrimination, violence, and even murder. Transgender people have fought for and have gained many rights and protections in some societies. In many places the fight for transgender rights is associated with the fight for homosexual and bisexual rights. Together these groups are sometimes called by the acronym LGBT for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender especially since the Declaration of Montreal.

Unfortunately, like all political relationships, this is not always peaceful. Some transgender people do not want to be part of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. They may see themselves as 'straight' (heterosexual) and not feel like they belong with homosexual people. Some gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do not want to be part of the transgender community. They may see transgender people as strange or bad and worry that the rest of society will see homosexuals in that same way if transgender people are included in LGBT. However, homosexual and transgender people often have some of the same problems in society. So many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people try to work together to solve all of their problems.

Mental health[change | change source]

A 2012 study of British transgender people found that 84% had considered suicide. 55% had been diagnosed with depression. 33% had not been diagnosed with depression, but thought that they had it in the past or at the time of the survey. 46% of the people who had self harmed had self harmed every day at some time in their lives. 38% of the transgender people had been diagnosed with anxiety. 53% had self-harmed at some time in their lives. 44% had used antidepressants and 31% were using antidepressants. [3] A study of 164 Irish transgender people found that 80% per cent had considered killing themselves. 40% of those had attempted suicide at least once. 44% had hurt themselves on purpose[4].

Medical care[change | change source]

Transgender people who wish to take medicine and have surgery to change their bodies face several problems. In order to change their bodies, they must have doctors who are willing to help them and make the changes. They sometimes cannot do this because doctors will not help them. They may also not be able to do this because even if a doctor would treat them, they may not be able to afford the medicine or surgery. But the Declaration of Montreal affirms that such medical care be provided for them by public health insurance.

Disease versus difference[change | change source]

Many transgender people do not like being labeled as having a disease, gender identity disorder, even though it is an accepted diagnosis and a medical condition that can only be treated with medicine, surgery, or therapy. In some places, the government labels being transgender a disease. The Principle 18 of the Yogyakarta Principles disagrees with such medical classifications.[5]

However, many transgender people depend on this diagnosis. Some people can only get medical and surgical treatment paid for by their government if it is to "treat a disease," so if it is not considered a disease, they will not get the medicines and surgery they need. Also, some laws protect transgender people from transphobia and discrimination. In places that do not have these laws, transgender people may only be protected under laws that protect people with diseases or disabilities, so their condition needs to be labeled one of these.

Doctors do not agree on one way of viewing being transgender. Some doctors view the condition as a birth defect that can easily be fixed, others may not even recognize being transgender as a medical condition.

This argument still goes on in both the transgender community and in the medical community that treats them.

Violence[change | change source]

About 50% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted.[6]

Legal problems[change | change source]

Transgender people have problems with laws and regulations about sex. To be seen and treated as the sex they wish, transgender people usually have to change their first name. They also may want to change their identity documents to say the correct sex. For example, a transgender woman may wish to change her birth certificate or driving license to say her new female name and to say that she is a female.

These changes can protect transgender people from discrimination. For example, transgender people often have difficulty traveling because their appearance does not match their identity papers. These changes can also be necessary for transgender people to be allowed to marry their spouses in places where it is illegal for homosexual people to marry. These changes can even protect transgender people from a wide variety of violence. Some transgender people are only recognized when their documents reveal them. Being revealed as transgender can put people in danger because of transphobia (fear and misunderstanding of transgender people).

Unfortunately, in many places this is hard or impossible for transgender people to change their identity documents, with or without undergoing genital surgery, which is required in many places, contrary to the definition of the Yogyakarta Principles.[7] This is changing, however. Recently the United Kingdom passed the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. This act allows people to have their change of sex officially recognized without surgery. Once changed, they have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of their new gender.

References[change | change source]

  1. Dr James Barry, "A Strange Story", excerpt from "The Manchester Guardian" of 21st August 1865, accessed October 10 2008
  2. Jan Morris' biography
  3. http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/trans_mh_study.pdf
  4. http://teni.ie/news-post.aspx?contentid=970
  5. Yogyakarta Principles, Principle 18. The Protection from Medical Abuse
  6. http://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=x1nHMj8AAAAJ&citation_for_view=x1nHMj8AAAAJ:ULOm3_A8WrAC
  7. Yogyakarta Principles, Principle 3 .The Right to Recognition before the Law

Other websites[change | change source]