Op-Ed: Transgender Remains a Confusing Concept

Here is an excellent Op-Ed on gender identity and being trans. It was written for the general public which has limited or misleading information about trans identities. It was written by Brighid Kleinman, Jennifer L. Price and Cay Shawler of The Kentucky Psychological Foundation

Transgender Remains a Confusing Concept

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Laura Ungar did an excellent job in her recent article describing the psychological pain experienced by some transgender individuals.  Issues affecting transgender people are coming up frequently in the country as a whole and within Kentucky. In the past year, Kentucky has seen Atherton students protesting the state senate for transgender rights, University of Louisville students successfully advocating for transgender acceptance in the military, and a member of the LMPD coming out as transgender.  Yet despite the national and statewide attention to transgender issues, many Kentuckians remain confused about what it means to be transgender at a time where a clear understanding is critical.

Transgender, or “trans,” is an umbrella term that means a person’s gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. To understand gender identity, you need to know that sex and gender have different meanings. Sex refers to biological characteristics such as chromosomes or hormones that typically categorize a person as male or female. Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a culture associates with those biological categories. Gender identity, then, is one’s internal sense of gender.

About 1% of the population has a gender identity that does not match how other people see them. For example, perhaps a person feels very masculine but appears feminine to others. If that person was assigned a female sex at birth but considers himself male, that person might identify as a trans man. Conversely, a person who was assigned a male sex at birth but has a female gender identity might identify as a trans woman.  Some people have the sense that they don’t fit into either a male or female gender category; such people might identify as genderqueer, agender, or gender non-comforming (among other terms). It’s not important to have an in-depth understanding of each term; what is important is to recognize that each individual has an innate sense of who they are and what they choose to call themselves is their decision. These terms may have different meanings for different people; you might ask someone what their identity means to them personally.

On the subject of choice: people get to choose how to identify and what to call themselves. This is not the same as choosing their gender.  Biological and genetic research has shown that being trans is an identity a person is born with, not an identity that is chosen. A trans woman is not choosing to be trans: she is choosing to outwardly express herself as female so that people see her the way she sees herself. Some trans people may seek medical interventions to help them appear the way they feel internally, whereas others do not. Choosing surgery or other medical transition does make a person’s gender identity more or less real or valid.

We hope that having a better understanding of what it means to be transgender will help you support the trans people in your life. Unfortunately, as a group, trans people experience terrible discrimination and prejudice, as well as extremely high rates of depression, poverty, and homelessness. There are several easy ways to support trans people. First of all, don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender based on their appearance. You can ruin a trans man’s day – or worse– by calling him “ma’am.” Leave out the gender-based language altogether. Second, don’t ask intrusive questions. It’s never ok to ask anyone about their genitals, so just don’t do it. Finally, people are often confused about what names or pronouns to call a trans person. There is a simple answer for this question: call people what they call themselves. Taking these steps might feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but it’s a small price to pay in order to show acceptance and care for the trans people in our lives.

Brighid Kleinman, Ph.D., Louisville, KY

Public Education Committee Member, Kentucky Psychological Foundation

Jennifer L. Price, Ph.D., Georgetown, KY

Public Education Committee Chair, Kentucky Psychological Foundation

Cay Shawler, M.S., Danville, KY

President, Kentucky Psychological Foundation

The Kentucky Psychological Foundation’s mission includes educating the public on a broad range of health, mind-body, and behavioral topics in order to build a psychologically healthy Kentucky.

Read the original op-ed here at The Courier-Journal:
http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/08/24/transgender-remains-confusing-concept/31987397/

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About Fairy JerBear

A disabled, trans/agender fairy bear living in the American Southwest and passionate about social justice, the environment, Trans/ LGBTQIA+ equality and combating bullying.
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