Maybe you just found out that I’m transgender. You probably have some questions. That’s understandable; I had a lot of them, too. To try to help you get started, I’ve answered a lot of the questions I often get when someone finds out that I’m transgender (click on the question to expand my answer).
What does “transgender” mean?
It’s pretty simple, really: a transgender person’s sense of their own gender doesn’t align with their assigned gender. A person’s assigned gender is the one they are given at birth – when someone says “It’s a boy!”/”It’s a girl!”.
Recent research has concluded that about 0.6% of the population is transgender, which means about 1.4 million people in the United States alone; very likely there are even more people who had not yet realized or were afraid to reveal being transgender.
Anecdotally, the ratio of transgender people who feel they are women and the people who feel they are men are roughly the same (around 30% each), with the remaining 40% feeling that they are a mixture of both masculine and feminine, or, don’t identify strongly with either man or woman – a common term for a person like this is “non-binary”.
While the topic of gender can be fascinating (as well as difficult to understand), I can’t really get into this topic here, so I’d recommend visiting these resources:
What causes people to be transgender?
The truth is, we really don’t know. There are lots of theories with varying degrees of evidence to support them. Among the most common theories involves a series of hormonal washes which have different effects on the brain and body development of a fetus, depending on the fetus’ current stage of development. Reputable studies have shown that being transgender is similar to being homosexual in that neither is a choice.
For me, it doesn’t really matter what the cause was/is. My gender just is; no amount of trying to make it be *something else* has worked. Just like eye color or height, it’s one of my traits.
Is there a word for people who aren’t transgender?
Yes, the word is cisgender. In Latin, trans- and cis- are prefixes meaning “across” and “same”, respectively. Cis- is pronounced “siss”. Chances are, if you’ve never seriously questioned your own gender, you’re cisgender.
So if you’re transgender, are you gay?
Transgender deals with gender identity, and gay (homosexuality) deals with sexual orientation. They’re completely separate things; one does not predict the other.
That said, transgender people and homosexual people often face the same issues because each are different from what our society has determined as “the norm”. As each group’s interests generally align quite closely, it makes sense that LGB and TQ+ people would work together. The history of LGBTQ+ rights is very interesting and is worth investigating if you want to find out more.
I’m so sorry to hear this!
Why? I’m not!
While many people see being transgender and transition as a negative thing, I don’t. Sure, the past months have been rough, full of confusion, questions, doubts, grief, and challenges, but it is also a period where I’ve been able to resolve lifelong pain, drop pretenses of being someone just because it was expected of me, (re)discover long dormant interests and traits, and most of all, just coming to know and understand myself on a level that I believe that few people take the time or effort to do. I know myself better than I ever have before, and have learned tools which will allow me to not only continue this discovery, but allow me to make positive changes in my own and in other people’s lives.
As a friend pointed out to me a while back, being transgender and transitioning is a blessing; how many people get to make choices about who they really are? I have the opportunity to reevaluate every aspect of myself and discard the parts which I find don’t fit me. I’m in a process of self-improvement where everything is up for grabs, and I can become the best version of myself. While most people develop their personalities in childhood (and sometimes get stuck with less desirable personality traits), I have the benefit of a lifetime of experience and essentially a blank slate.
Finally, transitioning has given me a hope that I’d missed for a long time. I see a bright future with me in it.
Why are you coming out?
I’m coming out because it takes a certain amount of mental and emotional energy to maintain the persona I have used for most of my life. I have transitioned socially in some places, which has allowed me to reclaim some of that energy to be used elsewhere in my life. By coming out everywhere, I no longer need to maintain a persona; I can be honest, I can be genuine, I can be myself.
Also, this information is bound to get out eventually, so by coming out now, I get to tell you the real story, and not something that’s been convoluted as it worked through the grapevine.
Why are you choosing to become a woman?
There are two problems with this question.
First, I’m not choosing anything. This is how I was made. If you want to have a conversation about why you think this is a choice, I’m happy to talk. But first, please ask yourself “who would ever choose to be this way? Who would willingly risk their relationships, their job, their financial security, and their life to be this way?”
Second, I’m not becoming anything. I was born a woman. I was assigned the wrong gender when I was born (I don’t remember anybody asking me at the time). The world reinforced the mistake made at my birth to the point where I learned that I couldn’t even question it. It’s taken me until now to undo those lessons and discover the truth: I am a woman. What I’ve become is aware of that fact.
How did you choose your name?
I looked for names that I felt a connection with. I wanted a name which is common enough that there would be few problems with spelling and pronunciation, without being too common. I didn’t want a name which might be associated with preconceived notions or polarizing figures.
My spouse and I went over many (so many) lists of names and narrowed them down to a few choices. We discussed them with other family members, and ultimately decided on my new name because we felt that it suited me. That I keep the same initials is a nice plus.
What if I use your old name/pronouns?
Don’t worry! I know it’s going to happen, and I’m not going to get upset if it’s an honest mistake. Heck, I still use the wrong name for myself occasionally. But should it happen, here’s what to do:
1. Apologize (a quick “I’m sorry” is all that’s needed)
2. Use the correct name/pronoun for what you had been saying
3. Don’t look back. Move on. Don’t dwell.
I really appreciate you doing your best with using the right name and pronouns – I means a lot to me! Just keep trying, and we’ll all get there, I promise.
What are you doing about being transgender?
This is another topic which could take weeks to fully cover, so I’ll try to keep it brief.
Transitioning can mean so many things, and it looks different for each person who does it. Here are some of the more common aspects of transition:
- Medical Transition: This is probably one of the ones people spend the most time thinking/talking about, while at the same time, none of their business. Medical transition *can* (but does not necessarily) include taking hormones, removing facial/body hair, and may also involve a number of surgical procedures to alter the body’s appearance to more closely resemble commonly accepted ideals about women’s and men’s bodies.
- Social Transition: This is changing the way a transgender person interacts with others in their life. This can include using a different name, using different pronouns, wearing clothes more typically associated with the person’s true gender, voice training, haircut/hairstyle, use of cosmetics, etc. Basically, anything which involves the way you interact with other people, and (non-medical) physical cues which others use to guess at a person’s gender. This is the part of my transition you are seeing now – I’m using a different name and pronouns.
- Legal Transition: This involves the adjustment of legal designations associated with a person. This can include legally changing a name, updating the name and gender markers for drivers licenses, passports, social security, and even birth certificates.
The takeaway is that for each transgender person, they may or may not transition, and they may transition in all aspects (medical, social and legal), or just one or a few of them. Every person has different needs for their own transition.
How did you figure this out?
How much time do we have? Boiling it down, I’ve always been this way; I’ve always felt something was different for me, but I learned very early in life that what I felt was something to never ever share, and that it’s just better if the feelings don’t exist. And for most of my life, I worked hard to make sure those feelings didn’t exist – I couldn’t allow it. Fast forward recent times, and my ability to quash my feelings was diminishing. Finally, something in me broke and I could no longer deny what I was feeling.
It took a lot of self-reflection, research, writing, analysis, and consulting with experts to understand and accept that I am transgender. I fought valiantly to not be transgender, but this isn’t something you can beat. The best (and perhaps only) cure for gender dysphoria is transition. Humans aren’t very good at understanding our own brains, much less modifying them, but we can more easily modify everything outside of our brains. Once I realized all of this, my path was clear.
That’s the quick explanation – the whole story would take weeks to tell.
Why are you transitioning?
Similar to my answer for why I’m coming out, it is an energy drain for my gender and my presentation, my expression, and my body to be incongruent. Even more, this gender incongruence can be very uncomfortable or even painful – both physically and mentally. By transitioning, I am working to align my whole self with my gender, and by doing so, addressing that discomfort and pain.
Which restroom will you use?
Really? This tired old topic? Why does everyone seem so interested in how I empty my bladder? Is that healthy?
Ok, fine, I’ll tell you which restroom I use: I use the restroom with working plumbing.
All I want to do is take care of my excretory needs and get back to what I was doing before. I promise! That’s all any transgender person wants.
Are you going to have the… you know… surgery?
My medical status is between my doctors, my spouse, and me. I am taking appropriate steps to align my body with my gender. I am following WPATH Standards of Care as I transition; these are the widely accepted standards for treatment of gender dysphoria. I have assembled a team of experienced professionals to help me through transition. I have actually never been healthier in my life!
Society and the Media
Are you doing this because you wanted to be trendy?
No, I’m doing this because it is necessary. I am living a more genuine life.
While today’s youth enjoy more freedom from gender roles than ever before, I don’t know a single person who is transgender because they’re following a trend. The much more common story is that the person tried to not be transgender (often for a long time).
I understand what you’re going through – I’ve seen (insert TV show or movie name).
Chances are, whatever you’ve seen in the media doesn’t do a good job of representing transgender people; in fact, it more likely did a horrible job of it. Most transgender people are just regular people – just like anyone else you might interact with in your daily life. More than likely, you’ve met a transgender person and never realized it, because they were just a regular person in every way that mattered to you in your interaction.
I’d recommend being wary of portrayals where the actor is not transgender in real life. Amazon’s Transparent does alright, but misses the mark in a lot of ways. 2016’s film The Assignment used Gender Confirmation Surgery as a core plot point – a punishment – this reinforces the notion that being a woman is a punishment. Films like Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire use cross dressing for comedy relief (and have nothing to do with transgender experiences).
Then are there any good portrayals of transgender people in the media?
Video: For fiction, I’d recommend videos like Netflix’ Sense8, FX network’s Pose or the independent YouTube series Her Story. For non-fiction, I’d recommend National Geographic’s Gender Revolution: a Journey with Katie Couric, and Freeform’s Becoming Us
Books: There are a number of great non-fiction books, like Sarah McBride’s memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different, She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. From what I understand, there are a number of great fiction books, if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll share the ones I’ve heard of (I haven’t read them).
How do you know you’re a woman?
Well, how do you know you’re the gender you are?
What does being a woman even mean?
What makes a woman a woman?
Chromosomes? That’s not reliable; there’s a medical condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) in which someone with XY chromosomes (and the testosterone that typically comes with them) is unable to respond to testosterone. They are born with apparently female genitals, and follow typically feminine milestones as they grow up.
Genitals? Again, there are people who defy this definition. Guevedoces in a Dominican Republic village called Salinas spend their first 12 or so years apparently as girls, but at puberty, grow male genitals. This is caused by a genetic disorder called 5α-Reductase deficiency which results in a missing enzyme which prevents the production of a specific form of testosterone in the womb. At puberty, the sudden increase in testosterone causes their bodies to change significantly.
Capability to produce offspring? Many cisgender men and women are infertile for a variety of reasons. Does their infertility make them any less of a man or woman?
For me, It’s hard to put into words. I was never comfortable being lumped in with the boys, and was always more comfortable around girls. But it’s so much more than that. It is a strong feeling that I am a woman, regardless of what my body reflects. It’s a sense that I was meant to have been born in a different body, and of having missed out on a significant part of my life because I wasn’t. And now that I’m transitioning, the variety of experiences I’ve had have reinforced my conviction that my assessment of my gender is correct.
You just didn’t get enough ____ when you were growing up…
The reality is that I had a great childhood. I had no major traumas, had all my basic needs met and then some. I had access to the typical stuff most of my peers had, and my parents loved and supported me in anything I did.
It wasn’t because I didn’t play sports (I played soccer for a few seasons), or because I didn’t have a good male role model (my father is one of the greatest role models in the world). It wasn’t because I played with dolls (I don’t remember ever playing with dolls) or because my sister dressed me in girls’ clothing (ok, that did happen… once… but that isn’t why).
My childhood was good. I wasn’t unhappy. But something was off; something was different. I’d felt this difference from the start, but at that time I lacked the skills to communicate it. By the time I developed the skills, I’d learned that the ways that I felt different weren’t ways that I was supposed to feel, and that it was better if I didn’t feel that way; my subconscious took over and repressed feelings and memories which would have led me to say something back then. Anytime anything did bubble up to the surface, I felt immense shame and fear – learned responses from early childhood – and I actively suppressed whatever had come up.
And while we’re on this, I want to make sure to say that I have (and have had) a good life. I have a loving wife and daughter; the education, skills, and opportunities which allow me to provide for my family; and have had some amazing experiences and made some wonderful friends. I’m very blessed. I’m happy with my life – I was just not happy with my self. Inside of myself, I’ve been in turmoil because my gender didn’t match my body.
Putting it another way (and revisiting an earlier question (“why are you transitioning?), let me pose another question: With everything in my life so wonderful and with me so blessed, why would I risk it all by coming out as transgender? The only logical answer is because I must.
I feel icky about transgender people
I get it. It can be uncomfortable to think about someone changing their gender. We want to feel secure that we know the important things about the people we interact with, and this feels like some kind of weird thing that you don’t have any control over. Perhaps you even feel like you were deceived. Maybe you just can’t stop thinking about what body parts are changing, and how they’re being changed. Maybe you’ve never met a transgender person before and this is all kind of scary.
Here’s one approach: remember that at my core, I’m still the same person you’ve always known. What’s changing is my name, my pronouns, and my body. For some of you, we’ve never even seen pictures of each other, and some others haven’t met me face-to-face. The next time we interact, I hope you will quickly find that my gender doesn’t make any difference.
Also, my gender isn’t changing. What’s changing is my conformance to nebulous and arbitrary gender roles and standards dictated by society. And my name and pronouns, too… Please don’t forget those – they’re important to me. I’ve worked really hard for them.
But my religion says ____…
Really, I mean it!
I’m glad you have beliefs, and that you feel comfortable enough to share them with me. I have beliefs too, and if you’d like, I’ll be happy to share them with you… at an appropriate time and in an appropriate place.
I enjoy discussions about religions and beliefs, as long as we all treat each other respectfully. Since figuring out I am transgender, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my personal values, and my limits, and I’m not shy to assert them. One of my values is that I will not knowingly participate in activities and speech which are intended to make fun of or hurt others. And one of my limits is that I cannot abide disrespect – either of myself or of other people (regardless of whether they are present).
Isn’t it great that we live in a world where we are all mature and able to set aside our differences to get along?
So you couldn’t hack it as a man, huh?
It isn’t that I couldn’t “hack it”, it’s that I no longer have any interest in hacking it.
It’s hard to be a woman! No joke! We treat women poorly in our society. If I were taking the easy way out, I’d be a man.
Are you mentally ill?
Both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association clearly state that being transgender is not in and of itself a mental illness. The dysphoria which sometimes accompanies gender incongruence might reach a level which causes a person significant distress, at which point, a clinical diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria may be appropriate. But again, even that doesn’t equate to mental illness.
Mental illness (especially depression and anxiety) may be more common amongst transgender people, but it is more likely related to the stigmatization and discrimination transgender people face.
What can I do to support you?
Thank you so much for being here for me! I really appreciate it!
For me personally, the best things you can do are to use my correct name and pronouns (she/her), and just be respectful of my family’s privacy.
If you know my spouse, please be there for her, too. She has been amazing for me, and I know it hasn’t been easy for her. I love her with all my heart, and I want the best for her.
If you’re so inclined, you can support me by being there for me and others like me:
Learn about trans issues (I have linked to some great resources below). When you meet someone new, automatically offer your pronouns (“Hi, I’m [name], and I use ‘she/her’.”) and ask theirs; while it may feel awkward at first, before long, you’ll see a look of relief on a stranger’s face when they realize it’s safe for them to ask for the correct pronouns. For non-cisgender people, names and pronouns really matter, and hearing others use the correct ones can make a huge difference in somebody’s day/life.
Spread kindness. It’s a good idea to be kind to everyone, but trans people are particularly at-risk for depression and anxiety. Showing kindness to someone who might not fit in can change their life – I’ve heard and read many accounts from people who were on the verge of making bad decisions because they couldn’t see any value in themselves, but because of somebody’s kindness, they didn’t follow through. Kindness literally saves lives!
If you hear of legislation designed to restrict transgender people (bathroom bills, laws defining gender to only be that which is assigned at birth, etc), speak up! Tell your representatives that this legislation will hurt people you love and to vote against legislation built on fear and hate.
If you see someone being picked on, stand up for them – let the bullies know they’re wrong. If you see a trans person nervous to use a public restroom matching their true gender, subtly offer to accompany them (if you’re of the same gender).
Consider giving to organizations which support LGBTQ+ people (especially youth!). Chances are good that there’s a local organization who could put your time, service, resources, and maybe even money, to very good use!
Is there anything else I should know?
Yes. Just because I’m changing my name and pronouns, I’m not trying to erase my past. That stuff happened. But when referring to something from the past, please try to use my new name and pronouns to refer to me. This will help people who don’t yet know me – they won’t be confused by hearing a mixture of names and pronouns to describe me.
Also, please be respectful of my family’s and my privacy. If there’s not a genuine need for someone to be told about my history/status, please don’t share it. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be transgender, but I don’t think that it is the most interesting thing about me.
Finally, the word “transgender” is an adjective (like “tall”, “smart”, or “beautiful”) – it modifies a noun. It is poor grammar to use an adjective as a noun; if you said “Talls need to watch their heads around low hanging tree branches”, your elementary school teachers would be very disappointed in you. So please don’t say things like “Transgenders are strange”, but instead, say “Transgender people are awesome” ← because we are!
What if I have more questions?
If you’re comfortable asking me, please do! I’ve found that in the process of answering other’s questions, I often come away learning something, too. So please, feel free to ask, and don’t worry about asking or saying anything wrong. While I’ll do my best to answer you, please know that for some questions, my answer might be either “I don’t know” or “I’m not comfortable sharing that”.
If you don’t feel comfortable approaching me:
• Ask your question in the comments section below. You don’t have to use your real name or give any personal information.
• Please reach out to one of my siblings (if you know them). They can confidentially ask your question on your behalf and relay my reply back to you.
• While you can certainly use Google to try to get answers to questions, I’d recommend a bit of skepticism when taking that approach. There are many people/groups pushing specific agendas, and, while they may be well written, some articles use flawed data, studies, and logic to justify their agenda.
Also, please remember that each transgender person’s experience and journey is different from the next. There are some similarities and commonalities which appear when you listen to lots of peoples’ stories, but even those cannot be used to generalize about other transgender people.
Medium: And I Do Mean All My Life – This is another person’s coming-out letter. I resonate very strongly with most of what she says.
Genderspectrum: Understanding Gender
National Center for Transgender Equality: FAQs about Transgender People
HRC: Resources for People with Transgender Family Members
Harvard Business Review: What to Do When Your Colleague Comes Out as Transgender
Transvivor.com – A Transgender Resource for All
Buzzfeed: 10 Questions It’s Never OK to Ask a Transgender Person
entirely amelia: Trans 101: How to refer to a trans person’s past
Leave a Reply