Dispelling myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes
By Lauren Means
Note: This series is not meant to place labels. The purpose is to educate and to open up conversations among people. This is not all-inclusive in terms of questions, facts, or terminology. This is a starting point so we can all learn a little bit about each other and realize we are not so different after all.
“Are you sure you’re not just gay?”
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), transgender is a term for individuals whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender individuals transition in order to bring their physical bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Being transgender is not a sexual orientation. Someone simply transitioning from male to female (or vice versa) does not mean they are homosexual.
“So does that mean you are gay?”
Transgender is a gender identity – NOT a sexual orientation. Just like cisgender people, transgender people have a sexual orientation. YES, this means someone who is a transgender male can be gay (male who likes males), straight (male who likes females), bisexual (male who likes both males and females), etc. Transitioning does not automatically mean your partner’s preference will change too. A male who is attracted to males may still be attracted to males even after transitioning to female. Now instead of identifying as a gay cis-male, she may identify as a straight trans-female. Some people may not even identify as transgender after they transition. They could simply identify as straight, gay, bisexual, etc. How one self-identifies is a very personal decision and there is no requirement in disclosing how you identify.
“If you’re transitioning, is your spouse/significant other going to transition too?”
Just because one person in the relationship is experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean they both are experiencing it. Some relationships will last through a transition. Some do not. One person transitioning does not equate to both people having to transition. This is a conversation that the couple will have and is not something that is required to be open for public discussion.
“When will you have the surgery?”
Sex and gender are independent of each other. Sex, not gender, is assigned based on genitals. Gender is comprised of body, identity, and expression. Transgender individuals transition in order to bring their physical bodies into alignment with their gender identity. This can be accomplished with or without hormones (MTF or FTM) or gender reassignment surgeries (MTF or FTM). An individual does not have to take hormones or have a sex-reassignment surgery in order to transition. An individual can align their body with their gender identity through non-surgical and non-medical/social methods. Social transitioning consists of changing pronouns, changing presentation, and changing social behavior.
“Will you grow a penis?”
The correct answer is “No.” It is the same answer for “Will your penis turn into a vagina?” Even with taking hormones, that will not happen. If one chooses to transition surgically (MTF or FTM), they can choose to have a surgical procedure that will convert their genitalia to match their gender identity. Many doctors/surgeons require hormone replacement therapy to be used in conjunction with reassignment surgery.
“What if you change your mind?”
It’s not a decision that one just up and decides to change genders/sex. Gender dysphoria is real. Transitioning is not something that medical professionals take lightly. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V), to be diagnosed one must meet the following criteria: 1) A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months duration and 2) is associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Before any surgeries can be performed, most providers and/or insurances have requirements that must be met including: letters of recommendation from qualified mental health professionals, persistent and well-documented gender dysphoria, capacity to make a fully informed decision and to consent for treatment, any significant medical or mental health concerns must be controlled, and for some procedures the use of hormones for a predefined amount of time and/or living in a gender role that is congruent with their gender identity for a predetermined amount of time. All of this is done out of an abundance of caution to ensure one is ready for the physical, mental, and social change that comes along with a permanent transition.
“Won’t it be weird having sex?”
Do you ask everyone about how their sex life is going? What happens in someone else’s bedroom is not something you are entitled to know about just because their love-life looks different than yours. If you have a close, intimate, relationship with someone who has transitioned, maybe you can ask them if they are comfortable talking about it with you. Otherwise, just worry about your own bedroom.
“Maybe you just need to see a therapist.”
In 2012, the APA approved a change in the DSM to remove Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as a diagnosis and add Gender Dysphoria to describe the emotional distress one feels when gender identity or expression does not match the sex assigned at birth. This was done to remove stigma that is attached to being transgender and to prevent transgender individuals from being diagnosed with a mental health “disorder”. While seeing a therapist or counselor is wonderful advice for all of us, it is not going to “fix” someone with gender dysphoria.
“So is that the same as a transvestite/cross-dresser/drag queen/intersex?”
No. Cross-dressers are typically heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women as a form of gender expression (not for entertainment). Transvestite is an old, outdated term (now typically deemed as derogatory) that has been replaced by
“Transgenders are pedophiles/sexual predators.”
First, lets correct how we use the term transgender. From gladd.org:
The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous “-ed” tacked onto the end. An “-ed” suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. It also brings transgender into alignment with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer. You would not say that Elton John is “gayed” or Ellen DeGeneres is “lesbianed,” therefore you would not say Chaz Bono is “transgendered.”
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.”
Transgenderism is not a term commonly used by transgender people. This is a term used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to “a condition.”
Next, pedophilia is not a sexual orientation, it is not a gender identity, and it is not related to being transgender. It is a paraphilia and is a completely independent term for a condition where an adult has an ongoing sexual attraction to prepubertal children.
This argument most recently was brought back into the spotlight in the fight to provide equal access to restrooms regardless of gender identity. It is often brought up that by allowing people to use the restroom based on how they identify, we would be allowing people to enter the restroom under the guise of a differing gender identity just to commit crimes. The opposite is actually true. By forcing someone who is transgender to use the restroom based solely on their gender assigned at birth, they are now at an increased risk of harassment or assault by someone who thinks they are using the “wrong bathroom”.
“But you don’t look transgender…”
That’s kinda the point. People who transition to bring their physical state in alignment with their gender identity are not doing it to “look transgender” (whatever that looks like). Transmen and transwomen look no different than the rest of the population and you would not know they had transitioned unless they told you. Instead of being hyper-focused on how you think someone should look based on your own preconceived notions (whether intentional or unintentional), focus on the person as a whole. We are more than what we have between our legs.