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  • Writer's pictureAmari 'Mari' McGee

Transgender 101: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid To Ask

When it comes to the transgender community, there is so much that many of us don’t know. This is partially because people who are transgender are often misunderstood or left out of mainstream discussions about gender and sexuality, which leaves us all with a lot of unanswered questions.

As someone who identifies as transgender, I can understand from an ally’s position, how it can be difficult to know everything about the transgender community and how best to support the community.

If you’ve recently been introduced to the world of transgender individuals or are interested in learning more about them, this article will provide you with some very basic information that will help you better understand the transgender community.
Read on to discover more about what it means to be transgender, how gender identity and sexual orientation differs, and what you can do to support them in your everyday life.

What Does Being Transgender Mean?

Transgender is a term used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.

Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of being male, female, both, neither, or somewhere in between. This might be different from the gender that is expected from a person’s physical sex characteristics, including their sex organs and chromosomes, and how they are expected to behave.

People who are transgender may also be referred to as trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, gender variant, or gender diverse. Being transgender does not automatically mean that a person is gay, straight, bisexual, or any other particular sexual orientation.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things, and the two don’t always go hand-in-hand. Someone who is transgender might identify with any sexual orientation, just like anyone else. In fact, it is estimated that about 9 out of 10 people who are transgender are not gay.

How Is Gender Identity Different From Sexual Orientation?

The terms “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” are often confused with one another.
While they are both important aspects of a person’s identity, they each refer to different things.

The gender identity of a person is their innate sense of being male, female, both, neither, or somewhere in between. In short, it’s how someone perceive themselves.

Sexual orientation refers to someone’s emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to others, which may or may not be related to their gender identity. Someone who is transgender may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.

What Constitutes Being Transgender?

Transgender is usually a catch-all term used to describe people who don’t “fit” into our society’s binary expectations of sex and gender (meaning, a person is expected to be male or female and/or act in a strict, traditional way based on their sex).

A person who is transgender may or may not choose to alter their physical sex characteristics through medical interventions.

Some will choose to fully transition, while others will live some portion of their life in a state of “being between genders” or “being in the middle.”

Transgender is an umbrella term that includes many different sub-categories, including:

  • Transgender: Someone whose gender identity (being male, female, or otherwise) differs from their assigned sex at birth and/or their expected gender role.

  • Transgender man: A person who was assigned the female sex at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a man.

  • Transgender woman: A person who was assigned the male sex at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a woman.

  • Intersex: A person who is born with sex organs (external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, and/or chromosomes) that don’t fit the typical definitions of male or female.

  • Gender nonconforming: A person who does not follow the binary gender roles of male and female.

  • Gender fluid: Someone whose gender identity changes from one day to the next, or even from hour to hour. This is different from someone who has a consistent gender identity, but who feels that their gender is more fluid.

  • Genderqueer: A person who does not identify with either the male or female binary. Instead, they identify as both male and female, or neither.

  • Two-spirit: An Indigenous person who fulfills a third gender role, or whose gender identity includes both male and female.

  • Third gender: A person who defies both the binary gender roles of male and female and is neither male nor female.

Why Do People Change Their Gender Identity?

Like many aspects of human nature, gender identity is largely a mystery.

What causes one person to be transgender and not another is something scientists can only speculate about. While researchers have made great strides in understanding gender identity and transgender people, there is still a lot that we don’t know.

When we talk about why someone transitions, it’s centered around the underlying reasons why an individual decides to transition and their particular experience.

There are several different theories about why someone transitions, but none of them have been proven to be the definitive answer.

There is ongoing debate in the research community about what causes gender identity, and there may never be one simple answer that applies to every person who is transgender.

Who Is Considered to Be Transgender?

There are no hard statistics on the total number of people who are transgender, but most experts believe that there are many more people out there who are transgender than we currently realize. To date, there are over 2 million people in the United States who identify as transgender.

Although we do have some numbers to represent how many people identify as trans at them moment, many people still have either not come out and/or may even be unaware of their own gender identity. There are likely many reasons why some people are transgender and others are not, and we are only beginning to understand the captivity of the subject.

It is important to note that people who are transgender are not considered to be “born that way.” No one is “born transgender” in the same way that people are born with red hair or a future Olympian.

Rather, it is a complex series of factors that go into making each person who they are.

Tips for Being an Ally to the Trans Community

  • Be patient with yourself and others. Being an ally takes time and effort, and you will make mistakes along the way. That’s alright, as long as you learn from them and use that knowledge to do better in the future.

  • Keep an open mind. When you hear someone talking about being transgender, try not to shut down and close your ears. Instead, actively listen and try to understand where the person is coming from and what they are saying.

  • Seek out education. There are tons of books, articles, documentaries, and other sources of information out there on the subject of being transgender, and you can benefit from reading as much as you can.

  • Be a vocal ally. From family, close friends to social media, being vocal in supporting the transgender community shows that you respect, care for, and see each and every individual within it. Not calling out homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and marginalization is not being a vocal ally. Your fight for transgender rights and awareness should be active 365 days a year and visible to everyone around you.

If you have any additional questions regarding transgenderism, please direct message me and I’ll be happy to help answer those questions!

Follow me on social media: @amarispeaks and on LinkedIn: Amari ‘Mari’ McGee


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