Don’t feel like the person you are matches the body you are in? Or struggle to meet the expectations people have of you based on the sex you were assigned at birth? And wondering if you are transgender?

What is transgender?

Does your birth certificate say you are male, but you don’t feel comfortable as a man? Or were you born of the female sex but don’t identify as a woman? Then you might choose to identify as transgender.

Transgender means that you sex you were assigned at birth doesn’t match the gender you feel you are.

And what is gender, then?

Sex and gender are related, but aren’t the same thing.

Your sex is assigned to you at birth based on what your body looks like and your genitalia, so it’s biological.

Gender refers to the behaviours and characteristics that are expected of the different sexes by your society and culture. So it is formed of all the ideas we have of what makes up a boy, girl, man and woman. Typical Western gender expectations are thinking girls want to be pretty, and boys to be strong. Or that skirts and makeup are only for women.

The gender spectrum

Just because you are in a female body but don’t feel the gender identity of a woman works for you? Doesn’t mean you have to then identify as male. Some people feel they are both genders, or even no gender.

‘Non binary’ is a term often used to describe a gender identity that is beyond just male or female (binary means ‘two’).

There are other terms you might prefer to use to describe your gender identity. You might feel you are gender diverse, non binary, or pangender, for example. Or you might not feel you are a gender at all, the entire idea might feel so strange to you you just prefer to be ‘agender’.

Your gender identity is up to you. You might want to talk to people you trust about it, but the only person who really knows who you are inside is going to be you.

Intersex and gender

Just like gender isn’t as binary as we’ve all been pretending, neither is sex. Some babies have a natural variation which means they are born with external genitalia that aren't clearly male or female, but are both.

In some cases the parents and doctors medically intervene just after birth, or when the child is very young, deciding the child's sex and gender. Other parents allow their child to grow up 'intersex' and decide their own gender identity, given that it doesn’t pose a medical risk to be intersex.

Some people find out later in life, around puberty, that they are intersex. Even if their exterior genitalia seem one sex, they might discover internal genitalia and/or sexual organs that are of the other sex, or learn their chromosomes don’t make them one sex or the other. It can be confusing at first, or make you question your identity.

Are transgendered people gay?

There can be confusion around the term transgender and sexuality, perhaps as it’s included in the term “LGBTQ”. The other terms represented in this acronym are all about sexuality, but transgender is only really about gender identity.

You can be any sexuality at all as a transgender person. Who you are, your gender, doesn’t decide who you want to be with, your sexual identity.

But how can I be transgender if I don’t want to change my body?

You don’t have to change your body to be transgender. Some people who are male to female trans, or female to male trans, make the decision to use hormones. Or they even do surgery if that is the right decision for them.

Other people just like to dress in clothes expected of the other gender, or change the way they behave and carry themselves.

Again, transgender just means you don’t identify with the gender others expect of your biological sex. But you can be gender diverse, and, say, enjoy your female body but also like to dress and talk like a man. And not everyone is concerned with ‘passing’, which means being taken as cisgender (male sex with male gender, or female sex with female gender).

I've been told it's just a trend I'm jumping on

Transgender is not some 'new thing', nor is it made up by millenials or Generation X. Western gender theory has its roots in the 1960s. And historical art from nine thousand years ago depicts transgendered people. Not to mention the ancient cultures with androgynous or multi-gendered gods, such as the Hindu deity Ardhanarishvara.

And in other cultures, including those found in India, Thailand, and Africa, there have long been other acceptable forms of gender beyond 'man/woman'.

How do I know if I am transgender?

Some people are aware they are in the wrong body from as young as age three. Other people start to question their identity when they go through puberty and everything feels 'wrong'. You might notice things like:

  • a disconnect between you body and genitalia and who you feel inside that frustrates and upsets you, or feeling there has been some sort of mistake
  • feeling uncomfortable when people use certain pronouns on you, like they are talking about someone you aren't
  • feeling so unhappy about how your body changes during puberty you develop body image issues, an eating disorder, or start self-harming.

If you really feel undecided, you might find journalling and research helpful, including reading the life stories of transgendered people. It's also a good idea to talk to other people about it, whether that is a support group, someone else who is transgender who can share their experience, or a counsellor trained in gender identity issues.

Do I have to decide my gender?

It’s a personal choice and it doesn't have to be fixed. You might, for example, want to identify as ‘fluid’, meaning your gender isn’t fixed but is changing.

It is true that society can make gender identity challenging when it comes to things like using public washrooms, or filling out government forms. Things are changing, but there is still a lot of prejudice and discrimination, which can be a lot to navigate.

What is gender dysphoria?

If you feel that it’s just too hard to be in a world that seems against you, or where you don’t feel heard? It can lead to anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

If your gender identity is leading to low moods it's referred to as ‘gender dysphoria’. Issues with gender identity are also connected to eating disorders, addictions, and self-harm.

Mental health is as important as physical health. It’s important not to suffer in silence, but to reach out for support. You are important, and have gifts to offer the world. Don't let the fight to be who you are stop you from sharing them.

Need to talk to someone about your identity? Find an understanding counsellor who understands gender issues using our easy to use booking tool.

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