Transgender Explained

Transgender: What Does It Mean?

By Calpernia  Addams (reviewed December 2009)

Why do people want to change their sex or gender?

Everybody’s going to have an individual answer as to why they want to change their sex or gender, but I think most people that I have know would tell you that basically their just trying to align their physical body and their social role with how they feel in their heart and soul. Most of us have almost always felt this way. Although we didn’t always have a term for it. We didn’t always fully understand what we were feeling or why. But once we do, most of us pretty quickly try to take the best available options to align our body as well as we can with how we feel on the inside.

Is there anything wrong with people who want to change their sex or gender?

Almost everyone who I’ve ever seen morally judge transgendered people, if you look a little closer into their lives and their organizations, you’ll see as many sort of trespasses that they might point out in our lives — they’re just different. Those people are very used to overlooking the inconveniences in their belief system where they apply to themselves, but they’re very ready to find those things when it helps them single out people that they’re uncomfortable with, so I don’t think there is anything wrong. I think I can debate anyone who does with a lot of confidence and success.

What’s the difference between a person’s gender and biological sex?

Biological sex is a scientific classification. On the surface it’s made by genitalia and external secondary sex characteristics; like breasts, or facial hair, or things you can see with your eyes but there is variation and there is gradation sometimes and knowing that is important. Science is showing that more and more. I think people need to start listening to that because it sort of explains what goes on with trans people a lot. Gender is funny because it’s largely a sexual construct. The idea of what gender is has changed throughout the centuries and throughout cultures and societies. Gender is like blue is for boys and pink is for girls or women should wear dresses and men should wear pants.

What does ‘transgender’ mean?

Transgender is a term that literally means–“trans” means “crossing” or “across” and “gender” is “gender”–so, transgender describes someone who is crossing gender boundaries. At its most broad definition it could be a woman with short hair or a man with long hair because typically in the past men have had shorter and women have had longer, so they are crossing gender boundaries. In a more precise sense a drag queen would be transgender because it is a male wearing and taking on the characteristics of a female, or a drag king is a female taking on the characteristics and persona of a male. Transgender just means you are crossing those artificial lines of what men and women are supposed to be like in society.

What does ‘transsexual’ mean?

“Trans” is crossing or to cross. And “sex” is sort of the scientific or biological classification of an organism’s sex. So “transsexual” for me describes someone who is crossing from one sexual classification into another as well as they can, using current medical technology. So it sort of implies someone who’s having surgery or taking hormones, or doing other medical interventions to align their body with their new sex.

What does ‘Female-To-Male’ or ‘FTM’ mean?

Female-To-Male or FTM is a sort of classification of a trans-person who was assigned the gender of female at birth and who is transitioning socially and, perhaps, medically and legally into living as male.

What does ‘Male-To-Female’ or ‘MTF’ mean?

Male-To-Female or M-To-F identifies someone who was assigned the male gender at birth and who is transitioning socially (and perhaps medically and legally) to living as female.

What does ‘genderqueer’ mean?

Genderqueer is a term that is used essentially by a lot of younger and up-and-coming people who just are not willing to play by the old game of what men should do and be and what women should do and be. Genderqueer people just like sort of flouting those conventions and expressing themselves however they want and even specifically sometimes being a little shocking to sort of shake up the system.

What does ‘two-spirit’ mean?

Two-spirit is a term that was recently brought back into the lexicon by Native American indigenous people and Canadian indigenous people. It describes people in the indigenous cultures, way back when, who felt like they had both a male and a female spirit in their body. And those people were often revered and consulted as mystics and people of great value in those early cultures. The current native and indigenous people are reclaiming that identity and term, and bringing it back out as a way to sort of celebrate the way their culture views trans issues.

What is ‘passing’ for a transgender person?

Passing is a term in the transvestite community which sparks a lot of heated debate. Everybody has ideas and thoughts about what it means. Passing defines one person living in their chosen gender without anyone knowing you were ever living in a different one. It basically means that I can go out as a woman and people don’t know that I am a transvestite, or that a trans-man can go out as a male and people do not know that he is a transvestite. There are a lot of political issues surrounding passing that; are almost too complicated to go into in detail but those are the basics.

What is ‘gender identity’?

Gender identity is usually understood to be a person’s own sense of their identity as male or female. You’re – everyone is – assigned a gender at birth, usually based on just a cursory examination of their body. But most people end up feeling on the inside that that was the right, you know, identification. There are some people who just feel inside that they are a different gender, though, and that’s where a term like gender identity becomes important.

What is ‘bi-gender’?

Bi-gender or bi-gendered is a term that some people use to describe a feeling that they embody both genders, male and female. They don’t feel like they’re one or the other, they feel like they’re sort of everything in one.

What is ‘cisgender’?

Cisgender or cisgendered is a newer term that sort of came about, mostly it spread on the Internet. But if you just look at the root part of the word, the etymology, it means someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth. So the majority of the people on the planet are cisgender or cisgendered. They’re comfortable with their assigned gender.

What is ‘androgyne’?

Androgyny is somebody who embodies both male and female characteristics. Andro meaning male and gyno meaning female. It’s often used to describe somebody who doesn’t seem to embody either male or female characteristics as well, if you describe somebody as androgynous, it often means you can’t tell what they are, or they are not very definite in their presentation.

What is a ‘transwoman’?

A transwoman is a term that a lot of people in the trans community use as sort of a simple catch all to describe a woman who is transitioning from male to female. And she may or may not be undergoing medical, may or may not be undergoing legal, or she may or may not be undergoing social steps, but she’s doing one or all of those.

What is a ‘transman’?

Transman is sort of a catch-all term for someone who is transitioning into the male gender and sex. But they may not necessarily be undergoing medical transition or they may not necessarily be going through legal. Trans is sort of a catch-all term that doesn’t nail them down to either sex or gender.

How many people in the world identify as transgender?

The DSM IV estimates right now that, what is it about, one in 30 thousand males and one in a 100 thousand females, have identified themselves as having very strong trans feelings. A lot of those people never act on those feelings. A lot of those people choose different ways to deal with them so the actual numbers of people who transition based on those feelings are a lot smaller.

Why is transgenderism more prevalent in men than women?

Transgenderism may be more prevalent in men because women are already more free to take on some male characteristics. In terms of clothing or social aspect or presentation. So they may be able to just exercise those feelings through those options and that’s enough for them. But for males, a female behaviour or gender presentation is very much punished and looked down upon, so we kind of have to take a big plunge and do all or nothing because it’s not very permitted for men to dabble or experiment.

Why is transgender grouped with gay lesbian and bisexual?

Transgender is usually grouped with lesbians, bisexuals, and gay in terms of political and medical research or activity because by large, society tends to perceive us as all the same. They see us as singular or as not like the centre majority of heterosexual people who are comfortable in their birth gender. A lot of gay and lesbian and bisexual people exhibit sort of atypical gender behaviour from an early age, not all certainly. And transsexual people also tend to exhibit cross-gender behaviour when they are younger. So we are all discriminated against in kind of the same way. So a lot of times if you address political issues that protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people, that’s also going to help transsexual people as well. So, I think we all run parallel to the gay community and we are like close cousins to them. So it makes sense for us to pool our resources, I think.