Being transgender means you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. The term ‘transgender’ is a collective name for a multitude of gender identities and expressions, such as trans man/woman, non-binary or genderqueer. Keep reading if you’re looking for more information about what being transgender actually means, how you can deal with gender dysphoria or want to know more about the Trans umbrella.
What does transgender mean?
A transgender or trans person is someone whose gender identity or expression differs from that typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. This can lead to feelings of ‘gender dysphoria’ - which is a feeling of unease or discomfort as a result of the mismatch between your biological sex and your gender identity. Many people who are transgender and who experience gender dysphoria may seek to alleviate this through transitioning to their preferred gender - often adopting a different name and set of pronouns in the process. They may pursue gender affirming care such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and various gender-affirming surgeries.
The Trans Umbrella
The term ‘transgender’ refers to any person whose gender identity or expression doesn’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth, and whose gender differs from the cisgender standards of society (cisgender means that you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth). If we take a closer look, the term ‘transgender’ is actually an umbrella-concept that holds a range of gender identities and expressions. The different gender identities that are linked to ‘transgender’ are collected under the Trans Umbrella. The broad concept of the Trans Umbrella is meant to convey the diversity of gender experiences, but since gender is almost infinite it can never be a completed overview. The image below shows the range of gender identities and expressions that this umbrella holds:
As you can see, the identities non-binary, transman/woman and crossdressing all fall underneath the umbrella, as they are all different iterations of being transgender. The non-binary identity can then be divided into a range of fluid identities, such as genderfluid, polygender, or genderqueer. Not all people who identify as non-binary identify as transgender, which is why this umbrella is shown halfway underneath the Trans Umbrella, and halfway outside of it.
Please know that even though there is a visual of the Trans Umbrella, it can be entirely possible to not identify yourself with what you see in the image. That’s the beauty of the Trans Umbrella: you can identify whichever way you want!
Now let’s take a closer look at which identities can be found under the umbrella:
This term refers to people who identify as man or woman. People who identify themselves this way often transition socially and/or medically. A transwoman is someone who was assigned the gender ‘male’ at birth (AMAB), but who transitions to a woman. A transman is someone who was assigned the gender ‘female’ at birth (AFAB), and who transitions to a man.
The non-binary identity is an umbrella in and of itself, as it contains a range of identities that fall in-between or outside of the binary. Some people who identify as non-binary or one of its subcategories identify as transgender, some don’t. Some people also take steps to transition socially or medically. Cick here to read more about what non-binary means.
People who crossdress temporarily put themselves into a gender expression that doesn’t (completely) align with their assigned gender at birth. For example, a person who was assigned male at birth, and who identifies as a man most of the time, can enjoy wearing dresses in the moments they feel more aligned with a feminine gender expression.
Gender expression vs gender identity
In this article we mention gender identity, and gender expression. Let’s take a moment to look at how the two are different from each other:
- Gender expression is how you show your gender to the world through your clothing, hair, makeup, and other outward signals.
- Gender identity is your internal sense of being male, female, neither, both, or something else. It can be fluid and change over time.
For example, someone who identifies as male may express their gender in a variety of ways, such as wearing masculine clothing, short hair, and no makeup. However, their gender identity could change over time, and they may start to identify as female or non-binary. It is important to remember that the way someone looks doesn’t necessarily show the way they identify. This is why it’s always polite to ask someone what their preferred pronouns are.
A lot of people who are transgender experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. The official definition according to the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is as follows:
"Gender dysphoria is a marked incongruence between their experienced or expressed gender and the one they were assigned at birth.”
In other words, this means you can feel very unhappy or very uncomfortable in your own body because you feel like you weren’t assigned your preferred gender at birth. An example of something that can trigger feelings of gender dysphoria is if you grow a beard, while you know inside that you are a woman. The reason gender dysphoria was defined by the DSM-5 is to allow psychologists to diagnose people, after which they are able to refer them to get the help they need. Two types of gender dysphoria can occur: physical dysphoria and social dysphoria. When the diagnosis of gender dysphoria is given, you can start transitioning.
Going into transition
Some people who are transgender struggle with their gender dysphoria in such a way that they want to start their transition. Going into transition as a transgender person means you will start your journey to living as your preferred gender. This transition has three categories: medical, social and legal.
The medical transition usually consists of the use of puberty inhibitors (from 12 to 16 years old), hormone therapy (starting at a minimum of 16 years old), and one or more gender affirming operations (minimum of 18 years old). Hormone therapy (also called HRT) means you take hormones to help increase or decrease sex characteristics. For example, if you are transitioning to male, the hormone testosterone helps develop masculine physical traits such as hair growth on the face or body. Or if you are transitioning to female, you may take oestrogen to produce feminine physical traits such as an increase in body fat and breast development. Another medical option for transitioning are gender-affirming surgeries like a phalloplasty or a vaginoplasty. These are procedures that change the look and the function of your physical sex so that it matches the gender you identify with. Not everybody who is diagnosed with gender dysphoria chooses to medically transition - even if you choose to not take hormones or have any operations, you can still be transgender.
Before being eligible for surgery, one must live as their preferred gender for at least a year. This is a requirement set by hospitals. In practice, this often means you will live with a new (chosen) name, a new wardrobe (for which you can get the necessary undergarments and prostheses at UNTAG!) and a different hairstyle. It will also mean that you will likely have a coming-out with friends and family. Of course, the social side of the transition can also take place without the involvement of a hospital. For example: a transgender girl (who was born in a masculine body) could tell you, after consulting with her mentor in the class, that from now on she would like to be treated and referred to as a girl and that she will go to school in girls’ clothing.
From the age of 16, and after an expert psychologist has determined that the person is transgender, that person can legally change their first name and gender. This information will then appear in the birth certificate, ID card, passport, driver's licence, etc. Note that this is different in each country!
The transition can look different depending on your personal circumstances. Remember that everyone’s journey is different and valid - there is no one right way to transition. Hopefully this article will help in understanding yourself, or someone in your surroundings who is transgender!