Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

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Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

Topic Overview

Gender identity is your internal sense of whether you are male or female. When you are transgender, this feeling doesn't match your actual sex. Your body is male or female, but inside you feel you are really the opposite sex. You feel "trapped" in the wrong body.

The feeling that something is different may begin early in life. Many adults who are transgender remember noticing a difference as children between what their bodies looked like on the outside and what they felt on the inside. Other transgender people make this discovery as adults.

Sometimes a person feels so strongly that his or her body is incorrect that the person decides to have medical treatment, from hormones to surgery, to make the body match how he or she feels inside. People who have gender reassignment surgery to make these changes may be described as "transsexual."

Sexual orientation and gender identity are related, but they aren't the same thing. For example, a person can be transgender without being homosexual.

Some people use makeup, haircuts, or clothing styles to look like members of the other gender. This is called cross-dressing and is not the same thing as being transgender. Cross-dressers may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

Remember: You're not alone

The pressure and stress caused by feeling alone and sad can lead to depression, a very serious problem. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at particularly high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.

If you are transgender, it's important to realize that there are lots of people like you. They have the same problems, emotions, and questions that you have, whether you are openly transgender, are still hiding the fact that you are transgender, or have a friend or family member who is transgender.

It can be very comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through. You can find such people through local or online groups. If you don't know where to find support, ask:

  • Your doctor.
  • Your school counsellor or trusted teacher.
  • A therapist or other counsellor.
  • Websites and online organizations. You can find a list of such organizations on the website for PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at www.pflag.ca.

Why is it important to understand stress and know how to cope with it?

Stress is a fact of life. Most of us have periods of stress at various times in our lives. But extra stress can have a serious effect on your health, especially if it lasts for a long time.

If you are openly transgender, you may be under a lot of extra stress because of discrimination in the community. If you are still in the closet, you may have stress from hiding who you really are. Rejection, discrimination, fear, and confusion cause long-term stress in many transgender people.

Constant stress can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, so that you have a harder time fighting off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

People who are under long-term stress are also more likely to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol heavily, and use other drugs. These habits can lead to serious health problems.

It's important to recognize the effects that stress can have on your life and to learn how to cope with stress to stay healthy. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

How can you support someone who is transgender or transsexual?

  • Learn all you can about transgender and transsexual issues.
  • Learn to use the right pronouns ("he," "she," "him," "her"). Don't be afraid to ask the person what he or she prefers.
  • If the person is changing his or her name (from Dennis to Denise, for example), use that new name when talking to or about the person.
  • Make sure you get support for yourself. It can be stressful to try to see a transsexual person in a new way. Counselling can help.

For more information, see the topics:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

GLBT National Help Center
2261 Market Street, PMB 296
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: (415) 355-0003 office
Phone: 1-888-843-4564 national hotline
Phone: 1-800-246-7743 youth talkline
Fax: (415) 552-5498
Email: info@GLBTNationalHelpCenter.org
Web Address: www.glnh.org
 

The GLBT National Help Center provides free and confidential support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and for those with questions about sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The organization offers information about GLBT issues, safer-sex info, and local resources for cities and towns across the country, as well as peer counseling for people going through a difficult time.


PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
1633 Mountain Road, Box 29211
Moncton, NB E1G 4R3
Phone: 1-888-530-6777
Phone: (506) 869-8191
Fax: (506) 387-8349
Email: execdirector@pflagcanada.ca
Web Address: www.pflag.ca
 

PFLAG is a support, education, and advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families, friends, and allies. With over 200,000 members and supporters, and local affiliates in more than 500 communities across North America, PFLAG is the largest grassroots-based family organization of its kind. PFLAG is a non-profit organization and is not affiliated with any religious or political institutions.


References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Psychological Association (2006). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx.
  • Eliason MJ, et al. (2009). LGBTQ Cultures: What Health Care Professionals Need to Know About Sexual and Gender Diversity. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Available online: http://www.nursingcenter.com/upload/Journals/Documents/LGBTQ.htm.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Specialist Medical Reviewer A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised February 28, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.