Transgender and Transsexuality

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Roving reporter Grace looks at transgender and transsexuality, clarifying terms, offering a few definitions and some advice about support organisations.

These days everyone is aware of sexuality and what it means, whether you're straight, bisexual, gay or lesbian. However, transgendered and transsexual individuals often seem to be overlooked. Here's some information to help out both trans people and anyone who wants to know more.

What's the difference between sex and gender?

A lot of people aren't even aware there is a difference between sex and gender, but to put it simply: sex is what's between your legs and gender is what's between your ears. 

Your sex is how you are born. It's what you are physically. 

Gender, on the other hand, is what you identify as - whether you, personally, identify as a male or a female.

For a lot of people, gender and sex matches up. A lot of people who are born as males identify as males, and the same for females. Some people, however, might be born physically male, but as they grow older they may start to identify more with the female gender (or vice versa).

It's not physically possible to change your sex, but there are surgical procedures, hormone treatments and other techniques (like specially made clothing or even makeup) that can help you to appear as the sex you identify with.

One thing to always remember, though, is that regardless of sex or gender, we're all human beings and we all deserve to be treated as such. Just because someone is transgender or transsexual, that doesn't make them weird or a freak. They're just a regular person on the inside. 

A few key words and phrases

Here are a few definitions that can help to make it a little clearer what people are talking about when they talk about transgender.

  • Female to Male (FtM) - A person born physically female who identifies as a male.
  • cis-gendered - A person who identifies with their born sex.
  • Gender identity - The gender a person feels themselves to be. This doesn't always match up with a person's sex.
  • Gender reassignment surgery - Surgery that refashions a person's sex organs to match that of their desired sex. This change is largely aesthetic - refashioned sex organs don't work in the same way natural sex organs do.
  • Hormone therapy - Using hormones to change your biochemistry so it matches your gender identity.
  • Male to Female (MtF) - A person born physically male who identifies as a female.
  • Transgender - A person who identifies with the opposite sex. They have not started transitioning yet, but they may still prefer proper pronouns to be used (for example, "she" and "her" for female-identified people, and "he" and "him" for male-identified people) and may even use clothing or makeup to appear as their desired sex.
  • Transsexual - A person who has started transitioning to their desired sex by using either surgery, hormones or both.
  • Transvestite - A person who dresses as the opposite sex (usually for short periods of time). This can be someone either transgendered or cis-gendered. Being a transvestite doesn't mean you're transgendered - it's an action, not a state of being.

James's story

James is an FtM friend of mine who I spoke to about his experiences.

"As a kid growing up," James said, "I remember I always used to play with the boy toys. I hated the girls' ones. I always used to demand my parents buy me boy clothes. I even remember being confused when people said I couldn't do things the boys did."

"As I grew older, I became pretty confused. At first I thought I was just a lesbian, but that didn't feel right. It took me a few years before I finally figured it out. The more I thought about it, the more I just kind of realised I was a guy. I felt comfortable with that. That's who I was. It's who I am now."

"I always had guy friends, did guy things, and it just took a long time for it to all click together. It's not the kind of thing where you just wake up one day and say, 'Oh hey I want to live as the opposite sex.' It's a big, life-changing deal. You have to go through a lot of meetings with therapists, doctors, all kinds of things. But it's worth it because you don't have to lie or hide who you are anymore."

"Now I'm living happily the way I want to live. As a regular guy. Being transgender isn't a part of who I am, it's just something I happen to be. On the inside I'm just a regular guy, just like all the other guys."

"The only difference is that I look a little bit different. But everyone looks different, right? I'm just being who I was born to be!"

Find out more about transgender and transsexuality

If you're interested in finding out more about transgender issues, for yourself or for a friend, these organisations can help.

  • YGender - Melbourne-based organisation running events, programs and projects based around the needs and interests of sex-and-gender-diverse young people.
  • Wayout - Providing support to rural and regional Victorians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans.
  • Transgender Victoria - Victorian organisation created to help transgendered people who aren't quite sure where to start.
  • The Gender Centre - Australian organisation providing transgender resources and education. It offers support for transgendered people as well as news about transgender issues.
  • Minus18 - National network and support organisation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex youth.