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, a lot of people seem to forget the T in LGBT whenever someone brings it up.

Transgendered and transsexual individuals often seem to be forgotten, and it's unfortunate that a lot of people don't quite seem to know much about the subject, so here's something to help out both trans people and anyone who just 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 it's the same for females. However, in some cases people might be born physically male, but as they grow older they may start to feel that they identify more with the female gender, or vice versa.

It's not physically possible to change your sex, but there are surgical procedures and hormone treatments and other techniques, such as 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 any less of a person. It doesn't make them weird or a freak. They're just a regular person on the inside, and that's important to remember and respect.

A Few Keywords

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

  • Gender identity: The gender a person feels themselves to be. This doesn't always match up with a person's sex.
  • Transgender: A person who identifies with the opposite sex. They may not have started transitioning yet, but they still prefer proper pronouns to be used (i.e.,"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.
  • cis-gendered: A person who identifies with their born sex.
  • Transvestite: A person who dresses as the opposite sex. However, this is usually for short periods of time. It can be done by someone either transgendered or cis-gendered. Being a transvestite doesn't mean you're transgendered - it's an action, not a state of being.
  • Female to Male (FtM): A person who was born physically female who identifies as a male.
  • Male to Female (MtF): A person who was born physically male who identifies as a female.
  • Hormone therapy: Using hormones (deleted "that are used by a person") to change your biochemistry so that it matches your gender identity
  • Gender reassignment surgery: Surgery that refashions a person's sex organs to match that of their desired sex. This change is aesthetic only - the refashioned sex organs won't work in the same way that natural sex organs do.

James's Story

James is a FtM friend of mine who I spoke to in order to find out about his experiences of what it's like to be transgendered. Here's what he had to say:

"As a kid growing up, 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!"

Links

If you're interested in finding out more about transgender issues, for yourself or for a friend, there are some really good organisations out there who can help.

YGender
Melbourne-based organisation that runs events, programs and a range of projects based around the needs and interests of Sex-and-Gender-Diverse young people.

WayOUT
Provides support to rural and regional Victorians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans.

Transgender Victoria
Victorian organisation created to help out transgender individuals. Their website contains a lot of links to other information resources as well as medical contacts. It's a great resource for any 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.