Understanding Transgender

November 1, 2018
by Elizabeth Cusulas
TransgenderA recent study says 1.4 million people in the U.S. identify as transgender.
What is “Transgender?”

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. The external formation and concept of gender often begins before the birth of a child. Well-meaning parents and strangers ask questions such as “What are you having?” “Do you know the sex?” “Do you have a name?” This may be fine, unless after birth the child finds their internal world is incongruent with their biological assignment and anatomy. Welcome to the world of being transgender.

An article in the Washington Post outlines some common myths surrounding transgender individuals, including:

Myth: A 5-year-old doesn’t know enough about gender to be transgender.

Fact: On the contrary, children as young as 2 can present with gender incongruence. According to the American Psychiatric Association, cross-gender behaviors often start between 2 and 4 years old. One study by the TransYouth Project found that kids as young as 5 respond to psychological gender-association tests, which evaluate how people understand their gender roles. 

Therapists Play a Supporting Role

Transgender youth often suffer from mental health problems, but a new study has found that their depression and anxiety improve greatly when their gender dysphoria is recognized and treated. There is a need for gender-affirming mental health services and interventions to support transgender youth.

Therapist Tips:

  • Make no assumption about orientation or gender identification
  • It would be beneficial to update intake forms regarding gender i.e. what gender do you identify as versus male of female
  • Therapists would benefit from educating themselves about appropriate terminology to avoid unintended offensive language
  • Therapists add value by having resources of therapists or organizations that specialize in gender and transition.
In the News

The New York Times recently reported that ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.”

“The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a government wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.”

Get the facts

The Mayo Clinic offers a primer on transgender facts, including these terms which can be part of the transgender discussion.

  • Cisgender. This term is used to describe an individual whose gender identity and expression matches the stereotypical societal characteristics related to sex assigned at birth.
  • Cross-dressing. This involves dressing as the other gender for entertainment or pleasure. Cross-dressing isn’t necessarily a sign of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Cross-dressing also isn’t indicative of gender dysphoria.
  • Gender fluidity. This is the exhibition of a variability of gender identity and expression. Gender fluid people don’t feel restricted by typical societal norms and expectations and might identify and express themselves as masculine, feminine or along a spectrum, and possibly with variations over time.
  • Gender nonconforming. This occurs when gender expression, gender roles or both differ from societal norms and expectations for an individual’s sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender role. This term refers to the societal norms and expectations associated with a person’s sex assigned at birth.
  • Sexual minority stress. This is stress related to societal stigma, prejudice and discrimination toward individuals with diverse gender identity and expression.
  • Trans man and trans woman. These terms are used to describe, in a gender binary manner, a transgender individual’s gender identity or expression. For example, the term “trans woman” is used for an individual whose sex at birth was assigned male and whose gender identity is female. However, not all transgender individuals use these terms to describe themselves.

Roz Gould Keith, founder of Stand with Trans, is dedicated to developing programs, Educational Events and Support Groups to serve the Transgender Youth. Watch or listen to Episode 6 of Grow Your Guru for a discussion with her about her own experience with the transgender topic. Here’s what I want everyone to learn from this episode: Information leads to awareness, which leads to acceptance, which leads to compassion, which leads to connection, which leads to HUMANITY!

About the Author

Susie Kamen - Host of Grow Your Guru on NRM StreamcastSusie Kamen – LMSW, CIRT, SILC
Host of Grow Your Guru on NRM Streamcast

“I was fortunate to have the type of childhood that provided enough baggage that would require me to pay extra at any airline counter. Although I did not always appreciate my luggage, once I began to unpack it, the “Growth Gifts” inside became the foundation for my lifelong journey to grow, learn, and serve.

For the past 27 years, I’ve been a therapist working with individuals, couples, families, and adolescents. I have expertise in premarital counseling, divorce recovery, anxiety, and depression, and specialize in relationships and communication – including the relationship you have with yourself. I’m passionate about my own growth and dedicated to providing safety and the non-judgmental space necessary for your sacred journey of personal growth.

Unfortunately, we are not taught to care for our mental health individually, or in relationships, without stigma or shame. I remain committed to my mission to teach the value of growing in every area of life, so you may unpack your baggage and grow!”

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