What's the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?
Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual. Transgender, often shortened as trans, is also an umbrella term.
What does transgender mean?
According to the APA Style guide, the term “transsexual” is largely outdated, but some people identify with it; this term should be used only for an individual who specifically claims it.
Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.
Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.
“Trans” is sometimes used as shorthand for “transgender.” While transgender is generally a good term to use, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person.
The ways that transgender people are talked about in popular culture, academia and science are constantly changing, particularly as individuals’ awareness, knowledge and openness about transgender people and their experiences grow.
There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender. The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation. Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.
Transgender persons have been documented in many indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures and societies from antiquity until the present day. However, the meaning of gender nonconformity may vary from culture to culture.
Many identities fall under the transgender umbrella. The term transsexual refers to people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex. Often, transsexual people alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones, surgery, and other means to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their gender identities.
This process of transition through medical intervention is often referred to as sex or gender reassignment, but more recently is also referred to as gender affirmation.
People who were assigned female, but identify and live as male and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual men or transmen (also known as female-to-male or FTM).
Conversely, people who were assigned male, but identify and live as female and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual women or transwomen (also known as male-to-female or MTF). Some individuals who transition from one gender to another prefer to be referred to as a man or a woman, rather than as transgender.
People who cross-dress wear clothing that is traditionally or stereotypically worn by another gender in their culture. They vary in how completely they cross-dress, from one article of clothing to fully cross-dressing. Those who cross-dress are usually comfortable with their assigned sex and do not wish to change it.
Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation.
(See Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality for more information on sexual orientation.) The degree of societal acceptance for cross-dressing varies for males and females. In some cultures, one gender may be given more latitude than another for wearing clothing associated with a different gender.
The term drag queens generally refers to men who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. The term drag kings refers to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.
Genderqueer is a term that some people use who identify their gender as falling outside the binary constructs of “male” and “female.” They may define their gender as falling somewhere on a continuum between male and female, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.
They may also request that pronouns be used to refer to them that are neither masculine nor feminine, such as “zie” instead of “he” or “she,” or “hir” instead of “his” or “her.” Some genderqueer people do not identify as transgender.
Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, multigendered, gender nonconforming, third gender, and two-spirit people.
Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person and may change over time, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to describe themselves see traditional, binary concepts of gender as restrictive.
How can I be supportive of transgender family members, friends, or significant others?
Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts. Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior.
Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.
Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.
Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.
Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.
Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care.Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.
People who identify as transgender or transsexual are usually people who are born with typical male or female anatomies but feel as though they’ve been born into the “wrong body.”
For example, a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual may have typical female anatomy but feel like a male and seek to become male by taking hormones or electing to have sex reassignment surgeries.
People who have intersex conditions have anatomy that is not considered typically male or female. Most people with intersex conditions come to medical attention because doctors or parents notice something unusual about their bodies. In contrast, people who are transgendered have an internal experience of gender identity that is different from most people.
Many people confuse transgender and transsexual people with people with intersex conditions because they see two groups of people who would like to choose their own gender identity and sometimes those choices require hormonal treatments and/or surgery. These are similarities.
It’s also true, albeit rare, that some people who have intersex conditions also decide to change genders at some point in their life, so some people with intersex conditions might also identify themselves as transgender or transsexual.
In spite of these similarities, these two groups should not be and cannot be thought of as one. The truth is that the vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual.
Thus, where all people who identify as transgender or transsexual experience problems with their gender identity, only a small portion of intersex people experience these problems.
It’s also important to understand the differences between these two groups because in spite of some similarities they face many different struggles, including different forms of discrimination.
The differences between transgender and transsexual and intersex have been understood by lawmakers in countries such as Australia where lawmakers have publicly acknowledged that people with intersex conditions have distinct needs from people who identify as transgender or transsexual.
People who identify as transgender or transsexual also face discrimination and deserve equality. We also believe that people with intersex conditions and folks who identify as transgender or transsexual can and should continue to work together on human rights issues; however, there are important differences to keep in mind so that both groups can work toward a better future
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