With attention being drawn to transgender people—think of Caitlyn Jenner—it’s time to clear up a lot of misconceptions. Although only 14% of Americans reported knowing a transgender person, that percentage is increasing. The more people that assert themselves as transgender, the more necessity there is for education.
What It Is
Transgender is a term used for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth due to biology. A person’s internal and very personal sense of being a man, woman or outside of that gender binary is their gender identity.
Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation; it’s about a person’s sense of self, not who they’re attracted to. Not all transgender people undergo surgical alteration, but because some people feel a strong sense of dysphoria, there are options available to let them bring their physical body into better alignment with their gender identity.
Being transgender is no more a choice than sexual orientation. It is an inherent part of who a person is and conversion therapies once used for sexual orientation are no more successful in changing gender identity.
What It Isn’t
Transgender people are not mentally ill. Gender dysphoria is the diagnosis used by psychiatrists to describe those who experience dysphoria with their gender identity and their assigned sex. It is not a mental illness that can be treated with therapy and medication; most people who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria find great relief in being able to express themselves as their identified gender.
Transgender people are not going through a phase. Psychology today is recognizing that children develop their gender identity before adolescence, in some cases as early as three years of age. Repressing the gender dysphoria causes higher levels of anxiety and can lead to severe depression. Without the expression of gender identity, transgender people can develop severe depression and anxiety disorders. 41% of transgender people report attempting suicide.
The varieties of sexual orientation are more accepted now than in any point in recent history. With the right education, we can do the same for gender identity and allow those who suffer from gender dysphoria to find their voice and sense of self as transgender people.