This speech was given by Anthony Cotton on January 5, 2011. It has been reprinted with his permission.
Before I actually met and spoke with transgender people, my understanding of the phenomenon was very abstract. I wanted to be supportive, as I knew that transgender people face great social and legal discrimination, but I had to educate myself first. It is a fascinating topic, and I am going to share the definitions, data, and facts that I learned, mostly from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Let’s start with definitions. Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to transsexuals (people who alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones or surgery in order to make it match their gender identity), cross-dressers (people who sometimes dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender), and other gender non-conforming people. Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male or female – it is completely distinct from sexual orientation, which means that transgender people can be straight, bisexual, or gay. Transwomen are genetically male yet present to society as female, while transmen are genetically female yet present to society as male. Finally, the term cisgender refers to those whose gender identity is aligned with their assigned sex at birth – this is the opposite of transgender and represents the vast majority of society.
Society is only slowly beginning to understand the transgender phenomenon, and there is very limited data available on the subject. For example, there is no consensus regarding how many people in the world are transgender. Estimates range from 1 in 400 to 1 in 30,000 – clearly this is a major discrepancy. Similarly, it is unclear what causes a person to be transgender. Biologists believe there may be differences in the chromosomal structure between transgender and cisgender people. There is also a theory that hormonal imbalances in utero impact the brain structure of transgender people. The medical field does not consider being transgender to be a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Instead, mental health professionals consider it to be a psychological condition called “Gender Identity Disorder,” which can be resolved through aligning one’s gender identity and gender expression, in some cases through altering one’s physical body.
Continue reading “Transgender 101”