Transgender in America

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What Is Transgender?

There are around 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States. While most people generally tend to understand the terms gay, lesbian or bisexual, there are many who are not entirely sure what it means to be transgender.

So, what does transgender mean? A transgender person is someone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. So transgender men are people who were assigned as female sex at birth but identify as male, and vice versa for transgender women. Transgender people can also have gender identities that fall outside of male/female labels.

To understand transgender people, it is important to understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex is assigned at birth and is based on a person’s biology. Gender is the roles, behaviors, activities, etc. that society uses to distinguish between men and women. So sex is biological and gender is how people dress and behave. It is also important to remember that gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Transgenders can be gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc. Gender identity is how someone identifies their own gender, whereas sexual orientation is the emotional, romantic, sexual attraction they feel towards people of other genders.

Understanding Why People are Transgender

The fact is, science has no clear cut answers for why people are transgender. Like most other discussions of gay rights, there tend to be two groups in this argument. The first operates under the belief that people are transgender due to external factors. Some say that people who are transgender experienced hormonal imbalances while they were developing in the womb. Some say that being transgender is psychological. Others say that our society and gender roles are major factors in someone being transgender.

The second group believes that people are transgender because that is the way they were born. Transgenders are born to be the gender they identify as. For example, a transgender woman is not a man in a woman’s body, she is a woman. Being transgender is natural and transgender people were born to be that way.

Categories and Types of Transgender People

Transgender is considered to be an “umbrella term”, meaning that it refers to several different types of people. Below are some of the categories of people that fall under transgender:

  • Transsexual – a person that goes through the physical transition from male to female or female to male
  • Trans Man – a person whose assigned sex is female, but gender identity is male
  • Trans Woman – a person whose assigned sex is male, but gender identity is female
  • Gender Fluid – someone whose gender identity changes over time; someone with this identity may feel male one day, and female, both or neither the next day
  • Gender Non-Binary – a person whose gender identity falls outside of male/female
  • Genderqueer – someone whose gender identity is not male or female

What Does It Mean To Be A Transgender Person?

Most of the time, we think about transgender in a traditional gender binary sense. When most people hear the term transgender, they think of a male to female or female to male transition. However, this isn’t always the case. Not all transgenders go through surgeries or hormone treatments in order for their bodies to match their gender identities. Also, not all transgenders are men or women. There is a wide variety of transgender people and the ways they express their gender are just as varied. These could include:

  • Undergoing hormone therapy
  • Gender affirmation surgery
  • Using gender-specific pronouns (he/him or she/her) or non-binary pronouns (they/them)
  • Changes in behavior
  • Dressing as a man or woman or dressing in an androgynous manner
  • Participating in activities related to a specific gender

Transgender Is Not a Mental Illness

Science doesn’t have a direct answer, but medical professionals can tell us a few things. For example, transgender is not considered a mental disorder. Many people confuse gender dysphoria’s meaning, thinking it refers to someone being transgender. This isn’t the case; gender dysphoria refers to the stress, depression and anxiety a transgender person might experience because of the disconnect between their body and gender identity. Being transgender is not an illness, but it can cause distress and that distress is classified as gender dysphoria.

Transgender Vs. Transsexual

As mentioned above, transgender refers to many different types of people. One of these is transsexual. Not all transgenders are transsexual. A transsexual is someone who has transitioned from one sex to another. They have gone through the process of making their bodies match their gender identity. This doesn’t necessarily always include surgery. Some transsexuals may just use hormone therapy. However, others may go through gender affirmation surgery. It is important to remember that not all transsexuals use this term after they have transitioned, as some prefer to refer to themselves as men or women.


Because there are so many different kinds of individuals included in the term transgender, conversations around transgenders can be confusing. It can also be difficult to know what to call someone who is transgender. The best thing to do would be to go on an individual basis. If someone you know is transgender, you might want to ask how they want to be addressed.

Generally speaking, a transgender is someone who has a different gender identity than the sex they were assigned at birth. This gender identity could fall under traditional male/female or it could fall under gender non-binary, gender fluid or genderqueer. There are many different gender expressions, so it is important that we do not group all transgenders as transsexuals.

If you want to know more about transgenders, there are organizations and resources out there that provide assistance and advice. If you are transgender and are suffering from gender dysphoria, you should consider seeking medical advice and support.