Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

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Topic Overview

Gender identity is your inner sense of being male, female, both, neither, or some other gender. When you are transgender, this feeling doesn't match the sex that you were assigned at birth.

The feeling that something is different may begin early in life. Many transgender adults remember noticing as children a difference between how their bodies looked and how they felt on the inside. Other transgender people make this discovery as adults.

Some people feel so strongly that their body is incorrect that they decide to have medical treatment to help their body match how they feel inside. Treatment options range from hormones to gender reassignment surgery.

Some people use makeup, haircuts, or clothing styles to look like members of another gender. Some people call this cross-dressing. It does not mean that a person is transgender. People who cross-dress may be heterosexual, gay, or bisexual.

Remember: You are not alone

Whatever your gender identity, it's important to realize that there are lots of people like you. Many of them have the same emotions and questions that you have.

It can be comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through. You can find these people through local or online groups. If you don't know where to find support, check with:

  • Your doctor.
  • Your school counselor or trusted teacher.
  • A therapist or other counselor.
  • LGBTQ clubs and organizations in your community.
  • Websites and online organizations. You can find a list of such organizations on the website for PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at www.pflag.org.

Why is it important to understand stress and know how to cope with it?

Stress is a fact of life. Most of us have periods of stress at various times in our lives. But extra stress can have a serious effect on your health, especially if it lasts for a long time.

If you are transgender, you may be under a lot of extra stress because of discrimination in the community. Rejection, prejudice, fear, and confusion cause long-term stress in many transgender people.

Constant stress can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, so that you have a harder time fighting off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at particularly high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.

People who are under long-term stress are also more likely to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol heavily, and use other drugs. These habits can lead to serious health problems.

It's important to recognize the effects that stress can have on your life, to learn how to cope with stress, and to know when to get help. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

How can you support someone who is transgender?

  • Learn all you can about gender identity.
  • Learn to use the right pronouns ("he," "him," "she," "her," "they," "them"). Don't be afraid to ask which pronouns the person prefers.
  • If the person is changing their name, use that new name when you talk to or about the person.

For more information, see the topics:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Sexual Health Association
www.ashastd.org
Family Equality Council (U.S.)
www.familyequality.org

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Psychological Association (2008). Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/orientation.aspx.
  • APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns (2011). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx.
  • Biggs WS (2011). Medical human sexuality. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 1000-1012. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Eliason MJ, et al. (2009). LGBTQ Cultures: What Health Care Professionals Need to Know About Sexual and Gender Diversity. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Available online: http://www.nursingcenter.com/upload/Journals/Documents/LGBTQ.htm.
  • Hillman JB, Spigarelli MG (2009). Sexuality: Its development and direction. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 415-425. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Sadock VA (2009). Normal human sexuality and sexual and gender identity disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2027-2060. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Zucker KJ (2011). Gender identity and sexual behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 346-348. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofMay 17, 2017