The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community has reached a never before seen level of public exposure. Homosexual relationships have been legitimized by the legalization of homosexual marriage. Homosexuality is becoming widely accepted and homosexuals are reporting that they feel far less ridiculed. This is a huge step in the right direction; however, there is still work to be done. Despite the transgender community recently being brought into the limelight, there are still many people who ask the question “What does transgender mean?”.
The terms gender, gender identity, and transgender are related and intertwined. In order to fully understand transgender, one must have a clear definition and understanding of gender and gender identity.
The words sex and gender are commonly mistaken as having the same meaning. Sex specifically refers to the biological features which make a person male or female. Gender is a much broader term that is associated with the societal and cultural differences that distinguish a person as being male or female. Because gender is a social construct, it can vary tremendously. What is determined as a male behavior, role, activity, or attribute in one culture might be determined as female in another. For example, wearing skinny, tight jeans is typically regarded as very feminine way of dressing in American culture, but is widely accepted as both masculine and feminine in European culture.
Gender identity takes gender a step further by referring to a person’s identification with a particular gender. Gender identity can be simply defined as the inner belief that one is either male or female. This belief develops in infancy and childhood. Development is stopped, but continues to be reinforced during adolescence.
Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity differs from their sex. Transgender people can identify themselves as male, female, or neither. They express themselves in a manner that reflects their gender identity. Often times this is met with public scrutiny and disapproval because the majority of societies believe that “boys should act like boys and girls should act like girls”. The key to understanding and ultimately accepting transgender people is to understand that no amount societal or cultural pressure will change the way they feel inside. Simply put, a transgender person truly and genuinely feels that they are of the opposite gender of their sex. This feeling is usually met with what is called a transition. A transition occurs when a transgender person makes noticeable changes to match the way they feel inside. Clothing, hair, and name changes are quite common. Hormone replacement and surgery have also been introduced into the transgender community and are becoming increasingly popular. Sex reassignment and facial feminization surgeries have become particularly popular as of late.
Today’s world provides a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the transgender community. Communication is fast and convenient, which allows the community’s voice to be heard. Public awareness and understanding of “what transgender means?” is what will ultimately lead to higher levels of acceptance.