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Trans 101

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The rules

Hello, and welcome to Trans 101. Here are the ground rules. Learn them, love them, live them, or else go to the “I Don’t Care Enough To Be Respectful Of People Who Are Different From Me” room down the hall.

  • Sex is between the legs, gender is between the ears. Sex is male, female, and intersex, and has to do with your chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, etc. Gender is man, woman, boy, girl, non-binary, etc., etc., and has to do with your internal sense of self and how you express yourself.
  • There are currently five medically recognized (by the American Medical Association, at least) sexes – male, female, and three kinds of intersex. Gender is an infinite spectrum, and there are more ways to express one’s gender than anyone supposes.
  • When you have met one Trans person, you have met one Trans person. We are not cookie-cutter. We are, by and large, just like anyone else (as much as anyone is like anyone else, because of course we’re all different). You’ve probably passed Trans people on the street without realizing it. Trans people, just like anyone else, prefer to be treated as people first. We are brains and hearts and souls who happen to have certain genitalia attached, not the other way around.
  • Transgender is an adjective. It is not a noun (i.e., “He is a Transgender”). It is not a verb (i.e., “My cousin is transgendering”). It is an adjective (i.e., “I know a Transgender person”, “He is Transgender”). Please respect that. You will look very ignorant and rather foolish if you don’t.

For more information about hormonal transition for FTM folks, click here.

For more information about hormonal transition for MTF (male-to-female) folks, click here.

What exactly is Transgender?

Transgender people feel uncomfortable living and being perceived as the gender they were assigned at birth (when the doctor announces “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy”, based entirely on the shape of the baby’s genitals). Many choose to socially transition, living their lives and interacting with the world as a gender that feels more comfortable to them. Many also choose to medically transition, using hormones (by prescription from a doctor) and/or certain surgeries to make their body feel more comfortable and a more accurate fit for their identified gender.

Crossdressers, on the other hand, dress either for sexual arousal (this is known as fetishistic crossdressing), to express the more masculine or feminine side of themselves, or simply because they find those clothes more comfortable, but have no desire to transition socially or medically.

Now that you’re thoroughly confused, let us just add this. Probably the absolute simplest way to describe a transsexual, if not the rest of the Trans community, is to say that they are physically female and psychologically male, or physically male and psychologically female. Many Trans people don’t fall under that designation, though. Most transsexuals do, while most crossdressers don’t.

Transgender, transsexual, Trans … what does all this stuff mean? What’s the difference between them?

Okay. Here are a few basic definitions. (For more definitions, see our Definitions page or this other site.)

  • Transgender – Anyone who feels that the gender assigned to them at birth (“it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl”) is not accurate.
  • Trans – Same as Transgender
  • Cisgender – Not Transgender. “Trans” means across in Latin; “cis” means on the same side. A cisgender person is anyone who feels that the gender assigned to them at birth is accurate; e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth and feels themselves to be a boy or a man. It is not a slur or an acronym.
  • Transsexual – Outdated term for a Trans person who undergoes medical transition.
  • Crossdresser – Person who does not want to transition socially or medically, but dresses in clothing typically associated with the opposite sex. Sexual orientation varies. (Note: The word “transvestite” is on its way out because of the connotation of a “transvestite prostitute,” and because most people automatically think “fetish” when they hear the word transvestite. A tremendous number of crossdressers really don’t crossdress for sexual arousal at all.)
  • Drag Queen or Drag King – someone who dresses up as a woman (queen) or man (king) specifically for the sake of performance, usually very over-the-top and exaggerated.
  • Dysphoria – Profound discomfort. Gender dysphoria is the profound discomfort with your assigned gender, whether social (being seen and treated as your assigned gender), physical (having certain physical traits associated with your assigned gender, such as facial hair or breasts), or both.
  • Social Transition – Changing your name, pronouns, and/or appearance to align with your identified gender; coming out as Trans to people in your life; living your day-to-day life as your identified gender rather than your assigned gender.
  • Medical Transition – Taking hormones and/or having any of various surgeries to align your body more closely with your identified gender. Not all Trans people medically transition, due to financial constraints, health issues, or personal preference.
  • Intersex – Person born with physical characteristics of both sexes, which may or may not be visible. May or may not have surgery or use hormones. Sexual orientation varies. See here for more information and the Top Ten Myths about Intersex. (Note: “Hermaphrodite” is not a term you should be using. It’s a medical diagnosis and sounds like a disease anyway, and can be taken as offensive.)
  • Trans man – A person who was assigned the female sex at birth, but identifies as male. The term FTM should be avoided as it implies that trans men permanently have femaleness attached to them, something many trans men object to.
  • Trans Woman – A person who was assigned the male sex at birth, but identifies as female. The term MTF should be avoided as it implies that trans women permanently have maleness attached to them, something many trans women object to.
  • FAAB – Female-assigned at birth. Sometimes also AFAB (assigned female at birth).
  • MAAB – Male-assigned at birth. Sometimes also AMAB (assigned male at birth).
  • Transmasculine – People assigned female at birth who identify as Trans, as genderqueer, as FTM, or simply as guys.
  • Transfeminine – People assigned male at birth who identify as Trans, as genderqueer, as MTF, or simply as women.
  • Genderqueer/Non-Binary/enby – Someone whose gender exists outside the gender binary. “Enby” is just a pronunciation of the letters N.B., for non-binary.
  • Gender binary – The belief that all people are either men or women, as if there are men living in a camp over here, and there are women living in a camp over there, and there’s a huge chasm in between, and that’s it.
  • Pansexual/Omnisexual/Queer – This is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity. Attracted to “people, not parts.” Used instead of “bisexual,” because “bi” means two, and there aren’t two sexes or two genders; indicates the potential to be attracted to anyone regardless of their sex, gender identity, or gender expression.
  • Asexual/Ace – This is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity. Not interested in sexual relationships with anyone. The asexual community is just barely peeking out of its shell, as more asexual people are standing up and saying that there is nothing wrong with them, it’s not that they just haven’t found the right person yet, they really aren’t interested in sexual relationships. Some people are romantic asexuals, who date and have romantic relationships and may even get married – they just don’t have sex. Others are aromantic asexuals, who aren’t interested in romantic or sexual relationships.

Surgery and hormones exist for the purpose of making how you see yourself on the inside match the outside. A lot of people have surgery but don’t have GRS (genital reconstruction surgery). Trans men and non binary FAAB people in particular may have surgeries without having GRS – chest reconstruction, hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), etc.

Important Note: Gender identity is separate from sexuality. Sexuality (Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Pansexual, Omnisexual, Asexual, Queer, etc.) is based on whom you are attracted to sexually. Whether or not you’re Trans is based on your personal gender identity. A Trans man who is attracted to women is usually considered straight, as is a Trans woman who is attracted to men, because the gender with which they identify is the opposite of those whom they are attracted to.

Also, the term “straight” refers to sexuality and not to gender. The fact that you are not Trans does not make you straight, and vice versa. “Straight” means that if you identify as male, you are attracted to those who identify as female, or if you identify as female, you are attracted to those who identify as male. Those who identify as neither male nor female, as a mix of the two, or as something else altogether define for themselves what “straight” and “gay” are for them.

Gender identity, sex, sexual orientation … I really don’t get the difference here.

This is the fun part. Take out a piece of paper and turn it sideways, and make four parallel horizontal lines, one on top of the other. Leave some space in between them to write. Right under the top line, write Sex Assigned At Birth. Under the second line, write Gender Identity. Under the third line, write Gender Expression. Under the fourth line, write Sexual Orientation.

  • On the left end of the Sex Assigned At Birth line, write Female; on the right end, write Male; in the middle, write Intersex.
  • On the left end of the Gender Identity line, write Girl/Woman; on the right end, write Boy/Man; in the middle, write Non-Binary/Genderqueer.
  • On the left end of the Gender Expression line, write Feminine; on the right end, write Masculine; in the middle, write Androgynous.
  • On the left end of the Sexual Orientation line, write Attracted to Men; on the right end, write Attracted to Women; in the middle, write Attracted to Both/All/None (usually referred to as Bisexual, Pansexual/Omnisexual/Queer, and Asexual respectively).

(Be aware that we mark the middle of each line just to make it easier to read; intersex people are not perfectly suspended between male and female, non-binary people are not exactly in between man and woman, androgynous people are not exactly in between masculine and feminine, bi/pan/omni/etc. people are not necessarily equally attracted to men and women in a perfect 50-50 split – most aren’t, actually.)

Find some colored pencils or pens. To use one person as an example: The sex he was assigned at birth is female. Mark the “Female” end of the Sex line. His gender identity is man. Mark the Gender Identity line at the Boy/Man end. His gender expression is masculine, but not 100% so. Mark the Gender Expression line very near Masculine, but not all the way at the end. And his sexual orientation is pansexual but he’s more into men than women, so mark the Sexual Orientation line somewhere between the middle and the Attracted to Men end.

Now choose another color and mark where you fall on each line.

Basically, the point here is that each of these things is completely independent of the others. Where you fall on any one line has no effect on where you will fall on any other line.

Have some other folks fill out your chart with different colors, and make a legend if you like to show what color represents which person. The more people who put themselves on the chart – don’t do it for them, they should have the right to identify themselves – the more you will understand how varied everyone’s identity is, and how each of those four parts of one’s identity really have no bearing on each other at all.

Is Trans like a shemale?

“Shemale” is a very offensive term used in porn. And no. “Shemale” refers to someone with breasts and a penis, which is true of some Trans people, but not a majority. It also totally excludes FAAB trans folks, who (no matter what you hear or how it may seem) make up half of the Trans population.

(MAAB trans folks are typically much easier to spot, and get WAY more press, because society tends to laugh at them, especially on talk shows and by degrading them in sitcoms, prime-time dramas, and mainstream film, as well as pornography. FAAB trans people are much more threatening to masculinity and it’s easier to ignore them than deal with them. They’re seen as women who are aspiring to be men, which supports the whole notion of male superiority, whereas MAAB trans people are seen as questioning the value of and discarding their male privilege, and thus must be reduced to the status of “psycho” or “clown” or both, to avoid validating their standpoint.)

Also, people usually take “shemale” to mean someone with breasts and a fully functional penis. MAAB trans people who are taking estrogen don’t always have fully functional male genitalia, because the estrogen can make it difficult to become and stay erect.

Are all Transgender people escorts?

No. The majority of us are not escorts, prostitutes, porn actors, or sex workers of any kind. Those of us who are sex workers are largely in that industry because no one else will hire them, and/or it’s (unfortunately) an easy way to make money if you can deal with being exploited and treated as an object rather than as a person.

There are Trans people who are sex workers by choice and enjoy their work, but they’re a minority. Trans people are no more likely to enjoy being a sex worker than cis people are (and if you think most sex workers like their job, try actually talking to some).

So what causes people to be Trans?

There are a number of theories regarding what makes us Trans, and despite scientific research there’s no concrete evidence so far. (Bear in mind that this theory doesn’t take intersex people into account – this is only regarding foetuses whose chromosomes are XX or XY, although this situation may – and probably does – occur with some intersex fetuses as well.) Remember, XX is the genotype for female and XY is the genotype for male. “Phenotype” refers to physical anatomy, whereas “genotype” refers to chromosomes and genetics.

The most supported argument so far is that it occurs in utero, usually between 8-10 weeks after conception.

All fetuses, between 8-10 weeks, receive “hormonal showers” at this crucial developmental period. Usually, these hormonal showers lead to the formation of the testes and ovaries in XY and XX individuals respectively. Due to factors unknown, usually attributed to stress in the mother, certain medications or just unusual circumstances, the “dose” and/or timing of these showers can sometimes be a little off-target. XY fetuses receiving too little androgens, yet while still having the XY genotype are thought to most probably eventuate as gay.

If the hormonal shower is even more different or ill-timed – i.e., even less androgens are released or the timing is further off, the result will most probably be a transsexual – i.e., phenotypically and genotypically male with testes etc, yet, due to not being showered with enough androgens at the right time, the brain hasn’t sufficiently masculinized and remains feminized (feminine is the base “template” for all organisms).

In FAAB Trans people’s case, it’s thought that the development of the ovaries occurred ill-timed when in relation to the hormonal shower – i.e., when the hormonal shower occurred, the ovaries weren’t yet developed enough to produce the estrogen that would balance out the androgen shower … hence, phenotypically and genotypically female, but with masculine brain due to the androgen shower.

Like in the case with gay men, this fluctuation in hormonal shower timing, when occurring in XX individuals but to a lesser extent, is thought to be the cause of lesbianism.

I’ve heard the term “gender dysphoria” … what is that?

Nancy Nangeroni, of Gender Education & Media (GEM) and formerly of IFGE, said once that gender dysphoria is a healthy disrespect for the cultural gender norm.

“Dysphoria,” according to the dictionary, means “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy” (it comes from the Greek ”dysphoros” hard to bear, from ”dys”- + ”pherein” to bear). So “gender dysphoria” is basically a profound discomfort or unhappiness with your assigned gender. Sounds about right.

Then there’s the clinical definition. Gender dysphoria is listed in the DSM-V. (Diagnostic and Statistiscal Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, fifth edition – the HUGE book used to diagnose mental disorders. Your local library may have a copy.) There are separate diagnostic criteria for children, adolescents, and adults.

It should be noted, also, that the DSM-III didn’t have GID (gender identity disorder, which is how it was listed in the DSM-IV) in it but did have homosexuality in it. Due to the fact that homosexuality and gender-nonconformity are so often seen as being almost synonymous, it is not at ALL farfetched to suggest that GID was put into the DSM-IV as a replacement for homosexuality and an underhanded way to continue diagnosing homosexuality as a mental disorder. The DSM-V was published in 2013, and changing the name from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria was considered a huge step in the right direction. After all, being Trans isn’t the problem. Dysphoria is the problem, and the only proven way to get rid of dysphoria is to let us access hormones and/or surgery.

If Trans people hate their bodies so much, how do they have sex?

Very well, thank you.

There are as many ways to achieve erotic pleasure as there are people on this Earth. People who are very uncomfortable with a certain part of their bodies will often simply ignore that part of their body during sex, as they do the rest of the time. Communication, of course, is key – if you don’t want something touched, say so. Any decent partner will be 100% respectful and will do everything they can to make sure that it’s a good experience for both of you.

If it helps you, you can liken it to the situation an amputee might face. If someone has had to have their arm amputated at the elbow and is really uncomfortable with that part of their body, particularly in an erotic sense, that doesn’t mean they can’t have good sex. It just makes for an obstacle. But if the person and their partner work around it, there’s no reason it should be a major issue.

For some people, certain parts of their body ARE a major issue no matter what they do. That’s when people can become impatient for surgery and/or hormones to alter their bodies so they feel more comfortable. While waiting for these changes to take place, some people simply abstain from sex, and others try different methods to make sex pleasurable despite the issues they have with whatever body parts they have issues with.

(It’s not as simple as saying that genitals are the problem or that the whole body is the problem. The term “man trapped in a woman’s body” or “woman trapped in a man’s body” is really a misnomer. Most Trans people don’t really want a new body – they just want some parts of their own body altered a bit.)

For another perspective (and quite an entertaining read), check out Raven Kaldera’s Renaming and Reframing: Sex and the Third Gender, Sex in Cyborgland, and How to Suck a Strap On.

Why don’t Trans men just be butch lesbians? Why don’t Trans women just be femmy gay men?

Well, first of all, you’re confusing sex and gender with sexual orientation. Plenty of Trans men aren’t attracted to women, and plenty of Trans women aren’t attracted to men.

Secondly, Trans people aren’t just frustrated homosexuals. Cisgender gay people would no more welcome sex reassignment than they would welcome a frontal lobotomy. They’re fine with their bodies, by and large, and just happen to be gay. Trans people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are NOT fine with their bodies, or at least with the heaps and heaps of gender norms that are enforced upon them as a result of their bodies.

Their gender identity (their internal sense of self) and/or gender expression (clothes, mannerisms, makeup or lack thereof, hairstyle, etc.) is significantly outside the norm, to a degree that doesn’t really fall within even the norm for feminine gay men or masculine gay women.

Thirdly, not all FAAB Trans folks are terribly masculine and not all MAAB Trans folks are terribly feminine. That’s another common misconception. Trans people aren’t all striving to be nice, normal, heterosexual, pretend-you’re-not-Trans people with 2.3 children and a white picket fence. There are Trans men who are drag queens and Trans women who are butch lesbians, for the same reason that trans men aren’t butch lesbians and trans women aren’t femme gay men or drag queens – butch lesbians are women, and femme gay men and drag queens are men. It just goes to show all the more that gender really is infinite, and WAY more complicated than we have language for. But we’re doing our best.

Is it okay to ask a Trans person questions about it?

Depends on the person. In general, if you want to ask a personal question, first ask if it’s okay to do so. Personal questions include anything to do with one’s sex life, anatomy (not just genitalia), and relationship status – past, present or future. Be warned that some people may even consider questions like “are you on hormones?” personal. When in doubt, ask if you may ask them a personal question before going ahead. Respect people’s boundaries.

A good general rule regarding this is as follows: If you wouldn’t ask a cis male his penis size, don’t ask a Trans person about their anatomy. In other words, if the person were not Trans and you wouldn’t feel comfortable asking, there’s no reason for you to feel more comfortable or more entitled to know just because the person is Trans. (This goes for more than just anatomy, of course.)

Do Trans people have the best of both worlds, or are they the best of both worlds?

One person says:

I think “best of both worlds” is a fun little catchphrase that some of us use, probably stolen from sketchy guys who jerk off to fantasies of “shemales” who have tits like a woman and will bang them like a man; I joke about it sometimes but I don’t really consider myself to be the best of both worlds, because I don’t think there are two worlds. That’s just propaganda. And I’m just me, and I’m one complete person, not some weird hybrid.

Some people do consider themselves to be the “best of both worlds,” and that’s their prerogative, but it’s not something you should assume. Let a Trans person tell you first that they think of themselves that way; if you just come up with it on your own, you’re liable to offend them.

I want to date a Trans person. Can you help?

Start off by reading How to Get Your Hands on a Trans Man (also available at http://otherbear.com/handson.html) and/or The Trans Woman’s Boudoir, and How to Get Into It, both by activist Raven Kaldera, who is both Intersex and Trans.

What does it feel like to be transsexual?

What an interesting question. Here is some info on just that.┬áRemember, everyone’s experience and perspective on this is different. When you’ve heard from one Trans person, you’ve heard from one Trans person. Don’t make sweeping judgments.

Your best bet is to ask this question on Trans forums like Reddit’s Ask Transgender subreddit and other forums, including Facebook groups. Many Trans vloggers also discuss this in their YouTube videos.

Things to NEVER say to a Trans person (the Don’t list)

  • Do not comment on a Trans person’s gendered appearance or passability unless they have asked you for your opinion.
  • Do not pretend that you can spot a Trans person at 50 paces, and when someone comes out to you, insist that you knew all along. You can’t, and you (probably) didn’t. If you really believe that you can, you need to really examine why that is, and spend more time with a variety of Trans people. If nothing will convince you that you are not able to pick Trans people out from a crowd, keep your mouth shut about it.
  • Do not say, when someone comes out to you as Trans, “I never would have guessed!” With rare exceptions, we are all heartily sick of being told this. Why is it so amazing to you that the person in front of you passes well? And why do you think they would appreciate hearing how amazed you are?

How to Get Your Hands on a Trans Man and The Trans Woman’s Boudoir, and How to Get Into It have more important Don’ts.

See Also