With the Bruce Jenner interview still garnering an unprecedented amount of public attention — currently well over 2.7 million hits on YouTube — there’s a great deal of buzz about what it means to be a persona who is transgender.
“All of this talk about transgender is a good thing,” said Dr. Kat Van Kirk., clinical sexologist. “Unfortunately there’s still a lot of misunderstanding out there.”
To set the record straight, Dr. Kat compiled a list of the top five ways transgender continues to be confused:
- “Sex” and “Gender” are the same thing.
Sex is a category assigned at birth usually based on external genitalia. Gender can be based on many factors. It is the internal feeling of maleness or femaleness that we each experience as we grow up.
- The terms transgender, transsexual, transvestite are all the same thing.
Nope. Transgender (TG) is an umbrella term. Being TG has to do with one’s internal feelings of gender identity – maleness and femaleness and how the need to express that gender through clothes etc. Transsexual is an older, outdated term that may mean someone has had full genital and breast surgery. Transvestite has been replaced with the term “cross-dresser.” Someone who cross-dresses (typically a heterosexual man), occasionally wears the clothes of the opposite sex, but they have no desire to live full time as the opposite sex.
- Being transgendered means you are “trapped” in the body of the opposite sex.
Many people refer to someone who is TG as having been “born a man” or “born a woman.” This is not accurate. We are all “assigned” our sex when we are born based on our external genitalia. This can mean that internal genitalia can be different, in addition to there being chromosomal differences that would contribute to feeling as the opposite gender as we grow up. It’s never safe to make assumptions as gender is considered to have an entire spectrum of possibilities – so much so, that some individuals do not identify as either.
Typically, if there is a different sex indicated medically, these people tend to refer to themselves as inter-sexed. Most TG kids know very early that their assigned gender may not be accurate — there may never be overt proof as such because gender identity is based on many factors. Many IS kids don’t have an issue with their gender until they begin to have problems like not menstruating at puberty. Some IS people do eventually identify as TG and some don’t. It should all always left it up to the individual to self identify.
- The holy grail of being transgendered is “passing” as the opposite sex.
This used to be more the case when people had to worry about being accepted in their communities. This is far less of an issue now, as we are all realizing that gender and gender expression varies widely. Some people are perfectly happy to be living their version of whatever gender they identify as. This may mean that they aren’t interested in how other people view them but more about their own self-acceptance of who they are.
- A transgendered person has to get the whole surgery to be considered transgender or transsexual.
It used to be that people would refer to themselves as pre or post op transsexuals. We now know that not everyone requires the various surgeries or hormones to consider themselves TG. There are some people who have had breast and genital surgery (with or without plastic surgery – often referred to as sex reassignment surgery, SRS) who still refer to themselves as trans-sexual but that term isn’t as commonly used as it once was.
- Sexual orientation and gender are linked.
Your sexual orientation does not typically change with your gender identity. Meaning that if you were always attracted to one sex or the other – or both sexes, that tends to continue whether or not you begin living as a new sex. That being said, some people do feel that they might want to experiment with their sexuality.
About Dr. Kat
Dr. Kat Van Kirk is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical sexologist. She runs the website: drkat.com and is the resident expert for Adam and Eve (adamandeve.com). She also is the author of The Married Sex Solution: A Realistic Guide to Saving Your Sex Life, and a media personality. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/drkatvankirk or Twitter: @drkatsexchat