This past week was annual Transgender Awareness Week, culminating today in Transgender Remembrance Day against transphobia. I have been thinking all week of a transgender man whom I interviewed for my co-authored book When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know (Sterling, 2016). This young man had told me that if he hadn’t transitioned as a freshman in college, he probably would have killed himself. Without his family’s eventual acceptance, he would have probably been one of the 51% of transgender individuals who attempt suicide.
Like so many other transsexual people. J.R. was not comfortable in the gender identity and/or gender expression he was born with. Or, a psychiatric term, he had gender dysphoria. Born to a loud Italian family, Jennifer, his given name, was always at war with his gender assigned at birth.
For example, he would wipe off the makeup his mother encouraged him to wear. Wanting a quick change out of frilly blouses, at high school, he would take a backpack full of baggy and amorphous clothes that earned him the title of “dyke and “butch.”
Today, he lives as a transgender man and is much happier. He transitioned through hormone therapy as surgeries are horribly expensive, he told me, and not a prerequisite for transitioning. (However, transitioning does NOT necessarily include taking hormones, having surgery or changing identity documents such as driver’s license, Social Security Record, to reflect one’s gender’s identity.)
What’s the difference between a transgender and a transsexual? Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. It is an adjective. So, do not use word transgenderism, use being transgender.
A transsexual is NOT an umbrella term, but also an adjective. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. Best to ask which term they prefer.
Transgender people are NOT transvestites. This is an outdated term, anyway. Transvestites wear clothes associated with the opposite sex. They identify as heterosexual and do NOT wish to change permanently their sex or live full-time as women.
· Do not use the following words: “tryanny,” “she-male,” “he/she, “it,” “shim.”
· Do not use phrase “sex change.” Not all transgender individuals have “top” and “bottom” surgeries.
· Use the right pronoun when addressing them. Always uses a transgender person’s chosen name. Ask the person what pronouns do they use.
· If you can’t ask, use the pronoun “they” in the singular to reflect their non-binary identity. Use the pronoun consistent with the way the subject lives publicly (he, his, she, her, hers).
Unfortunately, the legal system, social service agencies, schools, workplace, hospitals are not trained to treat transsexual population with respect.
Did you know that:
· A patchwork of state and local laws make it difficult for transgender people to update their drivers licenses, birth certificates and other identification records with accurate names.
· In 31 states, you can be fired on the basis of gender identity.
· Every three days, a transgender person is murdered somewhere in the world.
· The Human Rights Campaign said that more transgender people were killed in 2015 than during any other year on record.
· Vast majority of those killed are of African-American or Hispanic descent.
· In the first eleven months of 2016, there have been 21 transgender women killed in the U.S.
For more in-depth information, see http:www.transequality.org/issues/national-transgender/discrimination/survey, and http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender,
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.