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Teaching Our Children: Understanding Transgender

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teaching-our-children-understanding-transgenderMore people are 'coming out' as being transgender. But what exactly does that mean?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there, so let's talk about transgender and what it is, and what it isn't. Odds are pretty good that your child(ren) will know someone who is transgender before they reach adulthood, so let's make sure they also have this knowledge. I know my son's health class touched on the subject, but I'm guessing it is not talked about in many places.

What does transgender mean?

Gender is an individual’s feeling of being male or female. When someone’s gender is contradictory from the biological sex, they are said to be transgender. In other words, their gender and their sex are different.

While the word gender is sometimes used interchangeably with sex, gender it is a much broader concept that includes social differences and expectations, known as gender roles.

Why are some people transgender?

While no one is 100 percent sure, there seems to be a neurobiological reason why some people are transgender. Research suggests that something appears to happen during the in-utero development of the child's central nervous system so that the child is left with cross-gender body feelings and self-perceptions. Simply put, they have the brain of one gender, and the physical body of the other.

How does someone who is transgender feel?

Usually, if you are male, you don't think about it much. It feels normal. And, for most girls, it feels very natural to be female. But that's not true for everyone. Transgender people who were born male feel they should be female, and transgender people who were born female feel they should be male. People who are transgender feel like they're living inside a body that's all wrong for them. They often say they feel "trapped in someone else's body."

Many people who are transgender feel anxiety, unhappiness or persistent uncomfortable feelings about their assigned gender (biological sex) which feels different from your own personal, internal gender (gender identity). Simply put, people find that the way they look on the outside doesn't fit how they feel inside. They often feel pressured to behave or act in a way that is different from what they really want to do which leads to feelings of unhappiness. Many feel they cannot talk to anyone about these feelings and are afraid of what other people will think or how they will act towards them if they knew.

When do transgender people realize they are transgendered?

Some transgender people know they feel "different" from when they are very young children. Others start sensing it around puberty or even later.

What is the difference between transgender and transsexuals?

Transgender individuals may live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender. However, everybody is different and unique, so not everyone who may appear gender-atypical will identify themselves as transgendered.

Transsexuals are transgendered people who desire to live as members of the gender opposite to their birth sex. Biological females who wish to live as men are called female-to male (FTM) transsexuals or transsexual men. Biological males who wish to live as women are called male to female transsexuals (MTF) or transsexual women.

Do all transgender people have sex change surgery?

Some people decide to physically change their bodies, through surgery or taking hormones, to match the gender they feel they really are. Physically becoming the opposite gender can be a long, complicated and expensive process. No one does this on a whim or takes the decision lightly.

Not everyone decides to get surgery or hormones, though. Some transgender people are most comfortable keeping their physical anatomy but dressing as the opposite gender. Some aren't completely sure what they want yet, but may start by asking to be called a new name and use the pronouns that go with that name (such as "Amanda" instead of "Anthony" and "she" instead of "he").

As with any group, not all transgender people want or think the same things. It all depends on what that particular person needs to feel most comfortable in both body and mind.

Are transgender people gay?

Being transgender is not the same thing as being gay. Being transgender is about gender identity, the way you see yourself and the gender you identify with. Being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation, the gender you are attracted to.

Teach your children...

It is basic human nature to shun what is not understood, and this often turns to fear of the unknown. Try to replace the judgment and fear with curiosity! Not just about Transgender, but many other things you or your child will face throughout life. Ask questions and learn. With knowledge will come understanding and compassion.

For more on talking with your children, visit Maternity Corner.

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