What does it mean to be transgender?
There is a difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’. When we are born, we are given a biological sex; we are labelled either a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’. Gender, by contrast, is more about how we think of ourselves, how we want to be known by others, or how we want to be seen in society. In this way, we define our own ‘gender identity’ and this might change throughout our lives. Sometimes though, when we present our gender in a different way to society’s norms of ‘male’ or ‘female’, we might encounter prejudice or be stigmatised. Often this arises as a result of people being ignorant about what it truly means to be transgender, or from the thoughts and beliefs they hold or have been brought up with.
Some people find that their sex and gender identity match up – this is called ‘cisgender’. For others this doesn’t happen: this is called transgender, trans, non-binary, gender-fluid or gender questioning. Transgender individuals can identify as any sexuality regardless of their biological sex. The teenage years can often be the most challenging in life and lots of questions arise in connection to our gender and identity at this time. One day we might feel we lean more towards having female attributes; the next day we might feel we have more male characteristics. Though society tends to depict gender as rigid and unchanging − none of this is true − for many it can feel fluid and changeable. As a result of these perceived ‘norms’ that society promotes, a person can feel judged, ridiculed, bullied, harassed, tormented and overwhelmed. This has been seen to cause high levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
What changes do we experience in puberty and how can it impact us?
Puberty usually starts from around 8 to 14 years and is a slow process which takes a number of years to complete. Those with a female body tend to start puberty earlier than males. When puberty begins, the body releases hormones: in males these are released in the testes, and in females the ovaries. These hormones are responsible for bodily changes like breasts developing (for females), testes increasing in size (for males), as well as increased growth of hair under the arms, genital areas, and legs. Those assigned male at birth begin to grow facial hair; those assigned female at birth begin periods. At this time, fertility in both sexes develops, and growth spurts can also occur. Puberty is one of the most intense periods of change in emotional, identity and sexual development.
What does it mean to be transitioning?
When a person has decided that they want to identify with a certain gender, they then might begin changing the clothes they wear, their hairstyle etc., a process that is sometimes called ‘transitioning’. It is through this process that a person moves towards being true to themselves and identifying with the gender of their choice. Some people will begin to ask others to address them in a different way -by changing their names, for example. They may even begin to take hormones and consider surgery to change the way they look and feel. Here, medical assessments, support and interventions will assist this life-changing decision. To completely transition to your preferred gender, medical intervention, legal, and social support will all be necessary. It is not an easy path to follow and is a big step to take – you will need to be emotionally and spiritually ready to undertake this long-term process.
What does ‘coming out’ mean?
‘Coming out’ is when you decide to tell others about your gender identity, which can be a big step for some people. Sometimes it can feel like a huge relief, as if a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, while at other times it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety; we are never quite sure how our family, friends, peers, colleagues etc. will respond. People will react in different ways: some will understand and support your choice immediately, whereas for others it may take time to process. There will even be those who will not accept it and might become judgemental or abusive. Any emotional or physical abuse is never tolerated and if you believe you are victim you should always consider contacting the police.
In addition, there are many organisations you can contact to help you including:
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!