What Exactly Does it Mean to be Transgender?

When my youngest son came out as transgender in January of 2016, he did so in a Facebook life event post.

Facebook didn’t have this option in 2016, so his read: “Overcame Fear of Being Transgender.”

When I read it for the first time, there were words and phrases in the post that I found myself reading over and over. I wasn’t exactly sure what my child was trying to say and I felt overwhelmed by the information I was reading and the surge of emotions that I felt.

Transgender. Preferred pronouns. Chosen Name.

“Transgender,” I remember thinking. “Isn’t that someone who prefers to dress up as a member of the opposite sex?”

Well, no, actually, that is a transvestite a quick Google search informed me, an oudated (and often offensive) term that has now been replaced by the term cross-dresser. As a quick side note, how did we ever survive before Google? I spent the next several hours lost in a black hole of Google searches. One site led to another. Each answer brought more questions.

Pretty soon my head hurt and my eyes were tired. I wasn’t sure I understood anymore than I had when I started, but I had a basic understanding of what it meant to be transgender.

So what does transgender mean, anyhow?

Transgender has become an umbrella term that covers (that’s where umbrella comes from) anyone whose gender identity does not match the gender they were thought to be when they were born. This could be a non-binary person, a gender-queer person, and some gender-nonconforming persons (not all gender-nonconforming persons are transgender, just as not all transgender persons are gender-nonconforming), as well as transgender men and transgender women. GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has a glossary of transgender terms that you can check out here.

In plain and simple terms, someone who is transgender is assigned either male or female at birth, and that is how they outwardly express their gender in their early lives. So a transgender man who is assigned female at birth probably (but maybe not, this is a very broad assumption) grew up wearing dresses and jewelry and had feminine hair styles. But inwardly, in his heart and mind, he knew that something about him wasn’t in alignment. Some children know right away at a very young age and can verbalize it. Some children take a little longer, maybe until puberty, and then they have to sort out what that misalignment actually is all about. And others, take even longer. Everyone’s journey is different.

A transgender person does not “become” a male or female.

My son did not become a male when he came out in 2016. This wasn’t something I understood right away, even though I understood that he had been transgender right along. He was a male for his whole life, we just didn’t know that about him. For a long time, he presented as a female. First because he didn’t understand that transgender was the term that described who he was. Then because, well, for a lot of different reasons, which were his choice.

Sometimes transgender people choose not to come out because they don’t feel safe, or they don’t have the support they need to do so, or because their life circumstances make it hard for them to. None of that discounts the fact that they are transgender.

If someone you love has recently come out as transgender, you might be feeling overwhelmed. On the sidebar of my blog (~~~>) there is a link to a .pdf file of resources that might help. Similarly, if you click the LGBTQ tab at the top of the page, there are some posts that might be helpful as well. More are coming.

Find a good support group. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has a list of chapters by location on this page. If you are a mom, there is an excellent Facebook group that you can access through this page. Finally, I send out a weekly email that addresses the topic of having and supporting a child. If you download one of my resources, you’ll get that email. You can also email me and ask to be added. My contact is in the About section at the top of the page.

What is your biggest question or concern when it comes to understanding what it means to be transgender? I’d love to discuss it further with you in the comments.

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