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Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

Topic Overview

Gender identity is your internal sense of whether you are male or female. When you are transgender, this feeling doesn't match your actual sex. Your body is male or female, but inside you feel you are really the opposite sex. You feel "trapped" in the wrong body.

The feeling that something is different may begin early in life. Many adults who are transgender remember noticing a difference as children between what their bodies looked like on the outside and what they felt on the inside. Other transgender people make this discovery as adults.

Sometimes a person feels so strongly that his or her body is incorrect that the person decides to have medical treatment, from hormones to surgery, to make the body match how he or she feels inside. People who have gender reassignment surgery to make these changes may be described as "transsexual."

Sexual orientation and gender identity are related, but they aren't the same thing. For example, a person can be transgender without being homosexual.

Some people use makeup, haircuts, or clothing styles to look like members of the other gender. This is called cross-dressing and is not the same thing as being transgender. Cross-dressers may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

Remember: You're not alone

The pressure and stress caused by feeling alone and sad can lead to depression, a very serious problem. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at particularly high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.

If you are transgender, it's important to realize that there are lots of people like you. They have the same problems, emotions, and questions that you have, whether you are openly transgender, are still hiding the fact that you are transgender, or have a friend or family member who is transgender.

It can be very comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through. You can find such people through local or online groups. If you don't know where to find support, ask:

  • Your doctor.
  • Your school counselor or trusted teacher.
  • A therapist or other counselor.
  • Websites and online organizations. You can find a list of such organizations on the GLBT National Help Center website at www.glnh.org.

Why is it important to understand stress and know how to cope with it?

Stress is a fact of life. Most of us have periods of stress at various times in our lives. But extra stress can have a serious effect on your health, especially if it lasts for a long time.

If you are openly transgender, you may be under a lot of extra stress because of discrimination in the community. If you are still in the closet, you may have stress from hiding who you really are. Rejection, discrimination, fear, and confusion cause long-term stress in many transgender people.

Constant stress can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, so that you have a harder time fighting off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.

People who are under long-term stress are also more likely to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol heavily, and use other drugs. These habits can lead to serious health problems.

It's important to recognize the effects that stress can have on your life and to learn how to cope with stress to stay healthy. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

How can you support someone who is transgender or transsexual?

  • Learn all you can about transgender and transsexual issues.
  • Learn to use the right pronouns ("he," "she," "him," "her"). Don't be afraid to ask the person what he or she prefers.
  • If the person is changing his or her name (from Dennis to Denise, for example), use that new name when talking to or about the person.
  • Make sure you get support for yourself. It can be stressful to try to see a transsexual person in a new way. Counseling can help.

For more information, see the topics:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Psychological Association
750 First Street NE
Washington, DC  20002-4242
Phone: 1-800-374-2721
(202) 336-5500
TDD: (202) 336-6123
Web Address: www.apa.org
 

The American Psychological Association provides information and brochures on a number of topics, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Visit www.apa.org/helpcenter for information on the mind/body connection, family and relationships, and how therapy works.


Family Equality Council
P.O. Box 206
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 502-8700
Fax: (617) 502-8701
Email: info@familyequality.org
Web Address: www.familyequality.org
 

Family Equality Council works to ensure equality for families with gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender members. Parenting protections, adoption, health insurance reform, safe schools, and workplace equality are some of the many issues the organization works on. Its website includes news updates and resources for families.


GLBT National Help Center
2261 Market Street, PMB 296
San Francisco, CA 94114
Phone: (415) 355-0003 office
Phone: 1-888-843-4564 national hotline
Phone: 1-800-246-7743 youth talkline
Fax: (415) 552-5498
Email: info@GLBTNationalHelpCenter.org
Web Address: www.glnh.org
 

The GLBT National Help Center provides free and confidential support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and for those with questions about sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The organization offers information about GLBT issues, safer-sex info, and local resources for cities and towns across the country, as well as peer counseling for people going through a difficult time.


Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives.American Psychiatric Association
1000
Wilson Boulevard
1825
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: 1-888-35-PSYCH
Email: apa@psych.org
Web Address: www.healthyminds.org
 

This online resource is provided by the American Psychiatric Association for anyone seeking mental health information. It includes information on many common mental health concerns, including warning signs of mental disorders, treatment options, and preventive measures.


PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
1828 L Street NW
Suite 660
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 467-8180
Fax: (202) 349-0788
Email: info@pflag.org
Web Address: www.pflag.org
 

PFLAG is a support, education, and advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families, friends, and allies. PFLAG is a nonprofit organization and is not affiliated with any religious or political institutions. On the website you can find information about local chapters, advocacy issues, and more.


References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Psychological Association (2008). Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/orientation.aspx.
  • APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns (2011). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx.
  • Biggs WS (2011). Medical human sexuality. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 1000–1012. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Eliason MJ, et al. (2009). LGBTQ Cultures: What Health Care Professionals Need to Know About Sexual and Gender Diversity. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Available online: http://www.nursingcenter.com/upload/Journals/Documents/LGBTQ.htm.
  • Hillman JB, Spigarelli MG (2009). Sexuality: Its development and direction. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 415–425. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Sadock VA (2009). Normal human sexuality and sexual and gender identity disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2027–2060. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Zucker KJ (2011). Gender identity and sexual behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 346–348. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
Last Revised October 25, 2012

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