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Frequently asked questions about transgender PeoPle
A Resource from the National Center for Trangender Equality
firstname.lastname@example.org ▪ www.nctequality.org
How many transgender people are tHere?
We don’t know for sure the answer to this question. There are a number of reasons
for that. First, there really isn’t anyone collecting this data. It’s not something that the
US Census or other agencies keep track of. Second, many transgender people are not
public about their identities, so they might not tell anyone about it.
NCTE estimates that between ¼ and 1% of the population is transsexual.
wHy are people transgender? wHat causes it?
There are a number of theories about why transgender people exist although there is
When you look across cultures, you will find that people have had a wide range of
beliefs about gender. Some cultures look at people and see six genders, while others
see two. Some cultures have created specific ways for people to live in roles that are
different from that assigned to them at birth. In addition, different cultures also vary in
their definitions of masculine and feminine. Whether we view someone as transgender
depends on the cultural lenses we are looking through as well as how people identify
Biologists tell us that sex is a complicated matter, much more complex than what we
may have been taught in school. A person has XX chromosomes is generally consid-
ered female, while a person with XY chromosomes is generally considered male. How-
ever, there are also people who have XXY, XYY, and other variations of chromosomes;
these genetic differences may or may not be visibly apparent or known to the person.
Some people are born with XY chromosomes, but are unable to respond to testoster-
one and therefore develop bodies with a vagina and breasts, rather than a penis and
testes. A variation in gender may just be part of the natural order and there are more
varieties than we generally realize. People with biological differences in gender may be
considered intersex; they may or may not identify as transgender.
There are medical theories about why people are transgender. Some speculate that
fluctuations or imbalances in hormones or the use of certain medications during preg-
nancy may cause intersex or transgender conditions. Other research indicates that
there are links between transgender identity and brain structure.
Some people believe that psychological factors are the reason for the existence of
transgender people. It is clear that there are people who are aware that they are trans-
gender from their earliest memories. Many trans people feel that their gender identity
is an innate part of them, an integral part of who they were born to be.
Then there are people who feel that everyone has a right to choose whatever gender
presentation feels best to that individual. People should have the freedom to express
themselves in whatever way is right for them.
Sex and gender are complex issues. A huge variety of factors are at work in making
each individual the person that they are and there is no one reason that causes people
to be transgender. Trans people are part of the variety that makes up the human com-
is being transgender a mental illness?
No, but this remains a stereotype about transgender people. Gender Identity Disorder
is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-4th Edition
(DSM-IV), a guide used by
mental health professionals to diagnose psychological conditions.
Transgender identity is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Rather,
transgender people experience a persistent and authentic difference between our as-
signed sex and our understanding of our own gender. For some people, this leads to
emotional distress. This pain often can be relieved by freely expressing our genders,
wearing clothing we are comfortable in, and, for some, making a physical transition
For people who identify as transsexual, counseling alone, without medical treatment,
Our society is, however, very harsh on gender-variant people. Some transgender peo-
ple have lost their families, their jobs, their homes and their support. Transgender chil-
dren may be subject to abuse at home, at school or in their communities. A lifetime of
this can be very challenging and can sometimes cause anxiety disorders, depression
and other psychological illnesses. These are not the root of their transgender identity;
rather, they are the side effects of society’s intolerance of transgender people.
How do transsexual people cHange genders?
wHat is tHe process like?
Note: The information in this section applies only to transsexuals, not to transgender
people in general. Remember that not all transgender people want to transition.
There are a variety of paths that people follow, but many use a series of guidelines set
out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. These guidelines are
called the Standards of Care (SOC) and they outline a series of steps that people may
take to explore and complete gender transition. These may include:
• Counseling with a mental health professional
• A “real life” experience where an individual lives as the target gender for
• Learning about the available options and the effects of various medical
• Communication between the person’s therapist and physician indicating
readiness to begin medical treatment (usually in the form of a letter)
• Having various surgeries to alter the face, chest and genitals to be more
congruent with the individual’s sense of self
Not all transsexual people follow these steps nor does the community agree about
their importance. The Standards of Care not legally mandated. We believe that people
should make their own decisions about their health care, in consultation with medical
or mental health professionals as appropriate to their individual situation.
Transsexual people may undergo hormone therapy. Transwomen may take estrogen
and related female hormones; transmen may take testosterone. It is important that
people obtain hormones from a licensed medical professional if at all possible to be
sure that the medications are safe and effective. Doctors should monitor the effects on
the body, including checking for negative side effects. Some of the effects of hormone
treatment are reversible when a person stops receiving hormone therapy; other effects
▪ Redistributing body fat to a more feminine appearance
▪ Causing the growth of body and facial hair
▪ Redistributing body fat to a more masculine appearance
Hormones can have an impact on some people’s emotional states. Many people report
feeling more at peace after they begin hormone treatments, but hormones may also
cause other fluctuations in mood. For many transgender people, there is no discern-
able difference in moods after beginning hormone treatments.
Some people and their doctors decide to pursue a full dose of hormones while others
choose to go on a lower dose regimen or not take hormones at all for personal or medi-
cal reasons. Hormone therapy is covered by some medical insurance.
Some transsexuals have surgery to change their appearance. There is no single “sex
change surgery.” There are a variety of surgeries that people can have, including:
• Genital reconstructive surgery, to create a penis and testes or clitoris,
• Facial reconstruction surgery, to create a more masculine or feminine
• For FTMs, surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus
• For MTFs, surgery to reduce the Adam’s apple or change the thorax.
Surgery is often excluded from health insurance plans in the United States. At NCTE,
we believe that the decisions about appropriate medical procedures should be made
by people and their health care providers, not by insurance companies or government
Whether or not someone has had surgery should never make a difference in how they
In addition to the medical procedures, transsexual people often follow a series of legal
steps to change their name and gender markers. The process may vary in each state.
Some of the things that may need to be changed are:
• Legal name and/or gender change (done through the courts)
• Paychecks and other job-related documents
Different states have different procedures for changing driver’s license and state IDs.
wHat are tHe costs of transitioning?
Medical costs are high and are often not covered by insurance. The majority of trans-
gender people cannot afford to pay these costs out of pocket.
There are social costs to transitioning. Because discrimination is widespread, trans-
sexuals face a great deal of prejudice. This may mean losing a job or career, including
their source of income, or not being able to find a job at all. Under- and unemployment
in the transgender community is many times the national average. People may have to
go from well-paying stable jobs to minimum wage work, seasonal employment or unem-
ployment. This impacts their ability to support themselves and their families.
Some people are ostracized from their families, losing relationships with parents,
spouses, children, siblings and others. They may be forced from their home by family
members or no longer be able to pay their rent or mortgage.
While there are many costs associated with transitioning, there is also a cost when
people who desire it do not do so. They may live a lifetime in which they never feel
congruence between their body and their sense of self. They may be depressed and
unhappy, or even suicidal, because they are not able to dress, live or work as they are
comfortable. They may not have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams or live as they
Some transgender people are able to keep their jobs, stay with their families and main-
tain their support networks—while enjoying their life much more fully because they
wHy do people crossdress?
Crossdressers wear the clothing generally associated with the opposite gender be-
cause it gives them a sense of happiness and fulfillment. They may also wish to ex-
press more than one aspect of their personalities—both a sense of masculinity and a
sense of femininity—that are part of them.
Crossdressers, drag queens and drag kings like to change their appearance at times
while generally identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth.
People used to believe that crossdressing was a purely sexual fetish. Now, however,
we know that for most people it is much more complex than that. While crossdressers
may find it sexually appealing and gratifying, they may also experience emotional and
psychological fulfillment from it. It is one way that people may express who they are.
How is gender identity different
from sexual orientation?
Gender identity refers to the way you understand yourself and your gender. It is about
the internal sense of masculinity or femininity that a person feels.
Sexual orientation is our attraction to someone else of the same or different gender or
both. It refers to the kinds of relationships that you have with others.
Transgender people can be heterosexual/straight, bisexual, homosexual/gay/lesbian
or identify as queer. Many transgender people are in fulfilling and happy relationships.
Transgender people are often included in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-
gender) community, which is increasingly aware of the need to address issues of gen-
der identity and expression as well as sexual orientation. This alliance is important to
wHat is being done about tHe discrimination tHat
transgender people face?
Around the country, laws, policies and attitudes are changing, making life better for
transgender people overall. More and more employers, for example, now have policies
which ban discrimination based on gender identity; they recognize that intolerance is
bad for business. In addition, 39% of people in America (as of January 2009) are cov-
ered by anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity.
Transgender activists around the country and in Washington, DC, are working to pass
anti-discrimination laws that provide protections for transgender people and send a
message to their communities that intolerance is not acceptable. The United States
should be a place where people can live free from discrimination and violence.
The transgender movement is part of a long line of activism as people have worked to
claim their civil rights in this country. Yet there is much work still to do. The discrimi-
nation that transgender people of color face is compounded by racism; lower income
transgender people face economic challenges and classism. The work for transgender
equality needs to address these critical issues as well.
National Center for Transgender Equality ▪ 1325 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005
(202) 903-0112 ▪ email@example.com ▪ www.nctequality.org
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