Socially-Based Support for Transgender People

Whether transgender people want to medically transition or not is a personal choice. But many will still need socially-based support like changing their names or pronouns.

Nondiscrimination protections and affirming, inclusive health care are the only way to reduce the minority stress that drives poor health outcomes for transgender people.

What is transgender?

Transgender people are those who feel that their gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. People may become aware of their transgender identities and feelings in a variety of ways, at any age. Some experience them since childhood, while others might not discover them until adolescence or later in life.

Many transgender people choose to make their gender expression match their gender identity (how they feel inside), and some also take steps to medically transition, which can include changing the sex on their legal documents, using hormone therapy, or having surgery. People who do not transition are referred to as cisgender, and they may or may not be attracted to men, women, or both. In Western cultures, sexual orientation refers to a person’s attraction to other people of the same or opposite sex, but it is different from gender identity and does not affect the ability to be a transgender person.

How do I know if someone is transgender?

For many transgender people, gender identity – their internal sense of being a man or woman – differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. They may express their sex identity in a variety of ways, including changing the name and pronouns they use, seeking hormone treatment or surgery to match their new appearance, or updating their sex designation on ID documents. People who transition genders often describe themselves using a variety of terms, like non-binary or genderqueer, to avoid confusion with the terms man and woman.

Some transgender people experience distress when the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t match their appearance or gender presentation – this is called gender dysphoria. It’s important to note that gender dysphoria is not a medical condition, and many trans people don’t experience any form of gender dysphoria. For some, the difference between their gender identity and sex at birth can be resolved without any medical intervention.

How can I be an ally to a trans person?

Many trans people must educate their friends and family members about their gender identities. This can be exhausting and burdensome, especially since some trans people may not want to do so at all.

Educating yourself and your loved ones about the differences between gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation can be an easy way to start being an ally. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal experience of being male, female or non-binary. Sexual orientation is a person’s innate preference for men, women or both.

Using someone’s correct pronouns is an easy, powerful way to show your support. It’s also a good idea to avoid “deadnaming” someone (using the name they were assigned at birth) or misgendering them (using the wrong pronouns or referring to them as the gender they were assigned as at birth). Encourage your workplace, home and community to have all-gender restrooms. Supporting gender non-conforming youth by providing them with safe spaces to learn and explore their identities is another important step in becoming a trans ally.

What should I do if I think someone is transgender?

If you have a friend or loved one who is transgender, make sure that you respect their identity. This includes using the name they want you to use and the pronouns that they prefer. You should also avoid slurs and other negative rhetoric.

You should never try to guess someone’s gender identity. You can’t tell a person’s gender from their clothes, hairstyle or makeup, or by how they are acting.

Transgender people may experience mental health issues. If they do, it is important to find a therapist who is knowledgeable about transgender issues.

Some trans people don’t have any mental health problems at all. However, many do. Some have a history of mental illness that was caused by their childhood experiences or prejudice against them. This can be very stressful and lead to depression. Having a supportive community and avoiding harmful people can help. Many trans people are also more comfortable telling their story to a mental health provider who specializes in transgender issues.