In many cultures, gender is equated to biological sex and there are thought to be only two possibilities: male or female. Some people, however, don’t believe they fit neatly into either category. This experience is referred to as transgender, or “trans.” The term trans is used here as shorthand, and refers to the broader spectrum of transgender, gender fluid, genderqueer, agender, pangender, and other gender non-conforming individuals.
Trans: It’s about who you are, not who you love
Sometimes people confuse the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation. They are not the same thing! A person’s sexual orientation is distinct from their gender identity and expression. The following terms and definitions might be helpful in distinguishing these concepts:
- Sexual Orientation is based on who one is attracted to and exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusively homosexual (same-sex attraction) to exclusively heterosexual (opposite-sex attraction). "Gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "straight" are some examples of sexual orientations.
- Sex is a medically assigned identity based on physical characteristics – our genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and internal reproductive structures.
- Gender Identity refers to our inner sense of being a man, woman, or another gender. We can think of gender identity as how the mind and the heart regard the body.
- Gender Expression refers to the ways in which we communicate our gender identity to others, through our external characteristics, behaviors, and other means.
- Transgender is a broad term used to describe individuals whose gender identity does not correspond with their genetic sex.
Signs that you may be trans:
- Confusion about your gender.
- Gender dysphoria: A strong feeling that you are not the gender you physically appear to be. This can be a scary and lonely experience.
- Feeling “different” because of your gender, like you don’t really fit in anywhere.
- Extreme stress, anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts regarding your gender.
- Negative feelings, such as dislike or even hatred, regarding your genitals.
- Yearnings or urges to express traits or engage in behaviors typically associated with another gender.
- Experimentation with identity expression different than the one you were assigned at birth, in public or in private. These expressions could include clothing, mannerisms, names, or other characteristics.
What to do if you think you may be trans:
- Be patient with yourself.
Gender identity is complex. Give yourself time to fully understand your experience. Don’t rush your process of self-discovery.
- Get support.
Talking to supportive others can make a real difference as you come to terms with your trans identity. Because trans people are often bullied and can be at high risk for mental health issues, it is crucial that you find safe people with whom to interact. Local, national, and online communities can help you find them. Many of these communities are referenced on this page.
- Educate yourself.
Learn as much as you can about transgender experiences, rights, options, and resources. Many advocacy groups referenced on this page can provide you with valuable information.
- Prioritize self-care.
Being trans, or realizing that you are trans, can be very stressful and confusing. It is important that you maintain good physical, mental, and spiritual health as you navigate your experiences. Eat well, exercise regularly, get adequate sleep, and avoid excessive use of alcohol or drugs. Manage your stress, attend to your self-talk, and nurture your spirituality.
- Be thoughtful about coming out.
Exploring your trans identity and sharing it with others is a very personal decision. Although the process is different for everyone, it usually feels best if you prepare and plan carefully. Check out the Coming Out page for more information about how to do this.
- Find an affirming therapist.
Therapy can be a vital source of support and guidance as you explore your trans identity. It is important that you find a therapist who is affirming. Affirmative care is based on the premise that LGBTQ and gender-conforming/heterosexual identities are equally valid. We offer affirmative care for trans individuals at the Weber State Counseling and Psychological Services Center.
- Research the transition process.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to transitioning. Whether, when, and how to do it are highly individual decisions. Spend time talking with others who have made their own decisions and researching your options. The links provided on this page can be a good place to start this research.
Supporting the Trans People in your Life
If someone close to you has identified as trans or is going through a gender transition, seek and accept support in processing your own reactions. Relating to a loved one in transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children. Counselors at CPSC can help you work through these changes. Community support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can also be useful resources. Below are some simple ways in which you can show a trans-positive attitude:
- Learn as much as you can about transgender issues. Check out some of the resources referenced on this page.
- Be aware of your attitudes regarding individuals who are non-gender conforming, and how your attitudes may be impacting trans individuals around you. Strive toward acceptance.
- Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity. If in doubt, ask!
- Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or surgical treatment, or other aspects of their identity. If you need to know, ask. Simple curiosity is not a need to know.
- Expect to make mistakes. Be patient and kind to yourself and to the trans people in your life as you learn new ways of interacting.
- Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life. Your support can be instrumental to their well-being.
The Following Modules are Helpful for Transgender Issues:
- Calming Your Anxiety (Student or Adult Version) Module 2: Relaxation & Anxiety Reduction
- Calming Your Anxiety (Student or Adult Version) Module 3: Thoughts, Assumptions & Core Beliefs
- Calming Your Anxiety (Student or Adult Version) Module 6: Lifestyle Factors
- Interpersonal Relationships & Communication: Communication Styles
- Interpersonal Relationships & Communication: Problem Solving
- WSU LGBT Resource Center
- Ogden OUTreach Resource Center
- Utah Pride Center
- LGBTQ Affirmative Therapists Guild of Utah
- Transgender Education Advocates
- The Trevor Project
- WPATH: The World Professional Association for Transgender Health
- Trans Lifeline
- Transgender Law Center
- GLAAD: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Transgender Resources