I find myself answering the same questions over and over again. In hopes of raising the level of discourse in some very small way I’m going to try and distill some of the issues in the form of an FAQ. Where appropriate I will try and link other posts that cover issues in more depth. I may add to this FAQ over time.
Q: What does transgender mean?
A transgender person has their inner sense of their gender, whether they feel male or female, that is not in line with their body and how they are seen by their surrounding society. I personally feel that to be transgender you need to need some accommodation in order to lead a comfortable life. That doesn’t mean you have to transition.
Transgender people has as their primary characteristic that gender identity of the other sex. Glaad’s definition
Q: What does transsexual mean?
Transsexual is an older term. The general difference is that someone identifying as transsexual is either transitioning or has transitioned using medical interventions.
Q: Mistakes and Regrets, don’t a lot of people regret transition or surgery?
The short answer is no. Modern statistics for regrets from SRS are in the <1% range and are low for transition as well. The WPATH organization have a set of guidelines for the administration of hormones and candidacy for surgery that virtually eliminate people with mental illness and people who want to transition for the wrong reasons.
Most “statistics” presented by people arguing these things date from forty years ago and come from a time when no serious limits were in place.
The other problem is that statistics, motivations and studies are often misused and used in ways that the authors object to because the studies either were not meant to detect the information being presented, or outright don’t say what the people exploiting the study says it does. See What About Regrets?
Q: Why isn’t being transgender a delusion?
This is a common accusation from people who want to deny the existence of gender dysphoria. Often the discussion will move to reductio ad absurdum arguments like well if you thought you were a cat should we do surgery to make you a cat?
There is a substantial body of evidence supporting there being both genetic and brain structure origins for gender dysphoria. In my post about being happy with transition I discuss this and some other issues at some more length. I’ll add that roughly 30% of identical twins where one twin is trans, the other twin is also trans.
The next question is related.
Q: Why isn’t being transgender a mental illness
People who ask this often quote that earlier versions of the DSM (the standard psychiatric diagnosis manual) listed being transgender as a mental illness. We also used to think autism was caused by cold mothers. Times change and knowledge improves.
Mental illness normally impacts on people’s ability to function normally in daily life. Aside from the direct consequences of gender dysphoria when untreated, trans people have no other impact on their lives. Transitioned trans people live normal lives, although they can have other problems like any other person.
Q: Being Transgender is sinful
Aside from the point that medical treatment has nothing to do with religion, it’s worth pointing out that the five books of Moses (the Torah to me) are not taken to be followed in their entirety. Picking and choosing according to your particular agenda isn’t really legitimate even if you think it proves your point.
Let me give you some examples of commandments we do not follow in modern times:
- We do not kill every man when we conquer a city and take the women and children and slaves or sexual servants.
- We don’t follow the meaning of not to salt the ground or level the trees. Leaving minefields in war zones violates the spirit of this.
- We do not father children by our brother’s widow (Onan’s actual sin
Examples of things that are bad examples or missing from the Torah:
- Rape is not called out as a sin, only mentioned when it has to do with a virgin, betrothed woman or married woman. Essentially a property crime.
- Violence against your wife and children is not forbidden
- Violence against other people is not forbidden
- Lot offered up his virgin daughters so the crowd in Sodom would leave his house guests alone.
You can’t read the Torah at face value without considering carefully what it might mean. That’s not even counting the mistranslations into English such as “Thou shall not kill” when the statement in Hebrew says “Thou shall not murder”.
Q: Transgender people are perverts/rapists/sexual predators
This has been popular, promoted by luminaries like the now former governor of North Carolina. Trans people differ in only one way from people who are not trans. Their inner feeling of gender differs from their physical sex.
This doesn’t mean that there cannot be a trans person who is one of those terrible things, but it isn’t specifically because they are trans.
Q: What’s with the bathroom and locker rooms
Bathroom bills are not about the bathroom. Bathroom bills are not about men trying to sneak into the ladies room pretending to be trans women. Bathroom bills are about harassing trans women. End of story.
The claimed basis for the bills is utter poppycock. No non-transgender person is going to walk into a ladies room pretending to be a woman and be at all convincing. Creating a bill forbidding someone entry to avoid some minor charge because you think they are going to commit a serious felony is a laughable presumption.
Rape and child sexual abuse are largely committed by people the victims know, not by strangers.
Oh, and nobody has ever bothered me in the ladies room, ever.
Then there’s the subject of locker rooms. It’s true that it might be upsetting to have a trans girl changing naked in front of other girls. I have news for you, it would be uncomfortable for her too. There are lots of options. She can change in a stall, the school can put in a couple of private changing booths (pretty common in ladies locker rooms actually) and the showers don’t have to be communal. This does not have to be complicated.
At some schools this is already done. Incidentally, I saw no naked women in the locker room at the fitness club I went to.
- The Restroom
- Transgender Access
- An Answer to Transgender Bathroom Access
- Why is the Bathroom such a big deal?
Q: All of a sudden trans people are everywhere, it’s a fad
Yeah, not so much. Over the last thirty years or so it has become moderately acceptable to be trans, and so there are actual trans people that are visible and a couple of trans characters on TV. We have always been out there.
One thing that has also happened is that people like me who have waited for decades finally found the courage to come out and transition.
Transgender people have existed in every culture going back millennia. There have been some kinds of surgical interventions dating back to roman times, although not the sophisticated surgery done now for MtF patients.
Q: SRS – What do they do?
There are a lot of people under the misapprehension that they basically remove all the male genitalia, sew us up and leave a barbie doll. Well, no. I’m explaining the MtF surgery, the FtM surgery is a bit more complicated and in my opinion less successful due to some anatomical limitations at this time.
In the MtF version they are performing what is traditionally known as penile inversion vaginoplasty. That means that the penile skin forms the lining of the new vagina. There have been quite a few improvements since the technique was introduced in the 60s. Creating a neovagina goes back to the 19th century as treatment for vaginal agenesis in women.
With the exception of the erectile tissue and testicles, the rest of the genital tissue is used in vaginoplasty. Part of the scrotum and penile skin becomes the vagina, the rest of the penile skin becomes the inner labia. The rest of the scrotum becomes the labia majora. Part of the glans becomes the clitorus. In some variations a portion of the shortened urethra is opened to line the vaginal vault with mucosal tissue.
Q: What about trans kids, they should have surgery/hormones
I’m not sure where this misinformation comes from. There seems to be a large number of people who think they are giving hormones and performing reassignment surgery on children. They most definitely are not doing this.
What seems to be the standard protocol for children with gender dysphoria is to raise them as their target gender and give them puberty blockers until they are at an age to make an informed decision. At that point hormones can be started and reassignment surgery can be scheduled. Look at Trans children, what’s the correct course? for more.
Q: Parents are encouraging trans kids/causing this
This is pretty much the opposite of the truth. First, no parent wants their child to go through this. Trans kids have a much higher rate of abuse, both physical and sexual, at the hands of their peers, and higher rates of substance abuse. Untreated trans kids have a 40% attempted suicide rate.
There are multiple stories out there about conservative parents who were appalled that their child was trans, but realized what was going on and after finding out there was no way to make it “go away” wanted a live daughter instead of a dead son.
Q: Don’t most trans kids turn out “normal”
Depends on what you mean by normal and what study you’re looking at and whether they did followups. This is not well studied at this point in my opinion. There are a lot of problems talking to adults who were trans kids. They may not be honest given societal taboos that still exist, they may be in denial, and frankly we don’t have big surveys to tell us what to think. However, if they aren’t trans they are mostly gay.
This is exactly why it is important to wait before starting treatment that has permanent consequences. Some definitely do turn out not to be trans as adults.
Q: Changing Sex/Transitioning is about sex
I have yet to see any reputable person state that anyone has ever transition or had SRS with sex as a primary motivator. Transition is motivated by ending gender dysphoria, which is mentally painful and can cause or aggravate depression and anxiety. It is hard, very hard to live your life as something and someone you aren’t.
SRS is generally not about sex. I made a list of my reasons and sex didn’t break the top five reasons. Am I interested? Sure. Curious? Sure. Would that have made me endure the surgery and long recovery without the other reasons? Are you out of your mind?
Q: People change gender on a whim
I came out to my Rabbi and wife when I was 54 and I’m 59 now. I went through over a year of therapy before I started hormones – and that was relatively quick. Some people take more time, the minimum by WPATH standards is 3 months.
I took another six months to go full time. By the time I was full time (really that meant being Rachel at work – I had been Rachel everywhere else by a couple months before) I had been living as a female for seven months for most of my time outside of work.
In order to be ready to be full time I had about 60 hours of electrolysis, which is quite painful. I’ve had a good bit since and am nearly done.
To be able to get by one has to change many habitual behaviors. This was fairly natural for me, but some people have to really work at it.
Far from being on a whim it takes rather dedicated effort and a willingness to go through substantial physical pain (electrolysis, genital hair removal, breast augmentation, SRS, dilation) and the emotional pain of losing large numbers of friends and family and possibly your job.
Q: You’re not really a woman
Sigh, if your definition of woman means I have to bleed every 28 days and get pregnant then you caught me. If your definition means certain aspects of female upbringing I didn’t experience than I suppose that’s true too.
I don’t believe that every girl has the same upbringing. Some have privileged upbringings that are probably much nicer and more enabling than mine could ever have been. Some were put down for being girls. I was only teased unmercifully for not being normal.
There are women who do not ever have a period. They are still women. There are women who never get pregnant by design or by misfortune and they are still women too.
From most reasonable viewpoints I can reasonably be called a woman. I’m one with a very unique history, and I’m one with my own brand of suffering. I share the most things about the lives women lead, the frustrations, joys and other things that come with the territory. Honestly, why does it matter so much to people?
What I don’t say is that I have the depth of life experiences of a woman my age. Can’t argue with that. Doesn’t make me a man though.
Q: What’s different about being a woman
I’m not as strong and I’m much more vulnerable. Even as an older man I was seen as more intimidating than as a woman of the same size. It is hard to explain to a man how much more vulnerable being female makes you. You aren’t just contending with being mugged or seen as more of a target. There’s also sexual assault to consider.
There’s dealing with assumptions about women without being a bitch. I know more about how cars work than most men but god help me if I start lecturing about it. I know huge amounts about woodworking and wood finishes having been a woodworker for thirty years. I’ve done more than my share of electrical, plumbing and carpentry in house repair. Imagine how I feel if some dumbass starts explaining what end of a hammer to hold. God help me.
I was never comfortable in the role of protector and defender. I never knew if I could do it. I have years of martial arts but that’s twenty five years ago and I’m pushing, well you can guess.
I was never so aware how women and men segregate at a lot of parties. I sure noticed quickly.
Men are quick to dismiss what women say – often to their detriment.
More on the differences Cellophane
Q: How do I refer to a trans person
Transgender people are referred to as they are presenting. Someone who looks like a man is a man, someone who looks like a woman is a woman. Therefore a MtF, person who transitioned male to female, is referred to as a trans woman or trans female. An F2M, a person who transitioned female to male, is referred to as a trans man or trans male.
Q: How are trans people different from cis people, why have the term cis
If you’re having a discussion where you want to distinguish a characteristic between groups of people it is useful to have terms. Cis just means congruent between gender and sex, trans means not congruent. The term isn’t meant to be divisive or offensive, just a marker to distinguish between the groups.