Psychology and Transgenderism

What you need to know: Psychological truths about being trans

Trans representation in the media has reached an all time peak in recent times. In general, the world is becoming increasingly aware of transgender identities and trans issues. Psychology has also adapted to recent changes in culture. Academics and activists alike agree on a central point: educating yourself is key for progress. Here’s what you need to know.

1) What does it mean to be transgendered?

Transgender is a general term referring to having a gender identity that differs from one’s assigned sex at birth. It’s also important to differentiate between gender, sex, and sexual orientation. Gender is how a person feels, sex is biological, and sexual orientation is a statement about one’s attraction.

2) When do people normally come out as trans?

Generally speaking, the trend in data shows that people are coming out earlier than they were a decade ago, namely before they hit puberty. This may not be a statement about biology – it’s more likely caused by increasing awareness and acceptance within the general population. However, many people do not realize that they are trans until much later in life. Some realize their identities early on and choose not to disclose that information. It’s also important to  note that gender, like sexuality, is fluid. One may find that their identity changes with age.

3) How does psychology view what it means to be transgender?

The DSM-5 previously used the term “gender identity disorder” to describe transgendered individuals, but in recent years, the term has been changed into “gender dysphoria”. The change marks a much needed revolution in psychology. Gender identity disorder suggests that having a gender identity that is different from the sex is disordered, and has been the cause of institutionalized stigmatization.  The shift to the diagnosis of gender dysphoria instead focuses on the stress and anxiety one experiences when having a gender that differs from the sex. The goal is then to support and to provide treatment, allowing for the individual to feel comfortable in their body.

4) How do we support someone we know who is transgender?

Educate yourself. Ask questions and be open to new answers. Be respectful of the person’s preferred pronouns. Support them in any way you can, and if the situation becomes stressful or anxiety inducing for your friend, encourage them to seek professional help.

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