500 trans womanWhat does it mean to be trans?

Trans is an umbrella word that emcompasses many different identities, but the thing that ties all of these identities together is that someone does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. So, if someone was declared male or “a boy” at birth but identifies as a woman, she would be a trans woman. If someone was declared female or “a girl” but identifies as a boy, he would be a trans man. Trans women and trans men are what we most often hear about when we talk about trans people, but trans also incorporates genders that don’t fit into this male/female binary.

Some people identify as non-binary, meaning they don’t identify as either of these genders but may have another gender word they prefer. Non-binary, agender, trans masculine, trans feminine, demi-girl, demi-boy, genderfluid, and androgyne are some of the other non-binary gender identities people who also identify as trans might use. They are equally valid and equally trans as someone who identifies as a binary gender. People may identify as any number of these identities, including both binary and non-binary.

How do I know if I’m trans?

There is something of a joke in the trans community that goes, “You know, the funny thing is, if you are wondering if you are trans you probably are.” We start off this section of the article not to scare you, but to let you know that plenty of people have been through this same stage of questioning.

Someone who is trans may not be comfortable presenting in the way expected of their assigned gender (ex. a trans woman might have hated having very short haircuts as a child, a trans man may have hated wearing dresses). Maybe you feel most comfortable when you can dress and present like someone of the “opposite” gender or maybe you like to mix and match and create your own gender in your outfits and appearance. Another common source of discomfort for trans people is body dysphoria. This means being uncomfortable with certain parts of their body, particularly the aspects of our body that have been gendered like genitals, chests, hips, legs, body hair, shoulders, height.

But maybe, it’s not the negatives or the discomfort that makes you feel trans. Maybe you just know if your heart that you would feel better and more honest if you were a different gender. Maybe kissing someone you liked a lot of the same assigned gender felt incredible but didn’t really feel “gay.” Maybe you were playing around with names or dress up and found something that makes you feel more like you.

There are countless ways to be trans and countless ways to know you’re trans. Trust yourself.

Is this normal?

Of course! While being trans isn’t what people assume to be “typical” it is as normal as being human! Trans people have existed for as long as humans have had gender constructs. In fact, many cultures have third genders, incorporating what we consider trans people into the standard gender/sex system of the culture. Trans people exist in all walks of life. We are lawyers, doctors, teachers, parents, activists, actors and actresses, artists, writers, athletes, and so much more!

500 top health concerns for trans menWhat is coming out? Should I come out?

Coming out is when an LGBT person discloses their identity. Coming out is a very personal decision and you should consider the time, place, and circumstances that you want to come out in. Do you want to tell your friends? Do you want to tell your parents? Do you only want to be “out” to an online message board? All of these are options. Often people come out one step at a time.

Coming out can be very freeing for all LGBT people. It means that you no longer have to worry about people finding out in other ways and you can claim your identity for yourself rather than let other people (mis)understand it. It also makes it easier to find support. There are many resources and groups for LGBT people, many of which can be intimidating to someone who is not out! Most people feel a great deal of relief and happiness after coming out. After years of hiding they can finally be themselves!

While coming out can potentially help alleviate a lot of stress and internalized transphobia, it can also be difficult and put a lot of pressure on your relationships. Unfortunately, there are a lot of transphobic people. Sometimes they are our employers, sometimes they are our friends, and sometimes they are our families. It’s an unfortunate truth that young people are often kicked out of their homes or abused for being LGBT. If you think there is a chance of your parents or family reacting negatively or even violently, wait and consider your options. The same can be said for friends or co-workers. Trust your gut - you probably already know how the people around you would take your identity.

In non-LGBT circles, people often talk about coming out as if it is a one time thing. But coming out is something that you will do again and again, maybe even daily. Being trans makes this more likely as often, your identity may not match up with how people understand you and you will have to ask them to change pronouns. Or, on the other side, maybe after years of being out, you will meet a new friend who thinks you are cis. It’s always up to you whether or not you want to “out yourself” but you shouldn’t go into it thinking that coming out is a one time thing!

Coming out is not the same thing as transitioning though it is often the first step!

What is transitioning? Should I transition?

Transitioning, as understood in a trans context, means to start presenting and living as the gender you identify as. Depending on your gender identity, transition can mean many different things to you. Transitions is usually spoken about in two contexts, social and medical. Social transitioning would includes coming out, using appropriate pronouns, dressing in a way that makes you feel gender-comfortable, getting your gender markers changed on paperwork - things like that. Medical transition includes things like hormone therapy (HRT) or gender confirmation surgeries. Often, the  two go hand in hand but just as frequently people may want to socially transition but have no desire to medically transition. Transitioning is a step-by-step process and while some people think there is an end goal of transitioning, many people understand transitioning to be a never ending process.

Whether or not you should transition is up to you. Like coming out, social transitioning can alleviate a lot of stress and heartache but it can also bring it’s own problems. Being openly trans can be dangerous at times so you should trust your instincts. If you are in a place where you feel safe and ready to socially transition, go for it! Social transitioning is also less high-stakes because it is not permanent. You can change your name as many times as you want, you can change your pronouns as many times as you want until you find what you are most comfortable with.

Deciding to medically transition, unlike socially, can be a little bit more difficult. For one, medically transitioning can be a little scarier as it is completely permanent. With social transitioning, you can later decide that hey, you actually don’t like that name or those pronouns. With medical transition, the things that change are forever so if you are not fully sure you’re fully committed, wait. However, very few people who decide to medically transition regret it so if you do feel committed and ready, you should go for it.

Medically transitioning can be expensive and tedious. Most insurance plans don’t cover transitioning related healthcare meaning you’ll have to pay out of pocket for a lot of costs...and that’s if you have health insurance. Many trans people do not. Unfortunately, most trans health care is also dependent on convincing other people you need it. Gatekeeping doctors and medical professionals require you to have approval for gender confirmation care from a mental health professional, which not only adds more cost but more waiting time. It can also be stressful and disheartening to have to convince people again and again that yes, you need this care.

Ultimately, the decision if yours but you will probably want to take some steps towards “transitioning.” Even though it can be difficult at times, it will probably be easier for you than staying in the closet and living in a way that you are unhappy.

How can I learn to accept myself?

Self-esteem is very important for all young people to build but it’s especially important and usually more difficult to build for young trans people. While it can be difficult, try to remind yourself that there are a lot of amazing things about you - and your gender identity is one of them!

It’s very important that trans people take pride in themselves. Internalized transphobia can lead to things like depression and substance abuse as well as riskier behavior in general.  You may be feeling scared or lonely, especially if you’ve had to keep your identity a secret and don’t have anyone to talk to about it. While this is a common narrative of growing up queer, it’s not the only one. More and more LGBT youth are learning to accept and love themselves.

Some things that might be helpful on a journey towards self-acceptance and self-love include things like finding positive media depictions of trans people. While you might not find many trans people portrayed honestly on prime time television or popular movies, books written by trans people are abundant and can be a profound gateway towards a sense of trans pride. Reading books about other trans people or learning about trans history can show you that you are a part of an amazing and revolutionary group of people. If reading isn’t your cup of tea, find Youtube videos or join a social networking site like Tumblr. Trans people have a huge community on these websites, along with other LGBT identified folks. It can be helpful to see other trans people be so open and honest with their experiences, both positive and negative.

Try to remember that self-love can be difficult, especially when you grew up in a society that doesn’t want you to love yourself. You don’t have to be in love with yourself everyday. A day of feeling upset with or at yourself does not mean that you lost the battle, it simply means you’re human. If all else fails, fake it til you make it. Many people say that being sarcastically self-obsessed as a joke has helped them learn to love themselves.