FAQ • Frequently asked questions
The following are questions that seem to come up a lot in the lives of trans* people and the people who love them. These questions are offered as a place to get started learning about the issues that that affect so many of us. We provide links at the bottom of this page for further study.
WHERE CAN I GO?
- IS THIS AN EMERGENCY? If you are feeling desperate or you are thinking about killing yourself, TALK TO SOMEBODY NOW. <<CLICK HERE>> to talk to someone right away on the phone.
- An excellent way to find other people in the San Luis Obispo area to talk to and socialize with is TRANS*TUESDAYS. This is an emotional support group that is totally confidential. People at this meeting run the full gamut of age and gender expression. Family and allies often come too. We've had kids who are entering high school, 70-year-old trans men who are taking their first steps, and people who transitioned many years ago.
- You might like to talk to a professional. It can be hard to cope with the feelings around having a gender that is different than your birth sex and especially the hateful way some people react. Talking to an experienced, knowledgeable therapist can be very helpful. EMAIL US to find local professionals who know how to help.
- Otherwise, a good place to start for someone who thinks they might be trans or someone who loves someone who is trans is to take a look at the WORDS & DEFINITIONS page on this website. Sometimes giving a name to a feeling is the first step toward finding out what to do next and maybe to connect with other people who feel the same way.
WHAT ARE NON-BINARY PRONOUNS?
SHORT ANSWER: Using they/them/theirs (or other gender non-specific words) instead of he/him/his or she/her/hers.
The issue of pronouns for gender non-binary people is important. It can also be confusing for some people.
American culture has traditionally seen gender as “binary.” In other words, believing that there are only two choices: male or female. Many people feel strongly that neither of these labels applies to them. Such people often identify as “gender non-binary.” This means that they do not see themselves exclusively as either male or female. (See “gender non-conforming” in the definitions section.)
In traditional English—as in the larger American culture—there has always only been two choices for personal pronouns: he/him/his or she/her/hers. Where does this leave people who identify as non-binary?
Many non-binary people choose to use a different set of pronouns, most typically they/them/theirs. Here are some examples of how this works:
Today is Chris’ birthday. Please give them a round of applause.
Pat just graduated. They hope to become a doctor.
Jayme went to the Humane Society and brought home their first pet.
This may seem a little awkward or ungrammatical, but there is already wide precedent in everyday speech for the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a single person. For example:
It is important to recognize that a person’s gender pronouns cannot be assumed from their appearance.
This sentence is not only true, but it illustrates how the pronoun “their” is used to refer to one person when the gender is not specified.
One way of being a good ally is to avoid making assumptions and always ask or provide an option to people you meet to disclose their preferred pronouns. More and more, particularly on today’s campuses, it is becoming common practice for people to tell you their preferred pronouns, especially during group introductions. A respectful and affirming practice would be to make this a universal practice, which will go a long way toward helping prevent the embarrassment and stress that can result when a person is inadvertently “mis-gendered.”
- From the APA fact sheet, “Non-Binary Gender Identities.”
WHY IS TRANSGENDER EQUALITY IMPORTANT?
SHORT ANSWER: Because EVERYONE deserves to have equal rights and to be treated with respect.
Transgender people face enormous obstacles with regard to safety and well-being and encounter many difficulties trying to overcome the stigma associated with being transgender.
- Discrimination - When surveyed, Ninety percent (90%) of transgender people reported some form of harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination in housing, employment, or health care. Most states and countries offer no legal protections.
- Transgender people regularly face Social Stigma: being made fun of, rejected by friends and family, and even having trouble getting basic documents like driver's licenses or passports that other people take for granted and that are required in order to do things like getting a job, enrolling in school, opening a bank account, or traveling.
- Poverty - Because of wide-spread social stigma, transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty. Rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment are twice that of the general population.
Being transgender can be downright dangerous.
- Suicide - Transgender people are at high risk for suicide. Estimates suggest that trans people are forty times more likely to try to kill themselves than the general population.
- Violence - Transgender people are disproportionately the victims of violence. In 2013, seventy-two percent (72%) of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women.
The ENTIRE COMMUNITY, not just the LGBT community, needs to come to together:
- to make it safe to be transgender
- to ensure that trans people have equal rights
- to take action so that everyone is treated with the respect that ALL people deserve.
SHOULD I TELL ANYONE ABOUT MY FEELINGS AND HISTORY?
THE SHORT ANSWER: If you want to, and only when you are ready and feel safe to do so. There is no need to "come out" just because someone else thinks you should.
Coming out for people who are transgender is the process of sharing both the inward reality of one's experience and the history of one's transition.
The gay/lesbian/bi communities tend to place a high value on coming out for reasons of personal empowerment and political advantage. GLAAD suggests that it may not be this simple for trans people, many of whom want only to live authentic lives as their true selves and not as someone who has "changed" from one "thing" into another. GLAAD puts it this way:
"It can be a disservice to a Trans person to make them feel like they HAVE TO come out. When a transgender person has transitioned and is living as their authentic gender - that is their truth. Unfortunately, it can feel disempowering for a transgender person to be pressured to disclose to others that he or she is transgender. The concern is that when others learn a person is trans, they no longer see the person as a "real man" or a "real woman."
Whether to share one's gender reality with other people is a complicated decision. It is different for everybody. And it can take many forms. But for those who choose to come out, it often follows a pattern:
- RECOGNIZING that you have feelings about your gender that are different from other people. For example, a person who is assigned "boy" at birth may have strong desires to dress as a girl. Or a person who is assigned "girl" at birth may wonder why his parents are treating him like a girl when he knows he is really a boy.
- ACKNOWLEDGING to yourself that you are having these thoughts and feelings and that they are your own. For example, a trans girl might say to herself, "I don't care what other people say. I am a girl! I just wish my family could see it too." It is natural for people to want to "fit in," to want to be like everybody else. Everyone experiences pressure from parents, teachers, clergy, and peers to do things "the right way" according to what THEY believe and how THEY were brought up. This can leave people who are different feeling like they are bad and they way they feel is wrong. For these reasons, it can be very difficult for some people even to admit to themselves that they are having thoughts or feelings about their gender that do not match what they are taught they are supposed to think and feel.
- EXPRESSING your gender identity publically. This involves appearing and behaving in ways that match how you feel inside. It can involve how you dress; how you wear your hair; the way you speak; the way you move; including any medical transition that you might undertake. Expressing your gender publically for the first time can be equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. How, when, and where you choose to express yourself for the first time is completely unique for every person who does it, but most will agree that it is a part of any social transition.
- SHARING your gender history and gender identity with other people. For example:
- A trans teenager might tell just one person, his best girlfriend, that he is trans. And this might be the only person who knows for a long time.
- Another person might choose to tell more than one person at the same time like in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; or even on Facebook!
- BEING transgender. Some people reach a level of comfort with their gender reality where being openly transgender or openly gender non-conforming becomes a naturally expressed part of everyday life. If the question of being trans comes up, it is a matter of simple fact, like having a southern accent, being 5'4" tall, or having brown hair.
So, should I come out?
The PFLAG pamphlet BE YOURSELF puts it this way:
"There’s no need to come out if you aren’t ready or you don't want to. Sometimes there are very good reasons not to come out... However, there are also very good reasons to let some people know that you’re transgender."
Given the very real social stigma in American society, a trans person might realistically fear coming out for a variety of reasons:
- drawing unwanted attention to themself
- losing their friends or making things "weird" with their friends
- being made fun of
- getting kicked out of the family
- losing their job
- getting beaten up or even getting killed
On the other hand, transgender people express many reasons why they are glad they came out:
- HELP & SUPPORT -- "If I hadn't admitted to my mom that I was transgender, it would have taken way longer to get the help and support I needed to be happy."
- FIND FRIENDS/CREATE FAMILY -- "Coming out allowed me to find friends that accept me the way I am and to create a family that loves the real me."
- DEEPENING RELATIONSHIPS -- "It feels great to be able to be real with my son. I always felt like there was this distance, like I had to keep him at arm's length. Now it's like we can really share our feelings and it's made us feel so much closer to each other. He says he feels that way too."
- EDUCATE OTHERS -- "Now that I have more confidence in myself, I feel like I can help educate other people. I think people only fear and hate what they don't understand. I can show the people that know me and liked me before I transitioned that I'm still the same person. It's like I get to show them that there is nothing to fear."
- THE GIFT OF TRUST -- "I was surprised when my brother told me he kind of knew all along. He actually thanked me for trusting him. He told me that by trusting him it was like I had given him a gift."
- POLITICAL ACTION -- "I've always wanted to make a difference. Now I get involved in groups that are working to make the social changes we need in terms of civil rights. If we don't fight for our rights, who will?"
- NO MORE SECRETS -- "At first, all I wanted was just to disappear in the crowd. All I wanted was to do my job and be an ordinary woman. But a friend at church came right out and asked me one day if I were transgender. She had seen something on TV. I didn't want to lie. So I told her. And I was surprised to find out what a relief it was!"
- ROLE MODEL -- "I really like the idea that by being out I can show other young trans people in my own quiet way that it's OK to transition and that they can do it too."
BOTTOM LINE: There is no "right answer" to the question of whether a trans person should or should not share their gender reality and history with other people.
Whatever your reasons for thinking you should or should not come out, it’s your decision and no one else’s, and if you decide to come out, you should do it at your own speed.
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE NOT TO HAVE SURGERY?
SHORT ANSWER #1: Many transgender people simply do not wish to have surgery.
SHORT ANSWER #2: Many transgender people cannot afford surgery.
SHORT ANSWER #3: Many transgender people cannot have surgery for health reasons.
SHORT ANSWER #4: Many transgender people hope to have surgery one day but are not ready.
When people ask this question, it usually means they are assuming that there are only two "right" ways to be: all male or all female. This is the "binary" way of thinking. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being "all boy" or "all girl." For some, this is a passionately desired goal. But, it is now commonly recognized that gender in not one of two opposite choices. It is generally believed that gender exists on a richly varied spectrum.
While many transgender people have strong desires to move to a full expression of their true gender, more and more people are preferring not to have choose -- these people don't want to be entirely male or entirely female.
Jacob Tobia - MTV Voices Contributor, describes it this way,
"...My transition has not been from one gender identity to 'the other.' Rather, it has been from the rigid categories of man and woman to an identity outside traditional notions of gender. Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace both my love of lipstick and my facial hair, my affinity for sequins and my broad shoulders. I’ve learned to love all parts of myself equally, to hold my femininity and my masculinity in tandem — understanding them not in opposition, but as compliments to one another."
There are various terms that people who feel this way use to describe themselves. Here are a few:
- Gender non-conforming - This is when a person's gender expression (how male or how female they present themselves) is different from conventional, societal expectations. But remember, not all gender non-conforming people identify as "transgender." Nor do all transgender people identify as "gender non-conforming".
- Gender queer - These folks identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female and often see themselves as a combination of both.
- Gender fluid - This is when a person's gender identity or expression can change between masculine and feminine. Sometimes, how male or how female they present will be different on different days.
- Other, similar terms - non-binary; agender; bigender; pangender.
I'M AN ALLY. WHAT CAN I DO?
(from: APA: "Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.")
- Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts. Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming or non-binary appearance or behavior.
- Start conversations with your friends and acquaintances. Most people, if you give them a chance, want to be respectful and to do good things. They often are just not aware of the problems that trans people face, and will be helpful and supportive if given a chance. Take the initiate and share with people what you know and what you hope to see happen.
- Confront transphobia when you encounter it. If a friend is telling a joke that makes fun of trans people, tell them you don't like it and tell them why. If someone at work is spreading misinformation about trans people, tell them what you know from your experience. If someone is speaking hatefully about trans people, speak up and tell them what you think. The bottom line is, don't let transphobic behavior go unremarked.
- Understand that there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
- Use affirming names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; If in doubt, ask. Create opportunities in your groups and social circles for people to state their preferred pronouns when introductions are made.
- Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam, a nurse providing some kind of intimate care, or you are a person who is interested in dating someone who you think might be transgender), ask.
- Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
- Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender people in your life.
- Get support for yourself in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone transitioning whom you know well. Having someone close to you transition can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.
- Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care. Respectfully challenge transphobic behavior when you encounter it.
- Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.
- Keep the focus on support for others. A common mistake that well-intentioned allies make is to put the focus on themselves: "Look at me and how wonderful I am being an ally." The primary focus of an effective ally is the impact that being trans in today's America has on trans people. It is about using all the things you have going for you to help trans people to deal with the myriad oppressions they experience.
DO TRANS PEOPLE NEED THERAPY?
SHORT ANSWER: Most trans people do not need or want mental health intervention beyond the psychological consultation some physicians require before providing medical support.
However, there are many reasons why transgender people may wish to seek mental health counseling or therapy.
- Support During Transition -- Taking the steps of social and medical transition can be scary and can cause a great deal of anxiety and confusion. Having a trained professional to talk through these feelings; to help weigh the pros and cons of the many decisions that must be made; to help make plans; and to provide support to carry them out can be an important part of a successful transition and a happier life. Many transgender people find it useful to get psychological counseling to help them deal with the repercussions of stigma and discrimination that may come during and after transition.
- Gender Dysphoria -- "Gender dysphoria" (dysphoria = an emotional state of distress marked by anxiety, depression, and restlessness) is the official psychiatric term for the distress transgender people may feel when coping with transphobia and when thinking about the fact that their sex does not match their gender. Gender Dysphoria, as a diagnosis, is controversial in transgender communities because it implies that being transgender is a mental illness rather than a normal variation in human beings. On the other hand, since a formal diagnosis is generally required in order to have any kind of medical support paid for by insurance, it does provide access to medical care for some people who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to pay for it. Nevertheless, for many trans people, gender dysphoria is very real and can cause serious problems. Culturally competent therapy to work through these thoughts and feelings has proven to be beneficial for many people.
- Mental Health Challenges -- Trans people are just like everybody else, which means that they can have addictions and/or mental illness. Sometimes the stresses of dealing with gender dysphoria and the pressures of daily living to which trans people are often exposed can make existing symptoms of mental illness and/or addiction worse. It is already well-established that transgenderism is not a mental illness. As medical and psychiatric providers become better trained, they are also correctly recognizing that neither is transgenderism a symptom of mental illness.
- Changing Gender Identity -- Counseling aimed at changing someone’s gender identity, sometimes known as "conversion therapy," does not work and can cause serious problems. The overwhelming consensus in the medical community is that it is HARMFUL and therefore UNETHICAL to attempt to change someone’s gender identity through therapy. Telling someone that a core part of who they are is wrong or delusional and forcing them to change it can lead to lasting depression, substance abuse, self-hatred and even suicide. Because of this, a growing number of states have made it illegal for licensed therapists to try to change a person’s gender identity through treatment.
Obviously there are a hundred other questions we could list here. These are just a few to use as a starting point for living as a trans person or being an ally. There is a wealth of information out there. So much so that it can seem a bit overwhelming. It can be hard to know whom to trust and what to believe (especially on the internet). Here are three great places locally that we heartily recommend:
- The GALA Center - with the largest LGBT library between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- Trans*Tuesdays - a weekly support group for trans* people, their families, friends, and allies. There is nothing like hearing how other people have lived their lives as trans men and trans women, how other parents have supported their trans* teenagers, or how other senior citizens have taken their first steps toward social transition.
- The Links Page on this website.
- HRC FAQ - Transgender FAQ by the Human Rights Campaign
- GLAAD FAQ - Transgender FAQ by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
- National Center for Transgender Equality FAQ (NCTE)
- APA FAQ - Transgender FAQ by the American Psychological Association
- BE YOURSELF - PFLAG FAQ - lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, & questioning youth
- TIPS FOR ALLIES - GLAAD FAQ for family and friends of trans people
- SURVEY - NCTE and the National LGBTQ Task Force released the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
- FACT SHEET FOR GENDER NON-BINARY INDENTITY - Div. 44 of the APA