The answer to all these questions is no, Trans people have not made this word up. We’re not an alien race, and we are not inventing strange futuristic words. We are also not handed this language at birth.
Just like everyone else, we have had to learn about it.
Trans. Transgender. Gender trans, Trans-feminine. Trans-masculine. Non-binary trans.
The reason we know this language, whilst most cis-gendered people do not, is because we need these words to describe, understand and accept ourselves.
We have had to educate ourselves about our own existence, because it is not taught to us in schools or establishments. To the contrary, it’s hidden from us. From all of us. And that’s why you might be confused by it too.
Throughout history, Trans language, Trans stories, and Trans existence in general, has been deliberately overlooked and erased.
When people use the word Trans in conversations about identity, they are usually using it as a shorthand for Transgender; a word first used by psychologist John Oliven in 1965. Oliven himself was not a Transgender person but was the first to use this word in written publication.
Now, just as we did with our article on Gender Dysphoria, we can break this term down into its basic linguistics to discover what it means.
Trans – a Latin prefix that means ‘across’ ‘beyond’ or ‘on the other side of’ (Transatlantic, Transfer, Transnational, Translate, etc)
Gender – an English word meaning the part of your identity that relates to whether you are a boy, girl, man or woman.
Therefore Transgender = ‘beyond gender’ or ‘on the other side of gender’.
To be more specific:
Transgender generally means beyond, or on the other side of, the gender identity that you were given at birth.
Using an example – someone assigned female at birth, may ‘come out’ later in life as a Trans Man, if they’re internal felt sense of self is male, or masculine.
However, it can also be used as a broader ‘umbrella’ term meaning ‘beyond gender itself’. For example, non-binary, gender fluid, intersex and agender people might identify as Trans because they exist outside of the gender binary. – The gender binary being the mainstream view that sex (our physical anatomy) and gender (our felt-sense of self) are always aligned, and fall into the categories of only male or female.
As a Trans person myself, I use the word Trans to explain that I’ve ‘transcended the binary’ or as I actually like to put it:
‘I’ve transcended the bullshit’
And what a lot of bullshit there is to transcend! As Trans people we have so much misinformation, miseducation, oppression, erasure and aggression to wade through before we can even get to thinking about accepting ourselves.
Our acceptance process can take years, and then once we have, there is the always looming question of whether to transition, what might that look like, and how to do it safely and in a way that is right for us.
Though people think being Trans refers to purely physical changes, Transitioning (again, from the Latin Transire, meaning to go across) can happen in many different and wonderful ways!
Social Transitioning can include presenting differently by changing your clothes, hair, name or pronouns.
Many people choose to do this around people they know and trust at first. Wearing different clothes around the house, asking close friends to use your preferred name and pronouns, experimenting with wearing your hair differently – can all be great ways to explore your identity.
Eventually, this can lead to ‘coming out’ or ‘expressing your Transgender identity’ to wider social circles, extended family and…. well….whoever the hell choose!
Medical Transitioning requires assistance from medical professionals which can be sought via the NHS, or privately. It can involve use of hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) through the administration of cross-sex hormones, and/or gender affirming surgeries.
Hormone blockers (also known as Puberty blockers) – are used by teens. The purpose of the treatment is to prevent development of male or female characteristics that occur during puberty. It gives the individual additional time to figure out their gender identity, before their secondary sex characteristics develop in full.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Cross-Sex Hormones – are used by teens and adults who want to physically transition into looking, sounding and presenting more like the gender they identify with.
Gender Affirming Surgeries – are only available for adults, who feel that their gender dysphoria requires more changes to their body than cross-sex hormones can provide. Surgery is only provided on the NHS after other treatments have been explored including counselling through one of the NHS’ gender identity clinics.
There are so many different Trans journeys to be taken, as we are all essentially unique. Just as cis-gender people exist on a spectrum of multifaceted identity traits, so to do Trans people. Rather importantly, to reduce us all to the explicit question of whether or not we have had physical surgery on our genitals, is both dehumanising, and outright ignorant.
The feeling that you might be transgender can be said to be part of your ‘felt’ sense of self – a part of you that goes beyond your ‘physical self’ and is more like an intuition or inner voice. This can be vague, such as a general dissatisfaction, depression or dysphoria – or specific, like an intense desire to break free from the shackles of your assigned gender.
The term ‘felt sense’ comes from psychologist Eugene Gendlin who described it as intersecting a person’s emotion, awareness, intuitiveness, and embodiment. This is linked to your sense of self and your own perception of the characteristics that define you – such as personal abilities, likes and dislikes, moral code, and the things that motivate you.
All of these things are pieces of the Trans identity puzzle. It can often feel as though society has pieced us together wrongly, and we’re having to dismantle ourselves in order to put the pieces back together the way they should have always been. Physical pieces, emotional pieces and psychological pieces; these all need time, and care, to find their right place within our overall sense of self.
For anyone who feels they may be Trans, talking to people and organisations who can give you access to safe space and support is an important step. This takes time and is not something that should be rushed. By reading this article, you’re already on the right path!
Along this path are many beautiful, affirming, euphoric, and unbelievably exciting moments that are unique to the Trans experience. However, there can also come trauma, depression, and exhaustion too.
Trans people are at a high risk of being bullied long before we even ‘come out’ and often in spite of our best efforts to mask our identities. For many of us we experience isolation and discrimination in school institutions, colleges, universities, and workplaces. Public health services have been known to neglect or abuse us and private health institutions can take our money without giving us due care, or emotional and psychological support.
If we are visible in the streets, we are at risk of being attacked and hurt, we struggle to find safe housing and workplaces. In heteronormative, cis-gendered social spaces, we become a spectacle, and we are the easiest joke to make for many high-profile comedians (good chat, Dave).
We don’t know which bathrooms we are allowed to use, which changing rooms we can go in, and can often struggle to find a partner, friends, or community. Our bodies are the source of constant debate, and our lives are currently held in a sort of perpetual limbo as the CIS world asks itself whether or not they will allow us to exist.
All of this, added to the work it takes for us to learn about ourselves, our culture, our history and our identity – not to mention the physical and psychological stress, money and admin involved in transitioning socially, medically or legally – and it’s no wonder that as Trans people we unfortunately have lower life expectancies and are at higher risks of suffering with mental health problems, self-harm and even suicide.
The 2019 Trevor Project National Survey found that more than half of transgender youth have considered suicide, and the US Transgender survey found that the national attempted suicide rate for Trans people is more than 9 times higher than the national average for CIS people.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that Trans people experience depression caused by barriers to their success and wellbeing, and there is research to suggest we are up to 4x more likely to experience a mental health condition.
Because of all of this it is super important that Trans people find community, kinship, education, and support in one another. It is also essential that more CIS people come along side us as ally’s and our friends.
If you’re a Trans person reading this, or you think you may be Trans, and you are looking for community and support – please know that we are here! We love you and support you, and there are links below to people you can talk to and communities you can join!
Thank you for reading! And special thanks to Trans Activist Virginia Prince for popularising the word Transgender via their activism and publications throughout the 70s and 80s, providing us with the basis for the knowledge and understanding we now have, which continues to evolve and to grow with us each day.
https://www.transunite.co.uk – a wonderful list of organisations, groups meet-ups and more across different areas of the UK
https://allabouttrans.org.uk/about/support-organisations/ – a fantastic list of charities, services, meet- ups and groups for Trans, Intersex, Non Binary and other gender non conforming people to access throughout the UK
https://www.transbareall.co.uk – projects, retreats and meet ups to discuss and explore Trans identity with a focus on feeling good!
https://genderkit.org.uk/resources/local/ – a huge list that can be searched by location and provide groups, phone lines, switchboards, meet ups and a whole lot more for Trans and gender non conforming people throughout the UK
There are also some lovely Facebook groups and Twitter feeds you can join if official organisations are a little daunting. Check out Non Binary Social Space, the Intersex and Trans Advocacy Network and Intersex people aren’t LGBT and we’re tired of saying it!
Additional Trans & LGBTQ+ Charities available to support you:
If you’re feeling suicidal or in need of immediate support, the below charities are available to help you:
Outside of hours: you can text ‘Switchboard’ to 85258, for free, which will direct you to a trained Shout Volunteer who will be aware you may need support around gender or sexual identity