1. Every trans person is different.
I really, really cannot stress this enough. Every trans person is going to have their own experiences, opinions and feelings. There’s no universal experience and I can’t speak for everyone. I can’t really even speak for most people. What I can do is give you some basics that, hopefully, will help you along the path a little bit.
2. Trans people are not changing their gender.
The trans part of transgender comes from transition, but it’s important to understand that it’s not our gender we’re transitioning, it’s our identity. Trans people do not change from one gender to another. A trans person’s gender identity can be fluid, it can change over time, and they way they wish to be interacted with may change. The transition process, though it may include that, is not about that. It’s about perception, about changing the expectations placed on us by society. That is what we work so hard to change.
For a more personal example, I didn’t become a woman. I was always a woman. I just spend two decades thinking I was a man because that’s what I was told, because of my physiology, all of which can be changed anyway.
3. It’s not about desire, gender roles or sexuality.
It’s not about wanting to be something, or someone else. It’s about wanting to be seen as the person you know you are. There is a common and rather offensive perception that trans people transition because they want to have sex with a particular gender. For instance, people have assumed (and continue to assume) that my transition was for the sole purpose of having sex with men. Aside from that assumption being heteronormative and gross, it’s wildly inaccurate, and I feel pretty confident in saying that no trans person has had sex as their primary and only motivator.
I also didn’t transition because I wanted to be a woman. I didn’t one day wake up and decide it would just be better to be a woman. It was never about wanting to fulfil a more feminine role, to be able to do the things that women do. Those elements did exist, sure, because for a long time I did want to be a woman, and wanted to do the things that women do without feeling persecuted for that. But those are the things that helped me understand my identity, not the reason I transitioned.
Think about your gender. Are you a man? A woman? How do you know? Think about that, and think about how sure you are. Imagine, for just one second, that you don’t have that surety. Maybe you aren’t what you’ve been told that you are for your whole life. Maybe the person that you are doesn’t match up with the body that you have. That, right there, is what it’s really about. At a certain point, once you learn to understand that voice, you just know. I know I’m a woman just the same as you know that you’re… whatever you are.
4. There are more than two genders.
I tend to address these issues in terms of binary gender, that is women and men, because that is my personal experience. That is what my transition was, and so that is the story that I can tell. However, that isn’t the case for everyone.
For some people, the voice that tells them what their gender really is, isn’t quite so simple. Some people don’t identify with any gender, which can manifest as identifying as their own gender, unique to themselves, or as having no gender. Some people identify with both male and female genders, perhaps both at once or each at different times, and often in different amounts. There are countless ways in which this innate sense of gender can manifest, and so what you need to understand is that gender is a spectrum, not a binary. Trans men and women fit on the same part of that spectrum as cis people (reminder: cis people are people whose physical gender matches their internal one. You might think of them as ‘normal’. You probably shouldn’t, but if it helps you understand, fine.) A trans woman is as much a woman as a cis woman is, and the same is true in reverse for trans men. Plenty of people fall in between those two sides though, and it’s important to remember that their gender identity is just as valid as anyone else’s, and that they have as little control over that as the rest of us.
5. Transvestism is a completely different thing.
I’m gonna start this by saying that this is entirely my own opinion, because I know there are people out there who feel differently, and those people are of course entitled to those feelings.
So. Transvestites. If you’re unfamiliar with the word, try another: cross-dressers. As a general rule, these are not trans people. Usually, they aren’t even gender-varient, though of course there are always exceptions. In the vast majority of cases though, cross-dressers are cisgendered. There are a whole lot of reasons why they might choose to dress in ways counter to their own gender, and all are valid. But, if you’re (for example) a male-bodied person who identifies as male, but likes to wear women’s clothes, you’re not transgendered. Why? Because your identified and perceived genders match up.
Which is fine, of course. All I’m saying is don’t confuse the two.
Obviously, there are shades of grey, and everyone is entitled to (and should be supported in) their gender identity, presentation and experience. What I’ve given you here is supposed to be simple, accessible and easy to understand. If you thought it helped, share it, spread it around, because most people do not understand any of this, and it sure would be nice to live in a world where they did.