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Home » tvChix Articles » Introduction to Transgender Psychology

Introduction to Transgender Psychology

Types of Transgender People

The term transgender can be used to refer to people who dress, behave or identify in ways counter to societal expectations for the gender they were assigned at birth. This presentation, behavior or gender identity may be with a binary gender (masculine/feminine or male/female), or it may be a mixture of genders (genderqueer or other non-binary associations), or it could be an absence of gender (androgyny).

Not all people who are seen as transgressing gender norms will consider themselves transgender, however. It's largely based on self-identification, as well how narrow gender roles are defined in one's given society. Women wearing trousers and engaging in male dominated careers are not generally seen as transgender in any way. Some men who cross-dress may not consider themselves transgender either.

Gender Identity Disorder

People who suffer from significant distress over their assigned gender are said to suffer from gender dysphoria, owing to the presence of gender identity disorder. This is a formal diagnosis associated with transsexualism, which is one of the most extreme forms of gender dysphoria. GID can also describe transgender people who never feel the need to transition as transsexuals. The majority of children who are diagnosed with GID will outgrow it, while the majority of adults diagnosed with it will not.

Causes of Transgenderism

The root cause behind why some people are transgender and the vast majority of people are not has yet to be agreed upon by science, and perhaps hasn't even been theorized yet. The psychological theories regarding the origins of transgenderism tend to focus on two schools of thought.

One is that it's the result of a misplaced sex drive, typified by Ray Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia. This theory suggests that male-to-female transvestism begins as a sexual fantasy of a man seeing himself as a woman, which then progresses to transsexuality when the man desires to become a woman in order to realize this sexual fantasies. While this description is embraced by some cross-dressers, it's generally seen as insulting and unhelpful to transsexuals. This is especially true because it only describes male-to-female transsexuals.

The second, older school of thought is that transgenderism is caused by rearing and/or childhood trauma. The theory goes that the influence of parents or some traumatic event caused the child to withdraw from his or her assigned gender. The experiences of intersex individuals as well as others who were forcibly reared as the opposite sex have strongly pointed to this being unlikely. Instead, current evidence points to gender identity being largely internal and not subject to external forces, though gender expression may be influenced.

Future psychological theories for transgenderism may be able to account for these flaws. Alternately, a purely physical or genetic cause may be found.

Depression and Suicide

Whether caused specifically by gender dysphoria or as a response to a lack of acceptance from loved ones or society, depression is common in transgender people. Many of them will seriously consider suicide at some point in their lives. Seeking out community with others who have had similar experiences can ease this struggle. Some also find that counseling or even antidepressants will help.

Transgender versus Cisgender

Cis is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side" and is useful as an opposite to trans. Those who are cisgender are not transgender. The question here is, what's the true difference between the transgender and those who are not? If there is a difference, how does one know which best describes oneself?

Introspection is the best way to determine this. One question in particular is beneficial: Absent the judgment of others, does dressing, behaving, identifying and living in accordance with the gender in question make you happier than you are otherwise? It can be difficult to divorce personal feelings from fears of judgment and the need to conform to expectations, but once this question is answered honestly further avenues of exploration are open.

Those who feel they may be transsexual and are distressed over their current situation would be well advised to seek out counseling, not only to better identify feelings of gender dysphoria but also to help deal with the stress and potential trauma of such a decision.

On the other hand, if there is no excess stress present and gender dysphoria is minimal or absent, there is nothing to say that counseling should be necessary beyond what may be required for medical care. Many cross-dressers, transsexuals, genderqueers, drag queens, androgynes and more happily embrace a transgender identity without ever feeling significant discomfort over it.

Diversity

Just as the transgender umbrella covers a wide range of people, it also covers a wide range of minds. The experiences of one person won't translate well to another. No two transgender people are alike, even if they share the same label.



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