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Transgender identity

Transgender is a word which describes people who feel the sex they have been raised as does not match how they feel inside.

Two young women walking down the streetWhat does transgender mean?

When we are born people decide our gender for us. This means they decide whether we are a boy or a girl, usually by looking at our bodies and deciding if we have male or female sex organs.

Some people feel unhappy with the gender they are brought up as. This can include:

  • Feeling that you are a boy when you have been brought up as a girl, or the other way round.
  • Wishing you could change your body to look more like the way you feel inside.
This is often known as being transgender or trans for short.

Not everyone who is trans wants to go from living as a girl to living as a boy (or the other way round). You might feel like you are not a boy or a girl but somewhere in between, both or neither. This is sometimes called being gender fluid, non-binary or genderqueer.

The word trans can be used to describe anyone who has any of these feelings. Sometimes online you might also see this spelled ‘trans*’ with a star.

People who are not trans and don't have any issues with the gender they were raised as are sometimes known as cisgender.

Am I trans?

Some trans people realise they are unhappy with the gender they are being raised as when they are children. Others become aware of their feelings later on, often during puberty.

For many young people feeling unsure about gender for a while is part of growing up. For trans people the feelings continue. This is known as gender dysphoria.

To be diagnosed with gender dysphoria you must feel strongly that you are not the gender you have been raised as.

Some trans people decide to change their appearance to look like the gender they feel inside. This could start with changing a hairstyle, dressing differently, or wearing make-up.

Getting support with transition

Many trans people go to see a doctor to talk about how they feel. In some cases young trans people can get medicines to slow down the body changes of puberty until they are sure of their feelings.

When they are ready, a trans person over 16 can be given hormone medicines to change their body. Usually this happens after counselling to make sure they are certain about it. As an adult they may choose to have surgery to make more changes.

This process of working out what treatment you want and getting it is known as transition. It can take a while to sort out the treatment process and for all the changes to complete.

Realising you want to transition can be confusing and stressful. You might be worried about telling your family or friends. You are not alone and ChildLine is here for you at any time. You can talk to a counsellor on the phone free on 0800 1111, send an email or have a 1-2-1 chat online.

  • I’m being bullied because I am trans. What can I do?

    No one has the right to bully you, abuse you, put you down or discriminate against you. Sadly many trans people experience this. It's known as transphobia, it's never your fault and it’s never okay. Transphobic behaviour can include:

    - Refusing to accept you as the gender you feel you truly are.
    - Physically harming or threatening you in any way, including touching you don’t want. This is hate crime and abuse. You can use Report It to let the police know.
    - Asking you sexual questions or touching you inappropriately. This is sexual harassment and is also illegal.
    - Making jokes about trans people or calling you names.
    - Ignoring you or making you feel shut out.
    If you are being bullied it’s important to get support. You could tell an adult you trust. There are laws to protect trans people from hate crime. Your school should also take bullying seriously. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 999.

    Many young trans people tell us they feel trapped, want to self-harm, or are thinking about ending their lives. If this is how you feel, ChildLine is here for you. No matter what anyone says, only one person is right about who you are, and that's you.

  • How do I tell someone I'm trans?

    'Coming out' as trans means telling people you are transgender. Only you can decide when the right time is to tell someone how you feel about your gender.

    You might feel anxious about:

    - how they will react
    - whether they will understand and support you
    - whether you will be safe or be bullied
    - what your rights are.

    It may be a shock to some people you tell. They may not know anyone else who is trans and might not know what to say. They may also have some wrong ideas about what being trans is like. None of this is your fault.

    It can help to get support from an adult you trust. You could try having a conversation about trans people to test their reactions and help you decide if they are a good person to come out to. You can also talk to your doctor without a parent in the room and ask them not to discuss what you say with others. If you want to talk through what you might say, you can always contact ChildLine. You could also ask other young people on the message boards about their experiences.

    Some trans people keep quiet about their feelings while they live with their families because they are worried about coming out. If this is your situation it’s important you have someone who can support you while you work out your future options.

  • How can I start transitioning?

    Transition is the journey a trans person takes from presenting themselves as the gender they were brought up as to presenting themselves as their true gender.

    Often they might start with:

    - Changing their name.
    - Changing how they dress.
    - Changing the pronouns they use (words like 'he', 'she' and 'they').

    These changes are sometimes known as ‘social transition’. Taking hormone medication or having surgery is sometimes called ‘medical transition’ and you will need to see a doctor about it. They may then refer you to a specialist clinic.

    Transition impacts most areas of a person’s life such as family, friends, school and work. If you’re thinking about transitioning it’s a good idea to talk through what you want to do with other people and get support.
  • My friend is trans. How can I support them?

    Treat trans people as you would anyone else. A trans person is much more than their gender. It doesn’t make up everything about them. Often the media shows trans people in a very stereotyped way. You could find out about common myths and wrong ideas about trans people so you are well informed.

    If a friend chooses to come out to you, they are being very brave. Try not to pressure them to tell others before they're ready. If you ‘out’ your friend to others without permission, you could put them at risk of transphobia.

  • Where can I get support especially for young trans people?

    Mermaids supports young people who are questioning their gender identity. They also provide support for their parents or carers if they want it. They may be able to put you in touch with a youth group in your area where you can meet other young trans people.

    Gendered Intelligence organises youth groups in London, Leeds and Bristol for trans people aged 13 to 25.

    The Albert Kennedy Trust provides support to young trans people who feel unsafe at home.

  • Is being trans the same as being gay? What about drag or cross-dressing?

    Being trans is not the same as being gay. Gender is not the same as sexual orientation. Your gender identity is about whether you feel male, female, somewhere in between or neither. Your sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to.

    Being trans is not the same as being a drag queen or someone who cross-dresses, either. A drag queen or king is someone who dresses as another gender for performance or fun, often in an exaggerated way. Cross-dressing is when a man or woman wears clothes people usually expect another gender to wear, for example a man wearing women’s clothes.

    A trans person is not ‘dressing up’ as another gender or cross-dressing. They are expressing their true gender.

  • How can I see a specialist doctor about being trans?

    The best way to see a gender specialist is to speak to your GP and ask to be referred to one. Only a few places in the UK see people under 18. Your GP can tell you more about your options. You can also contact Mermaids for advice.

  • What do hormone treatments and surgery involve?

    Not all trans people decide to have surgery. Many are happy without surgically changing their body. There is no right or wrong way to be trans.

    Trans young people under 18 can sometimes be given hormone blocking medicines by a specialist. These slow down some of the body changes of puberty. This can give you time to decide how you want to present yourself as an adult. You would need to talk to a specialist doctor about this and make sure it was the right decision for you.

    Once you’re 18 you can be referred to an adult gender clinic where you might be given hormone medicines. These have a number of effects such as changing your body shape and the amount of body hair you have.

    Surgery to make changes to your body is called gender reassignment or gender confirmation surgery. An adult trans person usually lives as their preferred gender for at least a year before having surgery.

  • What does the law say about rights for trans people?

    The Gender Recognition Act is a law which protects the rights of trans people. These rights include:

    - Being able to use the toilets they feel comfortable using.
    - Wearing the clothes they choose (including school uniform).
    - Being called by the name they choose.
    - Using the words to describe them which they prefer (such as he or she).
    - Being able to get married as their true gender.

    The law states that people must not be discriminated against because of their gender identity.

Other sites that can help

A charity that supports transgender young people and their parents or carers.

Find out about youth groups in certain cities, mentoring, and support you can get with transition.
Gendered Intelligence

Advice about transitioning and coming out as well as info about support in your area.
Brook - Gender information

Lots of answers to common questions about being transgender, including common myths and misunderstandings.

Gender Identity message board

Do you feel like the sex you were born as does not match the gender you feel yourself to be? Get support and advice from the ChildLine community on the Gender Identity message board.

Transgender Identity message board

Ask Sam

Angry? Scared? Depressed? If you want to get something off your chest or let off steam you can tell Sam about it

Ask Sam

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Transgender identity 


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