If there’s one thing our currents times teach, gender is not just male or female, it does not come wrapped in a couple of neat and fixed packages. Gender is as diverse as people themselves!It is estimated that approximately 1% of people are transgender. Transgender is a general term used to describe any person who does not fit into traditional sex roles. When someone’s internal sense of gender or its expression does not match conventional definitions of male and female, that person is transgender. Individuals who fall under this definition are crossdressers, intersexed people, transsexuals, gender queer and gender variant individuals. These terms and definitions continue to grow as trans people continue to define for themselves who they are.

A crossdresser is someone of one biological gender who enjoys dressing in the “normally considered” attire of the person of the opposite biological gender. Usually a crossdresser engages in this activity part time and does not want to change their gender or live as a person of the opposite gender. An intersexed persons biology is inconsistent with either genders. Such individuals may have chromosomal differences, ambiguous genitalia or sex organs from both sexes.

A transsexual person is someone born of one gender and whose internal sense of gender identifies with the opposite gender. Due to increased awareness and acceptance in certain circles, more people are choosing to “transition,” and thereby make changes to their physical body, outward appearance and/or to their use of pronouns. There is no “one way fits all” recipe for transsexuals. Each person decides for themselves which, if any changes will be assist their transition. Gender queer and gender variant, are people who do not conform to a gender binary view. Gender queer people do not view the world as only male or female. They recognize the gradations of sex roles and see the potential of both genders in every person. They are likely to see within themselves variations of gender. One person may express themselves in appearance as the gender in which they were born, but use the pronoun of the opposite gender. Another may express themselves not either as male or female, but hold qualities of both. Gender queer people challenge conventional ideas of gender held generally by our modern world. Often gender queer people use the “they” pronoun rather than “he” or “she.”

Transgender is a term that refers only to gender. It does not refer to sexual orientation. A transgender person is not necessarily, lesbian or gay. Sexual orientation bares no correlation to ones gender identity. This is often confused. People often think if a person is a transsexual, they are gay. This is not the case. Some of the confusion may be perhaps in part to the fact that for the transsexual, their sexual orientations “appears” to c hange when they transition. For example, if a biological male has always been attracted to women, upon transitioning she will probably still be attracted to women. Before transition this person is seen by our culture as heterosexual, butafter transition she is then seen as lesbian. Since this person has always felt truly female, her sexual orientation itself has not changed, just the labeling of it.

Transgender people are not pathological or sick, only different from what we in modern culture agree as “normal.” The illnesses by which the transgender person suffers usually stem from the prejudice, lack of acceptance and hatred they endure.

Many transgender people at some point in their lives enter therapy as both a means to access medical treatment (hormones and surgeries) and to work with the complex issues facing a person who is changing their lives. Professional counselors can help transgender people clarify their personal gender orientation, work with that changing identity, help with the stresses associated with family, friends, spouses, and work environments. Counseling may be a critical component to the well-being of someone who may have struggled with gender for many years or all their lives.

I am grateful to both transgender and gender queer people as they help us all broaden our identities and the limitless possibilities of who we can be.

Tetty Gorfine, LMHC