This is an important question that does not always have a quick answer. Transgender refers to someone who is uncomfortable with their assigned gender; i.e. was born female, but feels very uncomfortable with being a women.
Remember that gender is the expression of a particular sex so being a woman and feminine is the expected gender expression of being a female. In the same way being a man and masculine is the expected gender expression of being male. So when someone is born a male but feels uncomfortable with expressing themselves as a man, then we may say that person is transgender.
However, being transgender is not a cut and dry definition and transgender can exist on a continuum.
Someone may feel uncomfortable with expressing themselves as a man, despite being male, but are not entirely comfortable with expressing themselves as a woman either. In this sense they feel more comfortable with something in-between. On the other hand, someone may feel so uncomfortable with their assigned gender that they even feel uncomfortable with their gender specific body parts such as breasts.
Gender expression incorporates the way you behave, the way you dress, the roles you feel comfortable with and even the types of people you are attracted to and the way in which you communicate.
As such, gender expression really encompasses a very broad spectrum of human behaviour and it is understandable that transgender is thus a broad term encompassing a variety of expressions. Ultimately it is a question about whether your assigned gender expression feels aligned with your “true self”. Many people explain that while their body looks like a woman, their mind and their “true self” does not feel like one. This is a good way to understand being transgender – when the assigned role just doesn’t seem to fit with your own version of yourself.
Wondering whether you may be transgender means that you more than likely experience some discomfort with your assigned gender and this means that there is something to explore.
Realising that you may be transgender is not an age specific thing. This means that people of all ages may realise that they are transgender – having felt uncomfortable for quite some time and only really recognising now that there is an alternate way of being. Being transgender also doesn’t mean that you are homosexual, bisexual or transsexual. Sexuality is very different from gender and transgender really refers to the way in which you express yourself rather than your sexual orientation.
One can see that the topic is very broad and difficult to simply define.
Let it suffice to say that questioning your gender expression and feeling uncomfortable is a good enough sign that there is something to explore here and it may be beneficial to discuss it with a Psychologist. The Centre for Human Potential makes every effort to promote diversity and support LGBTI people. We see many transgender persons and counselling is a great way to obtain support.
Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).