‘Trans' is used to capture experiences of being gender variant in behaviour and preference, as well as social and legal gender change or transformation. Trans is primarily a UK term, developed in a political context to refer to a diverse and inclusive community of people ranging from part-time cross-dressers to transsexual people who undergo gender reassignment surgeries. Trans is used in the context of personal rights: that is, to support the claim that all trans people are entitled to have their human rights upheld.
‘Transgender' is an alternative umbrella term used in many parts of Europe and North America. In the UK, transgender is used as a policy term to describe those people who live part or all of their lives in their preferred gender role - they may use hormonal treatments to change their body form, but they will generally not seek to undergo gender reassignment surgeries. Transgender is also used to refer to cross-dressers and transvestites (drag queens and drag kings).
‘Transsexual' describes those people who seek gender reassignment treatments, including genital reconstructive surgery where possible. Someone who is transitioning from female to male (FTM) is often known as a trans man, while male to female (MTF) transsexual people are known as trans women. After successfully transitioning to live permanently in their preferred gender role, many prefer to be considered simply as men or women (see www.gires.org.uk). In the past, these people would ‘disappear' into the community at large (known as living in 'stealth'). However, nowadays many use the internet to keep in touch with the trans community in order to continue to claim their legal rights and protections.
Trans people can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. They may be people with a disability. They may present as trans when very young - trans behaviour can be noted as early as three or four years old - or when they are very old. They may also be members of Black and minority ethnic communities, though because of cultural and religious expectations within some of these communities, they may find it very difficult to ‘come out' and seek help or treatment.
Victims of Violence Because many (MTF) trans women are visibly trans for several years after starting living in their new gender role, (transphobic) violence is more often directed at them than (FTM) trans men.
HIV rates: One US study found (MTF) trans women to have the highest incidence of HIV infection of any risk group;8 however, HIV infections are not a major risk factor in the UK, mainly because sex work or recreational drug use is not usual in UK trans cultures.
Self-harm and suicide rates: The UK's largest survey of trans people (N = 872) found that 34% (more than one in three) of adult trans people have attempted suicide. Similar rates were reported in a US study.
Young people's concerns: Young trans people report insecure housing, economic hardship, legal problems and diffi culty in accessing appropriate healthcare. They have limited family support, high rates of substance abuse and high risk sexual behaviours.
Social attitudes towards trans people
Although social attitudes have become more accepting towards trans people, there is a persistent assumption that there are only two genders (female and male) and that one's gender is assigned from birth and cannot be changed.
Trans people still face prejudice. This continues to limit their employment opportunities (despite legislation prohibiting discrimination); their personal relationships; their access to goods, services and housing; their health status; their safety in both public and private spheres; and their access to health and social care.
Trans activists have lobbied for a shift in social and health perspectives from gender pathology (a disease or abnormality) to gender nonconformity (trans people do not conform to society's narrow view about gender).
Being Transgender or Gay is not a choice, being Transphobic or Homophobic is, so don't be a Twonk