With the recent spotlight on people who identify as transgender, it’s important to keep in mind that transgender people are as diverse as the general population and express themselves in a number of ways.
On a very basic level, a transgender person is born as male or female, but identifies as either the opposite gender, both genders, or no gender at all. Some who are labeled as transgender may also decide not to even use that term. There is plenty of evidence that transgender people have existed as long as there has been a concept of male and female. Only recently have they received enough support from society to express themselves in a more open way. This new recognition and support has opened the door for transgender people to pursue life in a body that feels on the outside the way they have always felt inside.
People who identify as transgender usually start to notice their differences early in life. However people can identify and come to understand themselves to be transgender at any point during their life. Along the lines of discovering one’s sexual orientation, there are no clear “rules,” and identifying as a transgender individual is a very personal and unique process. This means that those who identify as transgender may decide to dress as the opposite gender, take hormones to change their bodies, and even have surgical procedures to change their appearance to fit how they feel on the inside. There are also many transgender people who decide that these options are not right for them and express themselves in other ways.
Because society has traditionally been unaccepting to those who identify as transgender, they are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide. Symptoms can generally improve once the person is in a more supportive and accepting environment. Being supportive can be as simple as using the person’s preferred name and pronoun. Traditionally, even this level of support has not been reached in the health care industry because lack of education and training. It’s important that health care providers become more educated about this diverse group of individuals so that all transgender people can receive appropriate health care for their minds and bodies.
For more information on the historical and psychological evolution of transgender Individuals, please see Association for Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP).
More information and medical guidelines can be found at World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), www.wpath.org/
By Eric Yarbrough, M.D.
President, Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists
Director of Psychiatric Services, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
New York City
This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting diversity from APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity.