What is Transgender?
Transgender is commonly used as an umbrella term to categorize individuals who exhibit behaviors and/or experience motivations that society would generally view as contrary to the majority of individuals who share their birth sex.
Transgender behaviors can be observed. A crossdresser, may present as the opposite sex, either full or part time, and take no further action. A transsexual, may take steps to physically transition to the opposite sex with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), facial feminization surgery for male-to-female transsexuals (FFS), and genital/sexual reassignment surgery (GRS/SRS).
Motivations for transgender behaviors are complex, and often cross the lines of observed behaviors. Some express transgender behaviors for performance, others as a fetish, others to express their sexuality, still others to express their true identity, or gender identity. To complicate matters, any/all of these motivations may be at play in various degrees, and they may change over the individuals lifetime.
Transgender is also used as a more specific term to describe individuals who experience Gender Dysphoria, Gender Identity Disorder or GID. Individuals with gender dysphoria frequently report the experience as a feeling that their internal gender identity does not match their external sex. Some stress this discomfort primarily as physical gender dysphoria requiring medical intervention to help align mind and body. Other report their discomfort primarily as social gender dysphoria requiring living as the opposite sex. Many report both of these phenomena in various degrees.
Gender Identity Disorder or GID is currently listed as a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). This inclusion is contested by some individuals in the transgender community. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM-IV decades ago.
Transgender individuals often experience negativity from their family, friends, employers, and society at large. Many grow up hiding their true nature from themselves and others for many years before accepting. This lengthy process can cause great turmoil for the individual and their relationships. Fortunately, today more are accepting themselves at an earlier age.
From a human rights standpoint, there are only few state and local transgender laws in the United States preventing discrimination toward transgender individuals. Other countries have taken steps on the national level. The transgender phenomenon is often misunderstood and education is desperately needed. The slow but steadily increasing exposure to transgender individuals in the media is a positive influence.
To summarize, the term transgender is complex and holds different meanings for different individuals. Each person who identifies as transgender possesses a unique worldview with their own behaviors and intricate and evolving motivations behind those behaviors. Each transgender person has a unique path forward, no two paths are identical, and none is more acceptable than any other.