Understanding & Validating the Transgender Identity

March 22, 2021

Pictured, from left: Marina Khazan, ACNP; Dr. Bradley Johnson; and Christopher Huff, LCSW 

The “T” in LGBTQ+ – referring to transgender people – has long been minimized for many reasons, primarily lack of understanding. What seems like a complex concept, however, is actually quite simple, says Christopher Huff, licensed clinical social worker.

We sat down with Huff, Dr. Bradley Johnson, and Marina Khazan, ACNP, of Jefferson Health’s Haddonfield Primary & Specialty Care, an LGBTQ+ Affirming Practice, to break down what it means to be transgender and how we can help validate the community.

Here’s what you should know:

First and foremost: Transgender people are those who identify as a gender that isn’t congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth – be it male or female.

Biologically, we all start out as female in the womb, mentions Huff. “During gestation, most people either develop a Y chromosome (assigning us as male) or don’t (assigning us as female). However, it's important to realize that there are 140 intersex chromosome mutations that can occur that may lead to someone identifying or presenting outside the typical male-female sex binary." 

Imagine feeling as if you were trapped in the wrong body – like you aren’t being true to yourself, says Khazan. That is why people transition.  

The trans community is incredibly diverse.

Transgender is an umbrella terms that encompasses varying identities of “gender nonconforming,” “nonbinary,” and “genderqueer,” says Huff – all of which refer to those who identify outside of the male-female binary.

The binary refers to standards and expectations set by society, adds Johnson. “We’re all familiar with this. We’re ingrained with beliefs that boys do certain things (such as wear blue and play with trucks), and girls do another (such as wear pink and play with dolls).”

Not everyone “fits into” this binary. Those who are nonconforming, nonbinary, or genderqueer may perceive themselves as somewhere “in between” on the spectrum – sometimes expressing both male and female traits, and, other times, having no association to gender whatsoever.

Gender is NOT synonymous with sexual orientation.

It’s a common misbelief that trans people are gay or lesbian. This is simply untrue. Many trans people are heterosexual. Why? Because trans relates to gender identity, whereas heterosexual, homosexual, and asexual fall into the category of sexual orientation.

Gender identity is the gender you personally see yourself as, and gender expression is the way you present yourself, says Johnson. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is independent of gender, and is instead based on your emotional and/or romantic attraction to others, explains Huff.

To put this into perspective, if a female transitions to a male (gender identity) and is attracted to females (sexual orientation), he is heterosexual.

Not every trans person will undergo medical transition.

There are multiple medical interventions that can be involved in a gender transition – such as gender-affirming hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery – which can be costly and may not be covered by insurances. However, even if expense isn’t a factor, some people may choose to transition only through social and behavioral factors – such as how they dress and what they’re interested in – and that’s okay, adds Khazan.

The realization that one is transgender can come at any age; but it is often hindered by many barriers.

Some people feel “off” from a very young age, explains Huff. “They may not feel comfortable with societal norms, or how they are raised, but they don’t have the right words to express it. Others go years believing they’re actually homosexual, because this is the only concept they know.”

For the most part, many people are hesitant to “come out” as transgender due to lack of support, stigma, and transphobia, adds Johnson. 

“When you don’t ‘fit into’ the binary, it can be incredibly confusing, frustrating, and upsetting,” says Khazan. “People hide who they are because they don’t want to be ostracized. They’re afraid of losing their jobs, losing their friends, and even suffering acts of violence.”

National surveys have shown staggering statistics relating to trans inequality, notes Huff. Trans people have faced significantly higher rates of unemployment, housing discrimination, opposition in sports – you name it. In most areas of life, it’s an uphill battle.

It’s important for trans people to receive support – and it’s easy to give it!

Due to the discrimination discussed above, trans people have also faced high incidences of depression and suicide. The more understanding and supportive the general public become, the more people and places they have to turn to for much-needed comfort and security, says Khazan.

The good news is you don’t necessarily have to fully understand why someone is trans in order to respect them. All you have to do is listen to them; trust their decision; be mindful; and honor their preferred pronouns and name, adds Johnson.

“Just be sure to never assume you know someone’s pronouns,” explains Huff. “If they don’t say, you can kindly ask. And if you make a mistake – because we’re all human – you can always apologize.”

Remember, being trans is not a trend, continues Huff. Trans people are your neighbors, colleagues, classmates, friends, and family – your loved ones. These are peoples’ lives, and they should be treated as any other.

For more information on Haddonfield Primary & Specialty Care, an LGBTQ+ Affirming Practice, click HERE