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Laura Flaherty outlines the stigma attached to members of the trans community.

There is often a lot of confusion about what it means to be transgender, transexual, or transvestite. People have difficulty understanding these terms and differentiating between them. This is a major problem, seeing as it’s an everyday reality for some people. You may fit into one of these categories and not even know, or indeed miscategorise yourself. For the rest of the population, it’s still something that needs attention and recognition because it’s something that will effect everyone at some point in their lives, directly or indirectly.

So, this is a crash course in trans terms. This is the basics of what you should know, more information is of course available from the LGBT society, and if an issue like this is negatively effecting you and you’re struggling with your identity there are services available in the Iona chaplaincy.

Cisgender is the term given to people who are happy with the gender they are born into. They are born with the genitalia that biologically corresponds with what they believe they are. They are born with a penis and feel they are a boy, or vice versa. It’s important to note that sexuality is not considered in these terms. A gay guy can still be cisgender, if he feels like a guy that is just attracted to other guys.
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Most of us are familiar with the term transvestite (who could ever forget the evil transvestite lobster from the powerpuff girls?). A transvestite is someone who dresses in what would conventionally worn by the opposite gender, and acts in that manner. Again, this has nothing to do with sexuality.

Transgender is the term given to someone whose gender identity does not match up with their assigned sex. That’s to say, a person who was born with a penis but feels like a woman, or vice versa.

Transexual people also feel that they are not the gender which they were assigned, but this comes from a neurological condition and often needs to treated with medical intervention, including gender reassignment surgeries and hormone therapy.

Transsexualism and transgenderism are not the same, and should not be treated as such. If someone identifies as transsexual, or transgender that is their choice and should be respected.

Intersex is something which is not given much attention today; it refers to someone who is born with genital ambiguity. That’s to say, their chromosomes don’t match a convention man or woman’s, nor do their genitals. They can identify as male, female, or neither and choose to surgically change their genitals to match their sexual identity or not. People who are intersex often have their choices made for them as a child however, as their parents can choose their genitals when they are born.

Even though we live in a developed, educated country in the 21st century, there is still a lot of ignorance surrounding these terms and others like them, which is inexcusable. Transgender and transsexual people often encounter trouble when it comes to relationships and public restrooms, more often that not experiencing violence and abuse. Every step needs to be taken so that people who fit into these categories feel as accepted and comfortable as possible. It’s a simple human right.

There’s a lot of prejudice surrounding difference in our society. We, as a collective nation, often feel intimidated by change and shy away from it, sometimes even reacting with violence and force where it really isn’t needed. Stopping someone from living their life the way they want to is like going to a restaurant, seeing someone order cake and telling a waiter not to give it to them, because it’s interfering with your cake.

Every year in the States 320,000 to 400,000 young transsexual and gay youths become homeless, ejected from their homes for coming out to their parents. The average age that transsexual children become homeless in New York is 13. At 13, they are left to face the world alone, with nothing and no one to support them. These figures are as real as they are frightening. Transsexual people are also 5.9 times more likely to experience depression and 3.6 times more like to abuse alcohol and drugs than straight, cisgender people.

Transexualism and transgenderism aren’t natural? We live in the twenty first century, in a world where you can talk to someone on the other side of the world as if they were beside you, and drones deliver packages we order on something made up of a lot of 1’s and 0’s that seems to have taken over our worlds.

I think maybe it’s time we redefine our definition of natural.