What is the difference between sex and gender?
Our goal is to improve the health and wellbeing of transgender people, and ensure that healthcare professionals are able to treat transgender people with respect and provide them with the appropriate medical attention.
Sex is assigned at birth. This is usually based on the baby’s genitals. If they have a penis, they are assigned male at birth. If they have a vagina, they are assigned female at birth.
Gender is different to sex. It is an internal sense of identity that can be male, female, somewhere in-between, or neither.
Transgender and non-binary people have a gender identity that does not match their birth-assigned sex. This is called gender-incongruence.
Gender expression is how someone dresses and presents themselves to the world. This is not necessarily the same as gender identity. For instance, women can dress in a masculine fashion and still have a female gender identity.
Why is it important to understand transgender identity?
Transgender and non-binary people experience specific barriers to healthcare, which lead to poor health outcomes.
- Transgender people are less likely to access medical care because they fear a negative response.
- Transgender people have significantly worse mental health outcomes, including depression and suicidality.
- Over half of transgender people have been told by their GP that they do not know enough about trans healthcare to support them.
Understanding the difference between sex and gender will also help you deliver the best care for your patients, regardless of gender identity. For instance, a person who is male but was assigned female at birth will have different healthcare needs to cisgender men, like cervical screening access.
How can you help support transgender people?
There are lots of easy ways to support transgender people in your healthcare practice. The most important thing is to provide a space that is safe, welcoming, and knowledgeable.
Transgender people may find it difficult to access medical care if they feel like they are being judged or undue attention is being drawn to them. Staff should treat transgender people no differently to any other patient.
Representation is important. Some transgender people do not seek medical support because they are not represented in resources and information. Informational material should include a diverse range of gender identities, including trans and non-binary people.
You should also make sure that patient intake forms have gender options besides male and female. A good set of options is male, female, non-binary/genderfluid, agender, and other. Do not put ‘transgender’ as a gender option, as this is not a gender identity in and of itself. Transgender people can be male (trans men), female (trans women), or any other gender identity. You may also want to include a section for the patient to include their gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them, or other).
You should never challenge transgender people about which bathroom they use. Most trans people – like people of all genders – will use the bathroom they feel is most appropriate for their gender. It is good to have at least one single occupancy bathroom to provide for people who feel uncomfortable using gendered bathrooms.