It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the mountains of information that are out there. This section of our website is for young people and their families who want to get a better understanding of what it means to be gender variant and how best to access the support you need.
Let’s start with the basics…
LGBT is the short version for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual refer to your sexuality which is the person or people you are attracted to, Transgender refers to your gender and the way you wish to be seen by the world.
What does transgender actually mean?
If your gender is different to the way other people see you or how your body looks then you may be transgender. If you are transgender other people may think you are a girl, but you know you are a boy. Or you may know that you are a girl even though you have a penis. For transgender people, the gender other people see them as just doesn’t seem to fit with who they know themselves to be. Lots of people shorten the word transgender and just say ‘trans’, some people don’t say trans, they use the term gender diverse – but it’s all the same thing.
Binary and non-binary
Some people are very clear about their gender, they know they are a girl, a female or a woman. Other people know that they are a boy, man, male. This is the case whether that was the gender they were given at birth or not.
These are called the binary genders – binary means ‘between two things’ one or two, black or white, male or female.
There are other people who don’t feel that the labels “male” or “female” truly describe who they are. These people identify as non-binary, and that is how they describe their gender.
If you do not feel that like a boy or a girl you may be non-binary, or gender fluid.
Nowadays people use the word trans to mean anyone whose gender is different from the one they were thought to be at birth.
Most people grow up as the gender that they were presumed to be when they were born, by looking to see if there is a penis or not. They have a penis and their parents thought they were a boy, and so do they. Or they have what looks like a girl should have and everyone thinks they are a girl, and they are. This is called being cisgender or cis. We don’t really know how many people are transgender or non-binary, but we think that maybe in every 10 people, 1 or 2 are trans.
Some people are born with genitals that don’t look exactly like a penis, testicles or a vulva. This can be confusing and their parents aren’t sure whether they are a boy or a girl. Doctors might want to do blood tests to see if they have the genes XX which usually mean you are a girl, or XY which usually mean you are a boy. This is called being intersex.
Of course, blood tests and genitals don’t make you what you are. Your gender is deep inside you and can’t be measured or decided. It is just who you are.
If you are transgender then what people call you might make you feel uncomfortable. If they use girl names, or call you ‘she’ when actually you are a boy, then this can feel wrong. If they call you by a boy name or say ‘his’ when actually you are a girl, that might feel wrong and make you feel uncomfortable.
If you don’t feel that either boy or girl fits with who you are, some people just feel better when people say ‘they’ or ‘their’ or ‘them’ instead of his/him or she/hers. These are called pronouns. If you want to tell someone your pronouns, you can say ‘Hi, my name is Sarah and my pronouns are she/her.’ or ‘Hello, I’m Jack and my pronouns are he/him.’ or My name is Jo and my pronouns are they/them.’
Before puberty starts, it is common to experiment with who you are. People do this all the time whether they are trans or cis. For young trans people it is really important to be able to try out different hairstyles, clothes, friends, toys, games, names, pronouns – this helps them to better understand what feels right for them.
When you make a change to your name or pronouns or clothing to better suit your real gender, this is called social transitioning.
When puberty starts your body will develop and change depending on whether you have testicles, or whether you ovaries. It is the testicles and ovaries that produce the sex hormones that make your body change one way or the other.
Some trans teenagers find that very scary and they don’t want their bodies to change in that way. Trans girls might feel scared that their voice will break or they will get a beard. Trans boys might worry about periods starting or about their chest developing. Non-binary teenagers might want their bodies to be in the middle somewhere between ‘male’ and ‘female’.
Sexuality v gender
Your gender is who you are and how you want to live in the world, your sexuality is about who you fancy. Sometimes people can get confused by gender and sexuality and think that if you feel like a boy or feel like a girl when they expect you to be the opposite, that maybe you are just gay. But being gay is very different to what gender you are.
Some trans teenagers get very sad about their gender being different, about their body and the way that puberty makes them change. This is called gender dysphoria. If you have gender dysphoria, find someone to talk to who will listen to you and help you.
Experts know that trans people who are believed and supported in their gender development have less gender dysphoria, so it is important to speak up if you are feeling sad or if you are hurting in any way.
Not all transgender people feel sad about their bodies or about their gender. This doesn’t mean they aren’t trans or non-binary. Importantly, your gender is what you say it is. It does not depend on you having any treatment for it.
It's good to talk
If you feel that you are transgender or that you might be, then see if you can find someone you trust to talk to. If talking is too difficult write down your feelings, and send them in a letter, email or text. You could even make a video or draw something which shows them how you feel.
Remember, your parents, teachers or friends might not understand what being trans means so they may need some time to get used to the idea. Try watching some YouTube videos together or reading some books, there are lots of materials out there that can help you to share your feelings if you are struggling to do so by yourself. If they don’t understand it yet then keep trying.
Some adults are worried that children will change their mind when puberty starts or later in life. If you aren’t actually transgender, if you are actually a tomboy or gay or just trying out different clothes and toys to see what suits you best, then you may well make different choices at puberty and during the rest of your life. Everyone changes their style throughout their life, that is what growing up and getting older is all about. However if you are trans, you can’t make it go away.
Some people think that young people are persuaded to be trans by their friendship groups, and if they join LGBT groups then they might in some way be “persuaded” to be something other than what they are.
The reality is that you can’t make someone trans any more than you can stop someone from being trans.
There is a lot of horrible talk out there at the moment and this is mainly caused by a lack of understanding. This can make it incredibly hard for young trans people and their families. But if being trans is who you are you should never give up, you are who you are and you are very special.
Some schools are clued up on how to help their trans students and some aren’t. It is important to understand that you are not allowed to be treated differently if you are trans and you should be allowed to use the pronouns, names, changing rooms, toilets, sports that suit you best. If you are having difficulty in school then find someone to talk to who you trust and who understands you, ask them to help you get what you need.
Sometimes, we have to try and find the right words to help people understand what being transgender means.
Transgender is a word to describe someone whose gender is different to the one they were told they were when they were born. Also called trans or gender diverse.
Gender affirming means when things are done to help people to live more comfortably in the gender that they are rather than the one they were told they were when they were born.
Gender expression is all about the clothes and make-up and how you talk and move and play. This could be ‘girly’ or ‘butch’ or anywhere in between.
Gender identity is your true gender. Whether you are a boy or a girl or non-binary (neither a boy or a girl, or a mixture of both boy and girl).
Gender nonconformity means when your gender or the way you present yourself feels right to you but is different to what others might expect.
Gender incongruence this is the official word for being transgender and is used on official documents like letters needed for passport changes, or for your doctor’s records.
Gender dysphoria is the word for the sadness, anxiety, distress, pain, anguish, hurt that can be felt by someone who is transgender who is facing difficulties because of it.
Resources for Trans Youth
More books for 11-18 year olds:
- Sylvia and Marsha start a Revolution
- Yes, You Are Trans Enough by Mia Violet
- Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker
- Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt
- The Strangeworld’s Travel Agency
- Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
This site has video stories of trans people and allies, of people talking about their experiences.