The Supreme Court on Tuesday recognised the country's long marginalised transgender community as a third gender and, in a landmark judgment lauded by human rights groups, called on the government to ensure their equal treatment.
Indian transgender residents pose for a photograph during an event to celebrate a Supreme Court judgement in Mumbai. (AFP Photo)
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about gender and some terms related to transgender:
What does transgender mean?
Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates and gender identity is established through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.
Why are some people transgender?
There is no single explanation for why some people are transgender. Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.
What is the difference between sex and gender?
Sex is assigned at birth. It refers to one’s biological status as either male or female, and is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. These influence the ways in which people act, interact, and feel about themselves. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ.
What is the relationship between gender identity and sexual orientation?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person, whereas gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual, just as nontransgender people can be.
Transgender people usually label their sexual orientation using their gender as a reference. For example, a transgender woman, or a person who is assigned male at birth and transitions to female, who is attracted to other women would be identified as a lesbian or gay woman. Likewise, a transgender man, or a person who is assigned female at birth and transitions to male, who is attracted to other men would be identified as a gay man.
How does someone know they are transgender?
Transgender people experience their transgender identity in a variety of ways and may become aware of their transgender identity at any age. Some can trace their transgender identities and feelings back to their earliest memories. They may have vague feelings of “not fitting in” with people of their assigned sex or specific wishes to be something other than their assigned sex.
Others become aware of their transgender identities or begin to explore and experience gender-nonconforming attitudes and behaviors during adolescence or much later in life. Some embrace their transgender feelings, while others struggle with feelings of shame or confusion. Those who transition later in life may have struggled to fit in adequately as their assigned sex only to later face dissatisfaction with their lives.
Some transgender people, transsexuals in particular, experience intense dissatisfaction with their sex assigned at birth, physical sex characteristics, or the gender role associated with that sex. These individuals often seek gender-affirming treatments.
Transgenders attend a seminar for the transgender community in Mumbai. (AFP Photo)Is being transgender a medical disorder?
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the tome used by clinicians worldwide to diagnose and classify mental illnesses, people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of "gender dysphoria."
What should parents do if their child appears to be transgender or gender nonconforming?
Parents may be concerned about a child who appears to be gender-nonconforming for a variety of reasons. Some children express a great deal of distress about their assigned sex at birth or the gender roles they are expected to follow. Some children experience difficult social interactions with peers and adults because of their gender expression.
Parents of gender-nonconforming children may need to work with schools and other institutions to address their children’s particular needs and ensure their children’s safety. It is helpful to consult with mental health and medical professionals familiar with gender issues in children to decide how to best address these concerns. It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.
Watch: India's transgenders celebrate historic ruling
People whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex. Often, transsexuals alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones, surgery, and other means to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their gender identities.Transmen:
who were assigned female, but identify and live as male and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity (also known as female-to-male or FTM).Transwomen:
People who were assigned male, but identify and live as female (also known as male-to-female or MTF).Gender affirmation:
Individuals who transition from one gender to another prefer to be referred to as a man or a woman, rather than as transgender.
People who wear clothing that is traditionally or stereotypically worn by another gender in their culture. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation. They are usually comfortable with their assigned sex and do not wish to change it.
Men who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.
Women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others.
People who identify their gender as falling outside the binary constructs of “male” and “female”. They may define their gender as falling somewhere on a continuum between male and female, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.
They prefer pronouns used to refer to them that are neither masculine nor feminine, such as “zie” instead of “he” or “she,” or “hir” instead of “his” or “her.” Some genderqueer people do not identify as transgender.
Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, multigendered, gender nonconforming, third gender,
and two-spirit people
. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person and change over time, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders.Source: American Psychological Association
An Indian transgender resident dances with others at an event to celebrate a Supreme Court judgement in Mumbai. (AFP Photo)