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Transgenderism: 9 Things You Need to Know

Transgenderism has been a frequently discussed topic over the past few weeks.

On May 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review board ruled that Medicare can pay for the “reassignment” surgery sought by the transgendered. A few days later Time magazine’s cover story on the “transgender tipping point” declared the social movement is “poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.” And last week, the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, overwhelmingly passed a resolution titled “On Transgender Identity.”

Since the topic will be coming up for some time to come, here are nine things you should know about transgenderism.

1. Transgenderism is an umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying or expressing a gender identity that does not match a person’s physical/genetic sex.

Transgender is independent of sexual orientation, and those who self-identify as transgender may consider themselves to be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual or asexual. Approximately 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identify as transgender.

2. Transgenderism differs from intersex, a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female.

Intersex is a physical condition while transgender is a psychological condition. The vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. (The term “hermaphrodite” is now considered outdated, inaccurate and offensive as a reference to people who are intersex.)

3. The terms transgender, transsexual and transvestite are not synonymous.

Transsexual is a narrower term used to refer to people who identify as the opposite of their birth gender designation, regardless of whether they have undergone or intend to undergo hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery. A transvestite is a person who cross-dresses, or dresses in clothes of the opposite sex, though they may not identify with or want to be the opposite gender. All transsexuals are transgender, but transvestites do not necessarily fall into either of the other categories.

4. The LGBTQIA community considers gender to be a trait that exists along a continuum.

Transgenders can thus be bigender (move between feminine and masculine gender-typed behavior depending on context), trigender (shifting between male, female and a third gender), pangender (all genders at once), genderqueer (a catchall for people who consider themselves any of the subsets of transgender, such as genderless, pangender, etc.).