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What Does It Mean To Be Transgender?

As a former diversity and inclusion practitioner, I not only believe in the importance of diversity education but really understand the benefits. The world is rapidly changing, and we have to work to keep up with those changes.

It can be incredibly easy to stay in our bubbles — to avoid having conversations with people that are different from us. It is human nature to want to spend time with people who have similar life experiences, but we have to work to interact with those that are different from us.

Why, you ask? It’s because of the changing demographics in the US. We are seeing a rise in our Hispanic population and a rise in our LGBT populations, just as two examples. In order for our companies and brands to remain relevant, it is imperative that we understand those that are different. Also, I just think it is the right thing to do.

In my former job, I did a lot of work with the LGBT population. In this post, I will work to provide some education so that we can have some common language, and I will also include notes from an interview I had with a colleague who is a part of the LGBT community.


First, let’s start off with language because the words we use are incredibly important.

LGBT is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

  • The first three words describe sexual orientation. We all have a sexual orientation; essentially that is who we go to bed with.
  • Lesbian and gay individuals are people who have intimate relationships with people of their same gender, and bisexual individuals have intimate relationships with people of their same and opposite genders.
  • Transgender, the last word in the LGBT acronym, describes one’s gender identity which, essentially, is who you go to bed as. If you are transgender, your sex assigned at birth is inconsistent with your internal sense of gender.
  • For those of you, like me, whose sex assigned at birth is consistent with your gender identity, you are cisgender.
  • Another important term to know is transition. This is the time in which a trans person begins living out their gender identity. It is important to know that the transition is unique to each person, and there is no right or wrong way to transition. People take different steps based on what they want, and it is important to respect those choices.

The Interview

I sat down with a member of the transgender community to discuss his experience.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being trans?

A: At the beginning, interacting with society was the hardest part. Showing up anywhere was hard. Specifically at work, having to deal with customers and them not knowing how to gender me. There were painful interactions. Existing in the world and that being hard. Expending so much emotional energy. They go hand in hand.

Now, the hardest thing is wanting to be visible and balancing that with personal safety. I desperately want to be visible because I am passionate about this work and this issues, but I am also passionate about being alive. I don’t know if I should fear for my safety or not. It could be fine for me to share this part of my life, or I could get someone on the other end who is uncomfortable and has a bad reaction. Not knowing what to say, outwardly, I pretty much just exist.

The internal stuff now. When I walk into a restroom, I am thinking about it even though I know no one else is. I hear stories and read the news. I know what can potentially happen.

Q: How does the media’s portrayal of trans people affect you?

Honestly and unfortunately, the media creates an internalized stigma because of transphobia. I create these stories about what it means to be trans that I have to negate and re-story. If I were going to get into a conversation about trans issues with someone, the way that it is portrayed- makes it hard for me to have a conversation. There is a lack of positivity around trans issues in the media. It’s always trans women of color that is a sex worker and is killed. Lack of positive stories. People that are immersed in it see positivity, average Joe sees only negative.

Q: Based on your experiences with people in the community, what is it like to be trans with an unsupportive family?

As a kid, it feels like there is so much shame, and it feels invalidating. Creates negative feelings and a story- this isn’t real. Combined with media, it can clash and be awful. It can be dangerous- physically, spiritually, emotionally.

As a young adult, there are the same feelings. Particularly bad if you are depending financially on your family. You could have to choose between who you are and your identity, peace of mind, joy. Or having a roof over your head. “Do I try to live my life on the streets, or do I not?”

Our conversation led to male privilege…

I knew that on a cognitive level, but to experience it, wow. It’s so many things: People ask for my opinion when they didn’t before. Getting more respect at work. Not getting cut off when talking. In social work and academia, it still exists even though it is very female dominated. Whenever we are paired in groups, it is my group. Comments people make when my wife and I are together. Pushing the check towards me when I am out with my wife.

Q: What should people know?

There is so much! On one hand, don’t put people in boxes. Just interact with the human being in front of you. On the other hand, does there need to be something that happens before that — educate yourself. Places like the National Center for Transgender Equality can help with education. Question what you think you know.

Q: What would you say to others in the LGBT community to encourage them?

Your identity is real- whatever that is. It is okay to explore your identity and constantly question. It is hard to be raised in a society that pushes you into either box and makes you have to pick one.

Are you interested in learning more? Let us know if you want us to continue educating you all about the LGBT community!

About the Author

Jessica Sharp

Jessica Sharp is passionate about empowering underserved and minority communities, diverse representation, and brain education. Jessica is the Founder and Chief Educator of Sharp Brain Consulting which works with public service agencies to provide education about the brain and its effect on organizational outcomes. Additionally, she is on the leadership team of Meals on Wheels in her town of Greenville, SC. She is completing a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Missouri. Upon her completion, she will attend William James College to obtain a Doctorate of Psychology. Follow her on twitter at @sharpjes.