Common Misunderstandings

There are a lot of myths about trans and intersex people. Some of them are repeated so often that they’re commonly assumed to be fact and journalists take them for granted instead of doing research. This quick guide will help you avoid such mistakes.

Being trans is not…

  • A lifestyle choice. Most trans people feel they have no choice at all about how they live. Many feel distressed about it and wish they could fit in as easily as other people. Would you choose to live in a way that risked making you the target of threats and abuse?
  • A mental illness. There is no psychiatric evidence that trans people are delusional, and careful mental health checks are carried out before anyone is allowed to undergo medical transition. Trans people suffer higher than average rates of depression and stress related illness but this is probably due to prejudice and social exclusion.
  • A new phenomenon. Trans people have existed throughout history and some societies have developed special social roles for them. Notable trans people have included the Ancient Egyptian monarch Hatshepsut and the Roman emperor Elagabalus.
  • About sexuality. Trans people can be straight, gay, bisexual or asexual, like anybody else. Sexual orientation and gender are separate things. Although some trans people end up in the sex industry, often because they can’t find work elsewhere, the majority want the same things from love and relationships as anyone else.
  • About disguise. People who transition do so in order to let their bodies more accurately reflect the way they feel on the inside, not to pretend to be something they’re not. A trans woman who is broad shouldered or muscular hasn’t ‘failed’ any more than any other woman whose body falls outside conventional beauty standards.
  • Always obvious. Many trans people blend into society so that you would never notice they were different. Not all trans men are short. Not all trans women are tall with big hands or prominent Adam’s apples. Not all non-binary trans people look androgynous.

Being intersex is not…

  • A synonym for bisexuality. Intersex is about the body, not about sexual orientation.
  • An alternative to identifying as male or female. Some people have a distinct intersex identity but most think of themselves simply as men or women whose bodies differ from the norm.
  • Vanishingly rare. Most experts consider at least one in a hundred people to be intersex, with borderline variations also common. If you haven’t heard much about it, that’s because until recently case records were routinely destroyed, and it still carries a huge social stigma.
  • A tragedy. Although some intersex people have related health problems, most don’t. All have the potential to lead happy, fulfilling lives, and to have successful relationships.
  • The same as being trans. TMW represents both trans and intersex people because they face similar kinds of prejudice. In other ways, however, the issues they have to deal with are quite different, and intersex people do not yet benefit from the same level of protection in law.