We talk about LGBT people but mostly we mean LGB. Our society has reached the stage where, at least officially, it’s ok – and fairly safe – to be gay or lesbian. People look pretty much the same whether gay, lesbian or straight. As a result, you can be out as gay – but when you walk down the street you’re not automatically telling that to strangers. To come out as transgendered is different and much more difficult.
Gender identity is a complex subject with a wide range of issues. Just consider some of the the descriptive labels, such as Tgirl, drag queen, or shemale. Then there’s the associated alphabet soup – TG, TS, CD, TV. Issues can range from relatively mild (CD, TV) to complete identity with the opposite gender (TG). (See the following wikis for a more extensive discussion of the LGBT label, and the transgender community.)
Gender identity problems are much more common for males (M to F) than for females (F to M). In general, masculine women are more accepted by society than feminine men. Tomboy is ok but sissy is not. (You can make the argument that in a male dominated society, the less common F to M person can get away with a little bit because that’s going from a lower to a higher status. On the other hand, the more typical M to F trans-person is perceived as rejecting the position of strength and power and becoming a vulnerable “girl”.)
Gender identity issues for a person can change a great deal with time. For example, a boy doesn’t want to be tagged as a sissy – there are a lot of the problems that go with that designation! He may try hard to not act the part and to deny that part of himself. Later in life, he may accept and become comfortable with that part of himself. However, he still must deal with society and how it views and treats him. He also must deal with family issues which also change with time.
A lot of this is particularly difficult for older people; after all, not too many years ago the possibility of these issues was not even acknowledged, never mind discussed! This tended to leave a T person feeling isolated – that they were the only person in the world who felt the way they did. At least nowadays the subject is out there and can be discussed…
However, coming out completely is still very difficult and very dangerous – especially for the male to female T person. For most of them, passing as female is not possible, and they will be read as a guy in a dress. There are lots of times and places where being perceived as a guy in a dress is very dangerous.
Spiritual issues also can arise. If God made me this gender why do I want to be the other? Am I violating God’s intent for me? Specific answers depend on one’s concept of God. (In the Episcopal church there is no single answer to this question. Visions of God range from the hard line biblical literalism of those on the far right to the non-deist view of Bishop Spong.) My short answer is that we are what we are. Then, if we believe in a loving God, we accept who we are and trust that our mission and ministry will be found in living a useful and honest life.