A trans woman (sometimes trans-woman or transwoman) is a male-to-female (MTF) transgender person with a female gender identity. The label of transgender woman is not interchangeable with that of transsexual woman, although the two are often combined or mistaken for the same thing. A transsexual woman is someone who was assigned male at birth but whose gender identity is that of a woman; transsexual women may undergo physical changes to align their body with their gender identity (known as transition). Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people) so transgender women could, for example, refer to either a woman who was assigned male at birth, identifies as a woman, but does not wish to undergo physical changes, or a transsexual woman.
"Assigned sex" refers to the assigning or naming of the sex of a baby, usually based upon the appearance of external genitalia.
"Gender identity" refers to a person's private sense of, and subjective experience of, their own gender. This may be different to the sex that the person was assigned at birth.
"Transition" refers to the process of adopting a social and personal identity that corresponds to one's own sense of the gendered self, and may or may not include medical intervention (hormone treatment, surgery, etc.), changes in legal documents (name and/or sex indicated on identification, birth certificate, etc.), and personal expression (clothing, accessories, voice, body language).
Both transsexual and transgender women may experience gender dysphoria, a (sometimes) severe pain and discomfort brought upon by the discrepancy between their gender identity the sex that was assigned to them at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics).
In the same manner, a trans man is someone who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a man.
Some trans women who feel that their gender transition is complete prefer to be called simply "women," considering "trans woman" or "male-to-female transsexual" to be terms that should only be used for people who are not fully transitioned. Likewise, many may not want to be seen as a "trans woman" owing to society's tendency to "Other" individuals who do not fit into the sex/gender binary, or have personal reasons beyond that not to wish to identify as transgender post-transition. For this reason, many see it as an important and appropriate distinction to include a space in the term, as in "trans woman", thus using "trans" as merely an adjective describing a particular type of woman; this is in contrast to the usage of "transwoman" as one word, implying a "third gender".
The stereotype of the effeminate boy who grows up to live as a woman has a very long history. It is a common misconception and stereotype that all transgender and transsexual women are heterosexual (attracted to males). However, research on the sexual orientation of trans women in the past has been dubious at best. Many studies on this issue have suffered from reporting bias, since many transsexual people feel they must give the "correct" answers to such questions to increase their chances of obtaining hormone replacement therapy. Patrick Califia, author of Sex Changes and Public Sex, has indicated that this group has a clear awareness of what answers to give to survey questions to be considered eligible for hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery:
"None of the gender scientists seem to realize that they, themselves, are responsible for creating a situation where transsexual people must describe a fixed set of symptoms and recite a history that has been edited in clearly prescribed ways to get a doctor's approval for what should be their inalienable right."
A survey of roughly 3000 trans women showed that only 23% of them identified as heterosexual, with 31% as bisexual, 29% as lesbian, 7% as asexual, 7% as queer and 2% as "other".
Trans women, like all gender variant people, face a vast amount of discrimination and transphobia. A survey of roughly 3000 trans women living in the United States, as summarized in the report "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey", found that trans women reported that:
36% have lost their job due to their gender.
55% have been discriminated against whilst being hired.
29% have been denied a promotion.
25% have been refused medical care.
60% of the trans women that have visited a homeless shelter reported incidents of harassment there.
When displaying identity documents incongruent with their gender identity/expression, 33% have been harassed and 3% have been physically assaulted.
20% reported harassment by police, with 6% reporting physical assaulted and 3% reporting sexual assault by an officer. 25% have been treated generally with disrespect by police officers.
Among jailed trans women, 40% have been harassed by inmates and 38% have been harassed by staff. 21% have been physically assaulted and 20% sexually assaulted.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' report of 2010 anti-LGBTQ violence found that of the 27 people who were murdered because of their LGBTQ identity, 44% were trans women.
Discrimination is particularly severe towards trans women of color, who experience the intersection of racism and transphobia. Multiracial, Latina, Black and American Indian trans women are twice to more than three times as likely as White trans women to be sexually assaulted in prison.
In her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano refers to the unique discrimination trans women experience as 'transmisogyny'.
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