In recent years, anti-trans legislation across the country has heightened awareness of the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
For example, a total of 470 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced during the 2023 legislative session, and more than 40 of them focused specifically on transgender people. These bills affect transgender and nonbinary youth and how they can legally receive gender-affirming health care.
Sadly, the majority of these laws are based on misinformation and myths that do not reflect scientific evidence or the reality of identifying as trans or nonbinary. To ensure trans and nonbinary people have access to what is often life-saving healthcare, it is important to dispel the following myths about them.
Myth #1: Being transgender is a mental illness.
No. There is no mental disorder associated with being transgender (or just trans). Being transgender means having a different gender identity than that which you were born with. Being able to express yourself in the way you feel most authentic is a normal aspect of human development.
Transgender people, however, are often faced with unique challenges, including gender dysphoria and discrimination, which can affect their mental health.
Before transitioning (starting to live as their authentic selves), many transgender people suffer from gender dysphoria. From childhood to adulthood, this feeling can occur whenever there is a mismatch between gender identity and assigned sex. When left untreated, gender dysphoria can cause serious emotional and psychological problems.
As the American Psychiatric Association points out, forcing someone to stop being trans or nonbinary is harmful and results in adverse mental health effects. The goal of treatment for gender dysphoria is to affirm the individual's gender identity rather than trying to change it.
Myth #2: Being trans is a "trend" or "social contagion."
Transgender and nonbinary people are not a new phenomenon. There have always been transgender individuals across cultures and throughout history. As trans people have become more visible in recent years, it is not because of a "trend," but rather that society has accepted them more and they have dared to share their stories.
Additionally, the study found that the number of adolescents born female and who have come out as transgender has not increased, which contradicts the claim that female adolescents are more susceptible to outside influences.
“The hypothesis that transgender and gender diverse youth assigned female at birth identify as transgender due to social contagion does not hold up to scrutiny and should not be used to argue against the provision of gender-affirming medical care for adolescents,” study senior author Dr. Alex S. Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Gender Identity Program, said in a statement.
So, where does this myth stem from?
In 2018, the PLOS One journal published a study that put forth the "social contagion" theory. It was Dr. Lisa Littman, a Brown University professor of behavioral and social sciences at the time, who coined the term “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” describing adolescents who experience a conflict between their birth sex and gender identity “suddenly after puberty.” In her opinion, these adolescents are experiencing dysphoria because of social pressure and would not have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria as children.
Myth #3: Trans people regret transitioning.
Detransitioning implies stopping or reversing transitions, which can include social or medical transitions. A variety of reasons can lead to people detransitioning, such as transphobia, family pressure, and a non-affirming environment.
Often, gender-critical voices use stories of detransition as an argument to argue that young people should not be affirmed in their transitions, or should not have access to gender-affirming health care.
Studies conducted by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) indicate that there is "low patient regret and high patient satisfaction" with gender-affirming treatments and surgeries.
Furthermore, 94% of children who came out as trans five years later continue to identify as trans. Approximately 1.3% of transgender young people have transitioned to another identity before returning to their trans identity. Meanwhile, 2.5 % are now cisgender and 3.5 % are non-binary.
Myth #4: All trans people want surgery.
Some individuals with gender dysphoria choose not to undergo medical or surgical treatment, states the American Psychiatric Association.
It is important to note that gender-affirming surgeries are often very expensive and are not always covered by insurance. Additionally, each person with gender dysphoria chooses which treatment option best suits their needs.
Some people are satisfied with simply taking hormones. Others prefer to dress as their felt gender in public regardless of medical or surgical treatment. Some individuals rely on online and local trans-affirming communities to cope with gender dysphoria and to claim a gender identity and forms of expression without medical intervention. It is also not uncommon for people to express their felt gender in private settings due to either discomfort or fear of expressing it publicly.
Anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts can result from being denied or denied access to gender-affirming treatments.
Myth #5: Trans athletes have an unfair advantage in sports.
Myths about human performance and the human body are often based on outdated and inaccurate assumptions. The scientific community does not agree that transgender athletes have an inherent advantage over cisgender athletes.
As a matter of fact, one report found that trans women do not have any advantage over their cis peers in elite sports. According to the report, which was commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the scientific literature concerning trans women and their participation in elite sport published between 2011 and 2021 has been thoroughly reviewed.
According to the authors, these studies show little evidence that factors associated with male puberty - such as lung size and bone density - produce advantages for trans athletes.
As the report points out, there is strong evidence that “elite sport policy is made within transmisogynist, misogynoir, racist, geopolitical cultural norms.”
However, governing bodies in many sports are adopting inclusive policies based on evidence and fairness, ensuring trans athletes can achieve their best performance.
Myth #6: Trans people are a threat to public restrooms.
In addition to fueling unnecessary anxieties, this harmful myth also fosters discriminatory practices such as bathroom bills. Just like everyone else, the vast majority of trans people want to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Public restroom safety concerns are often rooted in unexplained fears and prejudices, rather than actual incidents of violence or harm.
A study by the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute found that trans-inclusive policies do not affect the safety of cis people in the bathroom.
Myth #7: Talking about gender identity is confusing or inappropriate for children.
It is natural for children to be curious about gender and identity, and open conversations can help them develop understanding and empathy. As early as 3 years old, children can understand their own gender identity, and they are confident about their own gender identity by the age of 5 or 6.
As such, age-appropriate discussions about gender diversity are beneficial for fostering inclusivity and preventing harmful stereotypes from spreading. We can ensure children grow up in a world that respects and celebrates all genders by providing safe spaces for them to ask questions and learn.
Myth #8: Trans people can't have fulfilling relationships.
People who identify as trans- and non-binary have the same experiences of love, intimacy, and partnership as anyone else. It does not matter what gender they identify as when it comes to forming meaningful and fulfilling relationships with friends, family, and partners.
Fostering understanding and strengthening relationships can be accomplished by creating an empathic, inclusive, and supportive environment.
Myth #9: Bisexual people have equal attraction to men and women
“First of all, it’s important to recognize that bisexual people are simply attracted to two or more genders -- and those don’t necessarily have to be binary genders, writes Zoe Stoller for Dash of Pride. “Typically, bisexual people say they are attracted to their gender and others -- so if someone is agender, they might be attracted to other agender people, in addition to a different gender (which could be man, woman, or any other possibility).”
Additionally, many bisexuals might relate to feeling equal attraction to men and women, but not everyone does, adds Stoller. “Someone could be 80% attracted to their own gender and 20% attracted to other genders, and still be bisexual!”There is no right or wrong combination of attraction, and you don't have to define it numerically.
“Bisexuality is beautifully vast and limitless -- truly, the definition and experiences will change depending on the individual! And bisexual people don’t owe anyone an explanation of their precise attractions.”
Myth #10: There's no point in using they/them pronouns; it's too confusing.
Being respectful of someone's pronouns is a basic human right. For nonbinary individuals, they/them pronouns are no more confusing than he/him or she/her for cisgender individuals. This is simply a matter of acknowledging and honoring one's own identity.
It is possible to create a more inclusive and understanding world if we dismantle these harmful myths. It isn't about tolerance, it is about genuine acceptance and respect. We must celebrate diversity and empower people to live their authentic selves by feeling safe and empowered.