A transgender woman who let people ask her questions about her life on an internet forum was inundated with even more when the BBC reported on her story.
Many readers wrote to Gwen asking for advice about a friend or family member who is transitioning.
Here Gwen, from Pennsylvania, addresses some questions from BBC website readers.
I have an eight-year-old sister who is transgender. What’s the best advice I can give her as she grows older with negativity from others?
“There are going to be a lot of people out there who might hate her for who she is, but tell her that she has plenty of people in her life who are going to love her much more than any amount of hate she could receive.
“My personal rule is: Just don’t read the comments. If you’re going to read any comments people make, don’t bother responding. They usually have their minds made up and no amount of arguing is going to make them apologise.”
How can I support my friend who is transitioning?
“The best advice is to just listen to what they have to say and try not to make it a big deal.
“When I was starting to transition, all I wanted was for life to feel ‘normal’ again.
“I didn’t really want to talk about transitioning too much, but it was nice to have friends who just listened to me on the days where it was especially hard and told me they loved me anyway.”
I work as a security guard in a store and have a male customer who wears a dress and make-up. I always address my customers as “sir” or “madam”. What address should I use with them?
“The best thing would be to address someone by what it looks like they’re going for. If this customer comes in every day in a dress and make-up, I would assume they wanted to be greeted as ‘Ms’.
“It’s always best to go by what you see and then, if they correct you, just go by what they’d rather be called instead.
“Maybe this person isn’t comfortable being called ‘Ms’ yet, but that’s something only they could know.”
How do you approach discussing your trans identity in new social situations, such as dating or a new job?
“I don’t tell people until they need to know. I’ve found that letting people get to know me as everything I am first, aside from my trans status, helps them see me as someone other than a token trans friend after I disclose, if I ever choose to.
“If I’m not going to be having a sexual relationship with someone, they really don’t need to know because it’s not relevant.
“For jobs, it has to come up when listing former names on applications. But I don’t treat it like a big deal and they follow suit.
“A lot of my colleagues still don’t know that I’m trans, although my manager does and was really supportive.”
I’m 20 and a trans woman. I transitioned one year ago and I still don’t pass. Any tips for a girl who feels ugly?
“My biggest advice here is not to conflate passing with attractiveness.
“Being beautiful does not mean you will pass and passing doesn’t mean that you’re beautiful either.
“Passing as the other gender is far more attainable than a lot of trans people realise, and I see many “new” transitioners fall into the trap of thinking that if they aren’t pretty, they aren’t passing.
“I wish that we lived in a world where people were treated fairly and respectfully even if they’re ‘ugly’ and don’t pass, but the reality of the world we live in right now is that it makes life much easier if you do pass, so please don’t give trans people flak for trying to just fit in to get by.”
Has the change affected your relationship between you and your girlfriend?
“My girlfriend and I actually dated a year before I transitioned. I broke up with her out of fear of her breaking my heart and breaking up with me, after telling her that I felt I should have been born a woman.
“I should have told her though, because when I finally did tell her a year later, she was 110% accepting and supportive and we started dating again shortly thereafter.
“I’ve been with her since a couple of weeks after starting HRT [hormone replacement therapy].”
Is life harder because you are trans and lesbian – compared with if you were a straight trans female?
“I’m not a lesbian – I’m bisexual – I experience attraction to men as well. What someone looks like doesn’t matter as much to me as who they are as a person.
“Being trans and transitioning isn’t about sexuality – it’s about your gender identity. Gender is who you go to bed as and sexuality is who you go to bed with.
“There are trans people who are straight, gay, bisexual, asexual… the two aren’t connected at all in terms of why or whether or not someone transitions.
“Although I’m not a lesbian, I appear as one to the public and there are difficulties surrounding that. I don’t feel as safe holding my girlfriend’s hand in public everywhere we go, but most people have been pretty accepting.”
What is being “a woman” beyond cosmetic things like body shape, make-up and high heels?
“After spending time on both sides of the ‘gender line’, I can confidently say that there is really no quality that, in a vacuum, makes a person a man or a woman.
“A woman to me is a culmination of her experiences, the people in her life, the choices she makes, everything that has led her to where she is today.
“Sometimes she’s born in a male body like I was, but our histories do not define us. I refuse to be limited by mine in the same way people do not want their past crimes or disabilities or embarrassments to define who they are today.
“I have (finally) found a body that I am mostly comfortable in and that’s enough for me. Hopefully that’s enough for you as well.”
What is gender dysphoria?
- Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity
- It is a recognised medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It’s not a mental illness
- Treatment for gender dysphoria aims to help reduce or remove the distressing feelings
- For some people, it can mean dressing and living as their preferred gender
- For others, it can mean taking hormones or also having surgery to change their physical appearance
- Many trans people have treatment to change their body permanently, so they’re more consistent with their gender identity, and the vast majority are satisfied with the eventual results
What are some of the things that people do or say about transgender people that bother you and how do you deal with them?
“What bothers me the most is when people blame the high suicide rate of trans people on our ‘mental illness’, like we’re predisposed to it, and refuse to consider that maybe they are the reason so many trans youth kill themselves.
“How would you feel if every day people were calling you a freak, mentally ill, saying you belong in an asylum, telling you that you don’t deserve to be loved?
“How would you feel being scared to date anyone because they might murder you once you tell them your history?
“Every day of living as a trans person is putting a wall up, protecting yourself from people who hate you for literally no reason, because you have zero impact on their lives.
“Eventually, the pressure gets to some people and they decide they don’t want to live any more. Studies have shown that the suicide rate drastically decreases when a trans person transitions young and has a lot of love and support from their family.
“All we need is to be loved, just like anyone else. As for how I deal with them, I try to respond respectfully and show them I’m just a person like anyone else and if they respond negatively, I smile and walk away.
“Living well is the best revenge.”
Has hormone replacement medication affected your moods or emotions?
“Aside from finally feeling at peace with the right hormone in my body, it hasn’t affected my mood or emotions too much.
“I find it a lot easier to cry these days, physically speaking, and I’m not quite sure why that is. I get the feeling that I want to cry as often as I did in the past, but tears actually come out more often than they ever did before.”
Have you ever faced any hostility regarding using women’s bathrooms or changing rooms?
“I’ve never had any problems, but that’s because I pass and look like I ‘belong’ in the women’s room.
“I always use the women’s bathroom because if I walked into the men’s room, something awful could happen to me.
“So I go to the ladies’ room, fix my face and hair, make friends with the girl in the stall next to me and leave, like everyone else.”