The term transgender refers to the ways a person’s gender identity may not align with the cultural expectations typically placed upon the sex a doctor assigned them at birth.
There are approximately 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States, and trans communities have widely varied individual experiences.
Many trans people identify as male or female. However, the term also includes people with gender identities somewhere along the spectrum between male and female and people with multiple genders, no gender, or some other gender identity.
This article will discuss gender identity and how a questioning person can explore whether they are trans.
Gender identity and expression may not always align in a way that some people may consider traditional. For example, a person who identifies as male may not necessarily express themselves in ways society typically views as “masculine.”
The term for people whose gender identity corresponds with the sex a doctor assigned them at birth is cisgender. Transgender refers to those whose gender identity is different from the sex a doctor assigned them at birth.
A trans person may identify as male, female, neither, or a combination of both. People who don’t ascribe to traditional gender distinctions may also identify as nonbinary, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer.
Some people may become aware of their gender identity as early as age 3, while others start exploring it later in life. PFLAG, an organization supporting LGBTQIA+ people and their families, points out that there is no need to rush this process.
Exploring gender identity
Belongto suggests that a person who wants to understand their gender identity better may wish to:
- safely explore their feelings by writing about them in a journal
- consider talking with a trusted person about how they are feeling
- learn about the experiences of others through LGBTQIA+ groups or online research
- speak with a medical professional, such as a doctor or gender-affirming therapist
GLMA, a group dedicated to advancing LGBTQIA+ equality, provides an online directory of healthcare professionals who can offer advice if a person needs it.
For some people, finding the language and label that explains how they feel internally is empowering. Others may feel like using specific language is limiting and not genuine for them. A label is not always necessary to validate a person’s identity. Some may use umbrella terms, and others may not wish to label their experience and identity at all.
Gender dysphoria refers to the conflict a person may feel when their true gender identity does not align with the sex a doctor assigned them at birth or with traditional, binary gender roles.
This can include being referred to by pronouns that do not fit who the person is or gendered terms such as “sir” or “ma’am.” Some transgender people may also feel like their outward appearance does not match how they feel internally.
To diagnose gender dysphoria, a therapist or mental health professional will ask the person whether they have experienced:
- a notable difference in their experienced gender and their sex assigned at birth
- a strong desire to change their assigned sex characteristics
- a strong desire to receive treatment as their experienced gender
People may begin to experience gender dysphoria before the development of sex characteristics brought on by puberty, or it may set in or worsen during that time.
However, not all people who identify as transgender experience gender dysphoria.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) suggests that a person planning on sharing information about their identity for the first time may want to think about:
- Who they should tell first: They may wish to tell the person who they suspect will be most supportive first. That person may then support them in coming out to others.
- What questions the person may ask: Individuals may want to prepare for questions about how they identify. However, they should be aware that they do not need to have all the answers.
- How informed their trusted person is: The person coming out may wish to share resources to help whoever they are coming out to understand more about gender identity.
- How safe the environment is: A person should have a safety plan in place and aim to feel as safe and confident as possible when choosing to come out. This is particularly important if they are dependent on the person they are coming out to, and especially if they live with that person.
The HRC points out that it iscommon for people coming out as transgender to feel a mix of emotions. Coming out is a process, and it is important that a person feels in control and safe when disclosing their identity.
Some people who identify as transgender may choose to transition socially, medically, or both.
A person may transition socially by:
- sharing their identity with friends and family
- asking people to refer to them using the correct pronouns
- dressing and styling themselves in a way that matches their gender identity
- changing their name
They may also undergo gender-affirming surgeries such as:
- penile construction
- top surgery, which involves the removal of breasts and breast tissue
- breast augmentation
- vaginal construction
- facial surgery
- tracheal shave to reduce the Adam’s apple
- laser hair removal
- a hysterectomy
Not all people undergoing these procedures may identify as a specific gender.
Gender identity refers to a person’s sense of gender, while sexual orientation refers to their physical, romantic, or emotional attraction to another person.
Since people can experience gender in various ways, many terms may explain how someone identifies. Some common terms used to describe gender identities are:
- Gender fluid: A person whose gender identity or expression can change over time, sometimes from day to day.
- Gender non-conforming: A person whose gender expression does not align with cultural expectations associated with their sex assigned at birth.
- Nonbinary: A person whose gender identity does not fall within the gender binary of male or female.
- Genderqueer: A person who does not subscribe to traditional gender distinctions. Some may use this term interchangeably with gender non-conforming and nonbinary.
- Trans man: A person whose sex assigned at birth was female but whose gender identity is male.
- Trans woman: A person whose sex assigned at birth was male but whose gender identity is female.
Some terms that are now outdated and that some may consider offensive include:
- Gender identity disorder: The updated term for this diagnosis is gender dysphoria.
- Pre-operative, post-operative: These terms emphasize whether a person with a transgender identity has undergone gender-affirming surgeries and suggest that a person’s identity is only valid if they have made certain medical changes.
- Transgendered: Using the verb “transgendered” implies that being transgender is something that happens to a person, but gender identity is innate.
- Transsexual: This is an older term for people whose gender identity does not align with the sex a doctor assigned them at birth. Some find this term offensive, and people should only use it if a person states explicity that they identify this way.
Trans and nonbinary people are often happy and comfortable with their identity, but can also face unique challenges.
Anyone who requires education or support can visit:
- The Trevor Project
- The National Center for Transgender Equality
- The National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition
- Gender Spectrum
- The HRC
It is possible to experience and express gender in various ways. A person’s gender identity can change over time. For some, understanding their gender identity may happen quickly. For others, it may be a long journey.
A person aiming to understand their gender identity better may find support from trusted people in their life, medical professionals, and LGBTQIA+ organizations.
When sharing their identity with others for the first time, it is important that a person feels safe and comfortable.