A transgender means a person has a different gender identity than their assigned gender at birth.
This article discusses the definition of transgender.
It also looks at other definitions of different gender identities and commonly used terminology, as well as access to healthcare and allyship relating to transgender issues.
To discover more evidence-based health information and resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals, visit our dedicated hub.
The National Center for Transgender Equality defines transgender people as those who have a different gender identity to their assigned gender at birth. Some people may also use “trans” as a shortened version for transgender.
Gender identity is the innate knowledge of who a person is. Every person has a gender identity, which may match their assigned sex at birth, or it may be different.
A healthcare professional usually assigns newborns either a male or female sex at birth. If people identify with a different gender to the one they were assigned, they may describe themselves as transgender.
A transgender woman is someone who is currently living as a woman but was assigned a male sex at birth. A transgender man is someone who is currently living as a man but was assigned a female sex at birth.
Some transgender people may not identify with being either male or female, or may identify as a combination of male and female. Other terms people may use to describe their gender identity include nonbinary or genderqueer.
People may realize they are transgender at any age. Planned Parenthood notes that many people know they are transgender from a young age, and others may not realize until later in life.
People may have a feeling of not fitting in, or may feel uncomfortable emotions when talking about their gender or being seen by others as a gender they do not identify with.
A person can try the following to help them understand their gender identity:
- Write about how they feel in a journal on a regular basis.
- Talk about their feelings with people they trust.
- Talk about their feelings with a therapist or counselor.
A person can also try to learn about other transgender people’s experiences. They can do this through reading literature written by transgender people or meeting transgender people in person.
It may be possible to find helpful LGBTQIA+ resources and support groups either in the community or at school or university.
Some transgender people may experience severe emotional distress if there is a difference between their gender identity and assigned sex at birth. The medical term for this is gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria can affect a person’s health, well-being, and everyday life. By aligning with and expressing their gender identity, people may be able to resolve gender dysphoria.
The American Psychiatric Association notes that gender dysphoria often begins in childhood. However, some people may not experience it until puberty or later in life.
Transitioning is the term people use for the period of time when they align themselves and their life with their true gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth.
Transitioning is not necessary to be transgender, although many transgender people choose to transition at some point.
There are no set steps or criteria for transitioning, and it is individual for each person.
Steps some people may or may not take to transition can include:
- changing their appearance, such as clothing and hairstyle
- changing their name
- changing pronouns
- changing official documents to reflect their gender identity
- hormone therapy to change physical characteristics
- medical procedures to change physical characteristics
Some people may also decide to take puberty blockers. For some, the changes that occur during puberty do not align with their gender identity.
These block the hormones that lead to puberty, which stops periods, breast growth, facial hair growth, and voice-deepening.
According to the Gender Identity Development Service, hormone blockers only last for as long as a person is taking the medication. If a person stops taking them and providing that no other interventions have occurred, they will go through puberty.
Some transgender people may choose to take gender-affirming hormones. These are hormones that create physical changes in the body to align with a person’s gender identity.
People may take testosterone to develop masculine characteristics or estrogen to develop feminine characteristics.
Some transgender people may choose to have gender-affirming surgery. People may choose to have surgery that alters their face, chest, or anatomy to align with their gender identity.
People may want to search for healthcare professionals and clinics where staff are trans-friendly and have appropriate training and knowledge in transgender issues.
People can find local providers in their state or city through the Centers for Control and Disease Prevention (CDC) list of
The following organizations also provide helpful information and resources:
GLAAD also provides a list of community resources here.
Sexual orientation differs from gender identity. Sexual orientation focuses on who people are attracted to. People of any gender identity can have any sexual orientation.
Gender identity is a person’s innate knowledge of their gender. People may identify as a man, woman, nonbinary person, or another gender identity.
The Intersex Society of North America defines intersex as “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
Sex chromosomes determine the biological sex of a baby. Intersex people may have chromosomes typical to a male or female but have no internal or external anatomy that corresponds to biological male or female anatomy.
Transgender people are usually born with genetics and anatomy that match a biological definition of male or female. Transgender people may feel they have a different gender identity to their assigned sex at birth.
A person who is gender nonconforming does not conform to the stereotypical ideas of gender.
The LGBTQIA Resource Center notes that people more commonly use the term to refer to gender expression instead of gender identity.
People may choose to appear and behave in ways that are more “masculine” or “feminine” than society may stereotypically associate with their gender.
Someone who is gender nonconforming may or may not be transgender. Transgender people may be gender nonconforming or they may conform to the gender stereotypes of the gender they identify with.
People may describe themselves as nonbinary if they do not identify with either a male or female gender. Nonbinary people may not feel they fit into the gender binary of being a man or a woman. People may also use the term genderqueer to describe their gender identity.
Nonbinary people may identify with elements of being both male and female, a different gender, or no gender. Some people may have a fluid gender that changes over time.
Transgender people may be nonbinary, but many transgender people identify as either a man or a woman.
Being an ally to transgender people can help create a safer and better society for transgender people, and people of all gender identities.
Action steps as an ally can include:
- respecting a transgender person’s gender identity and use of pronouns
- avoiding referring to a person’s birth name or assigned sex at birth, if a person has changed their name
- avoiding making any assumptions about transgender people, such as their sexual orientation
- using inclusive language that avoids gender, such as “person” instead of “man” or “woman” in group settings
- supporting the use of all-gender public restrooms
- respecting that it is up to a transgender person to share their gender history or not, and avoiding “outing” a transgender person
- listening to transgender people and learning about their experiences
- supporting campaigns for transgender equality
People can make sure always to use the pronouns a transgender person wants them to use. If people are unsure which pronouns a person uses, make introductions using preferred pronouns and ask the other person theirs.
If appropriate, people can also ask which terms a person wants others to use to describe their gender identity. Many transgender people may identify as a man or a woman.
Certain words or phrases can be very disrespectful or offensive to transgender people.
According to GLAAD, terminology to avoid includes:
|Terminology to avoid||Preferred terminology||Reason|
|a transgender or transgenders||transgender people or a transgender person||Transgender is an adjective, not a noun.|
|transgendered||transgender||Adding “-ed” adds confusion and is grammatically incorrect.|
|transgenderism||being transgender||Anti-transgender activists use the term “transgenderism” to dehumanize transgender people.|
|sex change, pre-operative, or postoperative||transition||Using these terms implies that a person must have surgery to be transgender.|
|sex change surgery or sex reassignment||gender-affirming surgery||With surgery, the person is not changing their sex, but altering their body to better match their gender.|
|• biologically or genetically male or female|
• born a man or woman
|• assigned or designated male at birth|
• assigned or designated female at birth
|A number of factors determine a person’s sex. These terms oversimplify a complex subject.|
|passing or stealth||• visibly transgender|
• not visibly transgender
|The terms imply that transgender people are deceiving.|
Other terminology to avoid includes:
- trannie or tranny
- any word that implies masquerading or pretending, or “passing” as a man or woman
People should also not ask questions about surgery, anatomy, or sex life.
The term transgender refers to those who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. A person can realize they are transgender at any point in life.
Transitioning is a term people use to refer to the steps a person can take to align themselves with their true gender identity. This can involve changing their pronouns, taking gender-affirming hormones, and undergoing gender-affirming surgery.
However, transitioning is not necessary to be transgender.
To be an ally, people can use correct pronouns and avoid using offensive terminology. They can also support appropriate campaigns and listen to transgender people’s experiences.