Transgender 101


What does transgender mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender identity is someone’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary.) For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.

Trying to change a person’s gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person’s sexual orientation — it doesn’t work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.

People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer. Always use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.

Transgender people may or may not alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.

Transgender is an adjective, and should never be used as a noun. Rather than saying “Max is a transgender,” say “Max is a transgender person.” And transgender never needs an “-ed” at the end.

How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?

We use the acronym LGBT to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The first three letters (LGB) refer to sexual orientation. The T refers to issues of gender identity.

Gender identity is your own, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary).

Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual).

Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would be typically identify as a straight woman.

How do I treat a transgender person with respect?

If you’d like to learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people, please visit our“Tips for Allies of Transgender People” page.

For a list of basic terminology – including defamatory terms and slurs to avoid, please seeGLAAD’s Media Reference Guide or the publication An Ally’s Guide to Terminology: Talking About LGBT People & Equality.

Why is transgender equality important?

Transgender people face staggering levels of discrimination and violence. In 2012, 53% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women. According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Task Force:

  • Transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty.
  • Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
  • 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
  • 22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color.  Almost half of the respondents (46%) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
  • Transgender people still cannot serve in the US Military.

Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face shockingly high rates of murder, homelessness, and incarceration. Most states and countries offer no legal protections in housing, employment, health care, and other areas where individuals experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression.

Learn more about transgender people and history

In spite of the tremendous challenges inherent in living in a culture that does not treat transgender people equally, transgender people have made – and – are making – significant contributions to our world. You can read about some strong transgender advocates in the inaugural Trans 100 list. For a look at the history of transgender people in America, please check out Transgender History by Susan Stryker.



40 thoughts on “Transgender 101

  1. You can remove this comment if you want a clean page, but I wanted to thank you for this information. I was woefully ignorant of most of this (other than treating all people with respect), now I feel a bit more confident in my knowledge. Very, very best wishes to you.

    1. Thank you for commenting, and no, I won’t delete it, I’m glad I was able to provide some useful information. I want people to know that I am no different from anyone else, I just have a different view of the world and myself.

      Best wishes,

  2. Kira,

    I find this page very well put together, very clean and concise, without any unnecessary embellishment. I did notice some inconsistency in the font usage but then again it may have been intentional, I don’t know. Great job! I may provide a link to it on my blog or refer to it from time to time, with proper attribution, of course. I also like the new pink theme which I believe I had considered at one time.

    This may sound selfishly motivated, but I would also consider it an honor if you would consider adding my blog to your blogroll.

    Kisses, Deanna

    1. Deanna,
      I am going to go back re-edit the page, I was in a bit of a hurry finishing it, but that’s no excuse. Thank you for pointing out something I missed.

      I have added you to my Blogroll. I thought I had added you a long time ago, so please accept my apology for not having it there already.


  3. Re: Additionally, research is now starting to show that a transgender person’s brain, during fetal development, develops in the pattern which is opposite to that of his or her physical sex.

    Scientists have known for quite sometime now that if a female fetus is exposed to too much testosterone while in the womb her physical brain will form along the same lines as the male brain. Thus creating an individual who would identify as male even though physically she is a female.

    Back in the mid to late nineties Audubon magazine published an article detailing how pesticides such as DDT break down into chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen. Scientists had begun to notice how some male birds were trying to mate with other males of their species; and soon discovered that the above mentioned chemicals could flip the sexual identity of the offspring while developing in the womb of the parent bird who’d ingested the pesticides in their diet.

    There are chemicals in plastic that do the same thing.


    1. I’m sure in time, science will have better answers, but really, does the reason it happened really matter to those like myself? Not really, the damage is done as they say. All I or anyone can do is live with the hand we have been dealt.
      On a side note, Transgender people have been part of society for a long time before DDT, plastics or anything else came along. Look at native peoples in America, Australia, or India for examples.

  4. Re: I’m sure in time, science will have better answers, but really, does the reason it happened really matter to those like myself?

    Maybe not to you and others like yourself but to heterosexuals like myself who struggle to remain open minded – in spite of the fact that I was raised in both the Baptist and the Seven-day Adventist faiths and was taught the Biblical teachings in regards to homosexuality – the knowledge reproductive science has discovered helps me to accept you and those like you as individuals as well as gives me a better understanding of the issues involved.

    1. First I want to thank you for trying to learn and understand a very difficult subject. I wish there were more people like you in the world.
      Now on to other things…
      As it happens, I am as heterosexual as you are. I am not, nor have I ever been attracted to males. Now, there are homosexual transgender people, just as there is are also bisexuals. The Trans community is as diverse as the rest of the population.

      (Just as a note: If I were to fully transition, that is become an anatomical female, I would still be attracted to females making me a lesbian, not a gay male.)

      As to being raised with a religious upbringing…
      I was born and raised in the Baptist church, both independent and Southern. My Father was a Baptist minister. Believe me when I tell you I know first hand, (and fist), just what they think of a transgender person, especially when that person is their child.

      Again, let me say thank you for being open to understanding, so many people just want to either shut their eyes and hope we go away or openly hate us for not being what they consider “normal.”

  5. Your welcome Kira.

    A little bit of my own history:

    My father’s best friend came out after his divorce which was a shock to everyone.

    I’ve had two cousins die from aids. One was my father’s oldest sister’s youngest son and his older brother and sister gave their mother a hard time when she took in their younger brother after he’d been diagnosed. {He came out after his first wife divorced him.} Their mother was a registered nurse who worked for Emory Hospital in Atlanta and lived on the land left to her by her second husband {which he used to raise chickens before he died}. My Aunt was quite well off and her two oldest children were afraid that she was going to spend away their inheritance taking care of their wayward brother.

    The second cousin was the oldest daughter of my father’s younger brother’s second wife who contacted aids from a blood transfusion during her pregnancy. This was just before the protocols were put into place to test blood at the beginning of the aids epidemic. As far as I know the child never contacted HIV infection.

    1. AIDS has destroyed so many lives, not just those with the virus, but friends and family. I count myself lucky that no one I know personally has contracted the disease.

  6. A very good resumé of the issues. You’ll be able to update your terms list soon though, as DSM-V will be out this year, in which we are blissfully released from the old-fashioned diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” and the much more apt diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria is given official recognition. What we are dealing with is not a disorder.

    See the proposed revision here:

    You might also consider adding Genderqueer to the terms list, a broader term encompassing people for whom gender identity is not necessarily limited to the two traditionally-assumed options of male or female.

    1. Yoxi,
      Thank you for your thoughts, I was aware of the changes to the DSM-V, though I haven’t had a chance to read them myself.
      As to adding Genderqueer, I apologize for missing that, I will go back this weekend and edit the page.

      Best regards,


  7. (I meant to add that although DSM-V is a USA list of clinical definitions, its influence is strong worldwide, since it’s used to feed into the WPATH and Standards of Care for treating people with Gender Dysphoria worldwide, at least in countries that recognise it.)

  8. Oh, hey – no apology necessary, a FAQ is always a work in progress, isn’t it :).

    I’m on a quiet mission to get GID consigned to history as a diagnosis, but it hasn’t actually happened yet officially.

    By the way, I didn’t realise I’d posted before as Yoxi (another nom de plume) – I’m still getting used to this WordPress logging in-logging out business!

    – womandrogyne

    1. I use to have trouble with log ons when I was still using my boy accounts. Now I only use Kira, so it’s much easier to keep track.
      Now if the real world was half as easy….

      I agree GID should have been tossed a long time ago, but things are finally moving in the right direction, it’s just a matter of time. 🙂

  9. This is an extremely well written FAQ page. I really appreciate the time you took to be so clear as well as your honesty throughout other posts. I wish you all the best as you keep moving forward. Thank you!

  10. Awesome!!!! Be who you are …. no qualms about it!! YOU are the one who is important. Interesting what I was attracted to this page. I applaud you for your valor!!

    1. May I copy this part of your blog to re-blog on mine??? Giving you full credit for your post, of course. Will wait for your response …… TY. God bless!!

  11. Hi Kira, thanks for stopping by my blog. I am very intrigued with yours. I really appreciate your honesty and would like to learn more, truthfully because I realized how little I know. Would it be possible for me to email you some questions?

    1. Thank for for visiting and following my blog, I really appreciate it. I welcome questions and try to answer them if I can, please feel free to email me.


      1. Question from a newbie at blogging- is there a way to send messages through WordPress? Otherwise may I please have your email address, or is it already posted somewhere on your blog?

      2. Thanks, Kira. I apologize, I have been kidnapped by homework last week and this week should be equally bad (I’m in my last semester for my undergraduate degree). So I can hopefully email you near the end of this coming week. Thanks for your patience!

  12. I am hopeful that eventually we’ll get to the point where we understand both gender and sexuality as being on a spectrum or a continuum, and people will finally get the difference between the two. You’ve done a nice job laying out the issues and the vocabulary for folks who may not be familiar with it.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog–I’ve been enjoying checking in on yours as well!

  13. Excellent article. I have known many transgendered people in my life and they have always impressed me with how very brave and strong they are. I have learned so much from these folks and I think they rock. Thanks for being so brave as to write about all this so well and concisely, and for coming out about who you really are. Great job of educating us all.
    Thank you,

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