What does "Transgender" mean?

A transgender person has a gender identity that is different from the gender they were assumed to be at birth. A transgender woman is someone who identifies as a woman, but was categorized as male (or intersex) at birth, and a transgender man is someone who identifies as a man, but was categorized as female (or intersex) at birth. Many non-binary people (people whose genders don't fit within the gender binary) also identify as transgender. 

How does someone know that they're transgender?

There is no one way to be transgender; different trans people will figure out this aspect of their identity in different ways and at different times in their lives. Many trans individuals realize at a young age that they are not the gender they're told they are, and many don't have the context or language to understand their gender until later in life. 

Some transgender people start to understand that they're trans because they feel uncomfortable in their body, and some feel that the way they are perceived doesn't fit them. Still others don't really know "why" they're trans, but feel more genuine and fully-realized when expressing gender differently than they were taught to. There is no wrong way to be trans.

What does it mean to be non-binary? 

Non-binary people have gender identities that exist outside of the gender binary (men and women). Some non-binary people also identify as men or women, while some identify as completely removed from the binary. Some non-binary genders include: genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, bigender. Non-binary genders are nothing new, and have existed in many cultures for thousands of years. Non-binary people may use they/them or ze/zir pronouns, but they may also use the pronouns associated with binary genders (he/him, she/her). For more information on non-binary people, click here.

What does "transitioning" involve?

Transitioning is a deeply personal and individual process, and can be inclusive of anything from a change in style to gender affirmation surgery. Some trans people will choose to go on hormones and get surgery to affirm their gender identity, but some may not have the resources, security, or desire to transition in that way. Transitioning can also involve adopting a different name or pronouns. You should not make assumptions about what a trans person will and will not do to transition, as they all experience their gender differently, and will thus need to express it differently. Not all trans people transition, particularly those who are "in the closet" and who cannot safely come out. 

How can I be supportive?

On the most basic level, you can support and validate a trans person by using the correct pronouns when referring to them (even if they're not present!) and by using their chosen name. Doing this shows that you care, and that you are acknowledging their gender identity. Reading up on trans issues and being vocal about trans discrimination are also important components to being an ally. Stand up for the trans people in your life, and above all, treat them the same way you treat your cisgender friends! 

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Tips and Common Misconceptions


"Trans people are just gay"

Trans people can hold ANY sexual identity, just like cisgender people! "Trans" refers to gender, not sexuality, which are two separate concepts. To put it simply, gender is who you are, and sexuality is who you love. 

"It's just a phase"

There are transgender people of all ages, races, and cultural backgrounds, and while you might see more "millennial" trans people than baby boomers, part of this is because of how language has developed, allowing people to explore their gender identity more. Trans people have always existed, and while gender identity is fluid and changing, most trans youth tend to continue to identify as trans. Trans people face a huge amount of discrimination; no one would "choose" to be trans.   

 "You can't just CHANGE genders"

Sex and gender are two separate concepts. Sex is assigned at birth, and is usually assessed based on the appearance of the genitals. In most societies, gender is assumed based on sex, with certain roles being assigned to a certain sex. Gender is actually separable from sex, so while a person may have been born with certain genitals, that says nothing about the gender they were or the gender they are. In addition, trans people aren't "changing" genders, they are developing a better sense of their gender identity, and then changing how they express said gender identity. 

"The best way to help a trans person is to help them accept their assigned sex"

Actually, research has shown that forcing a trans person to be a gender they are not is extremely harmful, and can lead to many negative mental health consequences. Allowing a trans person to feel the way they feel and helping them transition in the ways they desire is the healthiest option.