Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Note: This article was written by CJ Walden and Maxx Fenning, who are both cisgender (not transgender). However, this article has been reviewed by several transgender and gender non-conforming individuals within PRISM for accuracy.
What does transgender mean?
Transgender, or trans, people have a gender identity that differs from their sex assigned at birth. This definition excludes people who simply like to wear clothes associated with a gender that is different from that assigned at birth.
Firstly, people who like to wear clothes that are associated with a gender other than that assigned to them at birth are not necessarily transgender. Gender expression is the way you present yourself outwardly, which is separate from your gender identity. It is also important to note that sex and gender are not the same thing. You can learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.
Some people consider other forms of gender non-conformity, such as nonbinary or genderqueer, to be under the “transgender” umbrella. However, not all transgender or gender non-conforming folx agree with this. Just like sexuality, being transgender is not a choice. Being transgender is a very difficult journey, and there are many challenging obstacles along the way.
What struggles do transgender people face?
Transgender people can face many different problems, such as transphobia, gender dysphoria, and deadnaming.
This condition, formerly known as Gender Identity Disorder, is the distress a person may feel as a result of their emotional and psychological identity not coinciding with their biological sex. One of the earliest signs of knowing one is transgender is feeling gender dysphoria. According to the UK National Health Service, feelings or signs of gender dysphoria are, but are not limited to:
A certainty that your gender identity conflicts with your biological sex
You only feel comfortable when in the gender role of your preferred identity (may include non-binary)
A strong desire to hide or be rid of physical signs of your biological sex, such as breasts or body hair
A strong dislike of the genitals you were born with
You may feel lonely or isolated from others. You may also face pressure from friends, classmates, coworkers, or family to behave in a certain way.
It’s important to note that you don’t need to experience gender dysphoria to be transgender. Not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria.
Transphobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes, feelings, or actions toward transgender people or transness in general. Transphobia can include fear, aversion, hatred, violence, anger, or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations.
Just like gay or lesbian individuals can deal with homophobia, transgender people can deal with transphobia on a daily basis. Transphobia can lead to depression, a greater feeling of gender dysphoria, and a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Misgendering and Deadnaming
Misgendering is the usage of a former pronoun of a transgender or non-binary person. Deadnaming is the usage of a transgender or non-binary person’s former name.
Intentionally deadnaming or misgendering someone can be one of the most offensive actions done against a transgender person. However, in some cases, deadnaming or misgendering can be accidental. If you knew a transgender person before they discovered their gender identity, you might be used to referring to them by their old pronouns and deadname. It might be a force of habit to refer to someone by their old identity. However, it is still wrong, even if it is accidental. If you accidentally refer to a transgender person by their old identity, name, or pronouns, simply apologize and correct yourself.
What should I not say when talking about transgender people?
If a transgender person discovers themself, even if they have not elected to gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy, never refer to them as their previous gender identity.
For example, someone named David goes down the road of discovery and finds out that they are transgender. David’s new name is Dalia, and they now go by she/her and Dalia only. You should never say:
“Dalia was a guy before, and her name was David.”
“David was born a man but turned into a girl.”
“Dalia is biologically male.”
It’s important to note that Dalia was never a man; she was only assigned male at birth. If you want to mention Dalia’s transition (with her permission, of course), consider saying:
“Dalia was assigned male at birth, but she now identifies as female.”
“Dalia is a transgender woman.”
Dalia is also not any of these:
“Cisgender” or “Cis”
You may have heard this term used by transgender or gender non-conforming people and assume that it falls under the transgender umbrella. However, cisgender is actually the opposite of transgender and is used to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” means “on the same side as” in Latin.
Drag queens are individuals, often gay men, who dress like women as a form of performance, art, or entertainment. While some drag queens are actually transgender, most still identify as male outside of performing.
The word “transvestite” actually has nothing to do with gender identity at all. This is an outdated word for “crossdresser” (which can also often be seen as offensive). Like we said before, gender expression (how you present yourself) and gender identity (how you identify) are often separate. Dalia doesn’t just dress like a woman; she is a woman.
This is often considered an outdated term as it only pertains to people who have permanently changed their bodies through medical processes or procedures. While some transgender people identify with this term, it is increasingly less common and may be seen as offensive.
“A transgender” or “Transgendered”
The term “transgender” is an adjective, not a noun or a verb. That means that someone can’t be “a transgender” or “transgendered.” This is similar to the word “gay.” You can be a “gay person,” but you can’t be “a gay” or “gayed.”
Saying “transgendered” also implies that something was done to someone rather than it being directly tied to their identity. Instead, you can say that Dalia is a “transgender woman” or “transgender person.”
Avoid focusing on someone’s transition or presentation.
A common term you may hear when discussing transgender people is “passing” or “stealth.” This describes someone who presents themselves in such a way that you “can’t tell” that they’re transgender. While there are many transgender people who identify as “stealth,” using these terms without a transgender person’s permission not only implies that transgender people need to undergo surgery to feel validated, but it also reinforces dangerous gender norms. It can also signal that transgender people are “passing as something they’re not” or “tricking” people.
What is the transition process like for transgender people?
Transgender people may use various medical interventions or procedures to alter their bodies in a way that aligns with their gender identity. However, it is important to note that not all transgender people do this, and it is not required to be transgender.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Transgender hormone therapy, also called cross-sex hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), is a form of hormone therapy in which sexual hormones and other hormonal medications are given to transgender people to feel more like their gender identity. Hormone therapy, specifically transgender hormone therapy, can help transgender people feel more like their preferred gender. These new hormones can help shift one’s voice and body structure.
Not opting to have hormone therapy does not make your gender identity any less valid or make you any less transgender.
Gender Affirming Surgery
Gender affirming surgery, sometimes called gender confirmation surgery, gender reassignment surgery (outdated), or sex reassignment surgery (outdated), is performed to transition individuals with gender dysphoria to their desired gender.
Female-to-male surgery is a type of gender-affirming surgery. This can take different forms, including the removal of breasts — a mastectomy, known as “top surgery” — and the altering of the genital region, known as “bottom” surgery.
Male-to-female surgery is another type of gender-affirming surgery. During this procedure, a surgeon makes “like become like,” using parts of the original penis to create a sensate neo-vagina. The testicles are removed, a procedure called an orchiectomy. The skin from the scrotum is used to make the labia.
Not opting to have gender reassignment surgery does not make your gender identity any less valid or make you any less transgender.
What are some symbols of transgender people?
Transgender people have had varying symbols throughout the past several decades. Here are a few:
Transgender Gender Symbol
The transgender gender symbol is a combination of the gender symbols for male and female. An alternate version also integrates the symbol for genderqueer.
Just like the Rainbow flag represents the entire LGBTQ+ community, the transgender community has its own flag to represent and promote gender identity separately from sexual orientations. A very prominent symbol of the transgender community, this flag was first designed by transgender woman Monica Helms in 1999 and first used in 2000 at a pride parade in Phoenix, Arizona. It starts with a baby blue, then a baby pink, then white, baby pink again, and finishes with baby blue. The colors move vertically.
The three colors represent boys (baby blue), girls (baby pink), and those who are transitioning, intersex, or consider themselves as having an unidentified gender (white).
Black Transgender Flag
A symbol of the transgender community specifically made for black trans people, this flag was designed by Raquel Willis and first used in 2015. It starts with baby blue, then baby pink, then black, then baby pink again, and finishes with baby blue. The colors move vertically.
The colors have the same meaning as the more commonly used flag, except the black is meant to symbolize the high levels of transphobia, violence, and racism directed towards black members of the trans community, especially black trans women.
How to Get Support
You always deserve support. If you need some ideas or are struggling to find support check out our Where To Find Support resource article.
There is nothing wrong with you. You are amazing. Make sure to take a lot of time to think over what you want to do. A decision as big as gender reassignment surgery shouldn’t happen overnight, but it’s important to live as your true self. Even if you never receive reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, this does not make you any less valid for being who you are and identifying the way you do.
NHS website. (2021, April 20). Signs. Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/symptoms/
Chakraborti, N. C., & Jon Garland, J. G. (2009). Hate crime : impact, causes and responses : Chakraborti, Neil : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/hatecrimeimpactc00neil/mode/1up
Leonard, J. (2019, October 9). What to know about female-to-male surgery. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326590#:%7E:text=Female%2Dto%2Dmale%20surgery%20is,known%20as%20%E2%80%9Cbottom%E2%80%9D%20surgery
What is gender reassignment surgery? (2018, September 21). ISSM. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-gender-reassignment-surgery/
What Are Appropriate Labels & Terms For Transgender People? (n.d.). Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/transgender/transgender-identity-terms-and-labels
GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender. (2021, March 29). GLAAD. https://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender
Lopez, G. (2015, February 18). Why you should always use “transgender” instead of “transgendered.” Vox. https://www.vox.com/2015/2/18/8055691/transgender-transgendered-tnr