Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl.) For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into those two choices. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.
People in the transgender community may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, and non-binary. Always use the term used by the person.
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 into alignment with their gender identity. This is called transition.
As part of the transition process, many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and it’s important to know that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.
Transgender is an adjective and should never be used as a noun. For example, rather than saying “Max is a transgender,” say “Max is a transgender person” or “Max is a transgender man.” And transgender never needs an “-ed” at the end.
We use the acronym LGBTQ to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community. The Q can also sometimes mean questioning.
Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual), while gender identity describes a person’s, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman, or someone outside of the gender binary.
Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about who you are.
Like everyone else, transgender people have a sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.
Everyone has a gender identity, an internal sense of self and perception of one’s own gender. For some people their gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth (cisgender) and for some people their gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth (transgender).
There have always been transgender people who felt that their gender identity didn’t fall neatly into the two binary categories of “man” or “woman.” In the past, trans people who felt that way used the words genderqueer and genderfluid to describe that experience. While those words are still used today, it’s now more common for people to call themselves non-binary if they feel their gender identity is something other than “man” or “woman.” People who use the word non-binary to describe their gender identity typically also call themselves transgender.
In recent years, the word non-binary has seen a surge in popularity. As more people use the word non-binary to describe themselves, it has become its own umbrella term. Non-binary now means many different things to different people.
Many of those people either explictly say something like, “I’m not transgender, I’m non-binary,” implying those are two identities are unrelated, or they will simply never use the word transgender when describing themselves.
Language is evolving in real time. But it’s important to understand that there is no one right or wrong way to be non-binary, just like there is no right or wrong way to be transgender.
The bottom line is: listen to how someone uses the word non-binary to describe themselves and try to understand how they are using it. Many of them will be telling you that they are a transgender person who is non-binary, while others will be using non-binary in a different way to describe their experience. Regardless, simply accept that they know best how to describe themselves.
For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. If you happen to know a transgender person’s birth name (the name given to them when they were born, but which they no longer use), don’t share it without that person’s explicit permission. Sharing a transgender person’s birth name and/or photos of a transgender person before their transition is an invasion of privacy, unless they have given you permission to do so.
If you’re unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?” Then use that person’s pronoun and encourage others to do the same. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move forward with intention. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.
Transgender people face staggering levels of poverty, discrimination, and violence. In 2016, 27 transgender people were killed. Since January 1, 2017, eight transgender women of color have been murdered.
According to the “2015 U.S. Trans Survey,” a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality:
- 29% of transgender people live in poverty, compared to 14% of the general population
- 30% of transgender people report being homeless at some point in their lives, with 12% saying it was within the past 12 months
- Transgender people experience unemployment at 3x the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to 4x the national unemployment rate
- 30% of transgender people report being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity in the past 12 months
- 31% of transgender people experienced mistreatment in the past year in a place of public accommodation, including 14% who were denied equal service, 24% who were verbally harassed, and 2% who were physically attacked because they were transgender
- 40% of respondents reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the United States (4.6%)
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.
To learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people, please visit GLAAD’s “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” page.
In spite of the tremendous challenges that come with living in a culture that does not treat transgender people equally, transgender people have made and are making significant contributions to society. Watch HBO’s The Trans List to find out about some strong transgender advocates.
For a look at the history of transgender people in America, check out Transgender History by Susan Stryker and the GLAAD Media Award-winning films by Rhys Ernst We’ve Been Around and This is Me.
Learn more about transgender people and the issues important to them
If you are a media professional working on a story, please check out GLAAD’s resources for covering transgender people in the media.
GLAAD’s Work on Transgender Issues
Learn about the work GLAAD does everyday to ensure transgender people are treated fairly in the media.
Tips for Allies
Learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people
If you see defamation of transgender people in the media, we encourage you to report it now.
Check out a list of resources for transgender people and their allies.