What Does Being Transgender Mean?
If you have no knowledge about transgender identities, that’s okay. The fact that you are reading this is a wonderful start. If someone you know has just told you that they are trans, they have probably thought long and hard about how to tell you and really feared how you would respond. We welcome you to have an open mind.
Gender is a person’s inner sense of being male, female, or something else. We know that gender is programmed from birth. It is not a choice and is biologically determined like any other human trait, such as eye colour. For transgender individuals, their inner sense of gender (gender identity) is different to their birth-assigned sex. Many trans individuals have always known since their first memories of childhood that their gender identity is different. Others know something is different, but may not be able to express their gender identity until puberty or later in life, after years of searching and experimentation.
If you are a visual person, have a look at the best overview we have seen in 7 minutes!
Terms & Labels
What Do All These Gender Terms Mean?
It is totally fine if you take some time to adjust, and familiarise yourself with these terms. If you haven’t grown up knowing about transgender people, then it’s likely you might feel a bit confused by gender diversity. Transgender people have always existed, throughout every society and culture- but because gender diversity was often stifled and discouraged, it’s only now that transgender communities are able to enjoy increased visibility. As a result, all this may seem new! But rest assured, gender diversity is natural, and common. The community welcomes everybody who wants to learn.
Somebody who does not identify as their gender assigned at birth.
Being transgender is not a choice. The term “transgender” has become more popular in modern communities, due to its linguistic focus on gender, and its inclusivity. Transgender communities include binary and non-binary people.
A person who has changed, or wishes to change, their external gender through medical treatments.
Or, people who experience a persistent need to transition into the opposite sex. The term preceded "transgender", and some people still do identify as transsexual. However, as the term is linguistically confusing due to “homosexual” and “heterosexual” etc, it has fallen out of favour.
Somebody who identifies as their assigned gender at birth, AKA most men and women.
This is a term used to differentiate the rest of the population from transgender people. Cisgender individuals do not identify as cisgender, per se; it is simply a term used to avoid sentences like, "transgender people and normal people". As transgender people are not abnormal, and should not be labelled insultingly, the word "cisgender" just helps create non-hostile clarification.
A medical term for distress about gender, often alleviated by being perceived differently, or altering one’s body.
A sense of distress, ranging from mild to severe, caused by a misalignment between a person's internal sense of self and their assigned gender at birth. Many non-binary people experience gender dysphoria, too.
Categorising someone as male or female based on their sex chromosomes or reproductive organs.
Being transgender means that your internal sense of self (your gender) conflicts with your sex assigned at birth. Many transgender people seek hormonal and surgical interventions, in order to align their physical sex with their gender.
Refers to someone’s enduring sexual, romantic, and emotional attraction to another person.
Sexual attraction is separate from gender identity. Transgender people can, and do, identify with a number of different attraction labels. A transgender man who is exclusively attracted to other men is gay. A transgender woman who is exclusively attracted to other women may identify as a lesbian. Some are bisexual.
A man who was assigned a female gender at birth, but experiences an internal sense of self that is male.
Trans men wish to be treated like any other man. Trans men will usually (if they are safe to do so) go by he/him in society. Many adopt masculine haircuts and clothing, in order to be socially recognised as male, and because they are more comfortable dressing that way.
A woman who was assigned a male gender at birth, but experiences an internal sense of self that is female.
Trans women wish to be treated like any other woman. Trans women will usually (if they are safe to do so) go by she/her in society. Many adopt feminine mannerisms and clothing, in order to be socially recognised as female, and because they are more comfortable dressing that way.
Someone who does not identify as their gender assigned at birth, but also feels they aren’t a man or a woman.
Male and female are binary genders; the opposite ends of the gender spectrum. Non-binary people feel that they do not fit into either of those binary boxes. Some feel androgynous, and experience a lack of gender. Some have a fluid sense of identity, and sometimes feel male, and sometimes female. Some experience dysphoria which is alleviated by gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them.
There are many new and emerging non-binary labels; here are some of the more commonly known ones.
Genderfluid person: someone whose gender identity changes over a period of time, and is not fixed. Genderqueer: a synonym for “non-binary”, that indicates someone’s identity is outside of the binaries. Agender person: someone who does not identify with a gender. Demiboy/demigirl: someone who only partially identifies as a boy (demiboy) or a girl (demigirl).
Trans men who are Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander, and have a strong sense of their cultural identity.
Brotherboy is a gender identity. For more information, see the iView series Transblack, featuring interviews with four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Trans women who are Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander, and have a strong sense of their cultural identity.
Sistergirl is a gender identity. For more information, see the iView series Transblack, featuring interviews with four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
People who do not fit into stereotypical gender norms. This is not always the same as being trans.
Many people defy “masculine man” and “feminine woman” stereotypes. Some gay men are flamboyant or feminine. Some girls are tomboys from a young age. This is called gender non-conformity. Not every person who is gender non-conforming turns out to be transgender. Time and self-discovery allows a person to figure out if they are experiencing gender dysphoria, and whether their internal sense of self fits the definition of a transgender experience, or whether they simply prefer certain fashions.
A term that certain people may use to describe their sexuality or gender identity.
Some individuals, rather than identifying with labels such as “gay” or “straight”, may just choose to label their sexuality “queer”. It is a reclaimed slur that many people within the LGBT+ identity are still uncomfortable with using, and as such, shouldn’t be applied to anyone who doesn’t identify with it. It is best to say “the LGBT community” rather than the “queer community”, unless the person you’re conversing with indicates that they are comfortable with the term “queer”. Try to be respectful and not assume.
No Two Trans People Are The Same
Throughout history, many people have experienced gender identities which are outside of the male/female binary, and every person who experiences such an identity expresses that in a unique way. Some people are just gender non-conforming, and identify as cisgender; such as flamboyant gay men, or masculine butch lesbians. But for others, their gender identity is more complicated than cisgender labels, and they may experience distress when being gendered according to their sex assigned at birth.
Some trans men and women view their transitions as being entirely medical, and consider themselves “born in the wrong body”. Many transsexuals also feel this way. Some others, non-binary people included, have a more fluid and evolving understanding of their gender identity. One transgender man may feel very comfortable fitting into male gender roles, and might hate feminine clothing. Another transgender man may have no issue dressing up occasionally, or embracing flamboyant fashion in the same way many cisgender men do. There is no wrong way to be transgender, and no two transgender people are the same. Some trans people want to slot neatly into binary society, whereas others may not fit into that dynamic.
How to Use the Word "Transgender"
The most important thing to remember about the term “transgender” is that it is an adjective, not a noun or a verb. Here are some examples of correct, and incorrect, uses of the term.
CORRECT: He is a transgender man.
INCORRECT: He is transgendered.
CORRECT: He is a trans man.
INCORRECT: He is a transman.
CORRECT: Those people are transgender.
INCORRECT: They are transgenders.
Transgender people are not some other species that would necessitate phraseology like “transgenders”, and being transgender is not an event that happens to a person, as implied by “transgendered”. Trans men are men, first and foremost, with “trans” just functioning as an extra descriptor; it is preferred by many modern transgender people that a space be kept between “trans” and “man” (or “person” or “woman”). Much in the same way that a cis man is still a man, a trans man is still a man too.
There are variations in preference the world over, and some older communities don’t really care about terms like “transgendered” or “transgenders”. However, from a modern Western point of view, these words are linguistically incorrect, and should not be used unless a person indicates that they speak this way.
It may sound pedantic, but these are just some basic guidelines. If you have the best of intentions, and you’re still trying to adjust to this new world, there’s no pressure! The occasional mistake is totally fine.
What Does "Gender Transition" Mean?
When someone realises that they need to live as their true self rather than their birth-assigned gender, they will undergo a change of genders, or “gender transition”. This is very much individualised and different for each person.
Some individuals will only want to change the way they present without any medical or surgical therapies (known as social transitioning), others may want to socially transition and take medical steps to align physical appearance with their gender identity. Some people transition hormonally (by undergoing masculinising or feminising hormone therapy), and do not have surgery. Some people have surgery, but do not hormonally transition. Everybody transitions differently.
Jamie Raines is an open and public transgender man. He has shared his transition journey on Youtube, and is a wonderful example of how transitioning can literally save a person’s life. For a visual representation of this man’s transition, see the videos below. The first documents his hormonal, social, and surgical transition. The second shows his emotional response to finally being legally recognised as a man.
What Are Some of the Issues that Trans People Face?
Discrimination from society is one of the biggest issues that trans people face. Most individuals already struggle with body and gender dysphoria, and added to this is discrimination at many levels which is the major contributor to poor mental health.
Lack of family support and peer rejection are also major issues. Trans people have alarming rates of poor mental health, with over 50% being diagnosed with depression and over 40% having previously attempted suicide (see our Published Research page).
Acceptance, speaking out when you hear bullying, and having an open mind can make an enormous difference to a trans person... and can save lives.
In addition to high levels of abuse reported by trans individuals (verbal, sexual, physical), discrimination and stigma results in difficulty finding medical care, employment, and housing. The Trans Pathways Survey reports severe mental distress, familial rejection, and societal isolation experienced by transgender Australian youth.
Why Don’t Transgender People Get Counselling to Accept the Gender they Were Assigned at Birth?
The short answer is, it doesn’t work. Many decades ago, ‘conversion or reparative therapy’ was used to try to get people to change their sexual orientation or their gender identity. There is no reliable scientific evidence that gender can be controlled or changed, and international medical bodies warn that such conversion therapy is not only ineffective, but potentially seriously harmful, leading to suicide, depression and substance-abuse. Research shows that lifetime and childhood exposure to gender identity conversion efforts are associated with higher odds of suicide attempts. Today, advocates of conversion therapy tend to be people linked to fundamentalist religious groups.
There is considerable scientific evidence that gender is biological, innate, and different from sex chromosomes or external genitalia. This scientific investigation, titled "Transgender brains are more like their desired gender from an early age", offers evidence that transgender brains are unique in ways cisgender brains are not. While there is more research to be done, anecdotal and scientific evidence is plentiful.
Why Do Trans People Need Equity?
Because all people deserve to live a life without barriers; to be true to themselves without fear of discrimination or violence, and be able to be active, ordinary citizens who can contribute to the community.
Mental health equity is the crucial goal; to decrease the alarming rates of depression, social disadvantage and suicidality. Acceptance of diversity and promotion of health equity are important steps. We live in a world characterised by diversity; there are different planets, different stars, different animal species, different plants, difference religions, languages, races, and genders. Imagine a world without diversity; it would be dull, colourless and lifeless. Biological diversity is what makes our environment vibrant and flourish.
We need to promote equity for trans individuals, not just equality.
How to be an Ally
How To Support Trans People
There are a number of mistakes that cisgender people often make, which can make transgender people’s lives very difficult, even dangerous. Here is a non-exhaustive list of tips which will help you to treat your trans friends, partners, or coworkers with respect.
Never Out Somebody Without Their Consent
If somebody comes out to you as transgender, it is crucially important that you do not gossip about their gender identity, or tell anybody without the person’s explicit permission. Transgender youth are at risk of homelessness if outed to unaccepting parents, and even if the person is an adult, it may not be safe for them to come out for a number of other reasons. That aside, it is the individual’s choice and right to decide when they come out, and you should not take that freedom away from them.
Don’t Assume a Person’s Sexual Orientation
Just because you know somebody is transgender, does not mean they are automatically attracted to a specific group of people. Gender and sexual orientation are separate. A trans man (who was assigned female at birth) might be attracted to other men, or perhaps to women, or perhaps to non-binary individuals as well. Just like any other man, he could identify with any sexual label. He might be straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, or queer.
Don’t Treat Trans People Like Google
Trans individuals are under no obligation to answer questions about their sex lives, their transition, their surgeries, their family life, or their childhood. Even if you are curious about trans people, try to stay polite. Imagine how exhausting it is to be treated like a science project, every time you come out to somebody new. If you have questions about trans bodies or medical procedures, take it to Google.
Don’t Make Assumptions About a Trans Person’s Body
Surgery techniques are highly advanced all over the world, and plenty of trans people undergo surgery to align their bodies with their brains. There is no way of knowing what’s in a trans person’s pants, unless they consent to sleep with you. And, unless you are pursuing a romantic relationship with someone, there is no reason for you to be thinking about such things anyway.
Never Ask Somebody About Their “Real” Name
For many trans people, their birth name is a source of distress and gender dysphoria, and they do not disclose it to anybody. The name that a trans person chooses, to better reflect their gender identity, is their real name. Don’t let your curiosity about a person’s past erode your respect for them as a human being.
Treat Trans Men as Men, and Trans Women as Women
If you are a straight woman, and you are attracted to a transgender man, that does not make him exception, or make you bisexual. You do not have to identify with a different label just because you happen to develop feelings for a member of the transgender community. If you are exclusively attracted to men, and you fall in love with a trans man, then you remain an exclusively male-attracted individual.
Do Not Make Gender Non-Conforming Children Ashamed
If a child is beginning to explore their gender, and is displaying an organic preference for a certain style of clothing, this must be allowed to occur without feelings of shame or disgust being connected to gender non-conforming impulses. Children exploring gender roles is normal and natural, and not always indicative of a child being transgender; regardless of what label they come to identify with later in life, allow children to be themselves. Even disregarding transgender experiences for a moment, tomboy girls should be allowed to be masculine in presentation, and boys should be allowed to wear dresses or makeup if they choose to. You can’t suppress a child’s instincts.
Understand How Hard Transitioning Is
When a trans person comes out, it is usually after years of self-exploration, internal conflict, and (often) deep depression. Upon coming out, trans people are met with invasive questions, opposition from almost every source, and sometimes even violence. While adjustment may be hard for you, try to keep in mind that trans people are carrying very heavy loads. If you make a mistake and accidentally misgender them, genuinely apologise and move on. Try not to lament how “difficult” the adjustment is for you, and don’t put the trans person in a position where they feel guilty for being born trans, and needing to transition. Don’t labor the point, or make the person’s transition all about you.
Go To Therapy or Support Groups
Seeking psychological or emotional support during a time of huge change (such as a gender transition) will allow you to express any feelings of loss, frustration, or worry that you may be experiencing. You will be able to work through this without leaning too heavily on somebody who is struggling to transition in a very transphobic world.
I am a Family Member or Partner of a Trans Person. Where can I get Support?
We encourage you to seek professional support from a counsellor, psychologist and doctor. There are also support groups available including:
Transcend – Transcend provides parent/carer support, community connection, information, advocacy & fundraising.
Transfamily – A group offers a warm and supportive environment for the parents, siblings, friends and family of transgender people.
Gender Help for Parents Australia – created by Australian parents who have struggled to find information about services and support for issues around their children’s gender identity.
Transgender and Partners Support Facebook Group:
Plus, check out this wonderful article! What To Do If You Think Your Child Might Be LGBTQIA+
Videos About Having a Trans Family Member
The Real Thing. A short film about a father and his transgender daughter.
With love, from a Parent of a Transgender Child. Advice from a mother, about how to cope with your child coming out as transgender.
Having A Transgender Brother. A funny, touching, and honest interview, featuring a trans man and his cis brother.
A Family Experience with Gender Transition from the Parent’s Perspective. A husband and wife reflect on their journey, alongside their transgender daughter.
Unconditional love -- journey with our transgender child. A TED talk, featuring the parent of a trans child.
Having A Transgender Child: Parent's Perspective. A trans man interviews his parents about how they felt when he came out, and their worries about him transitioning.
Your child is transgender, and it's going to be okay. Advice from a young trans guy.
Videos About Dating Transgender People
Being With A Trans Guy : Partner's Perspective. Insights from a cis woman who is dating a trans man.
Dating A Trans Person When You're Cis. Insights from two couples, both consisting of one trans person, and one cis person.
BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE TRANSITIONING. Insights from a genderqueer trans guy and his cis girlfriend, who dated him before, throughout, and after his transition.
An Interview With Jamison Green. A cis woman sits down with a trans man born in 1948, to discuss gender identity and equality.
What Being Trans Is Really Like. A trans woman describes her morning routine, just like any other normal person.
Trans Men Share What It’s Like to Come Out as Transgender. Two trans men from different backgrounds discuss their experiences with gender dysphoria and transitioning.
Young Trans Girl Speaks with an Older Trans Woman. Two trans females from vastly different generations sit down to talk about their lives and experiences.
Transgender, at War and in Love. A trans woman and a trans man, both in the American army and in a relationship with each other, talk about their service and transphobia.
For an insightful look at non-binary identities and the experiences of young non-binary people, check out the 4 Corners documentary episode, titled Not A Boy, Not A Girl.
How To Use They/Them Pronouns! A basic explanation by a non-binary person.
The documentary A Year In Transition offers an intimate, honest, and diverse window into transmasculine experiences. It is highly recommended for anybody trying to understand trans communities.