Whether you are looking to support somebody else, or you are exploring your own gender identity, here are some resources which will help you understand what being LGBTI+ is about.
Somebody who does not identify as their gender assigned at birth. 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. The most important thing to remember about the term “transgender” is that it is an adjective, not a noun or a verb. For example, it is correct to say, “he is transgender”, rather than, “he is transgendered”. It is correct to say, “those people are transgender”, rather than, “those people are transgenders”. Some transgender people transition medically, but not all.
Categorising someone as male or female based on their sex characteristics. Most people are born endosex, meaning their innate sex characteristics conform to medical and social norms around what constitutes male and female. Some people are born intersex.
These acronyms mean "assigned female at birth" and "assigned male at birth". These are shorthand terms that can help to describe a person's journey or needs. If a doctor was advocating on behalf of trans men and certain non-binary people, for example, it might be quicker to say, "AFAB trans people need access to gynaecological services". This approach is also very inclusive, and allows for many different people to be represented and included in important discussions.
Someone who doesn't identify with their assigned sex, and is not a binary man or woman. Male and female are binary genders. Non-binary people feel that they do not fit into either of those binary boxes. Some identify as being somewhere on a spectrum from male to female, but some are disconnected from such a spectrum entirely. Some feel androgynous, and experience a lack of gender. Some have a fluid sense of identity. Every non-binary person is different, and has a unique way of describing their gender experience. To read one non-binary person's perspective on gender, see this Minus18 article: https://bit.ly/3VRWp7j
A person who is gender non-conforming does not conform to social gender roles and expectations. Gender non-conforming people can be trans, but they can also be cisgender. The key to being transgender is that you do not identify as your assigned gender at birth. A woman who performs as a drag king, or a man who enjoys flamboyant clothing, can be entirely cisgender while also being gender non-conforming.
An umbrella term used for trans women and AMAB non-binary people who identify with the concept of transfemininity. Not all AMAB non-binary people identify with this term, as the centre of their identities may not be femininity. For example, an androgynous AMAB trans person may not identify as transfeminine.
A person who has transitioned into another sex, which differs from their assigned sex. Not all transsexuals transition to the same extent. Transsexuals are people who seek to align their physical sex with their gender identity. This term preceded "transgender", and some people do still identify as transsexual. Unlike orientation-related terms such as "homosexual", the term "transsexual" relates to the transitioning of a person's sex, not their sexual orientation. Some transgender people, even those who choose to transition medically, may be uncomfortable if labelled as a transsexual. Calling oneself a transsexual is a choice, so the term shouldn't be used unless a person self-identifies that way.
Having sex characteristics that don’t fit medical/social norms for female or male bodies. Being intersex is separate from gender or sexual orientation. Some intersex people are also transgender, but most are not. Celeste is an intersex person who has Turner Syndrome, a condition in which they’re missing an X chromosome. While most people with Turner Syndrome just identify as women, Celeste identifies as non-binary, making them an intersex person who is also trans. You can watch them being interviewed here: https://bitly.is/3VHAVtn To read a young person's perspective on their intersex experience, see this Minus18 article: https://bit.ly/3CexbbU
A man who was assigned female at birth, but experiences a male gender. Trans men usually wish to be treated like any other man. Trans men will usually (if they are safe to do so) go by he/him pronouns 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. However, not all trans men are masculine.
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. A trans man's gender dysphoria, for example, might be triggered by breasts growing during puberty, because his brain is telling him that he ought to have different sex characteristics. This is an example of physical/body dysphoria which can become evident during puberty. Social dysphoria is the discomfort a person experiences when addressed by a name they do not identify with, or by incorrect pronouns.
Members of First Nations communities who experience an identity outside of colonised ideas around gender. According to Brotherboy Isaac Roberts, "Brotherboys are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were assigned female at birth, but live our lives through our boy spirit. We take on male roles in community and society, and are accepted as such within our cultural world views. Therefore, Brotherboy encompasses both our gender identity and our cultural identity." Hayden Moon, in this article, explains the complexities of Brotherboy and Sistergirl identities: https://bit.ly/3jJXAZ2
A term, originally a reclaimed slur, that can be used to indicate a person's LGBT+ identity in a broad way. Some people may describe their sexual orientation as "queer" without getting any more specific, and some people might do the same with their gender identity. Some individuals enjoy this term because it can mean whatever they wish. This term should not be used unless a person indicates that they identify with it. Many people are personally uncomfortable with the term, and have been targeted with it as a slur. Therefore, just because a person is trans (for example), does not mean they will be comfortable being described as a "queer person".
Someone who identifies as their assigned gender at birth (most men and women). "Cis" is pronounced like "sis". This is a term used to differentiate the rest of the population from transgender people. Cisgender men and women do not identify as cisgender, per se. It is simply a way avoid phrases like "normal people and trans people", which alienates trans people and encourages bigotry. The etymology of "cis" relates to the concept "on the same side". So, when applied to gender, "cis" just means that a person's gender remains the same as what they were assigned at birth.
Refers to someone’s enduring sexual attraction to others. Sexual attraction is separate from gender identity. Trans people can, and do, identify with a vast number of different attraction labels. A person's transition is not motivated by their sexuality, but rather, their gender identity. A trans man who is exclusively attracted to other men may label himself gay. A trans woman who is exclusively attracted to men may identify as a straight woman. A non-binary person may identify with any label that suits them best. Any trans person could be asexual, meaning they do not experience sexual attraction. Sexual orientation is just as varied among cis people as it is among trans people.
A woman who was assigned male at birth, but experiences a female gender. Trans women usually wish to be treated like any other woman. Trans women will usually (if they are safe to do so) go by she/her pronouns in society. Many adopt feminine haircuts and clothing, in order to be socially recognised as female, and because they are more comfortable dressing that way. However, not all trans women are feminine.
A sensation of happiness, comfort, and elation, caused by the alleviation of gender dysphoria and the affirmation of a person's true identity. When addressed as "she" and "her", and perhaps by a new name, a trans woman may experience gender euphoria. Inversely, when dressing in a masculine manner and being received in society as a guy, a trans man may experience gender euphoria. People experience gender euphoria in different ways. A change in clothing may be very important to one trans person, but not to another. Every trans person takes unique steps to affirm themselves. Some trans men do not value masculinity, whereas others consider it an innate part of their identity.
An umbrella term used for trans men and AFAB non-binary people who identify with the concept of transmasculinity. Not all AFAB non-binary people identify with this term, as the centre of their identities may not be masculinity. For example, an androgynous AFAB trans person may not identify as transmasculine.
An acronym for "trans and gender-diverse". This is a broad, inclusive shorthand that represents transgender people, transsexual people, non-binary people, and First Nations individuals who have genders unique to their culture.
No two transitions will be the same, and transitioning can start at any age. Some trans men, for example, are able to say "I am a boy" when they are still children. Some others are unable to describe their maleness until later in life, when they encounter individuals/communities that help them understand why they are having certain feelings. No two trans men are the same, and similarly, no two trans women are the same. No two non-binary people are the same.
Some transgender 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. One trans man may feel very comfortable fitting into male gender roles, and might hate feminine clothing because it causes him gender dysphoria. Another trans man may have no issue dressing up occasionally, or embracing flamboyant fashion in the same way many cis men do. There is no right or wrong way to be trans. There is no right or wrong way to be a woman, or a man.
Some trans people want to slot neatly into binary society, falling into the accepted role of man or woman, whereas others may not fit into that dynamic. It can take people years to figure out who they are, and in that time, they may try out different labels to see what works best.
Here are some videos featuring gender-diverse people, including those who identify as transgender, non-binary, Brotherboy, transsexual, gender-neutral, genderqueer, and Two Spirit.
Resources for Allies
Regardless of your relationship to a person who is transitioning, be sure to support yourself by seeking out friends and therapeutic support.
TransHub: A digital information and resource platform for all trans people and allies in NSW.
Minus18: Australia’s largest youth-driven network for LGBTIQ+ youth.
Transcend: Transcend provides parent/carer support, community connection, information, advocacy & fundraising.
Transgender Victoria: TGV is an Australian organisation dedicated to achieving justice, equity and quality health and community service provision for trans and gender diverse people, their partners, families and friends.
Transfamily: A group offers a warm and supportive environment for the parents, siblings, friends and family of transgender people. If you are struggling with your family, you can refer them onto groups like this one.
Transmasc Australia: A peer-based, Australia-wide network offering contact, social support, and information for trans men and other AFAB trans 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.
If you encounter a trans patient in your career, it is important to make them feel accepted, safe, and understood. Trans people commonly experience sub-standard and traumatising interactions with healthcare professionals, and the only way to end this trend is through education and empathy.
Being disrespected can be very frightening for TGD people. They may immediately worry about their safety and the quality of their medical care.
(Warning: The following paragraph includes descriptions of transphobia that some may find distressing.)
In 2019, a transgender man suffering from lung cancer was threatened with an axe in an Australian hospital. He was also stripped against his will, in front of other patients. When patients took photographs of him naked, none of the nurses protected him. Another trans man was told by a nurse, “You were born a woman, you will behave like a woman.” He cancelled all post-operative appointments and vowed never to return, even if it killed him. Even when medical visits do not escalate to such extremes, TGD people often experience humiliation and gender dysphoria, due to uncaring or uneducated medical professionals.
The documentary Southern Comfort is worth watching (available here for free). It follows transsexual man Robert Eads throughout his final year of life, as he was dying of ovarian cancer. His death was the result of multiple doctors refusing to treat him, purely because of his trans male status. When he finally did find a doctor who was willing to treat him, it was too late, and he had to accept that he was going to die. Eads' story is one among thousands.
TGD people are extremely aware of the medical community's history of abusing, erasing, and harming LGBT+ people, particularly TGD individuals. It is important to remember that your trans patient may have been directly abused by doctors and/or nurses, but even if they have not, they will be aware of mistreatment that their friends and peers have been subjected to. A trans person walking into a doctor's office may be more scared than you realise. Making them comfortable, and helping them to feel safe, is the only way to treat them humanely.
If a trans person says they are uncomfortable with certain terms, avoid using those terms in front of them. For instance, if a trans man's chest must be discussed, he may prefer you just say "chest" instead of "breasts". If discussing the genitals, ask the patient beforehand which words they prefer. If you are discussing reproductive health with a trans patient, it's important to remember that they may have the ability to become pregnant or produce sperm, but this does not necessarily make them a woman or a man. If you are speaking with an AFAB person about their reproductive health, perhaps employ the phrase "people who can become pregnant", rather than just saying "women". Similarly, if you are talking with an AMAB person, you might say "people with prostates" or "people with penises".
You do not need to use this language with cis patients, but with TGD people, it is a matter of treating your patients with respect and taking basic measures to avoid causing gender dysphoria. Referring to organs and bodily functions specifically is also inclusive of intersex individuals, who may have many different variations in anatomy.
If a TGD person is misgendered (referred to by the wrong pronouns) or deadnamed (referred to by their old name) in a medical context, they may leave while still injured/unwell, like the man in the afore-mentioned article did. They may suffer panic attacks, extreme dysphoria, mental distress, and other physiological symptoms. All of this can be avoided by ensuring that all healthcare workers who interact with the patient take the time to refer to them correctly. Providing education to healthcare workers also helps boost their confidence in treating TGD people.
Do not bring up a trans person's gender transition in situations where it is completely irrelevant. For example, if a trans woman presents with a broken arm and requests to be addressed with she/her pronouns, questions about her transition and her genitals are not helpful in treating her arm. Treating a trans person like a curiosity can feel very dehumanising.