A starting point for everyone.
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 transgender is all about. It's okay if you don't know everything yet, or if some terms confuse you. Nobody is born with an LGBT+ dictionary in their head!
Terms and Labels
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. 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”.
A person who has changed, or wishes to change, their perceived gender through medical treatments.
Or, people who experience a persistent need to transition into a different sex within their cultural context. This 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 somewhat fallen out of favour. This term is not offensive, but should not be used unless someone identifies with it.
Somebody who identifies as their assigned gender at birth, AKA 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 individuals 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.
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. 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.
According to the IHRA, “Intersex people have innate sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and 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 female, Celeste identifies as non-binary, making them an intersex person who is also trans. To read a young person's perspective on their intersex experience, see this Minus18 article.
Refers to someone’s enduring sexual attraction to others. Sexual attraction is separate from gender identity. This is important to understand.
Transgender people can, and do, identify with a 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.
AFAB means "assigned female at birth" and AMAB means "assigned male at birth".
These are shorthand acronyms 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.
A man who was assigned a female gender at birth, but experiences an internal sense of self that is male.
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.
A woman who was assigned a male gender at birth, but experiences an internal sense of self that is female.
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.
Someone who does not identify as their gender assigned at birth, but also feels they aren’t a binary man or woman.
Male and female are binary genders; the opposite ends of a gender spectrum. Non-binary people feel that they do not fit into either of those binary boxes. Some identify as being somewhere on that spectrum, but some are disconnected from the spectrum entirely. Some feel androgynous, and experience a lack of gender. Some have a fluid sense of identity, and sometimes feel male, and sometimes female. 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.
A 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. 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 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.
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. Clothing may be very important to one trans person, but to another, is not very impactful. 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.
Gender non-conformity simply means not conforming to social gender roles and expectations. Gender non-conforming people can be trans, but they can also be cisgender.
Being gender non-conforming does not automatically make someone transgender. 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. Some gender non-conforming people use that term to describe a gender experience that is non-normative, and actually identify as GNC, but others are simply cisgender.
Brotherboys and Sistergirls
Brotherboys and Sistergirls are 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.
Gender is Complex... And That's Okay
Image credit: Gender Spectrum Collection.
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 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. 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, and Two Spirit.
Drag Performers: Not Always Trans
Drag queens (often men who dress in women’s clothes during performances) and drag kings (often women who dress in men’s clothes during performances) are not automatically transgender. Though crossdressing communities have an amount of overlap with transgender communities, crossdressing for the sake of enjoyment or art is not synonymous with an individual experiencing a persistent need to transition into another gender.
However, some transgender people participate in drag before they are able to come out, or as an expression of a gender identity they cannot affirm throughout the rest of their life. Gender is complicated, and there is no one right way to exist as a gender-diverse individual.
Some drag queens, for example, are transgender women. Some drag kings are transgender men, or masculine non-binary people, or butch lesbians. Some individuals who experience a fluid gender identity may enjoy the freedom of drag expression. Some people may choose not to label their gender at all.
Here are some videos featuring drag performers.
What About Butches?
As stated above, some drag kings are butches. Butches are very different to transgender men, because they do not want to be male, but some do experience gender in a different way to most women. Many butches present masculinely and identify with a concept called "female masculinity". Some butches view “butch” as a gender identity in itself, one that exists outside of the binaries, which is how famous butch activist Leslie Feinberg identified. Others steadfastly identify as women, and do not involve themselves in the trans community. Some butches use they/them pronouns as an expression of their gender non-conformity, and some use he/him pronouns while performing drag king acts. The butch community is very complex and nuanced. Some butches get top surgery in order to feel more comfortable, or bind their chests.
Here are some videos which capture butch uniqueness.
Resources for Allies
If you are struggling to support someone close to you, in addition to educating yourself, you can refer your loved one onto groups that can help them. Regardless of your relationship to a person who is transitioning, be sure to support yourself by seeking out friends and therapeutic support.