Let’s begin with what these terms mean. ‘Transgender’ means “People whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender can be both a standalone identity or an umbrella term that encompasses many different gender identities, including nonbinary and gender-expansive identities. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for transgender.” ‘Non-Binary’ means Like the term transgender, nonbinary can be a standalone gender identity, or it can be an umbrella term. Some people who are nonbinary may also identify as transgender, while some may not. May also be referred to as “enby.”
From The Trevor Project
Gender identity isn’t an easy topic to understand, and sometimes we need to unlearn some of our old ideas about what it is so that we can really get what gender is all about. Most of us were taught that there are only two genders (man/masculine and woman/feminine) and two sexes (male and female). However, there is a lot more to it than that.
Gender is actually a social construct, which is an idea created by people to help categorize and explain the world around them. You may not notice it all the time, but each gender comes with a set of expectations, like how to act, talk, dress, feel emotion, and interact with other people. For example, when you think of a teenage boy in America, what comes to mind? Do you imagine him playing football, or do you picture him dancing in a ballet recital? It’s likely that you imagined him playing football, first – but why?
In America, we have very defined gender roles that describe what it means to be masculine or feminine, or a boy or a girl, and we learn what’s expected of us at a very early age from parents, family, friends, culture, religion, television, movies, and more. Even though these expectations are made up – there is not an objective reason why boys shouldn’t be encouraged to practice ballet, for example – gendered characteristics, activities, expressions, and stereotypes are really ingrained in our society, and shape most of our lives.
Here are some other gender-specific differences that you might recognize: Girls get pink clothes, and boys get blue clothes; men shouldn’t cry, but girls can be emotional; it’s masculine to have a deep voice, and it’s feminine to have a higher one; boys play with building blocks, and girls play with dolls; men are athletic and aggressive, girls are nurturing and gentle…the list of expectations based on gender can go on and on, and change from culture to culture.
It’s important to remember that these gender roles aren’t set in stone. Even though our society expects certain things when we identify as a man or a woman, we don’t have to follow them if they don’t fit who we are. In fact, gender and sex exist on a spectrum, meaning that there are a lot of different ways that people can express their gender identity or sex.
When we’re born, a doctor assigns us a sex. This has to do with our biology, chromosomes, and physical body. Male babies are generally assumed to be “men” and female babies are generally assumed to be “women.” Some people never question their assigned gender or sex, and choose to identify with what they were assigned at birth – that’s called being “cisgender.” But there are others who do question their gender or sex, and that’s completely normal and ok.
If you don’t feel that your gender identity – meaning, your own personal sense of what your gender is – matches the gender you were assigned at birth, you might identify as transgender (or trans). In addition to being a gender identity, transgender is also an umbrella term that includes many other labels, like genderqueer and gender non-conforming.
Genderqueer and gender non-conforming identities describe someone whose gender expression is, or seems to be, different from their assigned gender role. Usually, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people avoid gender-specific pronouns like “she/her” and “he/him,” and use more neutral pronouns instead. It’s important to note that not all genderqueer or gender non-conforming people. Are you questioning your gender, and aren’t sure what feels right to you? Don’t worry. You are not alone! Consider a few of these questions:
- How do you feel about your birth gender?
- What gender do you wish people saw you as?
- How would you like to express your gender?
- What pronouns (like he/him or she/hers, or ze/zir or they/them) do you feel most comfortable using?
- When you imagine your future, what gender are you?
Remember, there are many parts to our gender, including:
- Gender Expression: How we choose to express our gender in public. This includes things like our haircut, clothing, voice and body characteristics, and behavior.
- Gender Identity: Our personal sense of what our own gender is.
- Gender Presentation: How the world sees and understands your gender.
If you decide that your current gender or sex just isn’t right, you may want to make your gender identity fit with your ideal gender expression and presentation. This is called “transitioning,” and can include social (like telling other people about which pronouns you like), legal (like changing your name, officially), or medical (like taking hormones, or having surgery). You don’t have to go through all of these things to be “officially” transgender or to have your gender identity be valid. It’s all up to you, and what feels safe and comfortable.
Using Proper Trans Terms
It’s very important to use appropriate terms when talking about the transgender community. For example, you may see the term transgender shortened with an asterisk (*) to include the many identities that fall under the transgender umbrella.
The term “transgender” should only be used as an adjective and never as a noun. Also, the term “Transgendered” is grammatically incorrect and should never be used. Other offensive words include tranny, transvestite, she-male, he/she, lady man, shim, “it,” or transsexual*.
Unfortunately, trans people often face hatred or fear just because of who they are. Even some LGB people may have transphobic feelings that can make it harder for them to support transgender people as they also fight for equality and acceptance. If you ever feel that you are a victim of a transphobic hate crime, please visit the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund site.
Remember, sex does not equal gender – it’s actually an entirely different thing that relates to our biology and physical characteristics. Generally, we think about sex as a binary: male and female. However, there are several conditions that a person can be born with that don’t fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but have mostly male anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types. Others may be born with “mosaic genetics,” so some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some have XY. Sometimes intersex characteristics aren’t noticed until puberty when our body goes through a lot of different changes.
Many intersex people are given a sex of male or female at birth, even if they fall somewhere in the middle. If you think you might be intersex, don’t worry. There are people out there who can help! Here is a comprehensive list of intersex conditions and related resources and support groups: http://www.isna.org/faq/conditions/know.
Talking About “Intersex”
Intersex is an adjective that describes a person. Intersex is never a noun or a verb because no one can be “intersexing” or “intersexed.” You may have heard the word “hermaphrodite” from Greek mythology. FAQ
- I am not completely comfortable with the body I was born with. How will taking hormones affect other things, like taking birth control, or getting my period? Will I need to get a hysterectomy because of taking hormones?
- I told my mom that I think I’m trans, but she thinks that it’s just a phrase. What if she’s right? I really, really don’t want to come out and ask people to use my preferred name and pronouns, and then have it mean nothing. What if I decide that I’m not really a man?
- Lately I’ve had this desire to be a girl. I know I’m not ready for a sex change, but I’m planning to grow out my hair and wear more girly-types of clothes. I’m not sure what my parents would make of it, but I can’t get this off of my mind. Should I go ahead with it?
1. I am not completely comfortable with the body I was born with. In particular, my feminine figure (pear shaped, hourglass) is really getting to me, and I really wish that I had the ability to grow facial hair. I’ve begun to consider HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to help me feel comfortable with my body, after I check with my therapist. But how will taking hormones affect other things, like taking birth control, or getting my period? Will I need to get a hysterectomy because of taking hormones?
Answer: It’s great that you’re considering your options, and want to work out a plan that will help you get to the place where you want to be. It sounds like you have a very good idea of what you’re looking for, and what you hope to get out of hormone replacement therapy. That’s a great first step because it’s really important to understand what could make you feel more like you. Have you talked to your therapist about any of your questions, including any specific anxieties you’re having about some of these unknowns? A lot of the questions and issues you bring up can be really complicated, especially in terms of the deep and complex ways in which the physical and emotional aspects of all of this are tied together. Have you found and/or talked to a trusted health provider yet? It sounds like you have a lot of very specific questions about how hormones might affect you physically, and about any unintended side effects, HRT might cause. Everyone’s body is different, so a medical professional would be the best person to tell you about what you could expect from HRT, depending on what your dose is and what your personal needs are. If you haven’t yet found a health provider, one option you could try is a website called www.glbtnearme.org, which helps folks find LGBT resources and services in their area. Your therapist might also be able to recommend a trans-friendly physician in your area who can better answer your questions. If you have been considering getting hormones from a non-professional source, or if consulting with a doctor is not an option for you, we would encourage you to research trusted sources before putting anything into your body. Most medical professionals strongly advise against taking any kind of medication that isn’t prescribed because it can be very dangerous, especially since the source and quality of the drugs cannot be verified or regulated. Here are some resources that can give you more information about HRT and how to stay safe:
Remember, you don’t have to figure all of this out all at once. It can take time to figure out what is right for you and your body. You are not alone in this. There are lots of people going through various transitions and feeling a lot of similar feelings! We hope that you can talk to a doctor face-to-face and get your questions answered. In the meantime, you are always welcome to call the Trevor Lifeline, or chat with us on TrevorChat if you need help. If you aren’t already on TrevorSpace.org, we encourage you to check it out; this safe, secure social network site has over 100,000 LGBTQ members and their allies from around the world! Chances are, someone on TrevorSpace will have gone through something very similar.
2. I told my mom that I think I’m trans, but she thinks that it’s just a phrase. What if she’s right? I really, really don’t want to come out and ask people to use my preferred name and pronouns, and then have it mean nothing. What if I decide that I’m not really a man?
First of all, it was a big step for you to tell your mom that you think you’re trans. Sometimes our parents and friends need some time to really absorb and understand what we’ve shared. Just like you had your own process for discovering your identity, they need to figure out how they feel, too. It sounds like some of the doubts your mom is expressing have started to creep into your own thinking around who you are, which can be difficult, especially if you value her opinion. For now, let’s focus on YOUR feelings and thoughts.
It sounds like you’re worried that you might not really be trans, or that one day you’ll change your mind about being a man. It can be really scary when you’re unsure of who we are but don’t worry, you aren’t alone. The truth is that you’re never “stuck” with anything. We all make the best decision we can at the time, and as we go through life we can grow, change, and even change course. If you’re feeling very strongly about being a man, go with your instincts. You know yourself better than anyone else.
Coming out is a very personal decision and you don’t have to tell other people about being trans if you don’t want to. However, it also sounds like you’re worried about other people’s reactions and wonder if it’s worth it to ask them to use your preferred name and pronouns.
If or when you do decide to come out as trans, you don’t have to do it all at once. It is totally up to you who, when, and how to come out, and it can even be a slow, step-by-step process. Regardless of what you decide to do, please know that you are never alone – you can find support here (insert support page link).
3. Lately I’ve had this desire to be a girl. I know I’m not ready for a sex change, but I’m planning to grow out my hair and wear more girly-types of clothes. I’m not sure what my parents would make of it, but I can’t get this off of my mind. Should I go ahead with it?
If you feel safe and comfortable starting to express your gender in a new way, then that’s your decision – after all, you know you best! Taking small steps, like letting your hair grow longer, and wearing more feminine clothes can help you learn more about your own gender identity. If you love it, great! Then you can consider what other types of girl-ish stuff you might want to do or take on over time. If you decide you don’t love it, that’s also ok! It’s not hard to cut your hair again or go back to wearing the clothes you wore before. At this point, since you’re not looking into any medical changes, no decision you make needs to be permanent. There are no laws about how girly or boyish anyone needs to be, regardless of what their body looks like, or what others might think they are supposed to do or look like.
You might want to think about how your classmates or teachers might react at school. Do you think you would put yourself in danger if you started expressing your gender differently? Are there LGBTQ-affirming student groups who can offer you support? These are just two questions you might want to consider before coming out at school.
As for your parents, have you mentioned these ideas to them before? Are you worried at all that changing your hair or clothes might put you into an unsafe situation with them? Or, do you think that they might find the change surprising? If you want a resource that will help you weigh the pros and cons of coming out to your parents, or at school, The Trevor Project has a great resource called “Coming Out As You” available at TheTrevorProject.org/YOU. Above all, it’s up to you and your comfort level – no one can make you come out if you’re not ready.