A person’s gender is a personal sense that may differ from the sex assigned to them at birth. They can express their gender in socially visible ways (name, pronouns, clothing) and medically with hormone medications or surgery.
Using names and pronouns that reflect their chosen gender is one of the best ways to support transgender people. It can also help to understand what they’re going through.
What is transgender?
A person is transgender if their gender identity doesn’t match the male or female sex assigned to them at birth. They may express their transgender identity in a number of ways, including dressing and styling their hair to reflect their gender, using their chosen name, and seeking out medical assistance to transition from one sex to another.
Some people become aware that they’re transgender as children, but others don’t realize their feelings until adolescence or later. They may have a deep sense of dissatisfaction with their assigned sex or an inability to fit into the social expectations and roles that match that sex.
It’s important to note that gender identity is different from sexual orientation, which refers to a person’s innate preference for romantic or sexual relationships with men, women, or both. Using the word “sexual orientation” to describe a person’s gender can invalidate their current gender identity, and it’s important to ask individuals about the pronouns they prefer.
How do I know if someone is transgender?
Most transgender people can remember feeling like they were the wrong gender from early childhood. But everyone’s transgender experience is different. Some may choose to “pass” – act and dress in ways society typically associates with a gender they’re not assigned at birth. For example, some girls may play with trucks or wear masculine clothing, while some boys might have short hair and hang out with other boys.
Passing can feel good because it affirms a person’s gender identity, even if they don’t have the physical characteristics of that gender. But it’s important to note that it’s not a cure for being transgender.
Transgender people often need counseling to get support as they navigate their journey toward a more comfortable expression of their identity, including socially (how they dress or use their chosen name and pronouns) and medically (like hormone treatments). Counseling can also help them plan when and how to disclose their affirmed gender to friends and family, and find safe ways to manage any negative feelings that might arise.
How can I support someone who’s transgender?
For people who are transgender, coming out can be one of the scariest things they’ll ever do. They may not be able to tell everyone in their lives right away, but it’s important that the people closest to them are supportive and understanding.
Showing support can be as simple as using the person’s chosen name and pronouns. And if you hear someone else using the wrong names or pronouns, politely correct them.
It’s also important to understand that being transgender can lead to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so important for ally’s to learn more about how to support those who are struggling.
Finally, if your loved one is transgender and needs help getting access to care or financial assistance, be their ally. Helping them navigate healthcare, education, housing and employment can make a huge difference in their life. And don’t forget to be their ally in the fight against anti-trans bigotry, racism and other forms of oppression.
What are the transgender terms I should know?
Transgender people use an ever-evolving lexicon to express their identities and experiences. Using the right terms can help avoid hurting someone’s feelings, even if that’s not your intention.
Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male, female or neither. Gender expression is how a person communicates their gender through clothing, hairstyles, voice and body characteristics. Gender dysphoria is the distress caused by an incongruence between a person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.
Avoid transphobic language such as “femme fatale,” “tranny,” and any other derogatory terms. Also, don’t use terms that assume a transgender person will undergo medical transition such as MTF and FTM. Instead, use transgender woman and transgender man to refer to people who self-identify as female or male. Use the name and pronouns a person tells you to use, not the names and pronouns they used when they were born. This is called deadnaming and can be very upsetting to people who are transgender or nonbinary.