Frequently Asked Questions

Gender Basics

What does the word “transgender” mean?
What is gender identity and gender expression?
How does someone know that they are transgender?
Thought Exercise: Thinking About Your Own Gender
What does it mean to transition?
What does “gender transition” mean?
Have transgender people always existed?

Biological Sex and Gender

What’s the difference between sex and gender?
What’s the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?
What’s the difference between being transgender and being intersex?
What’s the difference between being transgender and being gay?
How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?
What do the initials FTM and MTF stand for?

Advanced Placement Gender Theory

What does it mean to be “genderqueer”?
What is gender non-conforming?
What is the difference between being transgender and being gender non-conforming?
What does it mean to have a gender that’s not male or female?
Is there a difference between cross-dressing and being transgender?

Medical and Mental Health

Is being transgender a mental disorder?
Why don’t transgender people get counseling to accept the gender they were assigned at birth?
Do all people who transition have surgery?
What is gender dysphoria?
What should parents do if their child appears to be transgender or gender nonconforming?

On Pronouns

How do I know which pronouns to use?
What name and pronoun do I use?

On Transgender Equality

Why is transgender equality important?
How can I be supportive of transgender family members, friends, or significant others?
How do I treat a transgender person with respect?

Other Resources and Downloads


Gender Basics

 

What does the word “transgender” mean?

“Trans-” is a Latin prefix meaning “across,” “beyond,” “through,” “changing thoroughly.” Think of such words as transatlantic (across the Atlantic), transport (to carry or convey across), or transcontinental.

Transgender (across genders) – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate).

Conversely, cisgender – or cis – is the term used to describe people whose gender identity or expression aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

What is gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply-felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender.

Gender expression refers to the external manifestation of a person’s gender identity, which may or may not conform to socially-defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

How does someone know that they are transgender?

People can realize that they’re transgender at any age. Some people can trace their awareness back to their earlier memories – they just knew. Others may need more time to realize that they are transgender. Some people may spend years feeling like they don’t fit in without really understanding why, or may try to avoid thinking or talking about their gender out of fear, shame, or confusion. Trying to repress or change one’s gender identity doesn’t work; in fact, it can be very painful and damaging to one’s emotional and mental health. As transgender people become more visible in the media and in community life across the country, more transgender people are able to name and understand their own experiences and may feel safer and more comfortable sharing it with others.

For many transgender people, recognizing who they are and deciding to start gender transition can take a lot of reflection. Transgender people risk social stigma, discrimination, and harassment when they tell other people who they really are. Parents, friends, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors may be accepting—but they also might not be, and many transgender people fear that they will not be accepted by their loved ones and others in their life. Despite those risks, being open about one’s gender identity, and living a life that feels truly authentic, can be a life-affirming and even life-saving decision.

Thought Exercise: Thinking About Your Own Gender

It can be difficult for people who are not transgender to imagine what being transgender feels like. Imagine what it would be like if everyone told you that the gender that you’ve always known yourself to be was wrong. What would you feel like if you woke up one day with a body that’s associated with a different gender? What would you do if everyone else—your doctors, your friends, your family—believed you’re a man and expected you to act like a man when you’re actually a woman, or believed you’re a woman even though you’ve always known you’re a man?

What does it mean to transition?

Transitioning is the process some transgender people go through to begin living as the gender with which they identify, rather than the sex assigned to them at birth. This may or may not include hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery or other medical procedures.

What does “gender transition” mean?

Transitioning is the time period during which a person begins to live according to their gender identity, rather than the gender they were thought to be at birth. While not all transgender people transition, a great many do at some point in their lives. Gender transition looks different for every person. Possible steps in a gender transition may or may not include changing your clothing, appearance, name, or the pronoun people use to refer to you (like “she,” “he,” or “they”). Some people are able to change their identification documents, like their driver’s license or passport, to reflect their gender. And some people undergo hormone therapy or other medical procedures to change their physical characteristics and make their body better reflect the gender they know themselves to be.

Transitioning can help many transgender people lead healthy, fulfilling lives. No specific set of steps is necessary to “complete” a transition—it’s a matter of what is right for each person. All transgender people are entitled to the same dignity and respect, regardless of which legal or medical steps they have taken.

Have transgender people always existed?

Transgender persons have been documented in many indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures and societies from antiquity until the present day. However, the meaning of gender nonconformity may vary from culture to culture.


Biological Sex and Gender

 

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

Sex refers to the designation of a person at birth as either “male” or “female” based on their anatomy (e.g. reproductive organs) and/or their biology (e.g. hormones).

Gender refers to the traditional or stereotypical roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society consider appropriate for men and women.

What’s the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?

Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Gender identity refers to your internal knowledge of your own gender—for example, your knowledge that you’re a man, a woman, or another gender. Sexual orientation has to do with whom you’re attracted to. Like non-transgender people, transgender people can have any sexual orientation. For example, a transgender man (someone who lives as a man today) may be primarily attracted to other men (and identify as a gay man), may be primarily attracted to women (and identify as a straight man), or have any other sexual orientation.

What’s the difference between being transgender and being intersex?

People sometimes confuse being transgender and being intersex. Intersex people have reproductive anatomy or genes that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female, which is often discovered at birth. Being transgender, meanwhile, has to do with your internal knowledge of your gender identity. A transgender person is usually born with a body and genes that match a typical male or female, but they know their gender identity to be different.

Some people think that determining who is male or female at birth is a simple matter of checking the baby’s external anatomy, but there’s actually a lot more to it. Every year, an estimated one in 2,000 babies are born with a set of characteristics that can’t easily be classified as “male” or “female.” People whose bodies fall in the vast continuum between “male” and “female” are often known as intersex people. There are many different types of intersex conditions. For example, some people are born with XY chromosomes but have female genitals and secondary sex characteristics. Others might have XX chromosomes but no uterus, or might have external anatomy that doesn’t appear clearly male or female. To learn more about what it’s like to be intersex, check out this video or click here.

While it’s possible to be both transgender and intersex, most transgender people aren’t intersex, and most intersex people aren’t transgender. For example, many intersex people with XY (typically male) chromosomes but typically female anatomy are declared female at birth, are raised as girls, and identify as girls; in fact, many of these girls and their families never even become aware that their chromosomes are different than expected until much later in life. However, some intersex people come to realize that the gender that they were raised as doesn’t fit their internal sense of who they are, and may make changes to their appearance or social role similar to what many transgender people undergo to start living as the gender that better matches who they are.

What’s the difference between being transgender and being gay?

Being transgender is about an individual’s gender identity, while being gay is about an individual’s sexual orientation, which is our attraction to people of the same gender, different genders or both. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.

How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?

The acronym LGBT is used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The first three letters (LGB) refer to sexual orientation. The “T” refers to gender identity.

Sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual), while gender identity describes a person’s, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary).

Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about your own sense of yourself.

Transgender people have a sexual orientation, just like everyone else. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.

What do the initials FTM and MTF stand for?

FTM stands for female-to-male and refers to someone who was designated female at birth but identifies and expresses himself as a man. Many FTM transgender people prefer the term “trans man” to describe themselves.

MTF stands for male-to-female and refers to someone who was designated male at birth but who identifies and expresses herself as a woman. Many MTF transgender people prefer the term “trans woman” to describe themselves.


Advanced Placement Gender Theory

 

What does it mean to be “genderqueer”?

An umbrella term for gender identities other than man and woman. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories. Use this term only when an individual self-identifies as “genderqueer.”

What is gender non-conforming?

A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

 What is the difference between being transgender and being gender non-conforming?

Being gender non-conforming means not conforming to gender stereotypes. For example, someone’s clothes, hairstyle, speech patterns, or hobbies might be considered more “feminine” or “masculine” than what’s stereotypically associated with their gender.

Gender non-conforming people may or may not be transgender. For example, some women who were raised and identify as women present themselves in ways that might be considered masculine, like by having short hair or wearing stereotypically masculine clothes. The term “tomboy” refers to girls who are gender non-conforming, which often means they play rough sports, hang out with boys, and dress in more masculine clothing.

Similarly, transgender people may be gender non-conforming, or they might conform to gender stereotypes for the gender they live and identify as.

What does it mean to have a gender that’s not male or female?

Most transgender people are men or women. But some people don’t neatly fit into the categories of “man” or “woman” or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don’t identify with any gender. Some people’s gender fluctuates over time.

People whose gender is not male or female may use many different terms to describe themselves. One term that some people use is non-binary, which is used because the gender binary refers to the two categories of male and female. Another term that people use is genderqueer. If you’re not sure what term someone uses to describe their gender, you should ask them politely.

It’s important to remember that if someone is transgender, it does not necessarily mean that they have a “third gender.” Most transgender people do have a gender identity that is either male or female, and they should be treated like any other man or woman.

For more information about what it’s like to have a gender other than male or female or how you can support the non-binary people in your life, read NCTE’s guide Understanding Non-Binary People.

Is there a difference between cross-dressing and being transgender?

Yes, cross-dressing refers to people who wear clothing and/or makeup and accessories that are not traditionally associated with their biological sex.

Many people who cross-dress are comfortable with their assigned sex and generally do not wish to change it. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression that is not necessarily indicative of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.


Medical and Mental Health

 

Is being transgender a mental disorder?

No, but this remains a common stereotype about transgender people.

Transgender identity is not a mental illness that can be cured with treatment. Rather, transgender people often experience a persistent and authentic disconnect between the sex assigned to them at birth and their internal sense of who they are. This disconnect is referred to by medical professionals as “gender dysphoria” because it can cause undue pain and distress in the lives of transgender people.

In December 2012, the American Psychiatric Association announced the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) would no longer include the term “gender identity disorder.” The revised manual replaced “gender identity disorder” with the more neutral term “gender dysphoria.”

A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.

For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated. Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is under revision and there may be changes to its current classification of intense persistent gender incongruence as “gender identity disorder.”

Why don’t transgender people get counseling to accept the gender they were assigned at birth?

Counseling aimed at changing someone’s gender identity, sometimes known as conversion therapy, doesn’t work and can be extremely harmful.

The belief that someone’s gender identity can be changed through therapy runs counter to the overwhelming consensus in the medical community. Telling someone that a core part of who they are is wrong or delusional and forcing them to change it is dangerous, sometimes leading to lasting depression, substance abuse, self-hatred and even suicide.

Because of this, a growing number of states have made it illegal for licensed therapists to try to change a young person’s gender identity (laws apply to those under 18). However, many transgender people find it helpful to get counseling to help them decide when to tell the world they are transgender and deal with the repercussions of stigma and discrimination that comes afterward.

Do all people who transition have surgery?

No, many transgender people can successfully transition without surgery. Some have no desire to pursue surgeries or medical intervention.

At the same time, many transgender people cannot afford medical treatment nor can they access it. In light of these injustices, it is important that civil rights and protections are extended to all transgender people equally, regardless of their medical histories. It’s also critical to continue advocating for full access to health care coverage for transgender people.

What is gender dysphoria?

For some transgender people, the difference between the gender they are thought to be at birth and the gender they know themselves to be can lead to serious emotional distress that affects their health and everyday lives if not addressed. Gender dysphoria is the medical diagnosis for someone who experiences this distress.

Not all transgender people have gender dysphoria. On its own, being transgender is not considered a medical condition. Many transgender people do not experience serious anxiety or stress associated with the difference between their gender identity and their gender of birth, and so may not have gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria can often be relieved by expressing one’s gender in a way that the person is comfortable with. That can include dressing and grooming in a way that reflects who one knows they are, using a different name or pronoun, and, for some, taking medical steps to physically change their body. All major medical organizations in the United States recognize that living according to one’s gender identity is an effective, safe and medically necessary treatment for many people who have gender dysphoria.

It’s important to remember that while being transgender is not in itself an illness, many transgender people need to deal with physical and mental health problems because of widespread discrimination and stigma. Many transgender people live in a society that tells them that their deeply held identity is wrong or deviant. Some transgender people have lost their families, their jobs, their homes, and their support, and some experience harassment and even violence. Transgender children may experience rejection or even emotional or physical abuse at home, at school, or in their communities. These kinds of experiences can be challenging for anyone, and for some people, it can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. But these conditions are not caused by having a transgender identity: they’re a result of the intolerance many transgender people have to deal with. Many transgender people – especially transgender people who are accepted and valued in their communities – are able to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

What should parents do if their child appears to be transgender or gender nonconforming?

Parents may be concerned about a child who appears to be gender-nonconforming for a variety of reasons. Some children express a great deal of distress about their assigned sex at birth or the gender roles they are expected to follow. Some children experience difficult social interactions with peers and adults because of their gender expression. Parents may become concerned when what they believed to be a “phase” does not pass. Parents of gender-nonconforming children may need to work with schools and other institutions to address their children’s particular needs and ensure their children’s safety. It is helpful to consult with mental health and medical professionals familiar with gender issues in children to decide how to best address these concerns. It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way. Peer support from other parents of gender-nonconforming children may also be helpful.


On Pronouns

 

How do I know which pronouns to use?

Transgender people should be identified with their preferred pronoun. Often this is the pronoun that corresponds to the gender with which they identify. Not sure? It’s appropriate to respectfully ask their name and which pronouns they’d prefer. Some transgender people do not believe in a gender binary and prefer not to use pronouns typically associated with men (e.g. him) and women (e.g. her). Instead, they would prefer if people simply used their names or used a non-gendered pronoun such as “hir” or “they.”

What name and pronoun do I use?

For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. If you happen to know a transgender person’s birth name (the name given to them when they were born, but which they no longer use), don’t share it without that person’s explicit permission. Sharing a transgender person’s birth name and/or photos of a transgender person before their transition is an invasion of privacy, unless they have given you permission to do so.

If you’re unsure which pronoun a person prefers, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?” Then use that person’s preferred pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.


On Transgender Equality

 

Why is transgender equality important?

Transgender people face staggering levels of discrimination and violence. In 2013, 72% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women. According to “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and The Task Force:

  • Transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty.
  • Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
  • 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
  • 22% of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color. Almost half of the respondents (46%) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • 41% of respondents (18-65 y/o) reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face shockingly high rates of murder, homelessness, and incarceration. Most states and countries offer no legal protections in housing, employment, health care, and other areas where individuals experience discrimination based on their gender identity or expression.

How can I be supportive of transgender family members, friends, or significant others?

  • Educate yourself about transgender issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts.
  • Be aware of your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior. Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
  • Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.
  • Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.
  • Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
  • Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.
  • Advocate for transgender rights, including social and economic justice and appropriate psychological care.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local and state or provincial laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.

How do I treat a transgender person with respect?

To learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people, please visit GLAAD’s “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” page.

For a guide to basic terminology – including defamatory terms and slurs to avoid, please see GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide.


Other Resources and Downloads

Bathroom FAQ by Gender Spectrum


FAQ text courtesy of the following sites:

Human Resource Council:
www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-faq

GLAAD:
www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

Transequality:
www.transequality.org/issues/resources/frequently-asked-questions-about-transgender-people

American Psychological Association:
www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx