An activist at a transgender rally in Paris, 2005. This person identifies herself as female, but she shows by the sign on her hand that she has XY (male) sex chromosomes.

Transgender people are people who people who may act, feel, think, or look different from the sex they were assigned at birth[source?]


File:Alexander makovski boy with doll.jpg
This boy, painted by Makovski in 1869, does not fit the "gender binary".

The word "transgender" may describe many different people. Many people with different ideas about their genders may think of themselves as transgender. Different English speakers define words in different ways. For these reasons, the term "trans people" is often used.[source?]

Some common definitions of the words used in this article are listed here. These are common ways but not agreed to by everyone:

  • Anatomical (biological) sex means whether someone was born with a male or female body.
  • cisgender is an antonym of transgender and means a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth
  • Gender means whether a role or way someone acts is masculine or feminine, though it can also mean neither masculine nor feminine.
  • Gender expression is how a person dresses or behaves in ways that affect how others might view them as being male or female. Someone who has long hair, wears a dress, and uses lipstick has a female gender expression.
  • Gender identity is a person's sense in their mind of whether they are a man, woman, something else or neither (agender).
  • The gender binary is the common idea that a person must be either male or female, and that there is no other gender someone could be other than those two.
  • Gender role is society's view of how people should act because of their gender: boys (men) do this and girls (women) do that, or that there are certain things that boys or girls aren't supposed to do. Gender role is often enforced by society by disapproval of cross-gender behavior: for example, if a male child wants a doll, he might be told that he is "acting like a girl". If a female child climbs a tree, she is called a "tomboy".

These definitions are important to help understand that what people look like outside (sex) is not always the same as how they feel inside (gender). Some people do not fit well into the gender binary idea.

Who is transgender?

There are many groups who are included as part of the group of people called transgender. Some of the bigger groups are:

  • Transsexual – unlike the term 'transgender', this is a more specific term. It is an older word which existed in medical communities and is preferred to be used by people who seek to change their bodies (such as through surgery or hormones). Many people prefer the term "transgender" to "transsexual" and see "transsexual" as an offensive term as it used to refer to the identity as a disease, and clinicians are advised to only use the term "transsexual" if their client is okay with it.[1][2]
  • FTM – means 'female-to-male.' It is someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. An FTM person is also sometimes called a transgender man, or a transman. Not all transgender men will identify as FTM, so ask before calling someone FTM.
  • MTF – means 'male-to-female.' It is someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female. An MTF person is also sometimes called a transgender woman, or a transwoman. Not all transgender women will identify as MTF, so ask before calling someone MTF
  • Genderqueer – is someone who rejects the whole idea of a gender binary and may identify as a number of varied gender terms. Be careful with this word since ‘’queer’’ is a slur

The following groups of people are not transgender:

  • Intersex - is a word for people who are born with both some male and some female biological traits.
  • Cross-dresser – is commonly associated with transgender people but is unrelated. It’s when woman identified people dress to appear as a man or man identified people dress to appear as a woman.
  • transvestite[1] - but this is considered to be offensive to most transgender people since “transvestites” will dress hyper masculine/hyper feminine for sexual satisfaction. [3]


File:Women barry.jpg
It is believed that the 19th century military surgeon James Barry was born female but spent his entire adult life as a man.

People like those who, in modern Western societies, are now identified as transgender or transsexual, have been documented in many cultures and for thousands of years. However, only in the last century have science and medicine been able to meet some of the needs for bodily change of trans people who want to change their body.[source?]

People who have traits that are different from the sex they are born with, have been accepted in some societies, both historically and now. For example, some Native American tribes accepted two-spirit people[source?]. Similarly a Tongan person born with a male body who acts and dresses in a female way is known in the local dialect as a "fakaleiti".[source?]

The "hijra" in India are born physically male, but live as women, including dressing and socializing as female. In the past they used to castrate themselves and even remove the penis in order to urinate through a small hole. Now, with the arrival of western medicine, many hijari choose to take hormone therapies and sometimes have sex reassignment surgery. Many of these people still call themselves "hijari", but some now call themselves "transsexuals" or "transgender women". The role of hijari in society is complex and varied throughout all of India.[source?]

In Western Society, there have often been people who have chosen to act and dress in a way that was not gender specific, or was not that of the sex they were assigned at birth. This is not the same as being transgender. Cross dressing actors were very popular in the theatre of the late 19th century.[source?]

An example of a transgender person is the 19th century military surgeon who was known as James Barry. It is now believed that Barry was born female but disguised his sex all his adult life. Barry's work, which saved, and helped thousands of lives by improving treatment of wounds to stop amputations, would not have been possible, as a woman, because as a female he could never have attended medical school or entered the army.[4]

A 20th century example of a transgender person is Jan Morris, a geographer, explorer and journalist, who began life as James Morris. As "James", Morris married and had children, but felt female and eventually became Jan Morris.[5]


Trans - the "T" in LGBT

Transgender people are not accepted in every society. They suffer discrimination, violence, and even murder. Transgender people have fought for and have gained many rights and protections in some societies. In many places the fight for transgender rights is associated with the fight for gay and bisexual rights. Together these groups are sometimes described by the acronym LGBT for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.[source?]

However, some transgender people do not want to be a part of the LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) community, as they may see themselves as heterosexual and not feel like they belong with gay or queer people, and some LGB people do not want to be a part of the transgender community, as they may be transphobic, which means that they may have a fear or dislike of transgender people, or they may not want heterosexuals to see sexuality and gender identity as the same thing. However, gay and transgender people often have some of the same problems in society, so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people try to work together to solve all of their problems.[source?]

Mental health

A 2012 study of British transgender people found that 84% had considered suicide. 55% had been diagnosed with depression. 33% had not been diagnosed with depression, but thought that they had it in the past or at the time of the survey. 46% of the people who had self harmed had self harmed every day at some time in their lives. 38% of the transgender people had been diagnosed with anxiety. 53% had self-harmed at some time in their lives. 44% had used antidepressants and 31% were using antidepressants.[6] A study of 164 Irish transgender people found that 80% per cent had also considered suicide. 40% of those had attempted suicide at least once. 44% had self-harmed.[7]

Medical care

Transgender people who wish to take medicine and have surgery to change their bodies face several problems. In order to change their bodies, they must have doctors who are willing to help them and make the changes. They sometimes cannot do this because doctors will not help them. They may also not be able to do this because even if a doctor would treat them, they may not be able to afford the medicine or surgery. But the Declaration of Montreal affirms that such medical care be provided for them by public health insurance.[source?]

Disease versus difference

Many transgender people do not like being labelled as having a disease or gender identity disorder. In some places, the government labels being transgender a disease.[source?] One of the international human rights laws of the Yogyakarta Principles (Principal 18), disagrees with any use of a medical disease label.[8]

However, many transgender people depend on this diagnosis. Some people can only get medical and surgical treatment paid for by their government if it is to "treat a disease," so if it is not considered a disease, they will not get the medicines and surgery they need. Also, some laws protect transgender people from transphobia and discrimination. In places that do not have these laws, transgender people may only be protected under laws that protect people with diseases or disabilities, so their condition needs to be labeled one of these.[source?]

Doctors do not agree on one way of viewing being transgender. Some doctors view the condition as a birth defect that can easily be fixed, others may not even recognize being transgender as a medical condition.[source?]

This argument still goes on in both the transgender community and in the medical community that treats them.[source?]


About 50% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted.[9]

Legal problems

Transgender people have problems with laws and regulations about sex. To be seen and treated as the sex they wish, transgender people usually have to change their first name. (Though some names are unisex, which means that they can be used by both men and women, transgender people with a unisex name may still want to change their name, though this is not always the case.) They also may want to change their identity documents to say the correct sex. For example, a transgender woman may wish to change her birth certificate or driving license to say her new female name and to say that she is a female.[source?]

These changes can protect transgender people from discrimination. For example, transgender people often have difficulty traveling because their appearance does not match their identity papers. These changes can also be necessary for transgender people to be allowed to marry their spouses in places where it is illegal for homosexual people to marry. These changes can even protect transgender people from a wide variety of violence. Some transgender people are only recognized when their documents reveal them. Being revealed as transgender can put people in danger because of transphobia (fear and/or hatred of transgender people).[source?]

Unfortunately, in many places this is hard or impossible for transgender people to change their identity documents, with or without undergoing genital surgery, which is required in many places, contrary to the definition of the Yogyakarta Principles.[10] This is changing, however. Recently the United Kingdom passed the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. This act allows people to have their change of sex officially recognized without surgery. Once changed, they have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of their new gender.[source?]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender Issues". (in Standard English). GLAAD. Retrieved 16 December 2014.CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link)
  2. "Fenway Health Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms" (PDF) (in Standard English). January 2010. Retrieved 2013-12-27.CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link)
  3. Thompson, Sarah. (in Standard English). Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism page 118. 
  4. Dr James Barry, "A Strange Story", excerpt from "The Manchester Guardian" of 21st August 1865, accessed October 10 2008
  5. Jan Morris' biography
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  8. Yogyakarta Principles, Principle 18. The Protection from Medical Abuse
  9. Rebecca L Stotzer
  10. Yogyakarta Principles, Principle 3 .The Right to Recognition before the Law
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