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Transgender 101

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Learn more on how to be an ally to trangender people here

What does transgender mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender identity is someone's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.

Trying to change a person's gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person's sexual orientation -- it doesn't work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.

People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer. Always use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.

Transgender people may or may not alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically, but it's important to know that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.

Transgender is an adjective and should never be used as a noun. Rather than saying "Max is a transgender," say "Max is a transgender person." And transgender never needs an "-ed" at the end.

How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?

We use the acronym LGBT to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The first three letters (LGB) refer to sexual orientation. The 'T' refers to issues of gender identity.

Gender identity is your own, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary).

Sexual orientation describes a person's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual).

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.

How do I treat a transgender person with respect?

If you'd like 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 list of basic terminology - including defamatory terms and slurs to avoid, please see GLAAD's Media Reference Guide or the publication An Ally's Guide to Terminology: Talking About LGBT People & Equality.

Why is transgender equality important?

Transgender people face staggering levels of discrimination and violence. In 2012, 53% 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 reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
  • Transgender people still cannot serve in the US Military.

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.

Learn more about transgender people and history

In spite of the tremendous challenges that come with living in a culture that does not treat transgender people equally, transgender people have made - and are making - significant contributions to society. You can read about some strong transgender advocates in the annual Trans 100 list. For a look at the history of transgender people in America, please check out Transgender History by Susan Stryker.

Return to GLAAD's Transgender Media and Education Program.

Contact GLAAD's Transgender Media and Education Program.

Recent blog posts

Billboards in Chicago raise awareness about profiling of transgender women of color

Last week, Chicago House’s TransLife Center, a service center that helps trans people find housing, employment, and medical care, unveiled a billboard campaign with Firebelly Design, a local graphic design company, to raise awareness of transgender issues, namely “walking while trans.”

TakePart speaks to GLAAD about respectful reporting on transgender victims of violence

Following the murder of Tiffany Edwards in Cincinnati and the problematic media coverage of her story, TakePart spoke to GLAAD about respectful reporting on transgender people, particularly in stories involving transgender victims of violence.

Twitter celebrates Laverne Cox's historic Emmy nomination

Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category, and many have offered their heartwarming congratulations to the 'Orange is the New Black' star.

GLAAD meets with Newsweek to discuss transgender coverage

Members of GLAAD's News Team met with reporters and editors at Newsweek to talk about transgender news coverage, LGBT story ideas, and information on issues facing transgender people.

Transgender Women denied updated license photo at West Virginia DMV

Two transgender women in West Virginia were denied their right to take their ID picture as their authentic selves. On two separate occasions the women were ordered to "take off their wigs and makeup" before being allowed to take an updated license photo.

LGBT-inclusive Dragon Boat team to compete in Montgomery, Alabama

Dragon Boat racing is the fastest growing aquatic sport in the world. It usually consists of 20 paddlers, a cox and a drummer who sits in front of the boat. A Different Stroke is one of the teams competing in Montgomery, Alabama, raising money so that the world can be a better place for the LGBT community.

GLAAD Co-Chair on CBS News: Few are at greater risk than transgender citizens

New York Times best-selling author and GLAAD's national co-chair, Jennifer Finney Boylan, shared with CBS News the issues and actions – those regarding transgender equality – that are most important to her in today's civil rights movement as a part of their "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement" series.

Transgender woman suing Hobby Lobby for refusing her access to the women's restroom

Meggan Sommerville, a 16-year employee of the company's store in Aurora, filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) in April 2011 alleging discrimination in employment and in public accommodation, and her lawsuit is still pending.

Rainbow Community club provides safe space for LGBT youth

The Rainbow Community in Longview, Washington is a group for local LGBTQ and ally middle and high school students that meets weekly at the Longview Public Library and has already changed the lives of its young members.

Houston Equal Rights Ordinance faces opposition through ballot referendum

As advances with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance attract attention from local and mainstream outlets, GLAAD urges the media to be mindful of the myths and the facts.

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Trans people deserve the same access to healthcare as everyone else

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah are being called upon to overturn New York State Medicaid's regulation excluding transgender people from accessing care. Medicaid is meant to ensure that low-income people have the care they need to survive, and no one should be denied that just because of who they are. Take action now