Transgender FAQ

To learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people, check out GLAAD's Tips for Allies of Transgender People.

What does transgender mean?

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or 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.

People in the transgender community 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 term preferred by the individual.

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.

Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and 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. For example, 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 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 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.

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.

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 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 being an ally

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

To learn much more about how to be a supportive parent, family member, or friend to a loved one who is transgender -- and to download a free advance preview copy of PFLAG National's newest publication, "Our Trans Loved Ones: Questions and Answers for Parents, Families, and Friends of People Who Are Transgender and Gender Expansive" -- visit pflag.org/aboutbruce

To learn much more about how to be an ally to trans person, check out PFLAG's Straight for Equality site and their "guide to being a trans ally" publication. www.straightforequality.org/trans

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 Program home page.

Contact GLAAD's Transgender Media Program.

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