What Does It Mean to Be Transgender? (2024)

“Transgender” is one of many adjectives that can apply to a person. It simply means their current gender is not the same as the one they were assigned at birth.

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We’re all expected to grow and change as we get older. We grow taller and wiser, and we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves.

For some of us, this deeper understanding comes with the knowledge that we’ve been raised as the wrong gender.

When a person’s true gender is different from the one they were assigned at birth, we describe this as being transgender.

In this article, we explore what being transgender means and what gender diversity exists under the trans umbrella.

The term “transgender” (trans for short) is one of many adjectives that can be applied to a person. Being trans means you do not identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. It does not indicate what your gender is.

The opposite of transgender is cisgender, which indicates that you do identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. Both prefixes “cis” and “trans” have Latin meanings:

  • trans means “across from” or “the other side of”
  • cis means “on the same side” or “the same as”

Transgender” is an umbrella term for many different gender identities and expressions. Some people may medically, socially, and legally transition, but doing these things is not a requirement to be transgender.

Although the word we use today may not have been used in the past, the idea of being trans or gender nonconforming has always existed in Indigenous, Western, and Eastern cultures. The meanings and attributes of gender, gender expression, and gender roles vary from culture to culture, past and present.

Who falls under the transgender umbrella?

Transgender” is an umbrella term, meaning that many different gender identities and expressions are included in this community.

For example:

  • nonbinary
  • genderfluid
  • genderqueer
  • agender
  • trans man
  • trans woman

It’s possible to also transition to many other genders that aren’t exclusively man or woman, or to a mix of genders at different times, and you’re still part of the community.

When was the term ‘transgender’ coined?

The first recorded use of the word “transgender” was in the book “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology” by John F. Oliven, MD, in 1965.

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Transgender” is an adjective. It’s not a noun. You use it similarly to other adjectives like short, tall, young, or old.

If you were describing a woman who was short, you wouldn’t call her “a short”; you would likely say “a short woman.” Likewise, when talking about someone in the transgender community, you don’t call a trans person “a trans,” “a transgender,” or “a they.”

When talking about a group, some correct terms to use are “transgender people” or “the transgender community.”

The difference between trans man and trans woman

A trans man is a man who is transgender. They were assigned a feminine sex and gender at birth and have since transitioned to a masculine gender. Some people still use “FTM (female-to-male)” when describing themselves as trans men, but this term is often considered outdated and should not be applied to people without their consent.

A trans woman is a woman who is trans. They were assigned a masculine sex and gender at birth and have since transitioned to a feminine gender. They similarly might use the term “MTF (male-to-female),” but the same concerns about consent apply to this more outdated initialism.

It’s important to remember that these terms are meant to express the gender of the person and not the genitalia you believe they have.

To better understand the spectrum of sex and gender (including intersex people), you can check out this article.

Transgender or transsexual

Most people use “transgender” in place of “transsexual.”

“Transsexual” is considered an outdated term according to the American Psychological Association style guide, although some people may use it as an identity term for themselves. It should not be used for someone without their consent.

You can learn more about the difference between “transgender” and “transsexual” here.

Being gender nonconforming means you’re not conforming to the typical gendered standards of your culture (be it your gender expression, gender roles, etc.) at the time.

Being transgender is when your gender doesn’t align with the one you were assigned at birth. Sometimes being gender nonconforming coincides with being transgender, but not always. Many gender nonconforming people are cisgender and heterosexual.

This idea might seem new, but you’ve likely seen examples of it your entire life:

  • Someone who is a cis man, straight, and chooses to stay home to take care of their children would be considered gender nonconforming but is not transgender.
  • A cisgender woman who chooses to cut their hair short and wear a tuxedo at fancy events would be considered gender nonconforming but is not transgender.
  • A trans man who chooses to wear nail polish or makeup is both gender nonconforming and transgender.

A person’s gender expression and the labels they use can often differ from your expectations. Sometimes you might see someone you think is more feminine or masculine based on your interpretations of gender, but they might consider themselves something else because of their own views.

What about pronouns?

While many men (including trans men) use he/him pronouns, many women (trans women included) use she/her pronouns, and many non-binary people use they/them pronouns ― that’s not the case for everyone.

If you’re unsure what pronouns someone uses, it’s easy to ask them. You can also learn more about pronoun use in this article.

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Being transgender means you experience an incongruence with the gender you were assigned at birth.

Trans” is also an umbrella term that includes nonbinary, agender, genderqueer, and many other identities not listed here.

Regardless of whether you fully understand someone’s gender, it’s important to respect the terms someone uses to express it.

What Does It Mean to Be Transgender? (2024)
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