Trans 101

This post will serve as a refresher for some and a 101 to others of some of the current terminology in the transgender community. If you do not know much about exactly what transgender is, this is a great place to start.

In our society, people often think sex and gender are synonyms. However, these two words have two separate definitions. According to,

  • Sex: Either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures
  • Gender: The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex

To sum it up, briefly sex refers to biology(male/female), and gender(man/woman) refers to the cultural expectations that are usually ascribed to each sex (men act masculine and women act feminine). Our culture has its concept of an ideal man and ideal woman. The ideal man is strong, bold, brave, and forward. The ideal woman is beautiful, gentle, nurturing, and reserved. I often refer to the ideal man as “Ken” and the ideal female as “Barbie,” as the concept of perfection seems to fit strongly with these two characters. We are told, as children, strive to be Ken or Barbie, based on our genitalia. We are given two options, and no more than that.

However, none of us exactly fit these two categories. The people you see on the street aren’t perfect. There are men, gay and straight, that act more femininely, who are great cooks, nurturing parents, and are incredibly emotional, while there are more masculine women who play sports, provide money for their families, and have short hair. None of us perfectly fit into these two categories. Rather, these two extremes can be placed at either end of a spectrum.

Male ———————————————————————————————————- Female
(Ken)                                                                                               (Barbie)

All of us fall somewhere between the two.  This spectrum is often referred to as the Gender Spectrum. Whether you are transgender or not, you can probably figure approximately where you might fit in the spectrum (though there are some people who feel they constantly move back and forth, or feel like they are neither). Rather than being a binary, as American culture often assumes, gender can range anywhere on the spectrum.

The next set of terms that is important to be aware of are gender expression and gender identity. Even within the LGB community, these terms are often misunderstood.

  • Gender Identity – How an individually feels, internally, in regards to their gender. This can be aligned with the sex they were born with (this is referred to as being cisgender) or it can be something other than their birthsex (which could be referred to as transgender)
  • Gender Expression – How an individual outwardly portrays their internal gender identity. This can include mannerisms, speech, dress, etc.

There are dozens of different categories that are included under the transgender umbrella. I will go through just a few major categories.Note that these are only my definitions as far as I know them, they change frequently and are always up for debate. For people who want to read a more comprehensive list of terminology terminology, check out the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)’s resources section here:

  • Transgender – Someone whose internal gender identity is incongruent with their birth sex. Transgender is an umbrella term that covers a vast range of identities. Transgender individuals may never transition or try to outwardly portray as gender variant.
  • Transsexual – Someone whose internal gender identity is so incongruent with their birth sex that it causes them serious, constant discomfort. This incongruency can be so intense that transsexual individuals are often subject to depression. Transsexual individuals take hormones and/or receive surgery to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity.
  • Cross-dressers – Individuals who dress in the opposite sex’s clothing for the purpose of expression of some sort. These individuals often feel in the middle of the gender spectrum, or feel they switch between one side and the other. They will sometimes dress as the other gender, but will not usually take hormones or receive surgery.

Hopefully, this has helped explain the basics of the transgender community. I encourage anyone who asks questions to leave a comment, and I will try to answer it. I might even use your question as a jumping board for another post 🙂

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