What does transgender mean? (2022)

By Alina Bradford, Timothy Williamson


The term transgender describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex to which they were assigned at birth.

What does transgender mean? (1)

Jump to:

  • What is transgender?
  • The transgender flag
  • Sex versus gender
  • Transitioning
  • Names and pronouns
  • Trans discrimination
  • Help for parents
  • Transgender history
  • Additional resources

Transgender is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender person may identify as a woman despite having been born with male genitalia.

About 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, according to 2016 research by the Williams Institute (opens in new tab) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Broken down on a state level, that research found that 0.8% of adults in California, Georgia, Hawaii and New Mexico identify as transgender, compared with 0.3% of adults in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota South Dakota and Wyoming identify as such.

What is transgender?

Being transgender means different things to different people, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). "There's no one way to be transgender, and no one way for transgender people to look or feel about themselves," the organization says on its website.

A person's internal sense of being male, female or something else is their gender identity. For cisgender, or non-transgender people, their gender identity matches their sex at birth. For transgender people, the two do not match.

Sometimes, a person's gender identity doesn't fit neatly into two choices. People who see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories may identify as genderqueer, according to the Human Rights Campaign (opens in new tab) (HRC), an LGBTQ advocacy organization. (LGBTQ refers to the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning individuals.)

What does transgender mean? (2)

How a person communicates their gender identity — through dress, behavior, voice or body characteristics — is their gender expression. A person's gender expression may or may not line up with society's expectations of masculinity or femininity, according to the HRC. The term "gender non-conforming" refers to people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity or femininity. However, not all gender-non-conforming people identify as transgender, and not all transgender people identify as gender non-conforming.

The public's understanding of gender identity and expression is evolving as more transgender people share their stories, according to the HRC.

The transgender flag

The transgender flag was designed in 1999 by Monica Helms, an openly transgender American woman and Navy veteran, according to nonprofit organization Point of Pride (opens in new tab). The light blue and pink tones represent traditional colors for baby boys and girls, while the white horizontal line represents "those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender."

What does transgender mean? (3)

According to Point of Pride, the flag is designed to be symmetrical so it appears the same whichever way up it is flown. The original flag created by Helms, and first displayed at a pride parade in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2000, is now held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (opens in new tab).

Sex versus gender

Sex and gender are two different concepts. A person's sex refers to his or her biological status as either male or female. The determination of a person's sex depends primarily on various physical characteristics, including chromosomes, reproductive anatomy and sex hormones, according to the American Psychological Association (opens in new tab) (APA).

(Video) What is Transgender? Simply Explained

Gender, on the other hand, is a societal construct that deals with the expected behaviors, roles and activities typically associated with the different sexes, the APA said. Gender roles, which vary across cultures, influence how people act and feel about themselves.

Sexual orientation is different from gender identity. Sexual orientation is a person's physical, emotional or romantic attraction to another person, while gender identity is about one's own sense of self, according to GLAAD (opens in new tab), an anti-discrimination organization. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. For example, a person born with male genitalia may transition to being female but may be attracted to females. In this case, the person may identify as lesbian even though she was born with male genitalia.

Making the transition

Trying to change a person's gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person's sexual orientation, GLAAD said. In other words, it can't be changed. Some people may take steps to better align their sex with their gender using hormones and surgery. HRC points out, however, that many transgender people cannot afford medical treatment or have no desire to pursue surgeries.

"So-called 'gender reassignment surgery' (more commonly called 'gender-affirmation surgery' by both medical professionals and transgender individuals) usually references transgender genital surgery," said Dr. Joshua Safer, medical director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Boston Medical Center (BMC), who is also in the BMC Department of Endocrinology. "There are also chest-reconstruction surgeries and facial feminization surgeries, among other options."

Genital surgery is typically reserved for transgender individuals over the age of 18 who have been treated with hormones, if that is what is medically indicated, and who have lived for at least a year in the gender roles that match their gender identities, Safer said. Candidates for surgery are reviewed by a medical team that considers mental health and physical health in determining the best treatment strategy, potentially including surgery, for each person.

Related: How gender reassignment surgery works

Altering the voice so that it better matches gender identity can also be important to those transitioning. "Here, we envision a world where a transgender person feels no need to change their voice or speech — that is, they would live in a world where people accept and respect them as whatever gender they claim, regardless of how their voice sounds," said Dr. Leah Helou, a speech pathologist who leads the University of Pittsburgh Voice Center's transgender voice and communication services.

"However, in the absence of such radical and global acceptance, many trans individuals feel that their communication style is a top priority for making their external self congruent with their inner self," Helou said. "Our goal is to serve and support those people, while advocating for broader acceptance of the transgender population."

Names and pronouns

After transitioning, transgender people often change their names — either to one that matches their gender or to something neutral. A critical step in transitioning is changing legal documents, including driver's licenses, Social Security cards, passports and credit cards. They often have to go to court to order the changes to be made — an expensive, time-consuming task, according to the NCTE.

It is considered rude to call people who have transitioned by their former name (called "dead-naming"), and it is appropriate to respectfully ask them their name and which pronouns they prefer, according to the HRC.

Most transgender people prefer to be identified with the pronoun that corresponds to the gender with which they identify, according to the HRC. A transgender woman should be called "she" or "her," if that's what she prefers. Some transgender people don't believe in binary gender appellations and prefer "they" or a non-gendered pronoun.


Being transgender is not a mental disorder. It cannot be "cured" with treatment. Transgender people may experience a persistent disconnect between their assigned sex and their internal sense of who they are, according to the HRC. Medical professionals refer to this disconnect as gender dysphoria because it can cause pain and distress in the lives of transgender people.

In 2012 The American Psychiatric Association announced that a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) would replace the term "gender identity disorder" with the more neutral term "gender dysphoria." This was followed in 2019 by the World Health Organization removing the term "gender identity disorder" from its list of mental illnesses, CBS reported.

Research has shown that transgender people are at high risk of experiencing prejudice and mental-health problems. The 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (opens in new tab) found that 60% of health care providers refuse treatment to transgender people. Additionally, the research found that 64% to 65% of the transgender people surveyed suffered physical or sexual violence at work, and 63% to 78% suffered physical or sexual violence at school.

What does transgender mean? (4)

(Video) The Science of Being Transgender ft. Gigi Gorgeous

(opens in new tab)

In the most recent iteration of this survey, taken in 2015 (opens in new tab), results revealed that even children are at risk: Those in grades K through 12 who had come out as transgender reported being verbally harassed (54%), physically attacked (24%) and sexually assaulted (13%) because of their sexual identity.

Transgender people often face discrimination even when using the bathroom. In a 2016 poll (opens in new tab) of Americans by CBS and The New York Times, 46% of respondents said those who are transgender should use the bathrooms assigned to their birth genders, while 41% said such individuals should be able use the bathroom that matches their identities. In May 2016, the U.S. Education and Justice departments stepped in to advise school districts to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched the students' gender identities. In response, several states joined in a lawsuit, stating that the federal government had overreached its authority.

Because of discrimination and other factors, the suicide rate among transgender people is high. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (opens in new tab) reports that more than 83% of transgender people had thought about suicide and 54% had attempted it. (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.)

Help for parents

Parents who think their children may be transgender should seek the assistance of experts. "Determining if children are transgender can be a challenge and should be done with careful evaluation from a knowledgeable multidisciplinary team," Safer said.

It is important to note that many children question their gender identities without being transgender. Safer advised parents to be respectful of the child's feelings and recognize that there will be no actual medical intervention until the child begins puberty. Even then, initial medical treatments are reversible, he said.

Related: How parents and doctors can support transgender children

Transgender history

Though transgender people have existed for hundreds and even thousands of years according to an article (opens in new tab) by the HRC, the transgender movement for social change has existed for less than a hundred years. According to Susan Stryker, a visiting professor at Yale University, laws specifically targeting transgender people began to emerge in the 19th century. "In the 1850s, a number of U.S. cities began passing municipal ordinances that made it illegal for a man or woman to appear in public "in a dress not belonging to his or her sex,"' she wrote in her book "Transgender History (opens in new tab)" (Da Capo Press, 2009).

What does transgender mean? (5)

In the early 20th century, gender reassignment, or affirmation, surgery was only being carried out in a few specialist medical centers around the world. One of the largest, in Germany, was targeted by the Nazis, according to Elliot Evans, author of "Queer Permeability (opens in new tab)" (Routledge, 2020). "Magnus Hirschfeld’s pioneering Institut für Sexualwissenschaft [Institute of Sexology, or Sexual Science] in Berlin, provided treatment for Lili Elbe (whose story was made famous by the 2015 film "The Danish Girl") and Dora Richter," Evans wrote in an article for All About History (opens in new tab) magazine. "It was all but destroyed after Hitler came to power in 1933, its archives and library publicly burned. The Institute only re-emerged – this time in Frankfurt – in 1973."

Transgender healthcare did not fully emerge until the second half of the 20th century, though it was still very limited and in many countries gender affirmation surgery remained illegal. "In the US, the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Program in Palo Alto, California, associated with the pioneering doctor of transgender healthcare, Harry Benjamin, would not be founded until 1968," Evans wrote. "Some medical assistance for trans individuals was available in Europe: in Sweden, and in Denmark’s Copenhagen University Hospital, which provided surgical interventions for the American trans woman Christine Jorgensen in the early 1950s, after she had obtained special legal permission from the Danish Minister of Justice."

Additional resources

(Video) What Does Transgender Mean? - TLDR News

Alina Bradford

Live Science Contributor

Alina Bradford is a contributing writer for Live Science. Over the past 16 years, Alina has covered everything from Ebola to androids while writing health, science and tech articles for major publications. She has multiple health, safety and lifesaving certifications from Oklahoma State University. Alina's goal in life is to try as many experiences as possible. To date, she has been a volunteer firefighter, a dispatcher, substitute teacher, artist, janitor, children's book author, pizza maker, event coordinator and much more.

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What is the full meaning of transgender? ›

Trans is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, non-binary, or genderqueer.

Can a transgender woman get a period? ›

Trans people who go through a natal estrogen-based puberty usually get their first period between 9 and 14 years of age, though people who go on hormone blockers may not ever get a period. Menstruation might continue until menopause, which can occur anywhere between 44-55 years of age.

How do you feel if you are transgender? ›

You may feel:
  • certain that your gender identity conflicts with your biological sex.
  • comfortable only when in the gender role of your preferred gender identity (may include non-binary)
  • a strong desire to hide or be rid of physical signs of your biological sex, such as breasts or facial hair.

What is meant by transgender woman? ›

A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born. Some transgender people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female.

When was transgender defined? ›

Oliven of Columbia University coined the term transgender in his 1965 reference work Sexual Hygiene and Pathology, writing that the term which had previously been used, transsexualism, "is misleading; actually, 'transgenderism' is meant, because sexuality is not a major factor in primary transvestism." The term ...

Do guys get periods? ›

According to one study, around 26 % of men experience these regular “man periods.” Men have hormonal cycles. While they may not be the same type of “monthly” cycles that women have, men have hormonal cycles. Typically, testosterone levels are higher in the morning and lower at night.

How many genders are there in the world? ›

There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these.

Can transgender men get pregnant? ›

Transgender men can become pregnant through sexual intercourse with biological men, even during hormone replacement therapy, so correct contraception is necessary to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Transgender sex education is important to increase awareness of this issue among individuals and medical professionals.

What age does transgender start? ›

Results. Data from 155 TW (mean age 41.3; SD 16.3) and 55 TM (mean age 35.4; SD 10.8) were collected. Most patients (TM: 78%; TW: 73%) reported experiencing GD for the first time between ages 3 and 7 years. For TM the mean age of onset was 6.17 years; for TW it was 6.71 years.

What makes a transgender woman? ›

For example, the term "trans woman" is used for an individual whose sex at birth was assigned male and whose gender identity is female.

Can a child be non-binary? ›

Children who do continue to feel they are a different gender from the one assigned at birth could develop in different ways. Some may feel they do not belong to any gender and may identify as agender. Others will feel their gender is outside of male and female and may identify as non-binary.

What are the 4 genders? ›

In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.

What is difference between transgender and intersex? ›

The two terms are often confused: while a person who is transgender has a gender that is different from the one traditionally associated with the sex they were assigned at birth, a person who is intersex was born with a variation in their sexual or reproductive anatomy such that their body does not fit typical ...

Who is the first person to be transgender? ›

Michael Dillon (1915-1962) was the first person in the world to transition from female-to-male through hormones and surgery. From an aristocratic family, Dillon led the women's rowing team to many victories while at Oxford University in the 1930s.

Who came up with the word transgender? ›

Virginia Prince[1] coined the word transgenderism which is a blanket term for both transsexualism and transvestism and authored books like Understanding cross dressing and seventy years in the trenches of the Gender wars. Another pioneer in the study of transgenderism was Harry Benjamin.

Who was the first female transgender? ›

Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was an American trans woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. She had a career as a successful actress, singer and recording artist. The Bronx, New York, U.S. San Clemente, California, U.S.

Which age periods will stop? ›

Naturally declining reproductive hormones.

In your 40s, your menstrual periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent, until eventually — on average, by age 51 — your ovaries stop releasing eggs, and you have no more periods.

What is a period for a boy? ›

Guys don't have periods because they don't have a uterus, but their bodies develop and change too – the changes are just different. For example: their voice changes and they develop hair on their face and other parts of their bodies.

Can someone knock your period on? ›

It's possible for sex to kick-start your period, but only if you have an orgasm during it and are nearing your start date. If you notice bleeding after sex, there may be another reason why. Infections, vaginal tears, ovulation, and cancer are some reasons you might bleed after sex.

What does the 2 in LGBTQ2 mean? ›

A person whose gender identity is different from the sex placed on their birth certificate. “Q” stands for Queer. Queer is an umbrella term often time used to categorize the entirety of the LGBTQ2+ community. Next, we have the “2”. It's for Two-Spirits.

Is Mayo a gender? ›

So, while mayonnaise is not technically a gender, it is often used as a feminine noun in French. This usage is likely due to the fact that the word is derived from a feminine word in another language, and also because mayonnaise is made from egg yolks.

What does Lgbtqia+ stand for? ›

Can a uterus be implanted into a man? ›

Transplanting a uterus into a male body poses a challenge due to the lack of natural ligaments, vasculature, and hormones required to support the uterus. The uterus would either have to be donated by a willing donor or be tissue-engineered using the male's stem cells and then implanted into the pelvic region.

How can you tell if a baby is transgender? ›

Is my child transgender?
  • Certain bathroom behavior, such as a girl insisting on standing up to urinate.
  • An aversion to wearing the bathing suit of the child's sex assigned at birth.
  • A preference for underwear typically worn by a different sex.
  • A strong desire to play with toys typically assigned to a different sex.

Can parents change their child's gender? ›

If you and the other parent agree, you can ask the court together. You file a petition, go to a court hearing if needed, and get a decree recognizing your child's gender and changing their name. The process generally takes up to 3 months.

Who is the youngest transgender? ›

Jennings is one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender.
Jazz Jennings
BornOctober 6, 2000 South Florida, U.S.
OccupationStudent and television personality
Years activec. 2006–present
Known forTransgender activism I Am Jazz (2015) Being Jazz (2016)
1 more row

How long does it take for a transgender person to transition? ›

Transitioning is a process that can take anywhere between several months and several years. Some people, especially non-binary or genderqueer people, may spend their whole life transitioning and may redefine and re-interpret their gender as time passes.

What happens when a female becomes a man? ›

In female to male surgery, the breasts, uterus and ovaries are removed (in two separate procedures). A "neophallus" can be constructed using tissue from the forearm or other parts of the body that allows sexual sensation, an expensive procedure.

What do I do if my daughter wants to be a boy? ›

Children and teenagers who want or need to affirm a gender that differs from sex at birth
  1. work with your family to help you understand your child's experience and support your child.
  2. support your child to understand their gender identity.
  3. support your child to affirm their gender, where appropriate.
15 Mar 2021

What is a Nonbinary person called when married? ›

2. Marrier. If you're looking for a non-binary term for bride, marrier is the way to go. Like celebrant, this is a word you can use to describe a person engaged to be married.

Can gender dysphoria start at 13? ›

While symptoms of gender dysphoria often appear in early childhood, it's not uncommon for them to first appear during adolescence or, in some cases, even adulthood.

Who first defined transgender? ›

In 1965, Dr. John F. Oliven wrote a medical text called “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology” that included one of the first known uses of “transgender.” Oliven wrote using “transsexual” to describe someone who had a desire for gender-affirming medical intervention was incorrect.

What do you call a man who wears women's clothes? ›

Cross-dressers are men who wear female clothing and often both admire and imitate women, but self-identify as different from both gay men and transsexuals, and generally deny having fetishistic intentions.

What is plural of transgender? ›

Noun. transgenders. plural of transgender (“now often offensive: a transgender person”)

Who was the first transgender child? ›

Jennings is one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender.
Jazz Jennings
BornOctober 6, 2000 South Florida, U.S.
OccupationStudent and television personality
Years activec. 2006–present
2 more rows


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