Trans 101

Transgender 101 

This guide is meant for new allies to the transgender community. Folks who have recently found that they are transgender and/or exploring the possibility of being transgender can also find this page useful, however we also suggest you check out our Trans Resource List

This is by no means an exhaustive guide to treating trans people equitably. We recommend that those who are interested in diving deeper attend our educational workshops. 


Transgender: Identifying as transgender, or trans, means that one’s internal knowledge of gender is different from conventional expectations based on the sex that person was assigned at birth.

  • A transgender woman is a woman (lives as a woman, identifies as a woman) and was assigned male at birth.

  • A transgender man is a man (lives as a man, identifies as a man) and was assigned female at birth.

  • Trans is an umbrella term that can also describe someone who identifies as a gender other than woman or man, such as non binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or some other gender identity.

  • There are many genders. These genders have always been around and have been well-documented throughout history in various cultures. Today we have a more mindful culture in our attitudes towards gender as well as better language to help describe and share these gender identities with others.

  • Some people who identify as non binary identify as trans while others do not. It is important to recognize and respect the terms someone uses to describe their own identity. A thoughtful way to ask someone to further explain their identity might be, “What does that term mean to you?” or “Can you please tell me what you mean when you say you identify as ______?”

  • Someone who is cisgender is someone whose gender identity fits conventional expectations based on that person’s assigned sex at birth.

    • A cisgender woman is a woman who was assigned female at birth. A cisgender man is a man who was assigned male at birth.

Transition: Transitioning is the process of taking steps to live as one’s true gender identity. Transitioning is different for each individual and may or may not involve medical interventions like taking hormones or having surgery. 

Transitioning could be going by the Lived Name that affirms their gender identity or going by certain pronouns that affirm their gender identity. Transitioning could involve making changes to one’s physical appearance, such as wearing certain clothing, wearing one’s hair in a different style or length, or more complex changes such as medically transitioning through hormones or surgery. Transitioning can also involve changing legal documents to match one’s authentic sense of self.

A trans person’s gender identity is real regardless of their choice to transition or to what extent.

Passing: Passing refers to a transgender person’s experience of being viewed as the gender they wish to be perceived. For some, passing is important for affirming one’s gender identity. Passing can help some affirm their gender identity. Others do not find the idea of passing needed or find it negative overall. This is because they can find the idea of passing to be reinforcing stereotypes of gender and to be erasing trans visibility. (Consider the following: Why do trans people need to pass? Is there something wrong with people who are visibility/"obviously" trans?.) 

It is important to recognize that the degree to which a person passes does not make that person’s gender identity more or less valid. A trans person’s gender identity is independent of that person’s gender expression, and everyone has a right to express their gender in a way that is authentic to them.

What is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?

Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of someone’s identity. 

  • Gender identity refers to one’s internal knowledge of self as a man, woman, or some other identity. Identifying as transgender refers to one’s gender identity.

  • Sexual orientation refers to who you’re attracted to. Sexual orientations include (but are not limited to) straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual.

Transgender people identify as a gender identity that does not correlate with the gender they were assigned to at birth. For example, a transgender man identifies and lives life as a man and was assigned female at birth.

Transgender people, like anyone, can be straight, gay, lesbian, etc. since gender identity and sexual orientation are separate.

What is the difference between transgender and intersex?

Intersex is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of natural bodily variations that do not fit typical definitions of male and female bodies. These variations may include, but are not limited to, unique chromosome compositions, hormone concentrations, and external and internal biology. Being transgender means one’s internal sense of self does not correlate with the sex one was assigned at birth. Transgender people are often born with typical male or female anatomy or genes but know that their gender identity is something different than what they are born with.

Why don’t all transgender people take hormones and have surgery to be the gender they truly are?

The decision to medically transition is a personal decision that depends on a number of factors that vary for each individual. Taking hormones and having gender confirmation surgery requires a large investment of time, energy, and money, and this may simply not be a good fit for some people’s lives. Some trans folks may also feel that medically transitioning is not necessary to their gender identity or expression. For example, a trans man may feel like it is unnecessary for him to get surgery to remove his breasts, because to him a man can have breasts.

Whether someone has medically transitioned or not does not make someone any less trans. Someone’s gender identity is an inherent and very real part of who they are, regardless of their desire or ability to transition through medical interventions.

Trans people may also identify as a gender besides woman or man, such as non binary, and thus may not have a desire to take hormones or have surgery to fit a binary gender such as male or female.

What is the difference between transgender and gender expansive?

Gender expansive means not fitting stereotypical gender norms. It can refer to people who do not fit traditional masculine man or feminine woman stereotypes. The term refers to gender expression and behavior rather than gender identity.

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria describes the feelings of distress some people experience due to a sense of incongruence between one’s assigned sex at birth and one’s gender identity. There are different varieties of dysphoria, shaped by a person’s environment and can be influenced by the perceptions and behaviors of others. Gender dysphoria can change in nature and degree with different contexts and other factors. Gender dysphoria is not the same as being transgender. Everyone experiences dysphoria differently.

Many trans folks also experience gender euphoria, which is feeling affirmed in one’s gender identity.


Information adapted from the Trans Allyship Workbook by Davey Shlasko, and the Human Rights Campaign’s “Brief Guide to Getting Transgender Coverage Right.”

Last updated 2/06/2020