Transgender identities are in the news a lot lately. Learn about transgender identities and what scientists have to say about their origins.
DeeWho is Dee?
Hi! I’m here to help you explore what it means to be transgender. There’s a lot of attention, confusion and questions around this topic these days, so let’s start with the basics: ‘Transgender’ is not a sexual orientation. It’s about the intersection of gender identity (our core sense of who we are), gender expression (how we show up in the world) and biological sex (the physical parts we’re born with). Come on, let’s dive in…
Explore what it means to be transgender.
Transgender people discuss their identities and experiences.
Listen to a conversation between Gabe, a young transgender boy, and his mom, Chris Lopez.
Watch to learn why Kaleb's mom considers him to be "one of the bravest people" she knows.
“I had this fantasy . . . that a fairy godmother would come and turn me into a girl and make everything better.”
Alexis grew up in the 1960's in a housing project. Being open about her transgender identity was not an option.
Read how Elijah/Esther feels and identifies as a woman some days, a man other days, and some days as neither.
What does it mean for a person to transition? This section covers the essentials.
Decisions around transitioning are highly personal and vary from one individual to the next.
Scientists are researching the biological basis of transgender identities.
Researchers are continuing to explore the science of transgender identity. Neuroscientists are comparing the brain structure and function in transgender and cisgender.
Transgender women of color face distinct challenges.
"There’s a teenaged girl I didn’t quite get to be and I’ve built the life she would have wanted.”
How many people are transgender? It might be more than you think.
(Adj.) Describes a person who does not identify with any gender.
Androgyne / Androgyny / Androgynous
(Adj.) Identifying and/or presenting as neither masculine nor feminine.
(Noun) A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, or some other identity and ascribe qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and vary between cultures.
(Noun) Clinically significant distress caused when a person does not identify with the sex they were believed to be at birth. Can also describe a desire to change the characteristics that are the source of the distress, such as physical anatomy.
(Noun) The ways that a person communicates a gender identity to others such as dress, behavior, hairstyle, voice, and/or mannerisms.
(Adj.) Describes a person who identifies their gender as shifting within a spectrum of gender identities and expressions. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of two (or more) genders, but may feel more one gender some days, and another gender other days. Gender-fluid people may or may not also identify as transgender.
Sex / Sex assigned at birth / Biological sex
(Noun) A person's sex (male, female, or intersex) is often determined based on the appearance of the genitalia, either in ultrasound or at birth. In reality, biological sex is more complicated, referring to a combination of anatomical, physiological, genetic, and physical attributes. These include genitalia, gonads, hormone levels, hormone receptors, chromosomes, genes, and secondary sex characteristics. The phrase "sex assigned at birth" is used by some to emphasize that genitalia alone are not always a sufficient indication of a person's sex, as well as the fact that a person's gender identity is not always aligned with the sex characteristics observed at birth.
Transgender / Trans*
(Adj.) Describes a person whose gender identity does not match their sex characteristics observed at birth. People who identify as transgender (sometimes shortened to "trans") may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity. This word is also sometimes used as a broad umbrella term to describe those who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression, such as people who identify as genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, or androgynous.
(Noun) The process by which some people strive to more closely align their outward appearance with their internal feelings/perceptions of their gender. This may, but does not always, include hormone therapy, surgical or other medical procedures, and changing names, pronouns, identification documents, and more. Often referred to as gender transition.
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Citations & Sources
Bakker, J. (2018) Brain structure and function in gender dysphoria. Presented at the 20th European Congress of Endocrinology. Endocrine Abstracts, 56(S 30.3). https://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0056/ea0056s30.3.htm
Bodkin, H. (2018, May 22). Transgender brain scans promised as study shows structural differences in people with gender dysphoria. Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/22/transgender-brain-scans-promised-study-shows-structural-differences/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_fb
Chokshi, N. (2017, February 23). One in Every 137 Teenagers Would Identify as Transgender, Report Says. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/us/transgender-teenagers-how-many.html
Elijah/Esther. (2015, May 4). New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/stories/elijah-esther
Flores, A.R., Herman, J.L., Gates, G.J. & Brown, T.N.T. (2016) How many adults identify as transgender in the United States? The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/trans-adults-united-states/
Garcia-Falgueras, A. & Swaab, D.F. (2008). A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 131(12) 3132-3146. https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/131/12/3132/295849/A-sex-difference-in-the-hypothalamic-uncin...
Garloch, K. (2017, February 6). ‘I want to be a girl all the time,’ child told parents. Now, mom’s story helps others. Charlotte Observer. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/health-family/karen-garloch/article131054374.html
A guide to transgender terms. (2015, June 3). BBC News Magazine. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32979297
Hendricks, M.L. & Testa, R.J. (2012). A conceptual framework for clinical work with transgender and gender nonconforming clients: An adaptation of the Minority Stress Model. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43(5) 460-467. doi:10.1037/a0029597
Herdt, G. (1996). Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Gender and History. New York, NY: Zone Books.
Herman, J.L., Flores, A.R., Brown, T.N.T., Wilson, B.D.M., & Conron, K.J. (2017). Age of individuals who identify as transgender in the United States. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/age-trans-individuals-us/
Hoffman, J. (2016, June 30). Estimate of U.S. Transgender population doubles to 1.4 million adults. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/health/transgender-population.html?_r=0
Khaleeli, H. (2014, April 16). Hijra: India’s third gender claims its place in law. Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/16/india-third-gender-claims-place-in-law
Kincaid, A. (2016, August 23). Why I had to come out as a black trans woman. Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/post_12733_b_11258546.html
National Geographic. (2015, October 20). Growing Up Transgender and Mormon | Short Film Showcase [Video File]. YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8FZewEPAA
Office for Victims of Crime. (2014, June). Responding to transgender victims of sexual assault. https://ovc.gov/pubs/forge/transgender_choices.html
Raypole, C. (2016, June 29). What does it mean for a transgender person to transition? Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/what-does-it-mean-for-transgender-person-to-transition-0629167
Snow, K. (2015, April 23). Jacob’s journey: Life as a transgender 5-year old. NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/transgender-kids/jacob-s-journey-life-transgender-5-year-old-n34513...
StoryCorps. (2013, May 5). Alexis Martinez and Lesley Martinez Etherly [Audio Podcast]. https://storycorps.org/listen/alexis-martinez-and-lesley-martinez-etherly/
StoryCorps. (2016, May 1). Chris López and Gabe López [Audio Podcast]. https://storycorps.org/listen/chris-and-gabe-lopez-160501/
What does the scholarly research say about the effect of gender transition on transgender well-being? (n.d.). What We Know, The Public Policy Portal of the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University. https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-...
Wu, K.J. (2016, October 25). Between the (gender) lines: The science of transgender identity. Science in the News. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/