Transgender identities are in the news a lot lately. Learn about transgender identities and what scientists have to say about their origins.

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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…

The Basics

Curious to learn about what it means to be transgender? Many cultures have long recognized the existence of more than two genders.

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Terms to know

Here are some terms you’ll want to know.

Real people

Transgender people discuss their identities and experiences.

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"I was worried that you liked me as a girl"

Listen to a conversation between Gabe, a young transgender boy, and his mom, Chris Lopez.

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"It was like a weight off my shoulders"

Watch to learn why Kaleb's mom considers him to be "one of the bravest people" she knows.

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Growing up transgender and Mormon

“I had this fantasy . . . that a fairy godmother would come and turn me into a girl and make everything better.”

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"I went as macho as I could be."

Alexis grew up in the 1960's in a housing project. Being open about her transgender identity was not an option.

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Meet Elijah/Esther

Read how Elijah/Esther feels and identifies as a woman some days, a man other days, and some days as neither.

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“Why did God make me wrong?”

Learn about Jacob and his parents’ decision to allow him to transition socially at the age of 4.


What does it mean for a person to transition? This section covers the essentials.

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Making the decision to transition

Decisions around transitioning are highly personal and vary from one individual to the next.

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The different approaches to transitioning

Transitioning doesn’t always involve surgery.

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A new standard of care

No more “watchful waiting.” Read why the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates a gender-affirming approach in caring for transgender and gender-diverse children.

The Science

Scientists are researching the biological basis of transgender identities.

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Understanding our brain

Researchers are continuing to explore the science of transgender identity. Neuroscientists are comparing the brain structure and function in transgender and cisgender.

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How transgender research is changing science

As transgender awareness grows in society, science is catching up. Find out what’s being done to close that gap and what we’ve learned so far.


Transgender women of color face distinct challenges.

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Killed for being transgender

Learn why the American Medical Association is warning of an “epidemic” of violence against transgender persons, with transgender women of color the most frequent victims.

The Stats

How many people are transgender? It might be more than you think.

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Transgender adults in the US

Explore the state-by-state data showing that 1.4 million US adults identify as transgender.

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Transgender teenagers in the US

Estimates show there could be nearly 150,000 transgender teenagers in the US.



(Adj.) Describes a person who does not identify with any gender.

Androgyne / Androgyny / Androgynous

(Adj.) Identifying and/or presenting as neither masculine nor feminine.


(Adj.) Refers to a match between gender identity and sex characteristics observed at birth, i.e., a person born with female anatomy who identifies as a girl/woman.


(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.

Gender dysphoria

(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.

Gender expression

(Noun) The ways that a person communicates a gender identity to others such as dress, behavior, hairstyle, voice, and/or mannerisms.

Gender fluid

(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.

Gender identity

(Noun) One’s deeply held, core sense of being a man, woman, or some other gender. A gender identity can be a combination of two or more genders (such as gender fluid), and some individuals don't identify with any gender at all--described as being agender.

Gender non-conforming

(Adj.) Describes a person who does not behave in a way that conforms to traditional expectations for their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category. Also known as gender variant.

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

BBC Magazine. (2015, June 3). A guide to transgender terms. BBC. Retrieved from

Bakker, J. (2018, May 19) Brain structure and function in gender dysphoria. 20th European Congress of Endocrinology. Retrieved from

Bodkin, H. (2018, May 22). Transgender brain scans promised as study shows structural differences in people with gender dysphoria. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

Chokshi, N. (2017, February 23). One in Every 137 Teenagers Would Identify as Transgender, Report Says. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Editorial Board. (2015, May 4). Transgender Today (Elijah/Esther). The New York Times. Retrieved from

Flores, A.R., Herman, J.L., Gates, G.J. & Brown, T.N.T. (2016) How many adults identify as transgender in the United States? Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from

Garcia-Falgueras, A. & Swaab, D.F. (2008). A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity. Brain. Retrieved from

Garloch, K. (2017, February 6). ‘I want to be a girl all the time,’ child told parents. Now, mom’s story helps others. The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved from

GLAAD Media Reference Guide. GLAAD. Retrieved from

Growing Up Transgender and Mormon | Short Film Showcase [Video File]. Retrieved from

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. Los Angeles,CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from

Hoffman, J. (2016, June 30). Estimate of U.S. Transgender Population Doubles to 1.4 Million Adults. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Khaleeli, H. (2014, April 16). Hijra: India’s third gender claims its place in law. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Kincaid, A. (2016, August 23). Why I Had To Come Out As A Black Trans Woman. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Office for Victims of Crime. (2014, June). Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault. Retreived from

Raypole, C. (2016, June 29). What does it mean for a transgender person to transition? Retrieved from

Snow, K. (2015, April 23). Jacob’s Journey: Life as a Transgender 5-Year Old. NBC News. Retrieved from

Story Corps. (2013, May 5). Alexis Martinez and Lesley Martinez Etherly [Video File]. Retrieved from

Story Corps. (2016, May 1). Chris López and Gabe López [Video File]. Retrieved from

What does the scholarly research say about the effect of gender transition on transgender well-being? What We Know, The Public Policy Portal, Cornell University. Retrieved from

The Williams Institute. (2016). New Estimates Show that 150,000 Youth Ages 13 to 17 Identify as Transgender in the US. Retrieved from

Wu, K.J. (2016, October 25). Between the (gender) lines: The science of transgender identity. Retrieved from