Some people feel that the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t match their gender identity, or the gender that they feel they are inside. These people are often called transgender.

Transgender is about gender identity.

Transgender is a term that includes the many ways that people’s gender identities can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. There are a lot of different terms transgender people use to describe themselves. For example, sometimes the word transgender is shortened to just trans, trans*, or trans male/trans female. It’s always best to use the language and labels that the person prefers.

Transgender people express their gender identities in many different ways. Some people use their dress, behavior, and mannerisms to live as the gender that feels right for them. Some people take hormones and may have surgery to change their body so it matches their gender identity. Some transgender people reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between just “male” and “female,” so they identify just as transgender, or genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else.

Transgender people are diverse in their gender identities (the way you feel on the inside), gender expressions (the way you dress and act), and sexual orientations (the people you’re attracted to).

When people’s assigned sex and gender identity are the same, they're called cisgender.

What’s gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is a term that psychologists and doctors use to describe the distress, unhappiness, and anxiety that transgender people may feel about the mismatch between their bodies and their gender identity. A person may be formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria in order to receive medical treatment to help them transition.

Psychologists used to call this “gender identity disorder.” However, the mismatch between a person’s body and gender identity isn’t in itself a mental illness (but it can cause emotional distress), so the term was changed to reflect that.

How is a transgender identity different from sexual orientation?

People often confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. But being transgender isn’t the same thing as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Gender identity, whether transgender or cisgender, is about who you ARE inside as male, female, both, or none of these. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight describes who you’re attracted to and who you feel yourself drawn to romantically, emotionally, and sexually.

A transgender person can be gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual, just like someone who’s cisgender. A simple way to think about it is: Sexual orientation is about who you want to be with. Gender identity is about who you are.

What does passing mean?

Passing describes the experience of a transgender person being seen by others as the gender they want to be seen as. An example would be a trans woman using the women’s bathroom and being seen as female by those around her.

Passing is extremely important for many transgender people. Passing can be emotionally important because it affirms your gender identity. Passing can also provide safety from harassment and violence. Because of transphobia, a transgender person who passes may experience an easier time moving through the world than a person who is known to be transgender or looks more androgynous.

But not all transgender people feel the same way about passing. While passing is important to some people, others feel the word suggests that some people’s gender presentation isn’t as real as others. They may feel that passing implies that being seen by others as cisgender is more important than being known as transgender. Some transgender people are comfortable with and proud to be out as trans and don’t feel the need to pass as a cisgender person.