updated 02-28-2015

Transgender 101

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In the Massachusetts statewide law An Act Relative to Gender Identity, formally known as An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights, gender identity is defined as:

“Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity; provided however, gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.

A person’s Gender Identity is how someone identifies his/her own gender — a person’s inner sense of “being” male or female. Most people, but not all, have a gender identity of “man” or “woman” that is also consistent with their assigned sex at birth. There are some people who feel their assigned sex at birth is not consistent with their own gender identity.

A person’s Gender Expression refers to how a person expresses their gender identity, or the cues people use to identify another person’s gender. This can include clothing, mannerisms, makeup, behavior, speech patterns, and more. There are some in society whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes what men or women should look or act.

Transgender is an umbrella term for people who transition from one gender to another and/or people who defy social expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on their birth sex. This can include a range of people including: male-to-female (MTF) or female-to-male (FTM) transsexual people and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations of masculinity or femininity. Some transgender people experience their gender identity as incongruent with anatomical sex at birth.

Gender dysphoria refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics)
(Fisk, 1974; Knudson, De Cuypere, & Bockting, 2010b).

Gender dysphoria can in large part be alleviated through treatment. (Murad et al., 2010) See the 2011 WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) Standards of Care, which is clinical guidance set of standards for health professionals to assist transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people with safe and effective pathways to achieving lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves, in order to maximize their overall health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment.

Traditional Gender Stereotypes: Culturally defined code of acceptable behavior for men and women. Men/boys are to exhibit masculine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles and women/girls are to exhibit feminine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are transgender people the same as gay/lesbian people?

No. Transgender is about gender identity and gender expression whereas gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual/straight is about sexual orientation, which is emotional and physical attraction to others. While transgender people are sometimes assumed to be gay or lesbian based on stereotypes about gay men and lesbians, the terms are not interchangeable. Transgender people also have a sexual orientation, just as everyone else in society, which can be heterosexual (straight), bisexual, or gay or lesbian.

Can I tell if someone is transgender?

Not always. Many transgender people are seen and accepted as the gender they identify with and live as. There are many transgender people whom no one would know they are transgender or where assigned a different sex at birth, and who choose to keep their personal and medical histories confidential. For some transgender people, they maybe visibly different from what society views as traditional stereotypes for men and/or women and may be easily recognizable as being transgender. There are a number of factors of why a transgender person maybe visibly different, such as access to transgender specific medical treatment. Sometimes transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because others suspect them to be transgender or gender non-conforming from their assigned sex at birth. In other situations, transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because someone shares a transgender person’s history inappropriately with others, turning private medical information into gossip. Often, a transgender person’s former gender or name can be made known through their identity documents, work references, credit reports, CORI checks or other background checks as the gender marker or name may not match with their name now or the gender they identity, live, and present as.

Lastly, a transgender person does not have to disclose that they are transgender, just as others have the right to privacy about their identity, their medical status, or other information that is not pertinent in a given situation.

What is gender transition?

Gender transition is a personal process in which a transgender/transsexual person goes through when they begin to live and identify as the gender they see themselves as. This process includes a social transition, which can include a person changing their gender expression, such as clothes and hairstyle; pronoun; and possibly their first name, to be reflective of the gender they are transitioning to. This process may also include support from therapist and a medical transition, which can be hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery.

For some transgender people, they may not access medical transition due to the prohibitive cost, access to providers, physical health issues, lack of health insurance coverage, and/or personal choice. The reality is that many transgender people live, present, and are accepted as the gender they see themselves as without medical transition, hormones, and/or sex re-assignment surgery.

Why do transgender people need legal protections?

Transgender people in Massachusetts and around the world face high levels of discrimination and violence because of widespread prejudice and the assumption that transgender people are “outside” of the law’s protections. This bill amends both non-discrimination laws and hates crime laws in order to comprehensively make clear that transgender individuals have equal protection under the law.

The 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that:

  • Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
  • Widespread mistreatment at work: Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.
  • Forty-seven percent (47%) said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fi red, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming.
  • Over one-quarter (26%) reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and 50% were harassed.
  • Respondents reported various forms of direct housing discrimination — 19% reported having been refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity/expression.
  • One-fifth (19%) reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or gender nonconforming; the majority of those trying to access a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter staff or residents (55%), 29% were turned away altogether, and 22% were sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
  • Fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies.
  • Refusal of care: 19% of our sample reported being refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey.

The baseline rates of discrimination against transgender people have been consistently high. A review of six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, in cities and regions on both coasts and the Midwest, showed the following ranges for experiences of discrimination based on gender identity1:

  • 13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
  • 13%-47% had been denied employment
  • 22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace

Style Guides


Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.


Transgender (adj.): is an overall term for people whose current identity differs from their sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. Cite a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

1. Badgett, M.V., Lau, Sears, and Ho. Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute. June 2007.