Gender Identity is a person’s internal sense of what their own gender is.
Gender Expression is how a person chooses to outwardly exhibit their gender through clothing, speech, mannerisms, etc.
The Gender Binary is a social construct that situates “male” and “female” as synonymous with “man” and “woman” respectively and dictates how people assigned to these categories should act. This limited system excludes and oppresses trans, nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people.
Transgender or trans is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not align with the gender assigned to them at birth. A person does not have to transition or exhibit any particular characteristics to be transgender; the only “qualification” is identifying outside their assigned gender.
Nonbinary, sometimes shortened to NB or Enby, is a broad descriptor for folks who identify neither exclusively as men nor exclusively as women, or who might not identify as men or women at all, which means they fall outside the gender binary. Countless nonbinary identities exist; a few common ones are genderqueer, bigender, neutrois, genderfluid, agender, and pangender. Nonbinary folks can and often do identify as trans, although some choose not to. More information and resources can be found here.
Cisgender or cis is the term used to signify that someone is not trans; in other words, their gender identity matches the gender assigned to them at birth.
Two Spirit is an identity specific to certain indigenous peoples. More information and resources can be found here.
Intersex is a catchall term for folks who are born with anatomy that can’t be neatly classified by doctors as “male” or “female.” Like the gender binary, the sex binary is a construct, and many people exist beyond it. More information and resources can be found here.
Transmasculine folks are generally assigned female at birth (AFAB) and identify with a masculine-of-center gender identity. They may choose to describe themselves as trans men, female-to-male (FTM), or any number of other binary or nonbinary identities.
Transfeminine folks are generally assigned male at birth (AMAB) and identify with a feminine-of-center gender identity. They may choose to describe themselves as trans women, male-to-female (MTF), or any number of other binary or nonbinary identities.
Gender Dysphoria is the physical and/or psychological discomfort an individual experiences when their gender identity does not align with the gender assigned to them at birth. Many trans people feel dysphoria relating to their body’s primary and secondary sex characteristics, and social dysphoria can arise from being perceived or treated as the incorrect gender.
Gender Euphoria, while often left out of the conversation about trans identity, is gender dysphoria’s much more pleasant counterpart; it’s the feeling of joy and contentment that comes with expressing and being recognized for one’s true gender.
Transphobia is hatred of or prejudice against trans people due to their gender identity. Transphobia is institutional, meaning it is ingrained in society and is actively or passively perpetuated by government agencies, healthcare providers, systems of education, etc.
Cissexism is the normalization of cisgender existence and experience to the exclusion of trans folks, which alienates, invalidates, and erases trans existence and experience. For example, assuming that everyone in a room is cis is a subtle form of cissexism.
Misgendering is when someone refers to a trans person as the incorrect gender – for example, saying “he” instead of “they” or calling a trans man “miss.”
Some Examples of Pronouns and How to Use Them
Frequently Asked Questions
Is being trans the same as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.?
No. Being trans is about gender identity and gender expression, whereas being gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. is about romantic and/or sexual attraction. Trans people can identify with a wide variety of romantic and/or sexual attractions, just like cisgender people.
How can I tell if someone is trans?
You can’t! Chances are you’ve already met a trans person and not even realized it. Some trans folks “pass” as the gender they identify with and others don’t, but the only way to know for sure is if a person discloses to you that they are trans. You should never ask someone if they’re trans; it should be their choice whether to disclose or not.
What is transition?
Transition is the process a person undertakes to live and present as the gender they identify with. This process can look different for everyone. People often change their name and pronouns and modify their outward gender presentation to better represent what they feel inside. Some trans folks pursue hormones and surgeries to change their bodies, although many cannot afford or choose not to do so.
Why do trans people need legal protections?
Trans folks in Massachusetts and all across the U.S. face high levels of discrimination and violence due to widespread prejudice and the assumption that they are outside the law’s protections. 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 identity:1
• 13% – 56% of trans people had been unjustly fired
• 13% – 47% had been denied employment
• 22% – 31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace
How can I support my trans child/friend/partner/colleague/relation?
When someone in your life comes out to you as trans, the best thing you can do is listen to them! Do they want you to call them by a new name and pronouns? Do that. Do they want you to use more gender neutral language when speaking to or about them? Do it. Are they telling you that some aspect of your behavior makes them uncomfortable or invalidates their identity? Change that behavior. If you make a mistake, correct yourself and move on. Trans folks already know that their transitions can be difficult for the people they love, and will appreciate quiet effort much more than overwrought apologies or excuses.
One critically important thing is respecting boundaries. First, be sure to ask your trans loved one how they want to be addressed in different scenarios – in public, with family, at school, etc. Many trans folks come out by degrees, meaning some people in their lives know that they’re trans and others don’t. Outing a trans person against their wishes, even accidentally, is a betrayal of trust and could potentially put them in danger. Second, be aware that trans folks aren’t obligated to explain every aspect of their identities to you – some will be comfortable sharing more than others, but hearing the details of your loved one’s identity is a privilege, not a right. Respect their name, pronouns, and wishes no matter how much or little detail they feel comfortable sharing with you.
Most importantly, don’t make your loved one responsible for your feelings about their transition. Chances are they already have enough complicated feelings of their own about it without having to shoulder yours as well. Educate yourself and process your feelings on your own or with a therapist or support group – somewhere you won’t accidentally hurt your loved one as you come to terms with this change in their and your lives. Forums and discussions online can be very useful – if a forum is open to cis folks, it will often contain trans folks and other cis allies who are more than willing to answer your questions. Your loved one will appreciate you taking initiative and making use of the resources available to you.
Find more information about how to be a good trans ally here.
To learn about experiences of trans youth, adult, and families, explore the videos from the I AM: Trans People Speak project.
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.