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Understanding transgender

Gender identity | Coming out | Advice for parents, carers and friends | Advice for teachers

It’s important to remember that gender roles aren’t set in stone.

Sept. 30, 2022

Gender identity isn’t an easy topic to understand, and sometimes we need to unlearn some of our old ideas about what it is so that we can really get what gender is all about. Most of us were taught that there are only two genders (man/masculine and woman/feminine) and two sexes (male and female). However, there is a lot more to it than that.

Transgender identities

When we’re born, a doctor assigns us a sex. This has to do with our biology, chromosomes, and physical body. Male babies are generally assumed to be 'men' and female babies are generally assumed to be 'women'.

Some people never question their assigned gender or sex. They choose to identify with what they were assigned at birth – that’s called being 'cisgender'. But there are others who do question their gender or sex, and that’s completely normal and ok.

If you don’t feel that your gender identity – meaning, your own personal sense of what your gender is – matches the gender you were assigned at birth, you might identify as transgender (or trans). In addition to being a gender identity, transgender is also an umbrella term that includes many other labels, like genderqueer and gender non-conforming.

Genderqueer and gender non-conforming identities describe someone whose gender expression is, or seems to be, different from their assigned gender role. Usually, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people avoid gender-specific pronouns like 'she/her' and 'he/him', and use more neutral pronouns instead. It’s important to note that not all genderqueer or gender non-conforming people identify as transgender, even though they fall under the umbrella of diverse gender identities.

Are you questioning your gender, and aren’t sure what feels right to you? Don’t worry. You are not alone! Consider a few of these questions, taken from our Coming Out guide.

"It’s very important to use appropriate terms."

Using proper trans terms

It’s very important to use appropriate terms when talking about the transgender community. For example, you may see the term transgender shortened with an asterisk (*) to include the many identities that fall under the transgender umbrella.

The term 'transgender' should only be used as an adjective and never as a noun. Also, the term 'Transgendered' is grammatically incorrect and should never be used. Other offensive words include: tranny, transvestite, she-male, he/she, lady man, shim, 'it', or 'transsexual*.

Example: My friend is transgender.

Example: I think I’m going to come out as a transgender man.

* Some transgender people prefer to identify as transsexual, although others consider it to be outdated. Always ask for, and use, the term that a person prefers.