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Who are Transgender People ? The Basics

Publié le 10 février 2010 - modifié le 17 février 2010

Transgender is an « umbrella » term used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, and is used to refer to many types of people, including transsexual people ; crossdressers ; androgynous people ; genderqueers ; and other gender non-conforming people whose appearance or characteristics are perceived to be gender atypical.

In its broadest sense, « transgender » encompasses anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside stereotypical gender expectations.
It is important to understand that some people may identify as transgender but not fall into one of the subcategories discussed here. This publication attempts to identify many of the ways in which transgender individuals identify and express themselves, but this listing is in no way complete. Furthermore, it is particularly important to realize that many individuals, despite the fact that they may appear transgender to some, do not consider themselves to be transgender. It is important that we not label people transgender based on our perceptions, but instead use the words they use to describe themselves.
All people have a gender identity. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else. For most people, one’s gender identity matches the sex assigned to them at birth—for example, a person born female typically identifies as a girl, and later, as a woman. For many transgender people, there may not be a match.

All people also have a gender expression. Gender expression refers to all of the ways that people express their gender (or gender identity) to the outside world, including through dress, appearance, and behavior. For many transgender people, their gender expression doesn’t match what society thinks it should be.


Transgender : An « umbrella » term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals, crossdressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people. Transgender is a broad term and is good for providers to use.

Transgender Man : A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man (see also « FTM »).

Transgender Woman : A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman (see also « MTF »).

Gender Identity : An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Gender Expression : How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

Transsexual : A term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. Often, but not always, transsexual people alter their bodies through hormones or surgery in order to make it match
their gender identity.

Cross-dresser : A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender.

Transvestite : A term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory by many.

Genderqueer : A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.

Genderqueer is an identity more common among young people.

Gender Non-conforming : A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from the societal expectations based on their assigned sex at birth.

Bi-gendered : One who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female. Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

Two-spirit : The definition of a two-spirit person varies across the Native American cultures in which they appear. In general, two-spirit people are born one sex, and end up fulfilling the roles assigned to both sexes, or other roles reserved for two-spirit people. Some people consider two-spirit a term that can refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, while others think it is best used only for transgender people.

FTM : A person who has transitioned from « female-to-male, » meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but now identifies and lives as a male. Also known as a « transgender man. »

MTF : A person who has transitioned from « male-to-female, » meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, but now identifies and lives as a female. Also known as a « transgender woman. »

Passing : A term used by transgender people to mean that they are seen as the gender they self-identify as. For example, a transgender man (born female) who most people see as a man.

Sex Reassignment Surgery : Surgical procedures that change one’s body to make it conform to a person’s gender identity. This may include « top surgery » (breast augmentation or removal) or « bottom surgery » (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery ; in fact there are many different surgeries. « Sex change surgery » is considered a derogatory term by many.

Sexual Orientation : A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same sex or different sex. Usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual.

Transition : The period during which a person begins to live as their new gender. Transitioning may include changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, or changing legal documents (e.g. driver’s license,
Social Security number, birth certificate) to reflect their new gender.

Intersex : A term used for people who are born with external genitalia, chromosomes, or internal reproductive systems that are not traditionally associated with either a « standard » male or female.

Drag Queen : generally used to accurately refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a
derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.

Drag King : used to refer to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.

These definitions are influenced by a variety of sources. See Patrick Letellier, Beyond He and She : A Transgender News Profile (January
2003), Good Times ; Intersex Society of North America, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Transgender Equality : A handbook for activists
and policymakers. New York : National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and National Center for Lesbian Rights.