Terrence Higgins Trust uses cookies to improve your experience of our websites. For more information or to change the use of cookies, please click here.

Accept and Close

What is trans?

Guy with a grey Tshirt

You might have questions about the trans community - and be surprised by how diverse it is. Here are some answers.

  1. Variance
  2. Trans terms
  3. Pronouns
  4. Sexuality
  5. Support

Variance

We tend to grow up being told that people fit into one of two boxes - boys and men or girls and women. Boys like cars and sports and want to be train drivers and astronauts when they grow up, and to marry pretty women. Girls like horses and dolls and want to be princesses or nurses and have a big strong man sweep them off their feet.

It isn't that simple. Some boys like dolls, some girls want to be car mechanics, some boys want to marry other boys. Gender roles aren't so easy to put into boxes, nor is sexuality. However what many people have trouble with is that not all little boys grow up to be men, sometimes they grow up to be women. And sometimes they grow up to be something else.

Sex isn't as simple as: ‘If you have a penis you're male, if you have a vagina you're female.’ Sometimes genitals aren’t that simple. Sometimes you have an intersex condition (what used to be called ‘hermaphroditism’) meaning it isn't clear exactly what sex the child is until they are big enough to tell you themselves.

Sometimes gender isn't that simple either. Chances are, if you're reading this website then you understand that some people are born with the body of one sex and the mind of the other. For some people that might mean taking hormones and having surgery and a transition from living full-time with one gender presentation to living full-time with another. Some will assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages of these options and may choose some or all of them, or find different ways to express their gender.

For some people it isn't even that clear, and gender doesn't divide into ‘one or the other’. Some people feel that they are both male and female, neither one - or something else entirely. There's a whole range of terms used, as everyone identifies themselves differently, so choose the term that feels most right for you.

Some genderqueer people will choose a medical transition, some won't. Everyone has to pick what is right for them, although that can be difficult in a world where there sometimes aren't words to explain things.

Trans terms

The word ‘trans’ is often used as an umbrella term to describe people who feel their gender is, or has been, different from the one they were labelled with at birth (in more recent times even before their birth).

Our communities are very diverse. People continue to define who they are, to become congruent with their internal self and express their gender or non-gender in the way that is right for them.

Some may feel they have a ‘trans history’ and are the men and women they have always known themselves to be. Some may feel ‘trans’ is a social and political identity while others will have never identified with the term ‘trans’.


Trans people may:

  • Have a gender identity and/or gender expression differing from the gender they were assigned at birth.
  • Identify as transsexuals, cross-dressers, transmen (or trans men), trans women (or transwomen), trans masculine, trans feminine or other people on the gender-variant spectrum.
  • Identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF).
  • Choose to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.

The important thing to remember is to use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.


Trans people may identify as:

  • Trans men - people who are labelled/assigned female at birth but who have an internal sense of gender which is male.
  • Trans women - people who are labelled/assigned male at birth but who have an internal sense of gender which is female.
  • Transsexual – people who usually have a deep conviction and internal sense that their gender identity does not match that of their appearance or the gender they were labelled at birth. They may wish to present to the world the gender they truly are. The ‘condition’ is called gender dysphoria, and it's considered a medical condition. Many will undergo hormone therapy (oestrogens or testosterone, depending upon their birth gender and their internal sense of gender). Many will also have ‘gender confirmation surgery’ to become congruent with the internal sense of gender identity. 
  • Bi-gender - someone who sees themselves as both masculine and feminine.
  • Cross-dressers - are usually comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it but enjoy wearing clothes usually identified with the opposite sex.
  • Gender non-conforming/non binary - individuals whose gender expression is different from society’s expectations based on their assigned sex at birth.
  • Gender Queer - may identify as being between genders, or as neither man nor woman. Some may pursue physical changes, many will not.
  • Cisgender - synonym for non-trans people. It comes from the Latin ‘cis’ which means ‘on the same side’ and is used to describe someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth.

Pronouns

Be respectful - don't use labels

It's important to consult with each trans person and agree their preferred forms of address. Respect their choice by only using the words the individual uses to describe themselves.

It's essential not to label someone, refer to them, use or record a form of address in a way not previously agreed with the individual concerned.


He, she, ze or they?

Misuse of pronouns (such as ‘he’ or ‘she’) has been identified as the most common form of verbal harassment that trans people face.

In Galop’s employer toolkit Shining the Light, Ben Gooch writes: ‘Trans people are consistently told by society, their friends and families that they are not the people they know themselves to be. It’s important to get a person’s pronouns right so that you can treat them with respect.’

The binary pronouns of male and female – ‘he’ and ‘she’ - are terms many trans people will be comfortable with; but many other trans people do not identify with them. Some trans people would prefer you to use the pronoun ‘they’ or 'ze', for example.

Some trans people would prefer you not to use a pronoun at all when referring to them, in which case use either:

  • A proper name of the person’s choice.
  • A neutral term - such as ‘the person’ or ‘the individual’.
  • A non-gender specific role - such as ‘the customer’, ‘the patient’, ‘the client’ or ‘the service user’.

Remember:

  • For some people ‘trans’ is an identity in its own right.
  • It’s about becoming and being ourselves - an individual’s gender expression.
  • For some people it’s about having a ‘trans history’ - that is, somebody seeing themselves as male or female but no longer trans. Some people may never have identified as trans.
  • It's important to not make assumptions about trans people’s identity, or to assume that all gender variant people identify with any of these terms.

Sexuality

Trans people can be any sexuality or none. Like everyone, as long as they're considerate and consensual, they deserve respect. Being trans can affect your sexuality in many ways.

As a trans man you may continue to be attracted to the same gender or genders, but for some trans men this could mean a shift from living as a straight woman to being a gay man.

Any change in dating scene can be difficult to negotiate, but the shift from gay woman to gay man carries the added challenge of an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Risks of many STIs are reduced for lesbians (although that of course depends upon individual sexual practices) while the risks involved in sex with gay men is much higher, as there is a higher prevalence of STIs among gay men and certain sex acts are more risky in terms of STI transmission.

Whether you're having casual sex or entering into a long-term relationship, it's worth getting to know what the risks are before you start something new.


How will my transition influence my sex drive?

If you transition medically, you may find that hormone treatments and/or surgery can increase your sex drive. This is largely due to increasing levels of testosterone. But this can vary and you may or may not be put off by the prospect.

How you express your sexuality can also change. Being free to express yourself as male, or however you identify, means you may want to abandon more traditional feminine sexual practices. This can be highly liberating. Equally, you may find that your old sexual expressions continue to suit you well.

Wherever you stand in terms of who you’re attracted to and how you’re attracted to them, it's important to care for your wellbeing and sexual health.

Support

If you have a trans person in your life it can sometimes be difficult at first to know how to support them. Here's some advice.


Partners of trans people

Being a partner of a trans person can be a satisfying and deeply rewarding experience, whether you're having a sexual relationship, a short or a long-term relationship.

However it may often feel as if your partner is the centre of attention, whether in your social and family life, or in a medical situation. You may need to take steps to ensure that you feel included in things. Talk to your partner, share your feelings and get involved if you can.

You can do a lot to support a partner going through transition, who may be confused, frustrated or angry. Talking with them about visits to clinics or medical appointments, and offering to go with them, may help lessen the sense of isolation they can feel.

Partners of trans people who are going through changes in their body or appearance can also feel confused. If your long-term partner is starting transition, this may not affect your relationship. However, outside pressures can affect your relationship – friends, family or your employer may see things differently, or you may even become the victim of hate crime. The law protects partners of transsexuals from discrimination, so seek professional help if you experience any difficulties.

You might feel a sense of loss for the person you knew before transition or find your emotions confusing and upsetting. If your partner is living in stealth, the secrecy may be stressful for you. Likewise your partner might be ‘out’ about their trans identity and their openness may cause you problems. It often helps to have an understanding person with knowledge of trans issues, such as a counsellor, to share these experiences with.

Any relationship can be challenging as well as deeply satisfying. With mutual understanding and respect, a relationship with a trans person has as much potential as any other. Many partners find their relationships with trans people enriching and exciting - may yours be so!

Where to find support:

Depend  

NHS Choices - My trans partner


Parents of trans children

If your child is trans, you may be finding it difficult to get used to their new identity. As the parent of a trans person, you have brought them into the world and raised them in their assigned birth gender. If you have a young child, you may be wondering what steps to take now – Mermaids is a good starting point as they help trans children and will be able to advise you.

It can be difficult for parents to see their child, whatever their age, transitioning, however supportive you intend to be. It can also be upsetting to see your child feeling hurt or struggling. With your support, your child will be able to go through their transition, whatever form that takes, more easily and hopefully feeling supported.

Support for trans children:

Mermaids 


Children of trans parents

If one of your parents is trans it can be difficult to come to terms with no longer having the ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ you knew. You may go through a process similar to grieving, but hopefully as you get to know your parent in their new identity you'll develop a new way of relating to them that you can enjoy. You may, however, find that your relationship changes very little.

If you're school-aged, you might be worried about how your friends will react. It’s worth talking to your parents about this, especially if you have experienced any bullying. They'll be able to speak to your school if necessary.


Friends and family of trans people

If you have a friend or family member who is trans they will be grateful for your support. Trans people are not always accepted by their friends and family so your support may be what makes a difference. Read around the website to get some more information on issues facing trans men and women and don’t be afraid to ask your friend or relative questions.

More support:

Mermaids 

Some useful links:

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)

 

Rate:

Whole Star Whole Star Whole Star Whole Star Whole Star (1 vote cast) Please log in or register to vote. What's this?

Save:

Please log in or register to add this article to My favourites. What's this? Adding an article to My favourites will allow you to easily come back to it later or print it.


Your comments

You will need to be logged in before you can leave a comment.

Please log in using the form on the top right of the page or register.

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 24/3/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 24/3/2018

Content Author: Aedan Walton

Current Owner: Michelle Ross

More information:

GIRES. Gender Identity Research and Education Society.Terminology. 2012

GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). A Guide to Hormone Therapy for Trans People. 2007

Endocrine Therapy for Transgender Adults in British Columbia: Suggested Guidelines. Physical Aspects of Transgender Endocrine Therapy. Marshall Dahl, M.D., Ph.D., F.R.C.P.C., Jamie L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., Joshua Goldberg, Afshin Jaberi, B.Sc.(Pharm), R.Ph.

Assessment of Hormone Eligibility and Readiness. Walter Bockting, Ph.D., Gail Knudson, M.D., M.P.E., F.R.C.P.C., Joshua Goldberg. January 2006

GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). A guide to lower surgery for trans men.


Can't pass it on

People on effective treatment can't pass on HIV

If everyone knew this, we could bring an end to stigma and stop HIV transmissions.

map with pin

Service finder

Find GU clinics and services near you.

condoms

Condoms

The easiest and most effective precaution to take against most STIs is using a condom.