"Transitioning" is the term used to describe the process which someone goes through to live as a different gender from their sex at birth. This can be a lengthy and difficult process, and may involve medical interventions to help a person's body and physical appearance align more closely with their gender identity. Not all trans people will be able to, or choose to undergo any medical treatment to support their transition, and either way should be treated in line with their gender identity.
What does "trans" mean?
Transgender or "trans" describes a wide range of people whose gender (or expression of their gender) is different in some way from what society might expect based on their sex at birth. This include people who may be living permanently in the opposite gender to their sex at birth and people who see themselves as being partly male and partly female, or somewhere in between the two:
This is a term used to describe people who consistently self-identify as the opposite gender from the gender they were labelled at birth based on their physical body. Depending on the range of options and information available to them during their life, most transsexual people try to find a way to transition to live fully in the gender that they self-identify as. Transitioning is also known as gender reassignment. Many, but not all, transsexual people take hormones and some also have surgery to make their physical bodies match their gender identity better.
- A female-to-male (FTM) transsexual man (trans man) is someone who was labelled female at birth but has a male gender identity and therefore is currently seeking to transition, or has already transitioned, to live permanently as a man.
- A male-to-female (MTF) transsexual woman (trans woman) is someone who was labelled male at birth but has a female gender identity and therefore is currently seeking to transition, or has already transitioned, to live permanently as a woman.
This is a term used to describe people who dress, either occasionally or more regularly, in clothes associated with the opposite gender, as defined by socially accepted norms. Cross-dressing people are generally happy with the gender they were labelled at birth and do not want to permanently alter the physical characteristics of their bodies or change their legal gender. They may dress as the opposite gender for emotional satisfaction, erotic pleasure, or just because they feel more comfortable doing so. Cross-dressing men are sometimes referred to as transvestite men, however this is becoming an increasingly out-dated term and may cause offence.
Non-binary, androgyne or polygender people
These are terms used to describe people who find they do not feel comfortable thinking of themselves as simply either men or women. Instead they feel that their gender identity is more complicated to describe and non-binary. Some may identify their gender as being a form of combination between a man and a woman, or alternatively as being neither. Like transsexual people, some non-binary people can experience gender dysphoria and may sometimes at least partially transition socially and may take hormones or occasionally have some surgery done.
Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation, and trans people may be straight, gay, bi, lesbian, or may use another term to describe their sexual orientation. Put simply, sexual orientation relates to who you are attracted to, while gender identity relates to your sense of self as a man, woman or other gender.
A glossary of terms commonly used in relation to trans people, including different trans identities, is available here.
What does transitioning involve?
Everyone's experience of transitioning is different, and there is no one process that people will follow in order to live in their affirmed gender. It is a process that might involve anything from changing the way a person dresses, voice training, their name and pronouns (he/ she/ they) and they may decide to undergo medical treatment treatment such as hormone treatment or surgeries. Transition often impacts not just someone's physical appearance but also their relationships and social life which may change to better reflect their gender identity. This can be a difficult and challenging process for the individual, their friends and family, but can also be incredibly rewarding when someone feels able to be them-self.
'Coming out' as trans
Telling friends, family and colleagues about your gender identity for the first time can be a scary process, and many trans people will be worried about how friends and loved ones will react. Before telling other people, trans people will have to 'come out' to themself, by acknowledging their gender identity, and taking time to explore how they feel and how they want to express their gender going forward. Most trans people will have 'come out' to them-self some time before they tell anyone, and often they will have done a lot of research, reflecting on who they are and how they feel. If someone tells you that they are, or think they might be trans, it is therefore important that you are supportive and don't question or undermine how they feel. Don't make assumptions about how they want to be referred to, and allow them the space and time to make decisions when they are ready.