‘T’ is for…Trans
A trans person is a person whose gender—or gender identity—differs from that they were assigned at birth, and by society at large. (Conversely, those whose gender matches what they were assigned are ‘cis’). This is a simple definition, but a broad one covering a wide range of individuals. The vocabulary relating to trans people is equally diverse, and changing quite rapidly, but here are a few of the more common terms you might encounter:
- Agender: Without gender, or identifying as no specific gender.
- Bigender: Having two, often distinct, genders which may manifest at different times or in different situations. (Related are trigender, pangender etc.).
- Genderfluid: Having a gender that varies, often continuously, over time.
- Genderqueer: A broad term, covering genders and gender identities that aren’t exclusively male or female.
This is far from a complete list, of course, and vocabulary does vary between communities and cultures.
Being trans brings about many different issues to being gay or bisexual. Often it is accompanied by ‘gender dysphoria’, a deep feeling of discomfort and depression brought on by the incongruity between someone’s gender and the gender society treats them as. This is a very personal thing, however, and is by no means a requirement for being trans. A trans person may also feel that there is an incongruity between their biological sex and their ‘subconscious sex‘, and so they may choose to transition medically, such as with hormones or surgery. Again, though, this is only some trans people, not all.
While homophobia may be less prevalent than it used to be, and while significant steps have been made in the UK for civil rights for LGBT+ people, trans people still experience a lot of transphobia. This can be institutional, sometimes violent, and from both within and without the wider LGBT community. There are many misconceptions surrounding trans people, and gender in general. Here are a few helpful things to remember:
- While it is common to hear of trans people being “born in the wrong body”, many trans people do not feel this way.
- Although a person’s sexuality is defined by their gender, and the gender(s) of people they’re attracted to, it is wholly independent of whether they’re cis or trans. So, for example, a woman who was assigned male at birth and who is attracted to women would be a lesbian, trans woman.
- Despite sharing common terminology and often treated as interchangeable or equivalent, sex and gender are two very distinct things. (Sex is strictly biological, while gender is psychological and social, and neither is defined by the other.)
- Gender and gender identity are also quite different from, though obviously related to, gender presentation. Gender roles and norms are social constructs, and a trans person need adhere to them no more than any cis person does. Similarly, being trans should not be confused with gender non-conformity.
- Most of the terms discussed above are adjectives, not nouns or verbs. To refer to someone as “a trans” or “transgendered” is both inaccurate and offensive.
- Just because it is a person’s legal name, or the name they were christened with, doesn’t make it “real”; a trans person’s real name is the name they choose. Likewise, a trans person’s pronouns aren’t “preferred”; they are correct.
Using the correct pronouns to refer to someone is as important as using their correct name, and to use incorrect ones—misgendering them—can be very harmful. It can be helpful to normalise asking people what their pronouns are, or indeed offering your own, to avoid trans people being singled out. People may use pronouns other than ‘he’ or ‘she’, such as ‘they’, ‘ze’, or ‘ne’.