"Trans identities are diverse and identify in lots of different ways, that is why it is an umbrella term."

By River Solace | insta river.solace

Sex vs Gender

In order to understand what transgender really means, it is necessary to know the difference between sex and gender.

Sex is a combination of our bodily features, such as chromosomes; hormone production; fat distribution; genitals; hair growth and more. When a person is born they are usually assigned male or female based on these characteristics. When someone falls outside of this sex binary of male and female, they are referred to as intersex. 

Gender is often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth. The gender binary has been socially constructed based on the sex binary i.e. man and woman. Anyone who identifies outside of this binary is referred to as non-binary. 

Trans Student Educational Resources, 2015. "The Gender Unicorn."

Gender Identity vs Gender Expression

Gender identity is an individuals' internal, innate sense of their gender, essentially how someone feels inside.

Gender expression is more external, it is usually shown through style, appearance or behaviour. Gender expression does not have to align with gender identity and it can change.

Important things to remember:

  • Trans men do not owe anyone masculinity.
  • Trans women do not owe anyone femininity.
  • Non-Binary people do not owe anyone androgyny.

In this TEDx talk, trans and queer activist, Ugla Stefanía, puts the focus on the binary categories of gender and sex and their personal experience as a trans person in a binary, two dimensional society.

What does Transgender mean?

It is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. From the Latin word "trans" meaning "across", it literally means "across gender".

The term cisgender comes from the Latin word "cis" meaning "the same side", meaning someone whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Important things to remember:

  • Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, non-binary, or genderqueer.
  • Not everyone will identify as a man or woman. Being trans does not mean you are the 'opposite' gender
  • Some trans people identify outside of the gender binary i.e. non-binary
  • Trans identities are diverse and identify in lots of different ways, that is why it is an umbrella term
  • Language is important - respect the terms with which someone chooses to identify
  • Not every trans person will want to transition
  • Being trans is not new or a trend, trans people have always been around and there are countless examples of trans people throughout history.

What does it mean to transition?

Transition is a term that is used to describe the process a person goes through when changing their gender. It important to note that this does not always mean medical interventions, it can mean social changes such as changes in name, appearance and expression.


Gender-affirming surgery can literally be a lifesaver!

For some trans people, it is essential to their health and wellbeing.

Many trans people experience something called gender dysphoria. Not to be confused with body dysmorphia, a mental health condition where people perceive flaws in their appearance, gender dysphoria is the medical term used when someone is experiencing distress or discomfort in their body. This is due to having a gender identity that does not align with their sex assigned at birth and it often has a significant impact on a person's self-worth and can lead to mental health issues. 

Not all trans people have surgery. This is because…

  • There is a significant lack of healthcare services and long waiting lists
  • Navigating current healthcare services is very complicated and can be overwhelming
  • It is really expensive (many trans people raise funds through GoFundMe)
  • They simply don't want to have surgery

Remember: A trans person's anatomy is absolutely none of your business!!!

Key takeaways:

  • Transgender is an umbrella term for many identities
  • Being trans is not new or a trend
  • Gender-affirming surgery can be life-saving, but not every trans person wants surgery
  • Gender dysphoria can lead to poor mental health
  • There is a trans healthcare crisis in the UK
  • Gender Expression ≠ Gender Identity

What next?

Extra Reading

The Truth About Trans: A Q&A for people who are hungry for real info

Trans People With Access to Gender-Affirming Surgery Have Better Mental Health

Transgender Historical Figures


Gendered Intelligence : A trans-led and trans-involving grassroots organisation with a wealth of lived experience, community connections of many kinds, and a depth and breadth of trans community knowledge that is second to none.

MindlineTRANS+ :0300 330 5468 | Mon and Fri 8pm-Midnight

Switchboard LGBT :0300 330 0630 | Open 10am-10pm Everyday

LGBT HERO forums: A space for LGBTQ+ people to connect, seek advice and ask personal questions.