Understanding Transgender


An umbrella term for those whose gender identity or expression differs in some way from the sex assigned to them at birth and/ or does not fit with the ‘norms’ expected by the society they live in. Included in the overall transgender umbrella are transsexual people, non-binary gender identities and cross-dressing.

 Image: Scottish Transgender  Alliance website: www.scottishtrans.org  

Transsexual -When a person's gender identity is the different to the biological sex they were assigned at birth. Transsexual people may have medical treatment, such as hormone treatment or surgery to bring their physical appearance more into line with their gender.

Trans Man - A transgender person who was assigned female at birth but whose gender identity is that of a man. Trans men should be treated as men and male pronouns should be used.

Trans Woman - A transgender person who was assigned male at birth but whose gender identity is that of a woman. Trans women should be treated as women and female pronouns should be used.

Non-Binary Gender - Gender identities that are not exclusively male or female are identities which are outside of the gender binary. People can be both male and female, neither or their gender may be more fluid (i.e. unfixed and changeable over the course of time). 

Cross-dressing – Wearing clothing typical of the opposite sex. People who cross dress identify with their biological sex. This can include both drag performance and transvestitism.


Gender – Refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. The terms girl/woman, boy/man are assigned at birth on the basis of biological sex and have many socially constructed expectations, standards and norms that can limit and oppress people’s gender expression. 

Sex – Refers to physical differences between male and female bodies, including the reproductive system and/or other biological characteristics.  Sex is most commonly divided into the categories of male and female however biological sex is much more diverse (see Intersex definition).

Gender Identity - A person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth.  

Gender Expression – A person’s external gender related appearance including clothing, speech and mannerisms. Usually defined as connected to masculinity or femininity, however we recognise that people express their gender out with these traditional notions.  

Image: itspronouncedmetrosexual.com

Intersex – A person whose chromosomes, reproductive organs or genitalia vary in some way from what is traditionally considered clearly male or female in terms of biological sex. This may be apparent at birth or become apparent later in life - often at puberty, or in the case of some women, when they try to conceive.

Other Useful Terms

Gender Fluid - Having an overlap of, or constantly changeable gender identity and gender expression. This can include having two or more genders, having no gender, moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity.

Androyne - Is a non-binary gender identity associated with androgyny. Androgynes have a gender which is simultaneously feminine and masculine, although not necessary in equal amounts.

Drag - A drag queen is usually a male-bodied person who performs as an exaggeratedly feminine character. A drag king is a counterpart of the drag queen, performing an exaggerated masculine character.

Transvestite/ Transvestism - A person, who derives pleasure from dressing in clothes appropriate to the opposite sex. Transvestites can be gay or bisexual but are predominately heterosexual men. 

Transgender is an umbrella term that we use to describe someone who does not conform to society's view of being male or female.

Most people understand that gender identity (see below for a definition) and sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) are separate parts of what makes up a person. Why do LGBT organistions work with both?

  • Many transgender people are lesbian, gay or bisexual
  • Many lesbian, gay or bisexual people are transgender
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people frequently challenge gender boundaries in their social and often sexual behaviour and are often victims of hate crimes because of their gender presentation
  • Transgender people have always been present in the LGB community. Drag, butch-femme culture and androgyny are all features of transgender influence.
  • Transgender people have played important roles in campaigning for LGBT rights over many years