By Hannah Maine

What does transgender mean?

What it means to be transgender can be different to each person. “Transgender” can be used as an umbrella term for a group or as a term to identify an individual. Generally, the word “transgender” when referring to a person means that individual’s gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

What does gender mean?

Gender can be used to describe a few different things, including a person’s gender expression or a person’s gender identity. Gender expression refers to how we express our gender, which can include how we dress, how we talk, body language, etc. Gender identity is the way we identify with gender in our brain. It is our internal and personal sense of our gender. Gender identity is not limited to identifying as a man or woman. Some people identify as gender fluid or nonbinary.

What does transgender mean in regards to someone’s sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to who a person is attracted to or falls in love with and is not the same thing as gender identity. Like everyone else, transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a transgender woman who is attracted to men would be considered a straight woman. However, it is important to note, you do not need to know or understand someone’s sexual orientation to respect and understand that they are transgender. If someone identifies as transgender to you, it is inappropriate to ask if they are straight or gay. Allow people to share with you on their own terms.

How do you know which pronoun or name to use?

Always use the name, pronoun, or identifying term used by the individual themselves. If you know someone by a different name and they decide to go by a different name they identify with more, respect that and use their preferred name. The same goes for pronouns. If you don’t know which pronouns to use, respectfully ask by giving your pronouns first. “Hi, I’m Hannah, and my pronouns are she and her. What about you?”

Especially if you are used to referring to someone by a different name or pronoun, slip ups may happen. If you accidentally use the wrong name or pronoun, apologize sincerely and move on. Overly apologizing or making a scene calls more attention to the situation. Make it an intention to use the correct name and pronoun going forward.

Do all transgender people transition?

The short answer is, no. Being transgender is not dependent on transitioning. Some people who are transgender seek to have their bodies align with their gender identity, which is called transition. However, not all transgender people want to take those steps and not all transgender people are able to take those steps.

To learn more about how to be an ally to transgender people, please visit GLAAD’s “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” page.

For a guide to basic terminology, including defamatory terms and slurs to avoid, please see GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide.