Transgender Explained: Everything You Need To Know About Being Trans

16/12/2015 07:30 | Updated 21 December 2015


Transgender awareness has improved greatly over the last few years, with US stars such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox giving greater visibility to the issue.

But increased awareness has not yet translated into a greater understanding of what it means to be transgender, or the correct terms to use when addressing someone.

False assumptions, or worries about offending someone, can stop people asking what they want to know about people do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

To mark our TransBritain series, The Huffington Post UK put all the questions you might want to ask to transgender people. Here's everything you need to know, in their words:

1. What does being trans mean?
Transgender, or Trans: means someone whose gender differs from the one they were given when they were born. Transgender people may identify as male or female, or they may feel that neither label fits them.

In order to express their chosen gender, transgender people may transition, or change, from the gender they were given at birth. They may change their names, pronouns or style of dress. Some transgender people also choose a medical transition, with the help of medical specialists, who will prescribe hormones and/or surgery.

2. What makes someone trans?
There are a number of theories about why transgender people exist. Across cultures, people have had a wide range of beliefs about gender. Some cultures look at people and see multiple genders, while others see two.

In pre-colonial Andean culture, the Incas worshipped the chuqui chinchay, a dual-gendered god. Third-gender ritual attendants or shamans performed sacred rituals to honour this god.

Harry Taylor, transgender filmmaker discussed the notion with HuffPostUK and said: "If they identify as a gender that they don't particularly identify as at birth - so if they were born female for example then they would not necessarily fit into that category."

3. Does being trans affect your sexuality?
Although the letter T stands within the LGBT group, meaning the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, being transgender has nothing to do with sexuality.

Munroe Bergdorf, a writer and trans activist discussed this further and said: "No, in one word no it doesn't. I identify as bisexual and trans, and I've got lots of friends that identify as heterosexual and trans. I've got lesbian trans friends, i've got gay trans male friends - it doesn't affect sexuality at all."


Munroe Bergdof: 'I've got lesbian trans friends, I've got gay trans male friends - it doesn't affect sexuality at all'

4. What is non-binary?
Non-binary is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.

Munroe explains: "Non-binary is somebody that doesn't identify as male or female. They would either see themselves as either - or somewhere in the middle. That is where terms like genderqueer are used."

5. What is binary?
By definition, the gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine. It is one general type of a gender system.

Nikki Hayden, a transgender student told HuffPost: "Binary is the two genders - male and female - and you can be cisgender and be binary female - or transgender like myself."

5. What should you avoid calling people who are trans?
Finding the words to refer to someone can be difficult at the best of times, but when it comes to describing the gender of someone who is trans, there are some definite no-no's.

Harry told HuffPost three of his worst words: "Tranny definitely, gender bender is considered quite offensive and transgendered as well - we're transgender, not transgendered, there's nothing wrong with us. It's just a way we kind of think and feel."

6. What questions would be offensive to ask someone who is trans?
As well as using the correct terms to refer to someone who is trans, it's also important to know the boundaries of questioning. Here are some examples of what not to ask, courtesy of Nikki.

"I find that questions such as - have you had 'the surgery?' or 'are you pre-op or post-op?' or 'are you done?” are the most offensive and really unnecessary.

"In reality it's questions that you wouldn't feel comfortable answering yourself, such as 'which bathroom do you use?'".

nikki hayden

Nikki Hayden

7. What does it mean to misgender someone?
It can be difficult to understand all of the terms associated with gender. Misgendering is when a word is used, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender identity of the person being addressed.

When asked what misgendering means, Nikki said: "It's when you talk to someone or write about them but use their previous pronouns - this can be incredibly painful when a previous gender identity is used."

8. What should you do if you accidentally misgender someone?
Being misgendered can create an uncomfortable, embarrassing and even unsafe situation for many trans people. There’s no doubt that when working toward creating or contributing to safer, more accessible spaces and services for all people, a person must be committed to affirming others’ gender identities and pronouns.

"I think the worst reaction is when people just pretend it didn't happen. Don’t make excuses for yourself or get defensive, just own up to the mistake, apologise and move on," Nikki told HuffPost.

9. How do you know if someone would like to be called he, she or they?
It's impossible to know which pronoun someone will prefer without asking them first. So Harry gave some tips to HuffPost: "My tips for using pronouns are just use the pronoun that the person wants to use. If a trans person wants to be referred to as he call them he. I don't think it's that difficult."

Munroe said: "I would just say identify that person however they are presenting, just listen to that person, don't assume because if you assume then you're going into a wormhole, it's better to just ask if you're unsure."

10. How can I help a friend who has just come out as transgender?
Sometimes it can be difficult for people who have just come out to try and explain it to their friends, so we asked our interviewees to provide some tips.

Nikki said: "If it's a friend that has just come out as trans, the first and main thing is just to be supportive. If you're unsure its always best to ask name and their pronoun - that's much more preferred than just assuming. There are also some people who don't use the pronouns he or she."

Useful websites and helplines:

  • The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
  • Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
  • LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
  • Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
  • Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK

Also on HuffPost:

Suggest a correction