This page has been written to help those new to the transgender world understand the various ways we experience gender. The list of identities displayed here is far from exhaustive. Our aim here is to describe the most common of the groups associated with the transgender label. It should be noted that one's gender identity is completely separate from one's sexual orientation - sexual preference isn't implied by any of these terms and should never be assumed.
The word "transgender" can be taken to mean two different things. For those of us who are gender variant in one way or another, it's often easier to refer to ourselves as transgender (or "trans" for short) when sharing our gender experience with others. While there may be a more specific term that fits us more exactly, "transgender" is a more approachable term for those who have little or no experience outside the gender binary. By extension, "transgender" is also used as an umbrella term to describe anyone who isn't cisgender - that is to say, anyone who doesn't identify with the physical sex they were assigned at birth.
Transsexual is one of the more specific terms that applies to many of us. In fact, the word "transsexual" predates "transgender" by several decades. By today's definition, a transsexual is a person who has undergone or plans to undergo medical and surgical transition from the binary sex they were assigned at birth to another sex. The most common transsexuals are those transitioning from binary female to binary male and those transitioning from binary male to binary female. As you'll see below, however, surgery is a valid option for more groups than just these two.
Transsexuals have long had the problem that our external sex doesn't match our mind sex. Those who are transsexual, either male-to-female (MtF) or female to male (FtM), go through extreme depression, confusion, suicidal thoughts, horribly low self esteem, hatred and taunts, and discrimination of all kinds. Worse yet, some suffer violence bad enough to result in serious injury or even death. Our pre-op suicide rate runs 31% from some estimates. Over 50% of transsexual teens will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. A gender therapist claims that the suicide rate for trans teens is 9 times above that of the average population. Most transsexual people have at least thought of suicide, if not actually tried it.
Transsexualism is thought to start at birth and most can tell you that their first conscious thought was of being the wrong gender. Transsexual children quickly learn that speaking or acting how they really feel will put them through violence and hatred, estrangement from parents' love, and the taunts of all their peers. So most suffer in silence and alone, never growing up as themselves. The trauma of being forced to lead their life as someone other than themselves can lead to life-changing mental disorders. This is still a recognized medical condition and not a lifestyle choice.
Then puberty strikes and the living nightmare begins. Body parts start growing and changing. MtFs who feel like girls inside grow body hair, muscle mass and experience nocturnal erections and lower voices that they can't stop and it will haunt them forever. FtMs who feel like boys inside grow breasts and curves and start their first monthly reminders of their body's gender. Every period begins a new depression. Many transsexual teens start cutting themselves or mutilating their genitals. Who do they tell? Who will listen to them? They are alone with their pain until they reach out and seek help.
Laura's Playground is a transsexual support site. We have peer-to-peer counseling in forums and our chat rooms. Moderators are certified in suicide prevention. They are extremely busy trying to reduce our high suicide rate. Our users support each other and all can tell you about many of our close calls. Here we offer personal support to help people straighten out their lives no matter what that means or where they end up. Many are just plain scared to come out into a homophobic, transphobic world. Their own families are feared even more.
Below, you'll find an alphabetical list of other groups gathered under the transgender umbrella.
The literal meaning of agender is, "without gender." As gender identities go, agender people are almost as diverse within this classification as are transgender people as a whole. While the agender identity is typically considered to fall under the non-binary heading, some who identify with this term do so literally, disclaiming any and all application of gender. Agender people may identify with one or more of the following:
- lacking any gender whatsoever;
- gender-neutral - that is to say, possessed of a gender that is neither fully male nor female;
- unknown gender;
- possessed of a gender that cannot be defined;
- not caring about gender, either as a personal identity or as a label for use by others;
- consciously choosing not to label their gender; or
- consciously choosing to identify simply as a person without any attached gender expectations.
Agender people may choose to present themselves in any of a number of ways - feminine, masculine, a mixture of both, or an absence of either. Dysphoria can become an issue for agender people when they are unable to express themselves comfortably. They may also identify as transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary, though some prefer to avoid any other labels to prevent being viewed through a lens of expectations related to those labels. Agender people may opt to have surgery to nullify physical sex characteristics, thus bringing their bodies in line with their gender.
Androgyny is considered to be a non-binary identity similar to agender. The primary difference is that androgynes can (some don't) identify with one or more genders, while agender people don't consider themselves to have any. Androgynous people generally identify as a mix of masculine and feminine, though not necessarily in equal measures. As androgynes don't conform to the gender binary, they may also identify as genderqueer and/or transgender.
While some androgynes are content with their bodies as they are, others experience varying degrees of gender dysphoria that may prompt them to undergo a physical transition. Which changes are made as part of that transition are as individual as the androgyne considering the process.
Some additional terms androgynes may use to more clearly explain their identities are:
- femandrogine - one who is more feminine than masculine;
- mascandrogyne - one who is more masculine than feminine;
- neutandrogyne - one who is masculine and feminine in equal measures, or one who is neither; and
- versandrogyne - one who is comfortable with feminine or masculine traits and presentation, or a mix of both.
Translated literally, bigender means "two genders." Bigender people experience two fixed gender identities, either at separate times or simultaneously. This may mean a mix of male and female, but can also include any of the non-binary identities. As with other identities, bigender people may also identify as non-binary or transgender. Those whose identity changes over time or with varying circumstances may consider themselves to be genderfluid as well.
Many bigender people either opt for an androgynous presentation or change their presentation to reflect their current identity. While all bigender people don't experience dysphoria, those who do may feel it because they want their bodies to have aspects of both identities. They may also experience dysphoria at some times and not at others, perhaps feeling it only when identifying as one of their two genders.
Crossdressers are individuals who, whether part or all of the time, wear clothing and accessories more commonly associated with the binary gender opposite to the one they were assigned at birth. Most crossdressers, even those who dress full-time, have no inclination to transition physically to the gender of their presentation.
There are many reasons why a person may choose to crossdress, all of which are valid. Many people outside the transgender community assume there is a sexual element to crossdressing, particularly for those assigned male at birth who dress and accessorize as women. This quite often leads to judgment and shaming, even of those who derive no sexual pleasure from crossdressing. It should be noted that there is a specific term - transvestic fetishism - for those who dress for sexual reasons. It should also be noted that one's reasoning for crossdressing makes no difference.
Those who identify as gender fluid experience gender on a spectrum, with their identity changing over time. Most gender fluid people have a fixed range along which their identities flow, but a significant number do not. It's possible for gender fluid people to identify as male at one time and female at another, or occasionally as agender or a mix of non-binary genders. The identities of some gender fluid people shifts over time, while others experience variation based on changing circumstances. Still others may flow from one gender to another for either or both of those reasons.
Genderqueer is itself an umbrella term - it covers a range of possibilities, as does the larger umbrella term "transgender." Used to describe anyone whose identity falls outside the binary male or female, it can apply to situations such as:
- someone who identifies as both male and female;
- someone who identifies as neither male nor female (agender, neutrois, etc.);
- someone whose gender shifts (gender fluid);
- someone who identifies as third or other gender;
- someone who does not or cannot name their gender identity; and/or
- someone for whom gender identity and sexual orientation overlap.
As with other non-binary groups, some genderqueer people may opt for medical or surgical transition, while others may not. While genderqueer is an umbrella term, it can also be used to describe someone who, regardless of gender identity, chooses to transgress accepted mainstream definitions of gender, either through presentation or action.
Intersex is a general term that can describe one or more of a variety of conditions in which a person is born with sexual or reproductive anatomy that doesn't fit with the usual definitions of binary male or binary female. The intersex condition can manifest in myriad ways, from someone born with external genitalia suggesting one sex and internal organs typical of the opposite, to those born with genital characteristics of both sexes, or those with "mosaic" genetics, carrying a combination of XX and XY chromosomes. The ways in which the intersex condition can appear are virtually endless.
Historically - and even today - many parents have opted to "correct" the anatomy of intersex babies immediately after birth. This surgery forces a binary gender on the child that, in many cases, doesn't match the identity into which the child grows. Also problematic is that many doctors have wildly different criteria for deeming an infant intersex.
Neutrois is a non-binary identity that describes a neutral or null gender. Some also take it to mean "genderless," and it does overlap considerably with the agender identity. Whether one identifies as agender or neutrois - or both - is down to personal preference. As with other non-binary identities, neutrois people may choose to undergo surgery to remove some or all of their sex characteristics, while others have no desire to transition surgically.
Like genderqueer, non-binary is an umbrella term used to describe any gender identity that falls on the spectrum between binary male and binary female. Those who identify as non-binary may feel or express their gender in any of the following ways:
- androgynous identity or presentation;
- a single gender identity somewhere between male and female;
- a neutral identity such as agender or neutrois;
- a varying gender identity, such as bigender or gender fluid; and/or
- a gender identity specific to their culture.
Non-binary people may also identify as transgender and/or transsexual, depending on their desire for medical and surgical transition. This identity overlaps considerably with genderqueer, though it is seen as more politically correct as "queer" can also be used as a transphobic slur.