Understanding basic terminology is Step #1 in being effective and supportive allies with our transgender brothers and sisters.


Transgender is a broad term that applies to people who live all or substantial portions of their lives expressing a sense of gender that differs from the sex and gender role they were assigned to at birth.    It includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, people who feel their biological sex fails to reflect their true gender and people who refuse to identify with any gender.  “Trans” is a prefix that signifies over, beyond, or on the other side. Combined with gender, it gives the idea of a gender spectrum, rather than a male vs. female dichotomy.


Gender is not the same as sex. Sex refers to the biological differences between women and men. Gender refers to the differential social roles that define women and men in a specific cultural context. Gender identities and roles vary greatly in different societies and cultures. Age, race and class are major factors that determine our gender roles, which can be fluid. Gender awareness embodies an understanding of the negative impacts of gender issues and the need to address the inequalities that arise from them.

Other related terms include:

Gender identity: a person’s innate sense of gender

Gender expression: the way in which a person presents his or her gender.

Gender non-conforming: individuals who regularly transgress conventional gender norms, although they may not be attempting to present themselves as a different gender.

Transsexual: a person whose innate sense of gender conflicts with his or her anatomical sex. Some, but not all, transsexual people undergo medical treatments, such as hormone therapy or surgeries, to change their physical sex so that it is in harmony with their gender identity.

Transvestite: an outdated term that refers to people who sometimes cross-dress, or dress in clothing typically associated with the opposite sex. Many cross-dressers are heterosexual and typically present themselves in a manner consistent with their birth sex.

For more information about transgender issues, please visit some of our allied organizations, including: