Trans* 101


“Gender identity or expression” is defined as “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.” This is consistent with Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s (MCAD) past decisions and existing laws.

A person’s Gender Identity is how someone identifies his/her/hir own gender — a person’s inner sense of ‘being’ male, female, etc. Many people, but not all, have a gender identity of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ which is also consistent with their assigned sex at birth. There are some people who feel their assigned sex at birth is not consistent with their own gender identity.

A person’s Gender Expression refers to how a person expresses their gender identity, or the cues people use to identify another person’s gender. This can include clothing, mannerisms, makeup, behavior, speech patterns, and more. There are some in society whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes what men or women should look or act.

Trans* can be used as an umbrella term for people who transgress or transcend our normative notions of gender. This term includes but is not limited to those who identify as transgender, transsexual, bigender, gender queer, gender fluid, two spirit, cross dressers, and gender benders.

Traditional Gender Stereotypes: Culturally defined code of acceptable behavior for men and women. Men/boys are to exhibit masculine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles and women/girls are to exhibit feminine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are transgender people the same as gay/lesbian people?

No. Trans* is about gender identity and gender expression where as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual/straight is about sexual orientation, which is emotional and physical attraction to others. While trans* people are sometimes assumed to be gay or lesbian based on stereotypes about gay men and lesbians, the terms are not interchangeable. Trans* people also have a sexual orientation, just as everyone else in society, which can be heterosexual (straight), bisexual, or gay or lesbian.

Can I tell if someone is transgender?

Not always. Some transgender people ‘pass’ almost always as the gender they identify with and live as; there are many transgender people whom no one would know they are transgender or where assigned a different sex at birth, and who choose to keep their personal histories confidential. Others ‘pass’ only occasionally or not at all due to a number of factors, such as access to transgender specific medical treatment. Sometimes transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because others suspect them to be transgender or gender variant. In other situations, transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because someone shares a transgender person’s history inappropriately with others, turning private information into gossip.

A transgender person does not have to disclose that they are transgender, just as others have the right to privacy about their identity, their medical status, or other information that is not pertinent in a given situation.

What is gender transition?

Gender transition is a personal process in which a transgender/transsexual person goes through when they begin to live and identify as the gender they see themselves as. This process includes a social transition, which a person changing their gender expression, such as clothes and hairstyle; pronoun; and possibly their first name, to be reflective of the gender they are transitioning to. This process may also include support from therapist and a medical transition, which can be hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery.

For some transgender people, they may not access medical transition due to the prohibitive cost, access to providers, physical health issues, lack of health insurance coverage, and/or personal choice. The reality is that many transgender people live, present, and are accepted as the gender they see themselves as without medical transition, hormones, and/or sex re-assignment surgery.

Much of this information has been taken from MTPC’s Transgender 101