Most people are curious about Transgender and Gender-Variant people, and it's ok to be curious! We've answered a few commonly asked questions here. The key thing to remember when you meet a Transgender or Gender-Variant person is to treat them like you want to be treated. You wouldn't ask a stranger about their genitals when you first meet them, so the same social rules apply with Transgender and Gender-Variant people.
Frequently Asked Questions
Transgender (trans, trans*) is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. The key to understanding what transgender means is understanding the difference between sex and gender.
Sex refers to the physical characteristics that are associated with being male or female, including primary sex characteristics (such as genitals) and secondary sex characteristics (such as breasts).
Gender refers to the social presentation of masculinity and femininity. Many cultures have strict rules about how to perform masculinity and femininity.
Rigid masculine and feminine gender roles are referred to as the gender binary. However, ideas about gender are not static—they change across time and place, within one society and between different cultures.
Transgender individuals do not identify with the sex that they were assigned at birth, and present their gender in a way that reflects their true selves. Some transgender persons choose to have surgeries so that their physical characteristics reflect their gender identity, and some do not. MtF describes someone who has transitioned from male to female. FtM describes someone who has transitioned from female to male.
Gender identity does not relate to sexual orientation. Transgender or Gender-Variant people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or another sexual orientation.
Gender-Variant persons express their gender in a way that does not match some or all of the social expectations that typically correspond to their assigned sex.
Gender-Variant—sometimes described as genderqueer—encompasses gender identities other than man or woman. This can include overlapping gender identities, having two or more genders (bigender, trigender, pangender), being without gender (nongendered, genderless, agender, neutrois), moving between two genders (genderfluid), nonbinary, or a third gender/other gender.
A lot of us aren’t used to having to ask for people’s pronouns. We’re used to assuming, based on people’s bodies and appearances, who they are and what gender they are.
But people’s genders don’t always correspond to how they look, sound or dress. Just because you think someone looks cisgender doesn’t mean that they are, and transgender people can be at many different stages of their journey.
All you need to do is ask: What are your pronouns? Some people may use conventional pronouns like “he” or “she.” Other people may identify as non-binary or agender, using pronouns like “they” (singular), “one,” “ze,” “sie” or “hir.” Some may only use their names, not identifying with any pronouns. A person’s pronouns may change over time.
This can be a lot to keep straight and it means changing the way you think, but it’s essential for showing respect. Transgender and Gender-Variant people have their identities, their bodies and their experiences judged and denied and erased every day. This is a step towards stopping that. This is how we show members of our community that they aren’t alone.
Just as it is not socially acceptable to ask about someone’s medical history when you first meet them, it is not acceptable to ask Transgender or Gender-Variant people about whether or not they’ve had surgeries or how “far along” they are in their transition process.
There is not one single surgery that a person needs to transition—it can require many different types of surgeries and hormone replacement therapy. If someone wants to share their medical history or their transition journey with you, it is entirely up to them. Do not ask Transgender and Gender-Variant people about their genitals.
Why do transgender and gender-variant people need legal protection- isn't everyone equal in Canada already?
Sexual Orientation is protected under both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the British Columbia Human Rights Code, but there is no such language protecting Gender Identity and Expression. Similarly, violence based on Sexual Orientation is classified as a hate crime but violence based on Gender Identity is not.
Widespread discrimination means that Transgender and Gender-Variant Canadians face significant barriers to accessing housing, employment, and competent healthcare services. Yet, there is no legal recourse under Provincial and Federal Law. Having equal access to housing, employment is a basic human right that needs to be explicitly ensured for all Canadians.
Gender identity refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or any other gender, which may or may not correspond to the gender assigned to them at birth.
Gender expression refers to the ways in which we present or perform our gender, including: behaviour, body language, voice, chosen name, pronouns, dress, hair and make-up.
Neither gender identity or gender expression are inherent to one sex, although they can be influenced by social and cultural expectations. Everyone has a different understanding of their gender identity and how they express their gender. One’s gender identity and gender expression may or may not conform to social norms that are associated with a particular sex.
Transgender, transsexual and transvestite are not the same. Calling a Transgender or Gender-Variant person a transsexual or a transvestite may be very offensive to them. Transgender is considered to be a more politically correct term.
As described above, Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of people including MtF, FtM, Gender-Variant, genderqueer, non-binary and other gender identities.
But how does transsexual or transvestite differ from Transgender?
Transsexual refers to an individual who has had undergone medical procedures and/or hormone replacement therapy so that their physical appearance matches their gender identity.
Transvestite refers to a person who identifies as one sex but wears the clothing of the opposite sex. In short, they wear the clothes of the gender they do not identify with. Transvestite isn’t a commonly used term anymore because of the negative connotations with fetishism. Crossdresser is a more widely accepted term.
Drag Queens are not transvestites or crossdressers. They are performers and personalities.
Its important to respect the terminology that people use for themselves. Terminology is changing all the time therefore one cannot assume about how people self-identify. While it is appropriate to ask about someone’s pronouns, they may not want to share details about their sexual orientation or gender identity.