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By Bellesa Team

Transgender, often shortened as trans, describes a person whose gender identity does not align with the gender that was assigned to them at their time of birth. Trans people are considered part of the queer community – the “T” in LGBTQIA2S+ stands for Trans. As an umbrella term, trans also includes non-binary, genderqueer, and other gender-nonconforming people. 

Transgender is a gender identity not to be confused with gender-bending kink play, cross-dressing, or drag performance. While these activities are valid in their own right and play with the concept of gender expression for the sake of sexual pleasure, self-exploration, or entertainment but they are separate from being trans.

Sexual orientation is also separate from gender identity. People of any sexual orientation can be transgender. The opposite of transgender is cisgender (i.e. cis), which describes someone whose assigned gender at birth aligns with their gender identity.

The Difference Between Sex and Gender 

Sex is the set of biological and physiological attributes and characteristics associated with chromosomes and gene expression, hormones, and both the internal and external organs and anatomy related to sex and sexual reproduction. 

Gender is the set of socially constructed and enforced norms and expectations surrounding one’s characteristics, behaviors, and outward appearance, especially as they pertain to one’s professional and interpersonal roles. These norms are constantly in flux and based on a given society’s values or dominant social frameworks of a given time. This means that gender is not a fixed concept. 

Broadly, sex and gender have been conflated and assumed to exist as one of two fixed points. The two options available in this bimodal system are male or female and are often used interchangeably to describe sex and gender simultaneously. However, both sex and gender are distinct from one another and each exists on its own continuous spectrum.

Assigning Gender at Birth

When an infant is born, a sex is assigned to the baby based on an assessment of their external genitalia. Typically, a baby with a visible vulva is assigned female at birth (AFAB) while a baby with a visible penis is signed male at birth (AMAB). When the genitals do not correspond with the male-female binary expectations of biological sex characteristics, as in the case of some intersex people, the doctor and/or parents will often make the final decision of what sex to assign the newborn. 

These assignations assume that the gender of the baby will correspond with their assigned sex and that gender itself exists only as a binary (i.e. female sex = female gender; male sex = male gender). While they can correspond in this way, an individual’s sense of gender, particularly their own, typically begins to develop at an early age as a part of their natural social development. 

Trans kids may notice the discrepancy between their gender and the one that was assigned to them as early as 3 years old, but there is no common time for this realization to be made. It could happen during childhood, at the onset of puberty, during adolescence, or late on in one’s adult life.


Transition is the process of aligning one’s gender expression with gender identity as a part of gender affirmation. It can also be considered gender-affirming care. This intricate and complex process can include any number and combination of social, legal, and medical factors.

Every trans person’s transition journey is unique to the individual. While some may share similarities in their stories, the steps that they choose to take and need in order to feel like their most authentic self can vary. Some may not publicly transition at all as a matter of personal preference or because something is preventing them from doing so such as fears of discrimination, an underlying medical condition, or a lack of funds. Being trans is not incumbent on undergoing a transition. Transitioning may include:

- Social transition: telling family, friends, and colleagues (i.e. “coming out”), going by a different name, using different pronouns, changing their outward appearance through the way they dress, wear their hair, or accessorize

- Legal transition: changing one’s name or sex/gender designation on official documents and matters of public record

- Medical transition: undergoing gender-affirming medical treatments or procedures such as hormone replacement therapy, gender confirmation surgery, or other surgical procedures

Transition can take a long time for the individual to reach a point of comfort and confidence. The degree to which a trans person feels aligned and comfortable with their gender identity is referred to as transgender congruence. 

Transitioning should not be referred to as undergoing a “sex change” as this language is both outdated and inaccurate. 

Gender Dysphoria and Gender Euphoria

Gender dysphoria is characterized by intense discomfort or anxiety due to the disconnect between one’s gender identity and the one assigned to them. According to the DSM-5, it is defined as a “clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender” which can include the need to modify one’s outward gender expression. It can be a recurring or constant experience and this sense of discomfort is one of the reasons someone may transition. However, it does not define the trans experience as not all trans people will experience gender dysphoria.

The opposite of gender dysphoria is gender euphoria, where one experiences feelings of elation of excitement embodying their authentic gendered self. While gender dysphoria and gender euphoria can be experienced by anyone, they are more widely discussed within the trans community due to the more intention gender exploration that occurs as a part of their journey.


Transphobia is a dislike for or discrimination against someone based on them being trans. Transphobic behaviors vary in manifestation. 

Many trans people face direct discrimination from their families, in the workplace, and from institutions like the healthcare system. They also face broad-scale discrimination with regard to accessing public toilets despite there being no evidence whatsoever that cis people are at risk when sharing a bathroom with trans people, and an increasing volume and severity of anti-trans legislation. This legislation largely affects transgender youth, a demographic that has already been deemed highly prone to depression and suicide.

Deadnaming and misgendering with incorrect pronouns are two commonly exercised forms of transphobia. “Deadnaming” is when you refer to a trans person by the name they were assigned at birth. If someone changes their name as part of their transition, this is the only name by which they should be referred. To deliberately deadname someone, to use pronouns other than the ones they have requested you use, or to refer to someone with gendered language with which they are not comfortable is both impolite and harmful.

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