Transitioning is the term used to describe the process which someone goes through to live as a different gender from the gender that was ascribed to them at birth. What this involves varies from person to person. Not all trans people will be able to, or choose to undergo any medical treatment to support their transition, and either way should be treated in line with their gender identity. A transition also might involve things like telling friends and family, dressing differently and changing official documents.
What does ‘trans’ mean?
Transgender or trans describes a wide range of people whose gender (or expression of their gender) is different in some way from the gender that was ascribed to them at birth. This includes people who identify as the opposite gender to the one they were ascribed and people who see themselves as being neither male nor female, or somewhere in between the two.
Depending on the range of options and information available to them during their life, trans people can transition to live fully in the gender that they identify as. The legal process of transitioning is also known as gender reassignment. Many, but not all, trans people take hormones and some also have surgery.
A transgender man is someone who was labelled female at birth but identifies and lives as a man; they may use this term to describe themselves or may shorten it to trans man. Some may also use FTM, an abbreviation for female-to-male. Some may prefer to simply be called men, without any modifier. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
A transgender woman is someone who was labelled male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman; they may use this term to describe themselves or may shorten it to trans woman. Some may also use MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female. Some may prefer to simply be called women, without any modifier. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.
The binary idea of gender is the view that everyone fits neatly into one of two categories, female or male. Non-binary is a term for people whose gender identities do not fit into the gender binary of male or female. A non-binary person might consider themselves to be neither male nor female, or to be in some sense both male and female, or to be sometimes male and sometimes female. Other terms non-binary people may also use to describe their gender identity include agender, polygender or genderfluid. People who identify as non-binary will sometimes prefer to refer to themselves using pronouns which are not gendered, for example ‘they’ or ‘ze’.
This is a term used to describe people who dress, either occasionally or more regularly, in clothes normally associated with another gender, as defined by socially accepted norms. People cross-dress either privately or publicly for a variety of reasons and many crossdressers do not identify as trans. This replaces the term transvestite which many people find offensive.
Gender identity and sexual orientation
Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation, and trans people may be straight, gay, bi, lesbian, or may use another term to describe their sexual orientation. Put simply, sexual orientation relates to who you are attracted to, while gender identity relates to your sense of self as a man, woman or other gender.
We've created a glossary of terms commonly used in relation to trans people, including different trans identities.
What does transitioning involve?
Everyone's experience of transitioning is different, and there is no one process that people will follow. It is a process that might involve anything from changing the way a person dresses, voice training, changing their name and pronouns (he/ she/ they) and they may decide to undergo medical treatment such as hormone treatment or surgeries. Transition often impacts not just someone's physical appearance but also their relationships and social life which may change. This can be a challenging process, but can also be incredibly rewarding when someone feels able to be themselves.