This page (also sometimes called "Between & Beyond," "Transgender 102," or "Transgender 201") offers ten ways your congregation can increase your welcome and inclusion of transgender people, basic definitions about gender identity, and further resources for welcome and education. You can also download this page as a flyer/handout (PDF).
Want more guidance in helping your congregation become transgender-inclusive? Check out Transgender Inclusion & Affirmation: Questions to Consider (PDF).
Our culture tends to limit its understanding of gender to only two options: man and woman. LGBTQ Ministries believes there are more than two genders. We use the word “transgender” in our office’s title as an umbrella term to describe the following people: crossdressers; people who identify as genderqueer, third gender, gender fluid, and/or two spirit; some intersex individuals; transsexuals; and all self-identified trans people. But even this is not the complete picture. Read on!
The biological attributes such as anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones that inform whether a person is male, female, or intersex. Where sex refers to biology, gender refers to the cultural and social understandings that are layered on top of biology.
An individual’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, and so on—it is one’s inner sense of being and one’s own understanding of how one relates to the gender binary. Everyone has a gender identity.
The ways in which a person manifests masculinity, femininity, both, or neither through appearance, behavior, dress, speech patterns, preferences, and more. This term refers to how a person expresses their gender identity or the cues people use to identify gender.
A system of classifying sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected forms, male/man/masculine and female/woman/feminine, and assigning all bodies, identities, roles, and attributes to one side of the divide or the other. The gender binary is dependent on policing people to make sure they don’t digress from the system in appearance, anatomy, or behavior.
Sexual orientation describes to whom a person is sexually attracted, and is often lumped together with affectional orientation, which describes to whom a person is romantically attracted. Gender identity refers only to a person's own self. Gender and sexual orientation are often lumped together, despite being different, because of societal expectations around sex, gender, and expression. Transgender individuals can have any sexual orientation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight are examples of sexual orientations. Everyone has a sexual orientation.
First coined to distinguish gender benders with no desire for surgery or hormones from transsexuals, those who desired to legally and medically change their sex, more recently transgender, trans, and/or trans* have become umbrella terms popularly used to refer to all people who transgress dominant conceptions of gender, or at least all people who identify themselves as doing so. The definition continues to evolve.
Cisgender, or cis, is a term that is becoming increasingly popular to describe people who are not trans or gender variant—in other words, those whose gender identities, presentations, and behavior “match” (according to the gender binary) the sex they were assigned at birth. Cis is a prefix with roots that mean “on the same side”; trans and cis are neutral descriptors analogous to the prefixes homo and hetero.
Cross-dressing refers to occasionally wearing clothing of the “opposite” gender, and someone who considers this an integral part of their identity may identify as a crossdresser (note: the term crossdresser is preferable to transvestite and neither may ever be used to describe a transsexual person). Drag queens and drag kings are performers who offer exaggerated, performative presentations of gender and often cross-dress performatively. Cross-dressing and drag are not necessarily tied to erotic activity or sexual orientation.
These terms are used by people who identify as being between and/or other than man or woman. They may feel they are neither, a little bit of both, or they may simply feel restricted by gender labels. Two spirit is derived from some Native North American cultures and can sometimes mean a mixture of masculine and feminine spirits in the same body.
General terms for people who bend gender in some way and/or have non-binary gender identities.
Intersex is a general term used for a variety of genetic, hormonal, or anatomical conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. When a child is born intersex, many doctors and parents panic and rush to “correct” the “problem” via surgery, which often causes mental and physical difficulties later in life. Some intersex individuals identify as transgender or gender variant; others do not. (Note: hermaphrodite is an obsolete term that is not currently considered appropriate.)
The term transsexual has historically been used to refer to individuals who have medically and legally changed their sex, or who wish to do so. Most transsexual people feel a conflict between their gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth. Other labels used within this group include MtF (male-to-female) or trans woman, and FtM (female-to-male) or trans man.
Transition refers to the complex process of authentically living into one’s gender identity, often but not always including leaving behind one’s assigned birth sex. A transition may include coming out to one's family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or gender markers on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgery. Not all trans people identify with the word transition and it should furthermore never be assumed that transition is a process to be “completed.” Some people who have transitioned no longer consider themselves to be transsexual or transgender and rather identify only as a man or a woman (occasionally “of transgender experience”). Others identify as a trans man or a trans woman.
Coming out (of the closet) refers to openly stating one’s identity (usually sexual orientation). Being out means being open about one’s identity. Being outed means someone else has disclosed one’s identity, usually without permission. Coming out is often a liberating experience for people who have previously hidden their identity; it can lead them to feel like they can be their authentic selves. However, trans people who have transitioned are not “in the closet” about their identity, so telling people that they are trans is a disclosure and is different than coming out. Trans people are not “fooling” or “deceiving” anyone about their identity by presenting themselves authentically as men or as women.
For more information contact lgbtq @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Friday, August 29, 2014.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Transgender 101 (PDF)
Transgender Inclusion & Affirmation (PDF)
Transgender Identity & Inclusion Webinar
Transgender Day of Remembrance
TRUUsT (Transgender Religious professional UUs Together )
National Center for Transgender Equality
Transgender Law Center
Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
Intersex Society of North America
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.