What is Trans*?

Trans*, simply put, is an umbrella term for those whose gender identity does not align with their assigned gender at birth. Trans* includes a wide variety of identities such as trans-femme, trans-masc, non-binary, intersex, two-spirit, and other gender-expansive identities. The only identities not included are Cisgender (Cis), as their gender identity is aligned with their assigned gender at birth.

What "Makes" Someone Trans

When people think of transgender people, they often think of medical transition. Many transgender people do, in fact, choose this route. Many also experience a sensation known as Gender Incongruence.

Gender Incongruence is the disconnection one feels between their assigned gender at birth and their gender identity, and it can present in a variety of ways. The most common are: Dysphoria (an intensely unpleasant feeling when associating with one’s agab), Euphoria (a pleasant feeling when associating with one’s gender identity), and Gender Envy (when one is in admiration of and desires another’s presentation). Dysphoria in particular is really dangerous to a transgender individual’s well-being, as it can produce a lot of distress, discomfort, and dysfunction, all of which could lead to depression and, if continuously untreated, suicide. For a transgender person, one of the most effective ways to combat Dysphoria is to medically transition as it eliminates the physical reminders one has of their AGAB and introduces characteristics that could induce Euphoria. 

However, that is not to say that all trans people medically transition for this reason, or that all who experience Gender Incongruence desire to medically transition. Despite what transphobes and trans gatekeepers would have you believe, there is no requirement that a trans person must medically transition, or that they ever should experience Gender Incongruence for that matter. What makes one’s trans identity valid is not based on their transition journey, or even the relationship one has between their gender and their sex. What “makes” a trans person is just this; the acknowledgment and/or belief that their gender identity does not align with what they were assigned at birth.

You may be thinking right now, well that’s vague, how does one really know if they’re actually Trans or not, and the truth is that you don’t really. At least not at first. There is a lot of complexity in the gender spectrum, and discovering where exactly one fits into it requires tons of introspection and questioning. And the answers one comes across may not be exactly right the first time around.

Some questioning/baby Trans have this fear of faking a Trans identity. First, questioning your gender in itself is a good indicator of being Trans. Most Cisgender people never even once think that their gender identity might not match their sex. Second, gender isn’t stagnant. It’s fluid. Labels can change as we continue to grow and develop as people and as our understanding of the world expands. The label we use today may not be the same as the label we use a year from now, and that’s okay. Third, even if your experimenting leads you to the conclusion that you are cisgender and not trans, that’s great! You’ve done the work to determine for yourself what your identity is and have come out of that experience with a better understanding of gender and trans identity, and are in a position to help educate others who haven’t done the work.

Questions to Help Facilitate Introspection:

  • Do I like to be referred to, seen as, or treated as one gender over another? Does being a different gender feel better than being my assigned gender?
  • How do I feel when I see myself in the clothes of a different gender? Does it look like me? Do I prefer to present more feminine, more masculine, more neutral, or a mix?
  • When presenting as a gender other than what I was assigned at birth, do I hesitate to return to the presentation of my assigned gender? Do I tell myself “just five more minutes of being this trans persona”?
  • Does it feel “strange” to present myself as a trans identity because it is new, or because it is uncomfortable to present as a different gender? Am I uncomfortable enough to change back to my previous presentation?
  • Am I scared of my “trans phase” ending? Am I scared to go back to my assigned gender?
  • What is the main reason I think I may be trans? Is it related to gender roles, gender presentation, or something else?
  • What is the main reason I think I may not be trans? Is it related to gender roles, gender presentation, or something else?
  • Do I think I want to be a particular gender because of the “aesthetic” of its presentation?
  • Can I explain why I feel connected to a certain gender? Is there a logical reason?
  • Would I rather get rid of the questions by having my mind change to fit my body, or having my body change to fit my mind?
  • If a magic being came and offered to give me a new body of my choosing, what sort of body would I choose?

The Gender Spectrum

Current Society tends to view gender in one of two ways.

The first is as two boxes. One labeled Male. The other labeled Female. And you either fit into one or the other.

The second is as a scale ranging between Male and Female, with Nonbinary being centered in the middle.

Both of these interpretations are inaccurate. You aren’t one or the other, nor are you fixed between two points. Gender is so much more.

Imagine a color wheel. It has so many colors, so many shades. Some shades clearly contradict (like yellow and purple), but some are so similar you can’t tell the difference (like ivory and eggshell). And gender is the same way. There are so many different ways to be a man or a woman, just like there are so many shades that fall into the blue and red families, and there are so many identities and colors that exist outside of them.

The label Nonbinary isn’t just the colors betwixt blue and red, but all of the colors that fall outside the two families. It’s the purples and the yellows, the grayscales and multicolor patterns not pictured, and the colors that have yet to be discovered. It’s an umbrella term for all the identities that exist outside the binary of female and male.

Some people may choose to use this label, others may choose to use their gender micro-labels, and some may just ditch the labels altogether. Whatever labels one uses or does not use is their choice. Every person’s gender identity is unique to them, and while some labels may seem like the label of a person’s shade, that label could mean a completely different shade to that person. No one is allowed to dictate what labels belong to whom*, only what their label means to them.

*The exception to this rule is with identities that belong to specific cultures. Identities such as Two-Spirit or Hijra, which belong to Indigenous Americans and Southeast Asians respectively, have specific connotations and play significant roles within these cultures. These identities deserve to be respected and should never be co-opted or claimed by anyone outside of these cultures.