Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Updated October 2022 | 25 Minute Read.
No matter who you are, we affirm you, your gender is valid - and this resource is for you.
Transgender and non-binary people have become increasingly visible over the past several years as acceptance for our community has grown. However, people whose gender does not fit into a male/female binary have existed for several centuries in societies and cultures worldwide.
This resource is meant for anyone and everyone whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Throughout this resource, the phrase “transgender and non-binary” will be used as an umbrella term to best capture the broad array of identities, genders, and gender identities that are used by those whose gender does not match their sex assigned at birth.
This resource is for those who use “transgender” as an umbrella term to describes a wide range of identities, including gender fluid, agender, genderqueer, trans man, trans woman, or simply just trans.
It is for those who identify as a specific gender - for example, transgender women, who were assigned male at birth, but identify their gender as female/woman.
It is for those who identify as non-binary - a term used to describe genders besides just male or female - but not as transgender. It is also for those who identify as both transgender and non-binary simultaneously (e.g. “trans non-binary”).
Lastly, this resource is for those who identify in entirely different ways—such as genderqueer people who would not describe themselves as transgender or non-binary—and for those whose gender does not fit in any of the terms described above.
Coming Out and Inviting In:
Every transgender and non-binary person makes a decision about whether, how, where, when and with whom we want to be open. The experience of coming out or inviting in covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from paralyzing fear to genuine happiness. We are here to walk you through what that may look like.
When a person realizes they are transgender or non-binary, they may decide to tell others about their identity - a process often called “coming out.” The phrase “coming out” may also refer to the process by which a person accepts themselves as transgender or non-binary.
Some transgender and non-binary people may choose to describe the process of telling others important parts of their identity as “inviting in.” The concept of “inviting in” reminds us that others must put in the work to allow us to feel safe and comfortable being fully open as our authentic selves.
While no one resource can be fully applicable to every member of the transgender and non-binary community, this resource aims to help you and your loved ones by providing realistic and practical terms to guide you through the process.
In the United States, gender is often currently presented to us as a binary of either male or female. However, the truth is that gender is a rich, broad spectrum that comes in many forms.
For many, expressing gender is unconscious; it is as simple as styling their hair or choosing their outfit, and causes no angst or uncertainty.
For transgender and non-binary people whose gender doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth (defined below), understanding and expressing their gender is often a journey.
In this guide, we briefly define transgender and non-binary in the following ways:
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. This is opposed to cisgender, a term used to describe people whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Non-binary: A term used to describe a person who does not identify exclusively within the gender binary, as a man or a woman. A non-binary person may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or completely outside these categories. While many non-binary people also identify as transgender, not all do.
In addition, understanding what it means to be transgender and/or non-binary also requires understanding a few key concepts, beyond just these terms. Below we present some of the most common/’typical’ definitions used for these concepts.
These definitions and the glossary at the end of this guide is in no way exhaustive. We acknowledge that everyone’s gender journey is unique, and the ways one person may define their gender and gender identity, or choose to express or present their gender, may not match with what is listed below.
Sex assigned at birth: A person’s sex assigned at birth, usually male or female, is the designation that a doctor or midwife uses to describe a child at birth based on their external anatomy. Since this sex assignment occurs in infancy, and is decided by doctors and midwives rather than the person it applies to, it may not reflect a person’s own understanding of their gender, their gender identity or their sex as they grow and mature. You may see transgender people described as “assigned male at birth” (AMAB) or “assigned female at birth” (AFAB) — this is used to provide additional clarity about their identity, such as describing a transgender woman as “a person who identifies as a woman, but was assigned male at birth” or as a “AMAB transgender person.” Other times, people may use this to distinguish between cisgender and transgender people of the same gender (e.g. “men, including both transgender men, and cisgender men assigned male at birth”).
Biological Sex Myth:
Often, the phrase 'biological sex' is thought of as a more common alternative to "sex assigned at birth," with the two phrases used interchangeably. However, transgender advocates are increasingly pushing back against the use of the phrase "biological sex," based on its incompleteness at capturing sex assigned at birth, and the harmful ways this phrase has been weaponized against them to push forward harmful, anti-trans legislation.
For example, discriminatory legislation barring transgender people from participating in sports divisions and using facilities (e.g., bathrooms and locker rooms) that align with their gender identity has often set arbitrary 'biological sex-based criteria' to define when an athlete is considered female enough to compete on a women's team. This despite scientists and medical professionals agreeing that many different variables determine a person’s sex and that no single biological factor can be used to determine it.
These criteria have also led to cisgender athletes being barred from competition if their natural variation in hormones or chromosomes do not align with legislatively-based (rather than science or medicine-based) criteria. As a result, many trans advocates are increasingly coming to see "biological sex" as a slur — and to no longer recommend its use when describing a person's gender/gender identity.
Gender: A society’s idea of what it means to be a man, woman, neither, or, in many societies, various non-binary or third gender categories. Gender may be viewed as the cultural expectations of a person, often based on their sex assigned at birth. A person’s manner of dress, their behavior, their communication style and their role in a society are all a part of gender. Transgender and non-binary people typically identify with a gender that is different, in whole or in part, from the one expected of us based on our sex assigned at birth.
Gender identity: One’s innermost concept of self as man, woman, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from the sex assigned at birth.
Gender expression or gender presentation: The way we present our gender to the world, which may or may not reflect our gender identity. Every individual expresses and presents their gender differently, through everything from hair style and clothing, to behaviors, to voice, name, and pronouns. One’s gender expression can be feminine (or “femme”), masculine (or “masc”), androgynous, or something else entirely. Some may intentionally ‘gender bend’ traditional norms and expectations about gender as part of their own gender expression: for example, women — whether transgender, cisgender or non-binary — who wear traditionally masculine clothing, altering their gender presentation. Others may align with traditional norms and expectations about gender to convey other aspects of their identity—for example, queer women who present as traditionally feminine as part of their queer “femme” identity. Still others may play with their gender expression, completely unrelated to their larger gender or sexual identity. For some people, their gender expression is consistent from day to day; others may be more fluid and change their gender expression. Though gender presentation is a deeply personal way of expressing who we are – and everyone, cisgender and transgender alike, has a gender expression – transgender and non-binary people often face significant barriers to expressing themselves authentically.
Transitioning: In order to have their gender expression align with their gender identity, many transgender and non-binary people will transition. Transitioning is a process that some transgender and non-binary people go through when they decide to live as their true gender, rather than the one assigned to them at birth. Transitioning can take place at different speeds, at different ages, with different intensities and in different ways. It can involve social transition, such as changing name and pronouns, medical transition, such as beginning gender-affirming medical treatments to change one’s body to align with their gender, and legal transition, such as changing name and gender markers on licenses and IDs. As transgender and non-binary people, we may decide to pursue all, some or none of these aspects depending on our personal desires. See the section below on transitioning to learn more about the various ways that transgender and non-binary people may choose to transition.
Gender Dysphoria: Clinically-significant distress caused when a person's recorded birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. Depending on one’s age when they transition, the way(s) they choose to transition, and where they are in the United States when they transition, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria f treatments. treatments.
Gender Euphoria: The feeling of joy and contentment when your gender is understood by others or even when you see yourself as the gender you are more fully.
A Special Note:
These terms do not encapsulate all of the possible genders that exist across the world. For example, Hijra communities are prevalent in South Asia and Two-Spirit people are common among indigenous communities in North America. Some people may also use Xenogenders to describe themselves, which often use objects or ideas as metaphors to describe their sense of gender. We encourage you to research other genders that exist in cultures and nations around the world.
You should not make assumptions about a transgender or non-binary person’s transition goals, feelings of gender dysphoria, current anatomy, experience with misogyny or how they were socialized growing up based on their gender identity, and/or assigned sex at birth.
We embrace aspects of our gender identity throughout all stages of our lives — children or teens, adults, seniors, married, single, with children or without.
Some people may have known they were transgender from a very young age. Others may not realize until much later in life. Still others may first realize at one point, but take some time to accept or understand it. There is no wrong time in your life to be who you are.
From birth, many people feel a pressure or need to fit into a certain mold. Our culture, and our families, teach us that we are “supposed to” look, act and carry ourselves in specific ways based on our sex assigned at birth. Few of us are told early in life about the existence of transgender people, or that it is possible and valid to have a gender identity that differs from our sex assigned at birth, or that we might feel best when we express our gender in ways that aren’t traditionally associated with the sex we were assigned at birth.
There is no “right” time to be open with yourself about your own gender. Some come to question or recognize their gender identities and expressions suddenly and immediately begin to transition, while others take more time. Many transgender and non-binary people have long wrestled with the conflict of living instead of living the life they know they were meant to live.
Finding a Community
Many transgender or non-binary people find it helpful to connect with others who share similar experiences and emotions. A community of peers can help you feel less alone on your new path and can answer questions you might have about next steps.
Transgender and non-binary people live in every corner of the world, including major cities, suburbs, and rural areas. To find local support or social groups, check with local LGBTQ+ centers, bars/clubs/social venues, or clinics, as well as nearby university LGBTQ+ centers which compile local resources.
The internet is also home to a wide range of virtual communities for transgender and non-binary people, which can be useful particularly if there are no in-person groups in your immediate area. Online transgender and non-binary chat rooms, forums, and communities on social media can help you build connection to your identity and find resources to support your journey. We have listed a sample of virtual communities in the “Additional Resources” section at the end of this guide
Disclosure of your transgender or non-binary identity to others can be both critical and stressful. Some transgender and non-binary people may feel little need to disclose themselves, while others feel the desire to tell people as soon as they realize it themselves.
Whether you decide to come out or invite others in, how and when to disclose your gender identity is ultimately a personal decision. We hope that the considerations in this guide help you to decide which path you wish to pursue.
Given the vast diversity of transgender and non-binary people, there’s no single rule for whether a person should (or can safely) disclose their identity to others. Throughout the self-disclosure process, it’s common to feel:
Scared • Unsafe • Confused • Guilty • Empowered • Exhilarated Proud • Uncertain • Brave • Affirmed • Relieved
All of these feelings, and others, are normal, no matter the intensity or duration. Disclosure can be a complicated process. What’s important is to check in with yourself and the emotions you are having along every step of the way.
There is no “right” time in your transitioning process to disclose. Some people disclose their gender to others before beginning their transition, some disclose after a milestone in their transition, and some don’t disclose at all. Some disclose to friends first and family later, others disclose to family first and friends later, and still others follow another timeline entirely. Almost every day, you will face decisions about whether, when and how to disclose that you are transgender or non-binary. What’s important is that you disclose to whoever you want at the times that are right for you.
Unfortunately, choosing when and how to disclose can sometimes be a matter of personal safety. Over the past several years, transgender and non-binary people have become significantly more visible in mainstream culture. This increased visibility has brought both celebration and increased understanding of our community. However, this growth in recognition has often been met with harsh backlash. In many ways, it is now both the hardest and easiest time to be transgender or non-binary in decades. Your personal safety and comfort should be always be your highest priority.
At the same time, while disclosure can bring risk, keep in mind that your transition can have a positive impact on others, whether you directly witness it or not. Living openly teaches others that there’s more to gender than they might have known and it can pave the way for future generations of transgender and non-binary youth to live better lives. It can also show others — especially those who may be biased or judgmental — that their attitudes are theirs alone, and help them evolve for the better.
Always remember: you are on a journey that is uniquely yours and can unfold at your own pace. You, and only you, get to decide how to live it.
When you’re ready to tell that first person — or even those first few people — give yourself plenty of time to prepare.
It can help to think through your options and make a deliberate plan of whom to approach, the right time to do so and how to do it. You can also consider asking yourself the following questions:
Is it safe to disclose to those closest to me?
If you have any doubt at all as to your safety, carefully weigh your risks and options for disclosure. Transgender and non-binary people may face bullying and harassment or even be forced out of their homes by unsupportive family members, landlords and housemates. Others may face physical violence that can even be fatal. If you are under age 18 or financially dependent on your parents or caregivers, the decision to disclose should be made very carefully.
Knowing this, some transgender and non-binary people choose to disclose their identities in a safe space with friends by their sides. Others may relocate to a safe location, often with the help of other transgender or non-binary people and our allies. Even if you feel alone, know that there is a large community of LGBTQ+ people and our allies who will welcome you with open arms. Please, hold on.
Is it safe to disclose at work?
In 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that makes it clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under the federal employment non-discrimination law known as Title VII. In addition, many private businesses and companies, as well as states and localities have laws protecting transgender and non-binary people from employment discrimination—meaning it is not legal to fire someone, or to deny them a job, promotion, or raise, on the basis of their gender (or sexual) identity).
That being said, transgender and non-binary people are still highly vulnerable to violence, harassment and discrimination. As a result, disclosure to someone could have real costs. Please view our resource Transitioning in the Workplace: A Guide for Trans Employees for a comprehensive guide to and advice on being transgender or non-binary in the workplace.
Is it safe to disclose and live openly in my community?
In many states, transgender and non-binary people (and LGBTQ+ people in general), are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in housing, public services, medical care, and other areas. We have also seen a rise in anti-transgender legislation which aims to bar transgender students from playing sports alongside their friends, as well as bar transgender people from access to safe, necessary, life saving gender-affirming medical care. This does not mean you will not be safe, welcome, and/or affirmed if you choose to disclose. If you have any concerns, familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations in your area, by visiting sites such as the Transgender Law Center or the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Who should I tell first?
Who you disclose to first can be a critical decision. You may want to select people who you suspect will be most supportive, as their support can help you share with others. Consider who might be your champion — is it a close friend or colleague, your favorite teacher or professor, a parent or sibling, or another trusted person in your life? Is it someone else in your life who also identifies as transgender, non-binary, or some other LGBTQ+ identity?
Do I know what I want to say?
Many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify as transgender or non-binary, especially at the beginning of the disclosure or coming out process. Others may know they are transgender or non-binary without knowing exactly what that means to themselves or to others. That’s ok. Maybe you just want to tell someone that you’re starting to ask yourself these questions. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, your feelings and your safety are what matter. To work out what you want to communicate, you may try writing down ideas or a script, meditating, and brainstorming with yourself or others you are already out to.
At the same time, know that this kind of news can travel quickly – even between the most well intentioned people. If you’d prefer that people keep your news confidential, be sure to tell them so. It’s also important to plan for the chance that someone, intentionally or not, may share your news with others before you have the chance to do so yourself. That being said, don’t be discouraged. Set the boundaries that make the most sense to you and try to do things at your own pace, no matter what that pace may be.
How can I tell others?
There are many ways you can tell others about being transgender or non-binary. You may choose to have a conversation, either in person or on the phone. You may write to people via letter, email or text. Some people decide to transition and not tell others until they notice or decide to ask.
If you just want to tell someone, but don't necessarily want to immediately engage in a discussion or conversation, it may be helpful to write out what you want to say and send it to them via email or text message. That way, if they respond, you can choose when and how to read and engage with their response.
What kinds of signals am I getting?
Sometimes you can get a sense of how accepting people will be by the things they say. You may notice the way people talk about transgender or non-binary characters in movies or TV shows, or they may share their involvement in LGBTQ+ rights organizations with you. While these signs are important and encouraging, remember that some people may not react in the way that you expect. The most LGBTQ+ friendly person in the office may react negatively, while the person who said something insensitive about transgender or non-binary people might end up being your strongest supporter. Be sure to keep an open mind, and gravitate toward those who support you — especially those doing so with open arms and no qualms.
What do I do if someone reacts badly?
Not everyone will react positively. This is an unfortunate fact of being transgender or non-binary. Our world is changing, but not everyone is there yet. Just as when you change careers, or move to a different city, you may lose friends when you disclose — and they may not be the ones you expected. What’s important is that you know your truth, and that you don’t let other peoples’ uninformed opinions direct your own narrative. You know who you are, and that is enough. It will be hard, but many more people will accept you than you may expect. Focus your energy on them because they are the ones who are worth it.
Am I well-informed and willing to answer questions?
People’s reactions to the news that you’re transgender or non-binary can depend largely on how much information they have about transgender and non-binary issues and how much they feel they can ask. While more and more people are becoming familiar with lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people, transgender and non-binary people, and gender identity and expression as whole, aren’t as widely understood.
It is never your responsibility or duty to educate others about transgender people or issues in general. Nor is it ever your responsibility or duty to respond to someone who is being transphobic or reacts negatively to your disclosure. However, if you are open to answering questions asked in good faith, and feel well equipped to answer more general (rather than personal) questions, and feel comfortable and safe doing so, it can go a long way toward helping others understand transgender and non-binary identities. Some helpful facts and frequently asked questions can be found later in this resource to help get you started. If you prefer to just send a couple articles or books to people in your life, that’s ok too. See the end of this resource for ideas.
Is this a good time?
Timing is key, and choosing the right time is up to you.
Consider whether this is a good time for the other person to hear it: Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of those to whom you would like to come out. If they’re dealing with their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond to your disclosure constructively.
Consider whether this is a good time for you to say it, and deal with any potential reactions: It may never feel like the right time to come out. Come out when it feels best for you and when the person you are coming out to is in a position to receive that information.
Can I be patient?
Just as it may have taken you time to come to terms with being transgender or non-binary, some people will need time to think things over after you disclose that news to them. You may disclose to a range of people — family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, medical providers, faith leaders or others — and their reactions may vary. Those closest to you may have some of the strongest reactions - both positive and negative - and affect you the most. Sometimes their support will only reveal itself over time. Other times, important people in your life may never provide you with adequate support and recognition of your gender identity. No matter how anyone in your life chooses to react, your gender identity is valid and there are people who will support you.
What if someone outs me before I’m ready?
If someone shares information about your identity before you are ready, it is important to try to find ways to take back control of your own narrative. If it’s safe, you can speak to the person who outed you to let them know that what they did was not ok. You can also speak to the person to whom you were outed, so you can tell them in your own words and let them know who it is and isn’t ok to tell. It can also be helpful to develop a support system of people you are out to, so they can help you in times like these. Please see the end of this resource for a list of organizations that may also be able to support you.
The Human Rights Campaign and our allies are fighting every day to protect transgender and non-binary people and to create a world where we enjoy full equality and respect. No matter how, when, or to who you disclose, know that there are those who will care for you and support you.
It’s common to want or hope for positive reactions from the people you tell, but that may not happen immediately. It might help to anticipate their likely reactions, potential questions and next steps.
The person to whom you disclose being transgender or non-binary might feel:
Surprised • Honored • Uncomfortable • Scared • Unsure how to react • Distrusting • Supportive • Skeptical • Relieved • Curious • Confused • Angry • Uncertain what to do next
You may want to verbalize the range of feelings they might be having and reassure them that it’s ok to ask questions. Supportive people will generally take their cues from you as to how they should approach things, so if you’re open about your feelings, they’re more likely to follow your lead. That said, reactions vary and others may intentionally or unintentionally make you feel bad about your gender identity. Maintain awareness of your own feelings and make a plan for how to process a wide variety of responses. If someone to whom you come out has a reaction that makes you feel negatively, consider letting them know that they hurt you. Always remember that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
It’s also important to keep in mind that people may vary in their knowledge of transgender and non-binary people. Some people may already be experts on transgender and non-binary identities, some may have deep misconceptions, and others may not even know what those words mean. While you cannot control others’ level of education when you come out, you may want to provide them with factual resources that point them in the right direction. See the end of this resource for ideas.
Telling Parents, Family, and Caregivers
Regardless of your age, you may be afraid your parents, family, or caregivers will reject you if you tell them you are transgender or non-binary. Alternatively, when you come out, your parents may surprise you and become your biggest advocates or grow to accept and celebrate your gender identity over time. Sometimes, parents and caregivers are instantly accepting and will embrace your true gender identity. Other times, they may be initially hesitant or confused, but able to grow and recognize that you deserve respect in your true gender identity.
Unfortunately, for some, your parent or caregiver may never come to an understanding and damage their relationship with you. The loss of a relationship with your parent or caregiver can be devastating. But the LGBTQ+ community also has a long history of forming chosen families to support those who may not be adequately supported by their birth families. No matter how your parents or caregivers respond to you coming out, there is a large community of LGBTQ+ people and our allies who have your back.
When you disclose your identity to your parents or caregivers, they may:
Supportive or not, your parents’ or caregivers’ initial feelings may not reflect their feelings over the long term. Keep in mind that this is big news, and there’s no timetable for how long it takes to adjust.
Know that coming out is a cause for celebration and pride. How a person reacts and feels about your transition is their responsibility to manage, and you do not have to feel guilty, or like you ‘made’ them feel anything, or are ‘doing something to them by coming out. You deserve to live a happy life as your authentic self rather than trying to adapt to others’ expectations of who you should be.
Parents, family, and caregivers, sometimes also need to process and connect with other family members of transgender and non-binary people. Organizations like PFLAG help family members process and become more supportive.
Telling Partners and Spouses
One reason that transgender and non-binary people may not disclose being transgender or non-binary is the fear of how partners or spouses will react. You may wonder if your spouse will ask for a divorce or if your partner(s) will suddenly stop loving you.
The good news is that love is hard to stop suddenly. Disclosing that you’re transgender or non-binary to those you love most doesn’t have to lead to separation. Many couples and families stay together through transition.
Before disclosing to a partner or spouse, remember that they’ll need time and patience — just as you’d expect time and patience while working through your own feelings. Counseling can be helpful to many relationships, as can talking with other people who have been through similar situations.
At the end of the day, things may not work out between you and your partner(s) or spouse after you come out to them. Just remember that this does not mean anything is wrong with you. Every relationship has a different dynamic and different needs, and sometimes peoples’ lives move in different directions. Although this can be a difficult situation to deal with, your gender identity will forever and always remain valid.
There’s no one right or wrong way to have this conversation. Coming out to your children can seem a daunting task. Depending on their ages, you may be worried about them rejecting you or about their safety if your transition is made public.
If you have a co-parent, you may want to have the conversation together, if that’s possible. Or you might find that bringing a grandparent or other supportive family member into the conversation is a good idea. Your children may have questions that they feel more comfortable asking someone else for fear of hurting your feelings. Older children, especially, may need more time to think about the news you’ve shared with them before they’re ready to talk. Conversely, they may be well-versed in transgender and non-binary identities, and embrace the true you.
It may be helpful to arrange a family counseling session to sort through feelings. Giving your children the ability to talk to other children of transgender or non-binary parents can also be enormously helpful. Regardless of how the situation proceeds, it is important to remain open and honest throughout this process and have faith that your children will understand.
For Family and Friends of Transgender and Non-Binary People
If your family member or friend has come out to you as transgender or non-binary, you may be wondering how to respond. Everyone does so differently. You might be confused and have questions, relieved to know what’s been on your loved one’s mind, or hurt that they didn’t tell you sooner. You may feel a mixture of all three of these emotions, or many others. You may not even understand what it is that you’re feeling.
Regardless of how you’re feeling, it’s helpful if you can reassure your family member or friend that your feelings for them have not suddenly disappeared. Let them know you will do your best to support them through this process. It’s ok to tell them you love them and that it’s going to take some time to learn and adjust. In the end, knowing that you still care is what matters most to your family member or friend.
If you have questions for your family member or friend, first ask if they are open to answering questions. While many people will be, not all may want to do so. If they indicate that they are open to questions, be respectful. Recognize that your transgender and non-binary loved ones are not your dictionaries and do your part to educate yourself. Don’t ask them to speak for an entire community of diverse experiences and perspectives. Many of the answers you are looking for can be found in a range of books, documentaries, websites and support groups — both online and in many cities and towns across the country. Many of the most frequently asked questions are included at the end of this resource.
For Parents of Transgender and Non-Binary People
While some transgender and non-binary people only come to understand their identity as adults, many deal with these questions at very young ages. We use the term “gender-expansive” as a blanket term when referring to youth, as many youth are still exploring and understanding their genders as they grow up in a way that is hard to define. If you’re a parent reading this resource, you’re already well on the way to providing a supportive environment for your child. It’s important to let your child explore their gender without trying to change or pressure them toward one mode of gender expression. For many children, the first step is social transitioning—such as changing their name, pronouns, style or clothes, and/or hair.
There are some circumstances where this may prove difficult — if your child refuses to wear the school uniform for the sex on their birth certificate, for example. Not being able to explore their gender safely at school may have a negative effect on your children and manifest in behaviors such as skipping school, not performing well in their studies, or other behavior that may be considered “acting out.” Talk to your children to gauge how important these issues are to them and see if school administration may be able to work out a solution.
Many parents of gender-expansive children pursue family counseling. If you decide counseling is necessary, it’s important to let your children know that there’s nothing wrong with them. Seeking out a supportive therapist who has experience with gender issues in children is also a wise step. Specific resources and support groups for parents of gender-expansive children are also available.
Other parents may work with doctors and health care providers if their children wish to begin age-appropriate gender-affirming medical care. This can include safe, fully-reversible treatments, such as taking puberty blockers to delay going through puberty as their sex assigned at birth, or, among older adolescents, taking hormones to begin developing as the gender they identify. Conversations about the best form of medical care to provide should be held with both your child and their health care providers, so that, together you can decide on a course of action that affirms and supports your child’s identity.
Above all, listen to your child, affirm them for who they are, and follow their lead. When necessary, include other experts such as school administrators, counselors, doctors, and health care providers, to ensure that your child is able to transition in a way that is not only affirming, but is also safe, age-appropriate and medically necessary. Understand that this might not be linear—and they may face hurdles along the way. But, no matter what, continue to reassure your children that differences are to be celebrated and you love them no matter what. Acceptance of diversity is an important value for all children — and adults.
For additional information, HRC’s Welcoming Schools program offers many resources for gender-expansive children. These resources can be found on our Welcoming Schools Program Page. HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality National Council also offers A Parent’s Quick Guide to In-School Transitions in both English and Spanish that may be beneficial to you.
Transitioning is the process by which many transgender and non-binary people move from presenting as the gender assigned to them at birth to their true gender they know themselves to be.
Transitioning takes place for transgender and non-binary people at different speeds, with different intensities and in different ways. Every major medical organization in the United States has confirmed that medically necessary, gender-affirming healthcare for transgender individuals is critical.
Many transgender and non-binary people find that transition is necessary to alleviate feelings of gender dysphoria, which when left untreated can lead to thoughts of suicide and other negative outcomes. While taking steps to transition, transgender or non-binary people often experience a sense of euphoria at being able to express their gender in ways that are congruent with their self-image.
This refers to living your everyday life as your true gender. Social transition could include coming out or inviting in and publicly sharing your identity with others. It could include using a name and or pronoun that better fits your identity and who you are. It could include changing your hairstyle, the clothes you wear and if and how you wear make-up, jewelry, or otherwise adorn your body. It may also include changing your body through diet or exercise, adjusting mannerisms and speech patterns. Social transition looks different for everyone and there is no right or wrong way to be your authentic self.
This refers to changing your body to align with your gender identity. Medical transition can mean many things, and includes a wide range of safe, age-appropriate, medically necessary forms of gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), surgical procedures, hair removal or implants, vocal training, and more.
Conversations about what form of gender-affirming care to take, and when, are always held with health care providers, counselors, and, where relevant, families and loved ones; transgender and non-binary youth and adults do not undergo unnecessary or inappropriate medical interventions as part of the transition process.
Some of the most common forms of medical transition include:
This refers to changing legal documents to align with your gender identity (and name, if you choose to change it). This can involve changing your driver’s license, social security card, passport, birth certificate, school records, employment records, immigration documents, or even your utility bills and financial records. Having your legal documentation reflect your identity can be important to many transgender and non-binary people on a personal level. Additionally, having your documentation aligned with who you are can assist in securing job opportunities, school admission, financial assistance and loans, and more. Identity documents are complex and many are governed by individual states. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a great ID Document Center that outlines options for transgender and non-binary people seeking legal transition.
There is no set order in which transgender or non-binary people ‘should’ transition—nor does every transgender or non-binary person undergo all three. The process of transitioning can take place before, during or after disclosing your transgender or non-binary identity to others. It may not ever involve medical treatment or legal document change. Others may come out years before socially transitioning, and others still may come out the very same day they begin their transition. All timelines have advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to take steps in the order that makes the most sense for your personal situation.
Whether you plan to medically transition or not, it can be very helpful to find healthcare professionals in your geographic area who are experienced in serving transgender and non-binary patients, if possible.
If there are no such providers in your area, an open-minded provider willing to learn about the specific health needs of transgender and non-binary people, and willing to speak with more experienced providers, may be sufficient. Other transgender and non-binary people may also be able to help you find the care you need.
Here are some questions to ask potential healthcare providers:
Remember: Do your research first - including knowing which laws may exist in your state around healthcare coverage and regulations for gender-affirming care. Even doctors who have had transgender or non-binary patients in the past may not be experts on transitioning, or even be competent in the field. Many websites and advocacy groups can offer guidance on medical transitioning. While the U.S. healthcare system is extremely complex and taxing to navigate, now that there are resources and organizations out there to help you meet your needs and goals with medical transition.
For more information on health care and providers, you can visit Queer Health Access.
Transgender and non-binary youth and their parents and caretakers may also view HRC’s interactive map of Clinical Care Programs for Gender-Expansive Children and Adolescents.
While this resource is primarily for transgender and non-binary people in the early stages of self-discovery, many confront the issue of disclosure again and again after transitioning, or among new friends, family and co-workers. Some transgender and non-binary people may not disclose their transgender identity or gender history after transitioning. Others, particularly those who use pronouns other than she/her and he/him or who have fluid or ambiguous gender presentations, cannot live authentically while “passing” as just male or female.
Some transgender and non-binary people may find that being more open about their lives and stories can be safe and affirming. They may choose to speak out publicly about being transgender or non-binary, becoming advocates in their families and communities. Some may even share their stories in media interviews or by speaking to students at local colleges and universities or to business and community groups. However, you should not feel obligated to educate everyone you meet about transgender and non-binary issues. Nor should you feel obligated to share your story when you do not feel like doing so.
No matter the level of “outness” you would like to maintain, the choice is unequivocally yours. You can also shift your level of openness over time, depending on your comfort level. The journey is completely your own, and your choices ultimately belong to you. Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself — so make choices that will keep you healthy and at peace.
If you feel as though your gender identity may be different from the sex assigned to you at birth, it is possible you may be transgender or non-binary. It is absolutely understandable if this may bring up concerns or fears about what this means for your self-identity, or leaves you confused and not sure what to do.
If you believe you may be transgender or non-binary, you may want to consider finding a safe way, in a safe place, to explore your gender identity and expression, and see how it feels.
A person exploring their gender identity or expression may try publicly adopting a differently gendered sense of fashion or engage in new forms of social interaction. Or it may involve privately using a new name or pronouns for yourself, even if only written out in a journal. Or it may involve talking to a mental health provider or supportive adult, to help parse out your feelings. No matter what you try, pay attention to how you feel—while also keeping in mind that you might not immediately ‘know.’
It is important to remember that, just like other aspects of a person’s life, someone’s gender identity and expression may evolve over time. You do not have to decide on any one gender identity or expression immediately. Exploring your gender identity and expression can be a healthy way to better understand your own sense of gender—even if you are cisgender—and to find new aspects of yourself that you may find enjoyable.
When they come out, many transgender and non-binary people decide to use new pronouns to better reflect their gender identity. For example, a transgender man may decide to stop using she/her pronouns and instead use he/him pronouns to refer to himself. A non-binary person may decide to use they/them pronouns to describe themselves. Others may use neopronouns, or pronouns besides the ones most commonly used in a particular language. Some transgender and non-binary people also use multiple sets of pronouns, such as both she/her and they/them or both he/him and fae/faer. Others may not use any pronouns and simply request to be known by their name.
As you decide to come out, you may consider which pronouns you wish to use. If you’re not sure which pronouns are right for you, you may ask friends and family to refer to you using different pronouns so you can test how it feels. For transgender and non-binary people, the pronouns we use to describe ourselves is often an important part of expressing our gender identity.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender and non-binary people come in all sexual orientations, just as do cisgender people. A transgender or non-binary person may be attracted to men, women, non-binary people, all of the above or no one at all.
Absolutely! Whether in a relationship or single when coming out, countless transgender and non-binary people find love and happiness in their lives through families. In fact, many transgender and non-binary people will tell you that after coming out, they feel a new sense of wholeness and happiness that makes them better partners and parents.
Many forms of transitioning have no long-term or permanent impact on a person’s fertility. For medical interventions that do impact fertility, there are many fertility preservation options. Other transgender and non-binary people may form families via surrogacy, adoption or fostering children.
Some transgender and non-binary people form chosen families, often with other members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. Chosen families are non-biologically related groups of people who provide social support for each other. Historically, LGBTQ+ people who received inadequate support from their biological families formed communities with other LGBTQ+ people to affirm each other’s identities and to provide stable housing and mutual aid. This tradition continues to this day and provides vital support for transgender and non-binary people regardless of whether our biological families support us or not.
Gender dysphoria is a medical term that refers to the psychological distress a person may feel when their gender is misaligned with the sex recorded for them at birth. Some may experience it as an acute pain, while others may experience it as an overarching sense of unease. Although many transgender and non-binary people experience gender dysphoria, it is not a necessary requirement to identify as transgender or non-binary.
If you are experiencing gender dysphoria, we encourage you to seek gender identity-based counselling or to join a local or online transgender and non-binary support group. You may also work with a medical or mental health professional who specializes in gender identity to determine a course of treatment which may or may not include medical or social transition.
If someone you love is experiencing gender dysphoria, we encourage you to treat them with kindness and empathy, to assist them in seeking help and to respect their gender identity.
Transition is often seen as a journey to achieve greater congruence between a person’s outward appearance or experience in society and their self-image — a process that often leads to gender euphoria. Some transgender and non-binary people do not experience gender dysphoria, but seek to transition to achieve a greater sense of gender euphoria.
No! Many transgender and non-binary people have no desire to pursue hormones, surgeries or other medical interventions. At the same time, many cannot afford medical treatment or have no access to it. Whether or not you have any form of surgery at any point in your life, or take hormones or puberty blockers (or do not), your transgender or non-binary identity is still valid.
Being non-binary is a completely valid identity in and of itself. Some of us may come out as non-binary, and from there later come out as a binary transgender person. Some of us may come out as a binary transgender person and then later come out as non-binary. And some may even choose to embrace both labels. There are plenty of us who identify as non-binary for our entire lives. What’s important is that you present and identify in the way that feels right for you.
Intersex is a broad term used to describe a wide range of natural biological variations that differ from those classically thought to be typical to either men or women. In some cases, these traits are visible at birth, and in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal variations of this type may not be physically apparent at all. Some people do not know they’re intersex until a late age, or may have had non-consensual surgery performed at birth to modify genitalia.
Like cisgender people, some transgender and non-binary people are also intersex. But not every person who is intersex is transgender or non-binary. Acronyms for the LGBTQ+ community sometimes include the letter “I” for intersex, such as in LGBTQIA, with “A” standing for asexual and aromantic. This is to recognize the solidarity between people of various LGBTQ+ communities and the intersex community. You can learn more about intersex identities through interACT, a group that advocates for intersex youth, and view HRC’s resource Understanding the Intersex Community.
No! Every person’s transition will look different. You can start with hormone replacement therapy, or by presenting as your true gender before you even think about hormones, or any other possible combination. This applies to surgeries too — there is no requirement to get surgery, or “right” or “wrong” time for it. In addition, just because you get a surgery doesn’t lock you into a specific identity; for example, a person can get top surgery and/or begin hormone replacement therapy, and still be non-binary. The most important thing is that you communicate your timeline and thought processes with your support team, which can include doctors, family, friends or others.
For more frequently-asked questions, please visit HRC’s Transgender and Non-Binary FAQ.
Other research, such as at Gallup and Pew Research have estimated that between 0.6% and 0.7% of adults identify as trans. Specifically, Pew Research finds that 0.7% of adults (age 18+) identify as trans men or women, while 1% identify as non-binary. Estimates differ slightly across surveys as a result of different methodologies and question wording, speaking to the need for expanded federal data collection efforts to include gender identity.
To learn the most recent statistics about the transgender and non-binary community, please visit HRC's transgender resource page.
AFAB - Stands for “Assigned Female at Birth.” Used to describe someone whose sex was assigned as female when born, typically based on their external genitalia. While many transgender and non-binary people are comfortable identifying as AFAB, some prefer not to use this term to describe their experience or the experiences of others.
AMAB - Stands for “Assigned Male at Birth.” Used to describe someone whose sex was assigned as male when born, typically based on their external genitalia. While many transgender and non-binary people are comfortable identifying as AMAB, some prefer not to use this term to describe their experience or the experiences of others.
CISGENDER - A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth.
FTM - Stands for “female-to-male,” referring to someone who was assigned female at birth, but is transitioning or has transitioned to their true identity as a man. This term is relatively outdated and its use is not recommended, but it can still be seen in some medical and pop culture texts.
GENDER - A society’s idea of what it means to be a man, woman, neither, or, in many societies, various non-binary or third gender categories. Gender may be viewed as the cultural expectations of a person, often based on their sex assigned at birth. A person’s manner of dress, their behavior, their communication style and their role in a society are all a part of gender. Transgender and non-binary people typically identify with a gender that is different, in whole or in part, from the one expected of us based on our sex assigned at birth.
GENDER DYSPHORIA - Clinically-significant distress caused when a person's recorded birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify.
GENDER EUPHORIA - The feeling of joy and contentment when your gender is understood by others or even when you see yourself as the gender you are more fully.
GENDER-EXPANSIVE - Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary (male/female) gender system. Often used as an umbrella term when referring to young people still exploring the possibilities of their gender identities.
GENDER EXPRESSION - External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
GENDER-FLUID - A person who does not identify with a single fixed gender or has a fluid or unfixed gender identity.
GENDER IDENTITY - One’s innermost concept of self as man, woman, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from the sex assigned at birth.
GENDER NON-CONFORMING - A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.
INTERSEX - Intersex people are born with a variety of differences in their sex traits and reproductive anatomy. There is a wide variety of difference among intersex variations, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, gonads, internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response, and/or secondary sex traits. You should avoid using the term “hermaphrodite” when talking about intersex people as it is typically used as a slur.
LEGAL TRANSITION - refers to changing legal documents and public records to align with your gender identity (and name, if you choose to change it). This can involve changing your driver’s license, social security card, passport, birth certificate, school records, employment records, immigration documents, or even your utility bills and financial records.
LGBTQ+ - Stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and more.” Many people and organizations use “LGBTQ+” as a catch-all term for the non-cisgender and non-straight community, but the acronym varies depending on culture and style. For example, some groups may add “I” for intersex (LGBTQI), “2” for two-spirit (LGBQT2) or “A” for asexual or aromantic (LGBTQA). HRC uses LGBTQ+, with the plus sign representing all of the many identities on the queer spectrum.
MEDICAL TRANSITION - refers to beginning age appropriate, necessary, safe, and life-saving medical care, such as medications and surgery, in order to physically change your body to align with your gender identity. Both transgender and non-binary people may choose to undergo medical transition, and it can include hormone replacement therapy, surgical procedures, hair removal or implants, vocal training or many other options
MTF - Stands for “male-to-female,” referring to someone who was assigned male at birth, but is transitioning or has transitioned to their true identity as a woman. This term is relatively outdated and its use is not recommended, but it can still be seen in some medical and pop culture texts.
NON-BINARY - Describes a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. A non-binary person may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or completely outside these categories. While many non-binary people also identify as transgender, not all do. Non-binary can also be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid.
PRONOUNS - Any word that can replace a noun or noun phrase and refer specifically to people who are being talked about. Examples of pronouns an individual may use: She/Her/Hers, He/Him/His or They/ Them/Theirs. Some individuals use neopronouns such as Xe/Hir/Hirs, or use no pronouns at all. The phrase “preferred pronouns” is being phased out by the community, as it denotes that gender is a choice or that the individual’s pronouns are only preferred and therefore not mandatory to use.
SEXUAL IDENTITY - The label one uses for their sexual orientation. Essentially, it is the term you use to indicate your sexual orientation, to yourself and to the world. While most people who use a specific sexual identity (e.g., lesbian) use it to refer to a specific sexual orientation (e.g., a woman who is attracted to other women), others may use different identity labels to describe that same sexual orientation—and others still may use the same identity label to convey different sexual orientations.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION - Term used to describe one’s overall inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attractions to other people. Essentially, it is who you are ‘oriented’ towards. Note: an individual’s sexual orientation is independent of their gender identity
SOCIAL TRANSITION - refers to a type of transitioning in order to live your everyday life as your true gender. It includes fully reversible approaches to publicly live and present as your gender such as changing your name, pronouns, clothing, hairstyle, and makeup This is often the first step for transgender and non-binary people who choose to transition, particularly among youth.
TRANSGENDER - An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. Do not use the term “transgendered,” even as an adjective, as it is considered outdated and incorrect. Instead, consider using “transgender people,” “transgender person,” “trans people” or “trans person.”
TRANSITION - A process that some transgender and non-binary people go through when they decide to live as their true gender, rather than the one assigned to them at birth.
TRANSSEXUAL - An older term typically used to describe people we today recognize as transgender. The term fell out of use in the transgender community due to its common use in pornographic contexts. However, some transgender people have reembraced “transsexual” to recognize our connection to older generations of trans people and to reclaim agency over the word from those who would seek to define us.
TRANSVESTITE - A largely outdated term that has been replaced with “crossdresser” in most contexts. Although the term “transvestite” was historically used to describe people we might today recognize as transgender, the term fell out of favor because it did not adequately describe their gender identity. Transgender and non-binary people do not simply wear the clothes of another gender as a performance. Instead, our gender identity is an intrinsic part of who we are. However, the transgender community has a long historical association with drag and many drag performers may also be transgender or non-binary.
HRC and the HRC Foundation have a catalog of resources for transgender and non-binary people and their families, friends, employers, clergy and other allies at our transgender resource page. You can also wish to view our resource Transitioning in the Workplace: A Guide for Trans Employees and to explore issues in communities of faith at our religion and faith resource page. You may also find the following websites helpful:
You may also find many transgender and non-binary people to engage with on various social media platforms such as Twitter, Discord, Facebook.
For those who identify as Black LGBTQ+ people, the coming out process can be complex to navigate. Coming Out: Living Authentically as Black LGBTQ+ People is designed for those embarking on their own coming out journey at the intersections of LGBTQ+ and Black identities. This guide aims to recognize the unique experiences Black LGBTQ+ people have in coming out, while understanding that coming out is a personal choice and the lifelong coming out experience is different for everyone.View Here
For many Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, coming out is a lifelong process that can require a different approach because of cultural norms or traditions that emphasize duty to family and community. The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance and HRC Foundation's Coming Out as LGBTQ+ Asian and Pacific Islander Americans resource is designed to aid LGBTQ+ API Americans in navigating the intersectional challenges when coming out.View Here
Coming Out: Living Authentically as LGBTQ+ Latinx Americans resource is designed to aid LGBTQ+ Latinx Americans in navigating the intersectional challenges when coming out. For those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ and as Latinx Americans, the coming out process can be even more complex to navigate. Often, it requires a unique approach that can cut across multiple languages, cultures, nationalities, religious identities and family generations.View Here
Coming Out: Living Authentically as Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual+ was designed to help you and your loved ones through the coming out process in realistic and practical terms. It acknowledges that the experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from paralyzing fear to unbounded euphoria.View Here
Being an LGBTQ+ Ally is designed to help build understanding and comfort. If you are new to LGBTQ+ issues, we will answer many of your questions. Or, if you have known LGBTQ+ people for years and are looking to find new ways to show your support, you can skim this resource and take the pieces that are relevant to you. It’s ok to not know everything — we’re here to help.View Here
Coming out is different for every person. For bisexual people, coming out can present some unique challenges. This guide is designed to prepare you for potential challenges of coming out as bisexual and to give you the tools to come out and live openly wherever and whenever you are safe, able and ready.View Here
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