No matter who you are, we affirm you, your gender is valid - and this resource is for you.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.