Is gender determined by physical characteristics, inner feelings, or both? How you answer that question likely influences how you see and use this word "transgender."

Most progressives see transgender as a normal, value-neutral variation like skin color or height. From this perspective, transgender men (female body parts, but inner identification with masculinity) and transgender women (male body parts, but inner identification with femininity) ought to be openly accepted with this as their core identity. This calls for empathy for having a gender identity or expression differing from the sex that was determined or assigned at birth, and support for hormone replacement therapy, sexual reassignment surgery, and other strategies to reduce discomfort and align bodies more closely with their gender identity. Many also celebrate the idea of transgender identity, and say it helps to break down traditional ideas of gender that they say have oppressed and restricted millions throughout history.

In contrast, many conservatives believe internal feelings and experiences are not sufficient to determine human identity, and that physical factors ought to be given more weight. Scriptural teachings on gender are also highlighted, with many religious conservatives seeing transgender identity as a violation of two divinely ordained genders in the Bible: male and female. From this perspective, surgical interventions to change the body seem aggressive, invasive, and harmful — especially when allowed for children. Some also see transgender identity as a psychological disorder, as the American Psychological Association did until 2012.

Whereas the first perspective sees a broader view of gender (not confined to the body) as helpful to the subset of vulnerable people with transgender feelings and effective in promoting a greater feeling of public acceptance, there is concern from those who hold the second perspective that teaching such a broader definition confuses youth at a time that is already confusing (puberty), while potentially encouraging permanent social or physical changes when kids are still trying to figure things out.

While supporters of the broader definition believe the benefits of helping this group of people to better understand themselves outweighs any risks, opponents point to examples of risks like de-transitioners (people who transitioned their gender, usually with medical treatment at a young age, then later regretted it). They will also point to what they see as potential harms such as a boy who enjoys something considered by his peers to be “girlish" — such as dancing or even being more empathetic to someone — becoming convinced he should identify as or "really is" female.

People with the broader view of gender will typically refer to medical treatment for transgender people as "gender-affirming treatment" or "gender-confirming treatment"; people who see these treatments as harmful may call them simply "gender transition treatments" or "procedures."

Dialog Tips: 

-Ask someone: What does this word mean to you?
-Read up on how others are using the word differently (two examples below - from different sides of the conversation).

Rod Dreher, “What Is Human?” The American Conservative, April 25, 2016.

Zack Ford, “APA Revises Manual: Being Transgender No Longer a Mental Disorder,”, December 3, 2012.


John Backman, Heidi Weaver-Smith, Jacob Hess, Julie Mastrine

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