Often used as an adjective, transgender refers to people who say their gender identity or expression differs from the sex that was determined or assigned at birth.

Transgender men, for instance, were born with female body parts but state that at the core of their being, they identify as male. Many — but not all — transgender people undergo hormone replacement therapy, sexual reassignment surgery, and other strategies to align their bodies more closely with their gender identity.

Progressives and conservatives disagree not about the term itself, but about the normative nature of transgender. Most progressives see transgender as a normal, value-neutral variation typical of the human species, like variations in skin color or height. Many 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, some conservatives see transgender identity as a psychological disorder; in this they align with a definition touted until 2012 by the American Psychological Association. Some claim that internal feelings and experiences are not sufficient to determine human identity, and external factors must also be taken into account. For religious conservatives in particular, transgender identity represents a violation of the two divinely ordained genders: male and female.

Dialog Tips: 

GLAAD, “GLAAD Media Reference Guide: Transgender Issues.”

American Psychological Association, “Answers to Your Questions about Transgender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.”

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

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