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Trans woman

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A trans woman (sometimes trans-woman or transwoman) is a woman who was assigned male at birth. The label of transgender woman is not always interchangeable with that of transsexual woman, although the two labels are often used in this manner. Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people).


See also: Transsexual
A trans woman at a Gay Pride Parade in São Paulo

Sex assignment refers to the male or female category that a newborn baby is placed in, usually based upon the appearance of external genitalia.

Gender identity refers to a person's private sense of, and subjective experience of, their own gender. This may be different from the sex and gender that the person was assigned at birth.

"Transition" refers to the process of adopting a social and personal identity that corresponds to one's own sense of the gendered self, and may or may not include medical intervention (hormone replacement therapy, surgery, etc.), changes in legal documents (name and/or sex indicated on identification, birth certificate, etc.), and personal expression (clothing, accessories, voice, body language).

Both transsexual and transgender women may experience gender dysphoria, distress brought upon by the discrepancy between their gender identity and the sex that was assigned to them at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics).[1]

Both transsexual and transgender women may transition, though only transsexual women would medically transition. A major component of medical transition for trans women is estrogen hormone replacement therapy, which causes the development of female Secondary sex characteristics (breasts, redistribution of body fat, lower waist–hip ratio, etc.). This, along with sex reassignment surgery can bring immense relief, and in most cases, rids the person of gender dysphoria.[citation needed]

In the same manner, a trans man is someone who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a man.


The term trans woman originates from the use of the Latin prefix “trans” meaning “across, beyond, through, on the other side of, to go beyond”[2] and the word woman meaning “senses referring to an adult female human being”.[3] However, this word was first used in Leslie Feinbergs’s book, Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman in 1996.[3] The book describes a trans woman as “a male-to-female transgender or transsexual person."[4] This definition is widely accepted and used in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, she elaborates on it by saying that being a trans woman often has a negative connotation.[4] She explains that people refer to trans woman as “freaks” and that her gender expression has made her a “target."[4] Heidi M. Levitt provides a simpler description of trans woman. She defines trans woman as “the sex of those who transition from one sex to the other."[5] Levitt mentions how the abbreviation “MTF” is commonly used, meaning male-to-female.[5] A final perspective by Rachel McKinnon explains how the term is complicated.[6] While some trans woman have undergone surgery and may have the genitalia of a woman, many struggle in society to “pass” and be accepted.[6] This ability to “pass” can cause one who was considered a “trans woman” to be seen as just a “real woman."[6] She explains that this is controversial since trans women do not have the biological ability to reproduce and are missing a uterus and ovaries.[6] However, she concludes that “trans women are women” who challenge socially constructed normalizations of what it means to be a woman.[6] Therefore, there are a wide range of what it means to be a trans woman.

“Trans woman” is commonly interchanged with other words such as transgender and transsexual.[5] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, transgender is a term which refers to “a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these; transgendered."[3] This means someone who is transgender was born a certain sex but presents themselves as another. However, Heidi M Levitt describes transgender as “different ways in which people transgress the gender boundaries that are constituted within a society."[5] She then describes how one must understand the difference between sex and gender in order to fully understand transgender.[5] She argues that sex is biological whereas “gender is a social construct."[5] Thus people who are transgender express themselves differently than their biological sex. In contrast, Levitt explains that “transsexual people have a sexual identity that does not match their physical sex” and that some desire sex-reassignment surgery.[5] In addition, the Oxford English Dictionary refers to transsexual as “having physical characteristics of one sex and psychological characteristics of the other” and “one whose sex has been changed by surgery."[3] These definitions show that someone who is transsexual expresses their gender differently than assigned at birth. In addition, they may want or undergo surgery to change their physical appearance. Thus trans women fall under the umbrella of being transgender because their gender was assigned male at birth but they identify as a woman.[5] However not all trans women are transsexual since they may or may not choose to undergo sex-reassignment surgery.[5]

Some trans women who feel that their gender transition is complete prefer to be called simply "women," considering "trans woman" or "male-to-female transsexual" to be terms that should only be used for people who are not fully transitioned. Likewise, many may not want to be seen as a "trans woman," owing to society's tendency to "other" individuals who do not fit into the sex/gender binary, or have personal reasons beyond that not to wish to identify as transgender post-transition. For this reason, many see it as an important and appropriate distinction to include a space in the term, as in trans woman, thus using trans as merely an adjective describing a particular type of woman; this is in contrast to the usage of transwoman as one word, implying a "third gender".[7]

Sexual orientation

The stereotype of the effeminate boy who grows up to live as a woman has a very long history.[8] It is a common misconception and stereotype that all transgender and transsexual women are heterosexual (attracted to males). However, research on the sexual orientation of trans women in the past has been dubious at best. Many studies on this issue have suffered from reporting bias, since many transsexual people feel they must give the "correct" answers to such questions to increase their chances of obtaining hormone replacement therapy. Patrick Califia, author of Sex Changes and Public Sex, has indicated that this group has a clear awareness of what answers to give to survey questions to be considered eligible for hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery:

None of the gender scientists seem to realize that they, themselves, are responsible for creating a situation where transsexual people must describe a fixed set of symptoms and recite a history that has been edited in clearly prescribed ways to get a doctor's approval for what should be their inalienable right.[9]

A survey of roughly 3000 trans women showed that only 23% of them identified as heterosexual, with 31% as bisexual, 29% as lesbian, 7% as asexual, 7% as queer and 2% as "other".[10]


In a 2008 study, trans women had a higher incidence of decreased libido (34%) than cisgender females (23%), but the difference was not statistically significant and may have been due to chance.[11] As in males, female libido is thought to correlate with serum testosterone levels[12][13][14][15] (with some controversy[16]) but the 2008 study found no such correlation in trans women.[11][17]

Violence towards trans women

Trans women are often faced with discrimination in the form of violence. In 2016, 22 transgender people were killed in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded in one year. Many of these cases found their deaths to be direct results of an anti-transgenderism bias.[18] Furthermore, in 2009, 11% of all hate crimes towards members of the LGBTQ community were directed towards trans women.[19] Resulting from this anti-transgenderism bias, the life expectancy of a trans woman of color is only 35 years old, as a result of both suicide and homicide, whereas the average life expectancy in the United States is over 78 years old.[20]

A major cause of the violence towards trans women is the perpetrator feels “tricked” upon learning the gender identity of their sexual partner. Approximately 56% of violent crimes towards trans people between 1990-2005 occurred because of perceived deception by the perpetrator. Almost 95% of these crimes were committed by cisgender men towards trans women.[21] According to a 2010 survey, 50% of transgender people surveyed had been abused by a domestic partner after coming out as transgender.[19]


Trans women, like all gender variant people, face a vast amount of discrimination and transphobia. A 2014 survey from The Williams Institute found that, of 6,546 respondents (self-identified transgender, as well as gender nonconforming), 57% whose families had rejected them have attempted suicide, with some suicide attempt rates as high as 78% likelihood.[22]

To commemorate those who have been murdered in hate crimes, an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance is held in various locations across Europe, America, Australia, and New Zealand, with details and sources for each murder provided at their website.[23]

A survey of roughly 3000 trans women living in the United States, as summarized in the report "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey", found that trans women reported that:[10]

  • 36% have lost their job due to their gender.
  • 55% have been discriminated against in hiring.
  • 29% have been denied a promotion.
  • 25% have been refused medical care.
  • 60% of the trans women that have visited a homeless shelter reported incidents of harassment there.
  • When displaying identity documents incongruent with their gender identity/expression, 33% have been harassed and 3% have been physically assaulted.
  • 20% reported harassment by police, with 6% reporting physical assaulted and 3% reporting sexual assault by an officer. 25% have been treated generally with disrespect by police officers.
  • Among jailed trans women, 40% have been harassed by inmates, 38% have been harassed by staff, 21% have been physically assaulted, and 20% have been sexually assaulted.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' report of 2010 anti-LGBTQ violence found that of the 27 people who were murdered because of their LGBTQ identity, 44% were trans women.[24]

Discrimination is particularly severe towards trans women of color, who experience the intersection of racism and transphobia. Multiracial, Latina, Black and American Indian trans women are twice to more than three times as likely as White trans women to be sexually assaulted in prison.[25]

In her book Whipping Girl, trans woman Julia Serano refers to the unique discrimination trans women experience as "transmisogyny".[26]

Media influence on perceptions of trans women 

According to a study done by Haley E. Solomon and Beth Kurtz-Costes (both in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), trans women are becoming more and more visible in the media, specifically through film and television. Even though media portrayal of trans women is increasingly becoming more well known, trans women still face consistent discrimination, partially due to negative depictions and stereotypes enforced by the media. There has been an increase in new T.V. shows and movies, which depict the lives of trans women in the U.S. (Orange is the New Black, Transparent, etc). “However, trans women are still among one of the most vulnerable populations in the USA, as they face a multitude of challenges ranging from social stigma to physical violence."[27]

Considering the small size of the trans population, media is a large platform for the representation of trans women to most cis Americans. Thus, according to the study, these representations influence peoples’ attitudes and beliefs towards trans women. Media can be a powerful tool for decreasing prejudice, but not all media representations are considered positive to the trans community and thus "reinforce negative biases and attitudes in viewers."[27] Most media representations of trans women (up until recently) have ridiculed them and have reinforced negative stereotypes (such as the film Silence of the Lambs, which portrayed a trans woman as a psychotic serial killer). Trans women are also regularly portrayed as sex workers (Sex and the City, "Cock a Doodle Do!" episode). 

Portrayals of trans women vary. When cisgender male actors are hired to play trans women in film (i.e. The Danish Girl and Transparent), it reinforces the idea that trans women are just cisgender men playing dress-up. Trans actresses playing trans women in the media is considered a more "respectful" portrayal.[27]

Milestones in transgender activism and visibility

Christine Jorgensen

In 1952, Christine Jorgensen became the first American person to have a sex change. She did not have her treatments in the US, but instead went to Denmark for hormone treatments and surgery.[28]

Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Riots were a series of riots following the police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay night club in New York City on the morning of June 28, 1969.[29] The riots lasted from June 28 to July 1, 1969. The Stonewall riots are widely considered to be the event that sparked the LGBT liberation movement and quest for equal rights.[30]

Pride Parade

The Pride Parade is a major event in the LGBT movement, and was inspired by the Stonewall Riots. The first parade was organized by the Chicago Gay Liberation and took place on June 27, 1970 in Chicago. In the following few days, other cities including San Francisco, Boston, Hollywood and New York had marches of their own.[31] The parade and celebration is one of the major events that is celebrated around the world, celebrating every individual who identifies as LGBTQ+.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to remember individuals killed in transphobic acts of violence. Though every person included in this day did not specifically identify as transgender, they are still included in the day of remembrance. These individuals include all gender-variant or non-conforming people, such as crossdressing or transsexual individuals.[32]

Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 after the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester on November 28, 1998. Her murder sparked the online project “Remembering Our Dead” as well. The day is celebrated annually on November 20, as part of Transgender Awareness Week. This was one of the first major social movements to promote transgender visibility .[33]


Minneapolis became the first city in the United States to ban discrimination based on gender identity in 1975.

In addition, Minnesota became first state to ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in 1993, based on the Human Rights Act.[34]

Influential trans women

American activist trans women Andrea James and Calpernia Addams

See also


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  2. ^ Steinbock, Eliza. "Trans." Gender: Sources, Perspectives, and Methodologies, edited by Renée C. Hoogland, Macmillan Reference USA, 2016, pp. 377-392. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. Gale Virtual Reference Library. 07 Apr. 2017.
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