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An Introduction to Trans Identities

Assigning Gender at Birth

When babies are born they are generally assigned a binary gender of male or female by those present. This assignment is based on an assumption that certain physiological characteristics, such as genitalia and chromosomes, indicate a person's gender.

However, once they're able to many individuals begin to question and explore their gender identity, and some come to the conclusion that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. They may identify as male or female, or another gender outside of the binary of male and female (such as agender, bigender, genderfluid, or genderqueer).


'Cis' and 'Trans'

There are two helpful terms to distinguish between people on the grounds of whether the gender assigned to them at birth turned out to be correct.

A cis person is someone whose gender is the same as that which they were assigned at birth.

  • A cis man is someone who was assigned a gender of male at birth, and who is male.
  • A cis woman is someone who was assigned a gender of female at birth, and who is female.

A trans person is someone whose gender is different to that which they were assigned at birth.

  • A trans man is someone who was assigned a gender of female at birth, but who is male.
  • A trans woman is someone who was assigned a gender of male at birth, but who is female.
  • A trans non-binary person is someone who was assigned a gender of male or a gender of female at birth, but who is neither male nor female.

Addressing common misconceptions

There are many misconceptions associated with trans people, which often results in language, behaviour, and individual or structural practices which are not inclusive of trans people.

Being trans is not a gender identity

Trans people, like cis people, have a gender (also called a gender identity). They may identify as male, as female, or with a non-binary gender identity.

Being cis or trans is not itself a gender identity, and as such 'cis' and 'trans' should not be included as gender options in data collection.

Being trans is not a sexual orientation

A person's sexual orientation refers to the set of people they may be attracted to. For example, a heterosexual person is exclusively or generally attracted to people of a different gender to their own.

Being trans is not a sexual orientation, and trans people may identify with any sexual orientation. A trans person may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bi, pan, queer etc. It is therefore important not to use the terms 'straight' or heterosexual to refer to non-LGBTQUA+ people.

Being trans is not about changing gender

Whilst trans people may request that others start using different gendered language in reference to them e.g. pronouns, this relates to people's perception of their gender changing, rather than their gender itself. Most trans people do not consider their gender to have changed, only their and other people's awareness and understanding of it.

For this reason it is important to avoid language which suggests a change of gender, such as referring to a trans woman as someone who 'used to be a man', or to a trans man as someone who 'became a man'. The term 'sex change' is also outdated and offensive.

Being trans is not about your gender expression

A person's gender expression (also referred to as gender presentation) refers to aspects of their appearance, mannerisms, demeanour, and behaviour which are culturally gendered. This might include how they dress, their hairstyle, and the way they speak.

Despite these aspects being culturally gendered, there is no reason why someone who, for example, wears clothing marketed towards men must identify as a man. Equally so, wearing clothing marketed towards women, does not mean that a person must identify as a woman. Similarly, speaking in a higher pitched or more expressive voice, which is generally associated with femininity, does not mean that the speaker must be a woman.

Being trans simply refers to having a gender different to the one you were assigned at birth. Whilst trans people may change aspects of their gender expression, particularly whilst transitioning, this is not a defining element of being trans. It is therefore inappropriate to refer to a trans person as someone who, for example, 'dresses like a man' or 'dresses like a woman'. Phrases such as this also invalidate a trans person's gender by implying that they are not really a man/woman.

Being trans is not something new

There is a rich history of diverse gender and trans identities throughout recorded history and across cultures. In many periods of history, cultures across the globe have recognised and respected these identities.

If you are interested in learning more, you can explore this map of many diverse gender and trans identities throughout history.


Prevalence of trans identities

Current prevalence estimates suggest that 0.3%-1% of the UK population identify as trans. In a University of over 25,000 students and 7,000 staff, we might therefore expect roughly 100-300 members of our community to be trans.1 Since universities are perceived as a relatively safe place to come out and/or transition as a trans person, the prevalence of trans people within universities is actually higher than within the general population.

We also know that the prevalence of trans identities is increasing as awareness and understanding grows; more people have access to the information and language necessary to understand and define their experience, as well as access to supportive peers to make coming out possible. An increasing number of people in our community are thus likely to come out as trans.

Over the last decade, staff and students at Warwick have undertaken significant work to build a more trans-inclusive university, and there is an active trans community here. As a result, more trans students choose to apply to study at Warwick too.


Trans people you may know

Visibility is crucial to tackling misconceptions and stigma, and normalising trans identities. However, it can be difficult for trans people to come out or be visible because of the ignorance, hate, harassment and discrimination they often face.

There are nevertheless some high profile trans people that you may recognise:

  • Laverne Cox - actress and advocate
  • Elliot Page - actor and producer
  • Eddie Izzard - comedian and political activist
  • Chelsea Manning - intelligence analyst and network security expert
  • Chaz Bono - writer, musician and actor
  • April Ashley - model and restaurant hostess
  • Kate Bornstein - author, performance artist, and gender theorist
  • Leslie Feinberg - author, speaker, and activist

The 3 Core Assumptions

There are three common assumptions made about gender which have a significant impact on trans people's experiences and trans inclusion.

Assumption #1: The gender you are assigned at birth is your gender

Assumption #2: There are only two genders

Assumption #3: You can tell a person's gender from their name, appearance, voice, or gender expression.


Relevant Legislation and Policy

The Equality Act 2010

The GDPR


Coming Out

Exploring your identity

Disclosing your identity to others


Transition and Gender Recognition

Social Transition

Medical Transition

Gender Recognition


Trans Experiences and Impact

A 2020 study by Dr Cerys Bradley for Galop and one by the Scottish Trans Alliance in 2010 on trans experiences of abuse collectively found that:

  • 58% of trans people have been deadnamed in the last year, which is where a trans person is incorrectly addressed using a former name. This might be done purposefully, or by accident.
  • 93% of trans people have experienced transphobia in the last year. Nearly 60% had experienced transphobia online, 50% in a public street, 30% at work, and 28% on public transport.
  • 47% of trans people have experienced discrimination in the last year, including denial of access to services, being passed over for promotion, or being forced out of their job.
  • 81% of trans people have experienced hate crime due to their trans identity. Only 22% of hate crimes were reported to the police, but recorded transphobic hate crime has doubled in the past 3 years.
  • 80% of trans people have experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse from a partner or ex-partner.
  • 7% of trans people have experienced sexual assault in the last year, compared with 3% of the general population, and 13% had been threatened with sexual assault.
  • 12% of trans people have experienced physical assault, or the threat of physical assault, in the last year.
  • 57% of trans people have experienced verbal abuse in the last year, most often from strangers in a public place, or online.
  • 72% of trans people have experienced invasive questions in the last year. This often includes questions about their genitals and sex life.
  • Representations of trans people, and trans issues, perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misinformation. In particular, newspaper coverage of trans issues and trans people.
  • Trans people are often challenged (sometimes violently) when attempting to access gendered spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, and single-gender services.
  • Waiting times for a first appointment at a gender identity clinic are often 3-4 years, or more. Many medical professionals also lack a basic understanding of trans issues.
  • Many trans people are disowned by family, and experience social isolation. 41% of trans people have experienced transphobia from relatives in the last year, and 31% from friends.
  • 11% of trans people have been doxxed in the last year. Doxxing is the act of revealing identifying or private information about someone online without their permission.
  • 30% of trans people have been outed (their trans identity disclosed to others without their permission) in the last year. 18% have been threatened with outing in the last year.
  • 4% of trans people have been blackmailed in the last year. This often includes the threat of outing someone as trans as the means of extorting money or favours.

The impact of these experiences is understandably extensive:

  • 70% of trans people reported that their experiences had an impact on their mental health, and 54% of trans people have sought medical help for depression or anxiety.
  • 56% of trans people have experienced thought of suicide of self-harm, and 46% of trans people have made attempts to harm themselves.
  • 28% of trans people report a significant impact on their physical health. This includes physical symptoms of poor mental health, under- or over-eating, and delayed medical care.
  • 58% of trans people found that their experiences exacerbated their gender dysphoria (discomfort with the perception of their gender, or physical characteristics).
  • 87% of trans people report being less able to trust strangers, and 65% less able to meet new people, or open up to others. 51% reported feeling less comfortable dating.
  • 42% of trans people said the impact on their daily routine had been significant. This includes avoiding public transport, public toilets (62%), and social interaction, or going out entirely.
  • 23% of trans people report a significant impact on their finances, which included unemployment, the cost of medical care, time off work and lost income, and the cost of relocation.
  • 40% of trans people reported their experiences making it more difficult to attend work/their place of study. Higher levels of absence often affect performance.
  • 34% of trans people found that their experiences made it more difficult to come out to others. Actual or anticipated transphobia meant that trans people feared the consequences of coming out, including violence.
  • 44% of trans people reported being less likely to access medical services, with a corresponding impact on their physical health. 52% were less likely to access gender-specific services.
  • 35% of trans people report having developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol because of transphobia, and 24% started smoking.
  • More generally, trans people reported feeling unhappy (87%), humiliated (78%), afraid (77%), hyper-vigilant (67%), having trouble sleeping (53%), and panic attacks (41%).

Trans Inclusion at Warwick

Though there is more work ahead than behind us, the last decade has seen some significant work at the university towards trans inclusion. Much of this work has been led by trans students and staff.

Rainbow Taskforce

Advising the Social Inclusion Committee, the Rainbow Taskforce makes recommendations on LGBTQUA+ issues at Warwick with the aim of bringing about positive change at the university. Its events subgroup organises programmes of events for (inter)national awareness dates, such as Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance in November, and Pride Month in June.

Gender-Neutral Toilets

Beginning with a student campaign that temporary re-signed gendered toilet blocks, the university now has gender-neutral toilets in 36 buildings across its campus. This includes large gender-neutral toilet blocks on the ground floor of the Library, and in the Social Sciences block.

Access & Participation

Analysis of potential LGBTQUA+ student attainment and retention gaps is underway, as well as potential LGBTQUA+ staff recruitment, promotion, and pay gaps. In order to progress this work, the university began collecting trans identity data in 2020.

Inclusive Teaching & Learning

An initial project in 2019 saw the creation of gender-diverse and trans-inclusive teaching guidance and a WIHEA masterclass on trans-inclusive teaching, followed by the establishment of a Trans & Queer Pedagogies learning circle. The Queering University project was subsequently launched in 2020.

The Queering University project supports staff and students at Warwick to develop, implement, share and sustain queer pedagogies and perspectives. It encourages teaching & learning and pastoral practices that are inclusive of trans and LGBTQUA+ people, and improves understanding in the classroom and wider university settings.

Community Support

A trans community support group for trans students & staff at Warwick was launched by the trans community in 2018. The Rainbow Network, the university's LGBTQUA+ staff network was re-launched in 2020 too.

The SU's online trans community hub brings together relevant news & events, resources, and campaigns for trans members of the university community, as well as a 'Guide to Being Trans at Warwick' written by the trans community.

Access to Sport

When the new Sports Hub was designed & built, gender-neutral toilets & changing rooms were placed on each floor. The pool's changing village is also entirely gender-neutral. The trans community also launched a trans sport programme with Warwick Sport in 2019, including a trans running group and trans swimming sessions.

Pronouns

The distribution of pronoun badges, brand guidance that includes pronouns in email signatures, and the introduction of an optional pronouns field on students' records, helps to normalise the non-assumption of pronouns at the university, and reduce how often trans staff & students get mis-gendered.

Training & Education

The trans community have delivered trans inclusion workshops to over 300 members of staff, as well as club & society execs. This e-learning resource hopes to reach even more staff & students. Staff and students also organise educational events as part of programmes like Trans Awareness Week and LGBT+ History Month.


Trans-Inclusive Practice

Unlearning gendered assumptions

Gendered language

Normalising the sharing of pronouns

Using pronouns

Using names

Using titles

Data collection

Gendered and gender-neutral spaces

Trans-inclusive teaching

Reviewing processes and ways of working

Learn & engage

Speak up & challenge


Further Resources

Trans-Inclusive Pedagogy portal (coming soon)

Trans Community Hub

Trans Web Portal

University Trans Policy

Queer & Trans Pedagogies Learning Circle

Queering University project