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).


A trans woman at a Gay Pride Parade in São Paulo

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 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, higher waist–hip ratio, etc.). This, along with sex reassignment surgery can bring immense relief, and in most cases, rids the person of gender dysphoria.[2][3]

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


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 or sex indicated on identification, birth certificate, etc.), and personal expression (clothing, accessories, voice, body language).

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"[4] and woman.[5] However, this word was first used in Leslie Feinbergs’s book, Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman in 1996.[5] The book describes a trans woman as "a male-to-female transgender or transsexual person."[6] 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.[6] She explains that people refer to trans woman as "freaks” and that her gender expression has made her a "target."[6] 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."[7] Levitt mentions how the abbreviation "MTF" is commonly used, meaning male-to-female.[7] A final perspective by Rachel McKinnon explains how the term is complicated.[8] While some trans woman have undergone surgery and may have the genitalia of a woman, many struggle in society to "pass" and be accepted.[8] This ability to "pass" can cause one who was considered a "trans woman” to be seen as just a "real woman."[8] She explains that this is controversial since trans women do not have the biological ability to reproduce and are missing a uterus and ovaries.[8] However, she concludes that "trans women are women” who challenge socially constructed normalizations of what it means to be a woman.[8] Therefore, there are a wide range of interpretations of what it means to be a trans woman.

"Trans woman” is commonly interchanged with other words such as transgender and transsexual.[7] 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."[5] 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."[7] She then describes how one must understand the difference between sex and gender in order to fully understand transgender.[7] She argues that sex is biological whereas "gender is a social construct."[7] 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.[7] 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."[5] 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.[7] However, not all trans women are transsexual since they may or may not choose to undergo sex-reassignment surgery.[7]

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".[9]

Sexual orientation

The stereotype of the effeminate boy who grows up to live as a woman has a very long history.[10] It is a common misconception and stereotype that all transgender and transsexual women are heterosexual (attracted to males).[citation needed] However, research on the sexual orientation of trans women in the past has been dubious at best.[clarification needed][citation needed] 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 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.[11]

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".[12]


In a 2008 study, trans women had a higher incidence of decreased libido (34%)[clarification needed] than cisgender females (23%), but the difference was not statistically significant and may have been due to chance.[13] As in males, female libido is thought to correlate with serum testosterone levels[14][15][16][17] (with some controversy[18]) but the 2008 study found no such correlation in trans women.[13][19]

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[specify] of these cases found their deaths to be direct results of an anti-transgenderism bias.[20] Furthermore, in 2009, 11% of all hate crimes towards members of the LGBTQ community were directed towards trans women.[21] Due in part to this anti-transgenderism bias, including homicide and suicide risks, the life expectancy of a trans woman of color is only 35 years old, whereas the average life expectancy in the United States is over 78 years old.[22]

A major cause of the violence towards trans women is the perpetrator feels “tricked” upon learning their sexual partner is transgender. 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.[23] According to a 2010 survey, 50% of transgender people surveyed had been abused by a domestic partner after coming out as transgender.[21]


Trans women, like all gender variant people, face a vast amount of discrimination and transphobia.[12]:8 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 attempted suicide, as did 63%–78% of those who suffered physical or sexual violence at school (any level).[24]

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.[25]

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:[12][specify]

  • 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.[26]

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.[27]

In her book Whipping Girl, trans woman Julia Serano refers to the unique discrimination trans women experience as "transmisogyny".[28]

Notable trans women

American activist trans women Andrea James and Calpernia Addams
Laverne Cox, a transgender actress who plays a trans woman on the show Orange is the New Black

See also


  1. ^ "Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (version 7)" (PDF). The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. p. 96. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-24. 
  2. ^ Beidel, Deborah C; Frueh, B. Christopher; Hersen, Michel (30 June 2014). Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis (7th ed.). New York: [[Wiley]]. p. 618. ISBN 978-1-118-92791-5. OCLC 956674391. Retrieved 12 December 2017. 
  3. ^ Köllen, Thomas (25 April 2016). Sexual Orientation and Transgender Issues in Organizations: Global Perspectives on LGBT Workforce Diversity. Springer. p. 138. ISBN 978-3-319-29623-4. OCLC 933722553. Retrieved 12 December 2017. 
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c d "Oxford English Dictionary". 
  6. ^ a b c Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2005. 1996. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Levitt, Heidi M. "Transgender." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 8, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 431-432. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 Apr. 2017
  8. ^ a b c d e McKinnon, Rachel. "Gender, Identity, and Society." Philosophy: Sex and Love, edited by James Petrik and Arthur Zucker, Macmillan Reference USA, 2016, pp. 175-198. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.
  9. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping girl: a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Emeryville, California: Seal Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 1-58005-154-5. 
  10. ^ Julia, Dudek (April 20, 2003), Playing with Barbies:The Role of Female Stereotypes in the Male-to-Female Transition, Transgender Tapestry, retrieved 5 February 2008 
  11. ^ From Donald to Deirdre - Donald N. McCloskey sex change to Deirdre N. McCloskey
  12. ^ a b c "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" (PDF). National Center for Transgender Equality & National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. p. 29. 
  13. ^ a b Elaut E, De Cuypere G, De Sutter P, Gijs L, Van Trotsenburg M, Heylens G, Kaufman JM, Rubens R, T'Sjoen G (Mar 2008). "Hypoactive sexual desire in transsexual women: prevalence and association with testosterone levels". European Journal of Endocrinology. Bioscientifica. 158 (3): 393–9. doi:10.1530/EJE-07-0511. PMID 18299474. 
  14. ^ Turna B, Apaydin E, Semerci B, Altay B, Cikili N, Nazli O (2005). "Women with low libido: correlation of decreased androgen levels with female sexual function index". International Journal of Impotence Research. 17 (2): 148–153. doi:10.1038/sj.ijir.3901294. PMID 15592425. 
  15. ^ Santoro N, Torrens J, Crawford S, Allsworth JE, Finkelstein JS, Gold EB, Korenman S, Lasley WL, Luborsky JL, McConnell D, Sowers MF, Weiss G (2005). "Correlates of circulating androgens in mid-life women: the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation". Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 90 (8): 4836–4845. doi:10.1210/jc.2004-2063. PMID 15840738. 
  16. ^ Sherwin BB, Gelfand MM, Brender W (1985). "Androgen enhances sexual motivation in females: a prospective, crossover study of sex steroid administration in the surgical menopause". Psychosomatic Medicine. 47 (4): 339–351. doi:10.1097/00006842-198507000-00004. PMID 4023162. 
  17. ^ Sherwin, B (1985). "Changes in sexual behavior as a function of plasma sex steroid levels in post-menopausal women". Maturitas. 7 (3): 225–233. doi:10.1016/0378-5122(85)90044-1. PMID 4079822. 
  18. ^ Davis SR, Davison SL, Donath S, Bell RJ (2005). "Circulating androgen levels and self-reported sexual function in women". Journal of the American Medical Association. 294 (1): 91–96. doi:10.1001/jama.294.1.91. PMID 15998895. 
  19. ^ DeCuypere G, T'Sjoen G, Beerten R, Selvaggi G, DeSutter P, Hoebeke P, Monstrey S, Vansteenwegen A, Rubens R (2005). "Sexual and physical health after sex reassignment surgery". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (6): 679–690. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-7926-5. PMID 16362252. 
  20. ^ Campaign, Human Rights. "Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2017." Human Rights Campaign. Human Rights Campaign, 2017. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  21. ^ a b Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). "Sexual Assault: The Numbers." Sexual Assault: The Numbers. Office for Victims of Crime, June 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  22. ^ Pittman, Trav. "Four Years to Live: On Violence Against Trans Women of Color." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
  23. ^ Schilt, Kristen, and Laurel Westbrook. “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ‘Gender Normals," Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality.” Gender and Society, vol. 23, no. 4, 2009, pp. 440–464., www.jstor.org/stable/20676798.
  24. ^ Haas, Ann; Rodgers, Philip; Herman, Jody. "Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-12-10. 
  25. ^ https://tdor.info/
  26. ^ "70 Percent of Anti-LGBT Murder Victims Are People of Color". 
  27. ^ "NTDS Report" (PDF). 
  28. ^ Barker-Plummer, Bernadette (2013). "Fixing Gwen". Feminist Media Studies. 13 (4): 710–724. doi:10.1080/14680777.2012.679289. 
  29. ^ Stryker, Susan (2008). Transgender history. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. p. 56. ISBN 0786741368. 
  30. ^ "Transgender Woman 1st to Win Office in Cuba". ABC News, November 16, 2012.
  31. ^ "Bruce Jenner: 'I'm a Woman'". ABC News. Retrieved 26 April 2015.