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Trans woman

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A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth. Trans women may experience gender dysphoria and may transition; this process commonly includes hormone replacement therapy and sometimes sex reassignment surgery, which can bring relief and resolve feelings of gender dysphoria. Trans women may be heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, asexual, or identify with other terms (such as queer).

The term transgender woman is not always interchangeable with transsexual woman, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people). Trans women face significant discrimination in many areas of life (transmisogyny, a subset of transphobia), including in employment and access to housing, and face physical and sexual violence and hate crimes, including from partners; in the United States, discrimination is particularly severe towards trans women who are members of a racial minority, who often face the intersection of transphobia and racism.


A trans woman at a gay pride parade in São Paulo, Brazil

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. 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 relieve the person of gender dysphoria.[2][3]


The term trans woman originates from the use of the Latin prefix trans- meaning "across, beyond, through, on the other side of,[4] to go beyond" and woman.[5] The term was first used in Leslie Feinberg's 1996 book Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.[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 women 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 women have undergone sex reassignment surgery, many struggle in society to pass as a woman and be accepted.[8] This ability to pass can cause one who was considered a trans woman to be seen just as any other 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 norms of what it means to be a woman.[8]

The CDC refers to the word "transgender" as "an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity or expression (masculine, feminine, other) is different from their sex (male, female) at birth".[9] Trans woman is commonly interchanged with other terms such as transgender woman and transsexual woman.[7] According to, transgender means "denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex."[10] 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," often owing to the societal otherization of trans individuals. Among those who do refer to themselves as trans women, 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".[11]

Sexual orientation

Laverne Cox, American transgender actress who plays a trans woman on the show Orange is the New Black

Trans women may identify as heterosexual (or straight), bisexual, homosexual (or lesbian), asexual, or none of the above.[9][12][13][14] A survey of roughly 3000 American trans women showed 31% of them identifying as bisexual, 29% as "gay/lesbian/same-gender", 23% as heterosexual, 7% as asexual, as well as 7% identifying as "queer" and 2% as "other".[15]


In a 2008 study, trans women had a higher incidence of low libido (34%) than cisgender women (23%), but the difference was not statistically significant and may have been due to chance.[16] As in males, female libido is thought to correlate with serum testosterone levels[17][18][19][20] (with some controversy[21]) but the 2008 study found no such correlation in trans women.[16][22] Another study, published in 2014, found that 62.4% of trans women reported their sexual desire had decreased after sexual reassignment therapy.[23]

Violence towards trans women

Trans women face a form of violence known as trans bashing. The Washington Blade reported that Global Rights, an international NGO, tracked the mistreatment of trans women in Brazil, including at the hands of the police.[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]

United States

According to a 2009 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, quoted by the Office for Victims of Crime, 11% of all hate crimes towards members of the LGBTQ community were directed towards trans women.[26]

In 2015 a false statistic was widely reported in the United States media stating that the life expectancy of a trans woman of color is only 35 years.[27] This appears to be based on a comment specifically about Latin America in a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which compiled data on the age at death of murdered trans women for all of the Americas (North, South, and Central), and does not disaggregate by race.[27][28][29]

In 2016, 23 transgender people suffered fatal attacks in the United States. The Human Rights Campaign report found some of these deaths to be direct results of an anti-transgender bias, and some due to related factors such as homelessness.[30]

One type of violence towards trans women is committed by perpetrators who learn that their sexual partner is transgender and feel deceived. Almost 95% of these crimes were committed by cisgender men towards trans women.[31] According to a 2005 paper looking at HIV needs analysis in Houston, Texas, "50% of transgender people surveyed had been hit by a primary partner after coming out as transgender".[26]


American activist trans women Andrea James and Calpernia Addams

Trans women, like all gender variant people, often face discrimination and transphobia.[15]:8 A 2015 survey from The Williams Institute found that, of 27,715 transgender respondents, 52% whose families had rejected them attempted suicide, as did 64.9% of those who were physically attacked in the past year.[32]

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:[15][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 assault 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 American 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.[33]

Discrimination is particularly severe towards non-white trans women, who experience the intersection of racism and transphobia. For example, a potential result of such discrimination is that multiracial, Latina, black and indigenous American trans women are twice to more than three times as likely as white trans women to be sexually assaulted in prison.[34]

In her book Whipping Girl, trans woman Julia Serano refers to the unique discrimination trans women experience as "transmisogyny".[35]

Discrimination against trans women has occurred at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival after the Festival set out a rule that it would only be a space for cisgender females. This led to protests by trans women and their allies, and a boycott of the Festival by Equality Michigan in 2014. The boycott was joined by the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force. The "womyn-born-womyn" intention first came to attention in 1991 after a transsexual festival-goer, Nancy Burkholder, was asked to leave the festival when several women recognized her as a trans woman and expressed discomfort with her presence in the space.[36][37]

Isis King, American transgender model and actress, was the first trans woman contestant on the reality television show America's Next Top Model.

See also


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