Transgender is a very broad term including all individuals who step outside the lines of gender expression "typical" of their birth sex.
Most individuals, when it comes to their gender, sex, and sexuality do not always lie on one end of the spectrum, but somewhere in the middle. Today's culture leaves little room for androgynous individuals. Yet, as you can see, every person’s gender/sex/sexuality is very personal, complex, and quite unique to them.
At birth individuals can be born either solely male, solely female or somewhere in between; those in the middle are usually referred to as intersexed. With changes (either chosen or unchosen) a person can move along this spectrum.
A person’s gender includes:
Sexuality (sexual/affectional orientation, in other words, who you are attracted to) also varies greatly individual to individual. If you think of men being on one side of the spectrum and women being on the other, it may be males/females that the person is attracted to, or is it really masculinity/femininity? For someone in the middle of the spectrum, are gender variant individuals attractive to you?
Adapted from Transgender youth. Retrieved online from users.wpi.edu/~bilaga/safezone/index.html on Jan 22, 2003.
To put it simply, transgender youth challenge gender. When we are born we are labeled as male or female, and are prepared by society to live our lives accordingly. Our lives, bodies, and gender are more complex than this. Some people born with "female bodies" experience their gender as male, and vice-versa. Others don't experience gender as male or female at all.
We must recognize that no two persons experience gender the same way. Transgender youth may identify as shapeshifters, non-male/non-female, intersex, butch queens, boy dykes, two-spirits, femme queens, boy-girls, transvestites, crossdressers, gender queers, bigenders, transsexuals, FTM's (female-to-male), MTF's (male-to-female), new women, new men, transgressively gendered…and so on.
Many FTM (female-to-male) transgendered people do not undergo genital surgery, often because of disappointing results or extreme costs. As surgical techniques improve, this may change. Since it is healthier for these people to live in accord with their wishes and heartfelt need, they should be referred to as men, though they may have a vagina instead of a penis.
The situation for MTF (male-to-female) transgendered people is equivalent, except that the surgery produces a much more satisfying result both cosmetically and functionally. Nonetheless, many MTF gender variant people elect not to have surgery, most often because of risk, pain, or cost. Those who retain male sexual functioning may refer to themselves as transgenderists, since it is only their gender which is changed. Those that disown all male sexual function (surgery or not) tend to identify as transsexuals, since they change their sexual function and their sexual identity.
The Transgender Community often refers to a loose association of people who transgress gender norms in a wide variety of ways. Celebrating recently born self-awareness, this community is growing fast across all lines, including social, economic, political, and philosophical divisions. The central ethic of this community is unconditional acceptance of an individuals exercise of freedoms, including gender and sexual identity/orientation.
Adapted from Worcester Polytechnic Institute users.wpi.edu/~bilaga/safezone/index.html on Jan. 28, 2010.