Understanding transgender

How do you know if you are male or female, or something else entirely? Is it your body parts, or what other people tell you, or what you feel deep inside?

What if your body parts told you one thing, and your family and friends thought that as well… but inside you felt something different? And no matter how hard you tried to fit in with what other people thought you should be, it just wasn’t… you?

Someone who is transgender has a gender identity (an inner sense of being male, female, or other) that doesn’t match the sex that they were assigned at birth (when the doctor or midwife decides, based on how a baby’s body parts look, what the sex of that baby is).

Transgender people may choose to express (to dress, and act, and use names and pronouns) in ways that fit with their true gender identity, but many are not able to, because of where they are or who is around them. The way a transgender person expresses their gender doesn’t change their sense of identity on the inside, or make it more or less valid.

Some people choose to transition — this means they take steps to live in a way that more closely lines up with their identity. There are a few different ways to transition:


Changing your name: Many trans people choose to change the name they are called by people in their life, and/or on their ID and other documents. 

Changing your ID gender marker: Your ID number classifies you as either male or female. You can apply to the Department of Home Affairs to have this changed to reflect your gender correctly. This will make it possible to update your driver’s licence, bank accounts and any educational certificates you have. Currently, it’s unfortunately not possible in South Africa to have a neutral gender marker (to reject gender, or indicate a non-binary gender).

Changing how you look: This can include changing the kind of clothes you choose to wear, or making different decisions about makeup.

Changing your body: This can include taking sex hormones and/or having surgery. Hormones affect things like our body hair, body fat distribution (where you have curves, or don’t), our voices, and how our genitals (private parts) look. Surgery is optional and can change your genitals and your reproductive system. While some may choose surgery, it is not an essential part of transition. Some may never consider surgery, and this does not make their transition or their identity any less real.


Each transgender person decides how, when and how much they would like to transition (or not). If you think you are transgender or you’d like to explore it more, check out the Gender Dynamix website. If you have a transgender friend or family member, find out how to support them in our article How to support a friend who ‘comes out’ to you.



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