What Is Transphobia?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 27, 2022
5 min read

Transphobia describes someone who has hate, fear, or disgust for transgender people or anyone who does not fit into the male/female gender binary. For example, a transphobic person may express disgust for a "tomboy" or for a masculine-appearing person wearing a dress. Another example would be someone no longer wanting to continue a friendship after finding out their friend is transgender. These are just a few interpersonal examples of transphobia that do not represent the whole scope of the issue.

There are also overarching societal examples. Transgender people face discrimination in the workplace, healthcare settings, and the housing market, among other areas of daily life.

Someone may be transgender if the gender they feel they are doesn't match the one they were assigned at birth. There are many different transgender identities and many ways to be transgender. There are transgender men, transgender women, nonbinary transgender people, genderqueer people, genderfluid people, and more. Some trans people have surgery or take hormones to align their body with how they feel inside, but many do not. Having a medical transition is not necessary to be transgender.

There are endless ways that transphobia can show up, including:

Using incorrect pronouns. Trans people may ask those around them to use different pronouns than the ones they were assigned at birth to refer to them. For example, a transgender man assigned female at birth may ask his loved ones to stop using she/her pronouns and start using he/him pronouns. Some people use pronouns other than she/her or he/him, like they/them, ze/hir, or xe/xim.

Using a transgender person's "deadname." A deadname is the name a trans person was given at birth. This name usually matches the gender they were assigned at that time. Transgender people often change their names to match their true gender identity and expression.

Using a person's deadname can cause stress and can also cause gender dysphoria, a condition that describes the discomfort someone feels when their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Symptoms of gender dysphoria include anxiety and depression. One study of transgender people showed that when transgender youth can use their chosen name, they display less suicidal ideation.

If you make a mistake, just apologize and try to remember next time. Deadnaming someone, especially when done on purpose, can have harmful effects on transgender people.

Bullying. Studies show that 43% of transgender students have been bullied while on school property, compared to only 18% of cisgender youth. 29% of transgender students have been threatened with a weapon at school, compared with only 7% of cisgender students. That is a huge disparity, and it seems to be growing. Transgender students were more likely to be bullied on campus in 2019 than in 2017.

Other forms of bullying include name-calling and using inappropriate language.

Violence. Transgender people are four times more likely to experience violent incidents, including sexual assault and aggravated assault, than cisgender people. At least 25% of the trans people in one study believed the crime they had survived was a hate-related incident.

Crimes against transgender people seem to be on the rise. According to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that tracks murders of transgender people, 2021 was the deadliest year, with 50 transgender and gender nonconforming people being murdered. Transgender women of color are more likely to be murdered than other transgender people.

Legislation. In the past few years, new legislation targeting transgender people, especially transgender youth, has passed in several states in the United States. These laws govern who can use which bathroom, prohibit transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care, prevent transgender people from participating in gendered sports, and limit what teachers can tell students about transgender people.

Workplace discrimination. Transgender people are twice as likely as cisgender people to be unemployed. Over 40% of transgender people who do have a job are underemployed. They are also over four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 per year than cisgender people. In one survey, 90% of transgender people polled had experienced some kind of discrimination in the workplace.

Medical discrimination. Some recent laws prevent transgender children from receiving age-appropriate gender-affirming care. Besides that, transgender people face general discrimination in medical settings. In one study, 30% of transgender people reported postponing medical treatment due to fear of discrimination. Over 30% of trans people in the same survey reported needing to educate their doctors about transgender people. In one survey, 86% of doctors were willing to provide care to transgender people, but only 69% felt equipped to do so due to a lack of knowledge about transgender healthcare.

Housing discrimination. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 20% of transgender people have experienced discrimination when searching for a new home or apartment, and 10% have been evicted due to their gender identity. This could be one reason why 20% of transgender people have been homeless at some point in their lives and why transgender people represent between 20% and 40% of the homeless population in the U.S.

Transphobia can cause depression, anxiety, isolation, and feelings of hopelessness in transgender people. It can also lead to suicide. 82% of transgender people have considered suicide, while 40% of trans people have attempted it at some point in their lives. These rates are higher for transgender people of color. 54% of trans people of color have attempted suicide. Just 1.6% of the general population has attempted suicide, showing that the rates for transgender people, and especially transgender people of color, are exponentially higher.

Internalized transphobia happens when a trans person has absorbed messages of shame they received as a child about gender nonconforming people or their own gender nonconforming behaviors or desires. According to the Office for Victims for Crime, this can lead to transgender people getting into relationships with domestic violence and can also lead transgender survivors of violent crimes to believe they deserved what happened to them.

Educating yourself about transgender rights, gender identity issues, and how to respect transgender people is the best way to fight against transphobia. Here are some tips:

  • Never ask a transgender person about their genitals, whether or not they've had surgery, or if they are on hormones.
  • Avoid backhanded compliments like "I would never guess you are transgender!"
  • Ask people for their pronouns instead of assuming.
  • Use gender-inclusive language when talking to a group, like "folks" or "people."
  • Stand up for trans people when you hear other people using slurs, making transphobic jokes, or otherwise being transphobic.
  • Use a trans person's correct name and pronouns. Do not ask them about their previous name or pronouns. 
  • Let the transgender people in your life know you are an ally and that you want to support them.

If you are a trans person and you need resources for dealing with transphobia:

  • Document what is happening in writing.
  • Tell a trusted adult, friend, teacher, or counselor.
  • If it happens at school, go to the principal.
  • If violent threats have been made, consider filing a police report. Violent threats are against the law.
  • Create a safety plan with friends or family. For example, if the bullying happens when you walk home, try to get a ride.
  • If you are feeling suicidal or depressed, call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 or the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. You can also text the Trevor Project by sending "start" to 678-678.