Transgender overview

We recognise that this is a new area for everyone and that we are all learning and may make mistakes. Both the individual and University and college officers should engage in open and respectful communication, and take responsibility for ensuring the desired outcome.

The historic approach to gender and sex has been to classify people into the binary categories of male or female on the basis of their physical attributes at birth. Nowadays it is recognised that there are at least four dimensions to gender and sex.

  • Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their own gender. For trans people their own sense of who they are does not match the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Gender expression refers to the ways in which people manifest their gender, for example through how they dress, speak and act.
  • Sex– the two main categories (male and female) assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) at birth. In the UK this sex is included on the birth certificate and is their legal sex within the country’s legal framework.
  • Sexual orientation – a person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person.

An increasing number of people are identifying at different points on these scales, and sometimes in a fluid and changing way, contributing to a more complex spectrum of gender identity.

Transgender or trans is used as an umbrella term for people whose identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Every trans person’s experience is different, and increasingly some people are taking an exploratory approach to gender identity. 

Transitioning is a term used to describe the process and steps an individual takes in order to live in the gender with which they identify, where this is different from the one assigned at birth. The new identity may be non-binary (see below). Transitioning is a unique process for each individual and may include any number of changes to their life. Some people have a firm idea at the start of their desired outcome, but for other people the destination is not clear.

Transitioning may include dressing differently, changing name and pronoun, changing official documents, telling friends and family, or a number of other steps. Transitioning may include a medical intervention such as hormone treatment or surgery, though not everyone will choose this route. 

Gender dysphoria is the clinical diagnosis for someone feeling profound distress at the discrepancy between the way they feel inside and the sex they were assigned at birth. However, some trans people reject the idea that experiencing gender dysphoria is a pre-requisite for being trans.

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Oxford staff and students are contributing to the evolving debate about gender identity. For some people this is not an abstract academic discussion, but part of a personal process of developing greater understanding of one’s self. This may include using a different name with friends or experimenting with changes to appearance. Later people may ask to be addressed by a different name or pronoun. At some future time they may change their name by deed poll or tell the University or college that they wish to be recognised in their affirmed gender, but at the start of transition they may not know what direction their journey will take. There may be personal reasons why people feel unable to transition, or feel they can only be ‘out’ in certain circles. 

People who are non-binary do not identify themselves as either a man or a woman. They may have a more fluid sense of gender identity, and may experience themselves in different ways.

Students and staff come to Oxford from countries round the world, with very different approaches to transgender issues.  Gender identity interacts with other areas of identity, including ethnicity, culture, religion and disability, and this may sometimes lead to particular issues for individuals, or cause tensions. 

Some members of the University have experience of dealing with the transition of a close family member, and they may need information and support too. This may be a bewildering and distressing time for the whole family, who may deal with the situation in different ways. 

Under UK law, trans people are protected against discrimination, and their gender identity history must be treated as highly confidential.

  • Transitioning involves different steps and activities for different people.
  • The timescales, activity and communication will be driven and led by the person transitioning.
  • The University will take steps to support people who are transitioning, including making changes to records.
  • A person’s trans status and gender identity history must be treated as highly confidential.

I came out as genderqueer/non-binary to my college in April of this year and they have been really supportive about it. They changed my name on the records, everyone was briefed and now use my new name. [The lack of proper use of] pronouns is disappointing but as I’m non-binary and prefer “they” it’s just that way with almost everyone. All in all, it’s been a very positive experience and I’m so relieved to be out and accepted by everybody. (Student)