At the same time, several states have enacted or are considering legislation that would limit the rights of transgender and nonbinary people. These include bills requiring people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth, prohibiting trans athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity, and restricting the availability of health care to trans youth seeking to medically transition.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes people who describe themselves as a man, a woman or nonbinary, or who use terms such as gender fluid or agender to describe their gender. While relatively few U.S. adults are transgender, a growing share say they know someone who is (44% today vs. 37% in 2017). One-in-five say they know someone who doesn’t identify as a man or woman.
In order to better understand the experiences of transgender and nonbinary adults at a time when gender identity is at the center of many national debates, Pew Research Center conducted a series of focus groups with trans men, trans women and nonbinary adults on issues ranging from their gender journey, to how they navigate issues of gender in their day-to-day life, to what they see as the most pressing policy issues facing people who are trans or nonbinary. This is part of a larger study that includes a survey of the general public on their attitudes about gender identity and issues related to people who are transgender or nonbinary.
The terms transgender and trans are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to people whose gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes, but is not limited to, transgender men (that is, men who were assigned female at birth) and transgender women (women who were assigned male at birth).
Nonbinary adults are defined here as those who are neither a man nor a woman or who aren’t strictly one or the other. While some nonbinary focus group participants sometimes use different terms to describe themselves, such as “gender queer,” “gender fluid” or “genderless,” all said the term “nonbinary” describes their gender in the screening questionnaire. Some, but not all, nonbinary participants also consider themselves to be transgender.
References to gender transitions relate to the process through which trans and nonbinary people express their gender as different from social expectations associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. This may include social, legal and medical transitions. The social aspect of a gender transition may include going by a new name or using different pronouns, or expressing their gender through their dress, mannerisms, gender roles or other ways. The legal aspect may include legally changing their name or changing their sex or gender designation on legal documents or identification. Medical care may include treatments such as hormone therapy, laser hair removal and/or surgery.
References to femme indicate feminine gender expression. This is often in contrast to “masc,” meaning masculine gender expression.
Cisgender is used to describe people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth and who do not identify as transgender or nonbinary.
Misgendering is defined as referring to or addressing a person in ways that do not align with their gender identity, including using incorrect pronouns, titles (such as “sir” or “ma’am”), and other terms (such as “son” or “daughter”) that do not match their gender.
References to dysphoria may include feelings of distress due to the mismatch of one’s gender and sex assigned at birth, as well as a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is sometimes a prerequisite for access to health care and medical transitions.
The acronym LGBTQ+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or, in some cases, questioning), and other sexual orientations or gender identities that are not straight or cisgender, such as intersex, asexual or pansexual.
How we did this
Pew Research Center conducted this research to better understand the experiences and views of transgender and nonbinary U.S. adults. Because transgender and nonbinary people make up only about 1.6% of the adult U.S. population, this is a difficult population to reach with a probability-based, nationally representative survey. As an alternative, we conducted a series of focus groups with trans and nonbinary adults covering a variety of topics related to the trans and nonbinary experience. This allows us to go more in-depth on some of these topics than a survey would typically allow, and to share these experiences in the participants’ own words.
For this project, we conducted six online focus groups, with a total of 27 participants (four to five participants in each group), from March 8-10, 2022. Participants were recruited by targeted email outreach among a panel of adults who had previously said on a survey that they were transgender or nonbinary, as well as via connections through professional networks and LGBTQ+ organizations, followed by a screening call. Candidates were eligible if they met the technology requirements to participate in an online focus group and if they either said they consider themselves to be transgender or if they said their gender was nonbinary or another identity other than man or woman (regardless of whether or not they also said they were transgender). For more details, see the Methodology.
Participants who qualified were placed in groups as follows: one group of nonbinary adults only (with a nonbinary moderator); one group of trans women only (with a trans woman moderator); one group of trans men only (with a trans man moderator); and three groups with a mix of trans and nonbinary adults (with either a nonbinary moderator or a trans man moderator). All of the moderators had extensive experience facilitating groups, including with transgender and nonbinary participants.
The participants were a mix of ages, races/ethnicities, and were from all corners of the country. For a detailed breakdown of the participants’ demographic characteristics, see the Methodology.
The findings are not statistically representative and cannot be extrapolated to wider populations.
Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity or to remove identifying details. In this essay, participants are identified as trans men, trans women, or nonbinary adults based on their answers to the screening questionnaire. These words don’t necessarily encompass all of the ways in which participants described their gender. Participants’ ages are grouped into the following categories: late teens; early/mid/late 20s, 30s and 40s; and 50s and 60s (those ages 50 to 69 were grouped into bigger “buckets” to better preserve their anonymity).
These focus groups were not designed to be representative of the entire population of trans and nonbinary U.S. adults, but the participants’ stories provide a glimpse into some of the experiences of people who are transgender and/or nonbinary. The groups included a total of 27 transgender and nonbinary adults from around the U.S. and ranging in age from late teens to mid-60s. Most currently live in an urban area, but about half said they grew up in a suburb. The groups included a mix of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial American participants. See Methodology for more details.
Identity and the gender journey
Most focus group participants said they knew from an early age – many as young as preschool or elementary school – that there was something different about them, even if they didn’t have the words to describe what it was. Some described feeling like they didn’t fit in with other children of their sex but didn’t know exactly why. Others said they felt like they were in the wrong body.
“I remember preschool, [where] the boys were playing on one side and the girls were playing on the other, and I just had a moment where I realized what side I was supposed to be on and what side people thought I was supposed to be on. … Yeah, I always knew that I was male, since my earliest memories.” – Trans man, late 30s
“As a small child, like around kindergarten [or] first grade … I just was [fascinated] by how some people were small girls, and some people were small boys, and it was on my mind constantly. And I started to feel very uncomfortable, just existing as a young girl.” – Trans man, early 30s
“I was 9 and I was at day camp and I was changing with all the other 9-year-old girls … and I remember looking at everybody’s body around me and at my own body, and even though I was visually seeing the exact shapeless nine-year-old form, I literally thought to myself, ‘oh, maybe I was supposed to be a boy,’ even though I know I wasn’t seeing anything different. … And I remember being so unbothered by the thought, like not a panic, not like, ‘oh man, I’m so different, like everybody here I’m so different and this is terrible,’ I was like, ‘oh, maybe I was supposed to be a boy,’ and for some reason that exact quote really stuck in my memory.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s
“Since I was little, I felt as though I was a man who, when they were passing out bodies, someone made a goof and I got a female body instead of the male body that I should have had. But I was forced by society, especially at that time growing up, to just make my peace with having a female body.” – Nonbinary person, 50s
“I’ve known ever since I was little. I’m not really sure the age, but I just always knew when I put on boy clothes, I just felt so uncomfortable.” – Trans woman, late 30s
“It was probably as early as I can remember that I wasn’t like my brother or my father [and] not exactly like my girl cousins but I was something else, but I didn’t know what it was.” – Nonbinary person, 60s
Many participants were well into adulthood before they found the words to describe their gender. For those focus group participants, the path to self-discovery varied. Some described meeting someone who was transgender and relating to their experience; others described learning about people who are trans or nonbinary in college classes or by doing their own research.
“I read a Time magazine article … called ‘Homosexuality in America’ … in 1969. … Of course, we didn’t have language like we do now or people were not willing to use it … [but] it was kind of the first word that I had ever heard that resonated with me at all. So, I went to school and I took the magazine, we were doing show-and-tell, and I stood up in front of the class and said, ‘I am a homosexual.’ So that began my journey to figure this stuff out.” – Nonbinary person, 60s
“It wasn’t until maybe I was 20 or so when my friend started his transition where I was like, ‘Wow, that sounds very similar to the emotions and challenges I am going through with my own identity.’ … My whole life from a very young age I was confused, but I didn’t really put a name on it until I was about 20.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“I knew about drag queens, but I didn’t know what trans was until I got to college and was exposed to new things, and that was when I had a word for myself for the first time.” – Trans man, early 40s
“I thought that by figuring out that I was interested in women, identifying as lesbian, I thought [my anxiety and sadness] would dissipate in time, and that was me cracking the code. But then, when I got older, I left home for the first time. I started to meet other trans people in the world. That’s when I started to become equipped with the vocabulary. The understanding that this is a concept, and this makes sense. And that’s when I started to understand that I wasn’t cisgender.” – Trans man, early 30s
“When I took a human sexuality class in undergrad and I started learning about gender and different sexualities and things like that, I was like, ‘oh my god. I feel seen.’ So, that’s where I learned about it for the first time and started understanding how I identify.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s
Focus group participants used a wide range of words to describe how they see their gender. For many nonbinary participants, the term “nonbinary” is more of an umbrella term, but when it comes to how they describe themselves, they tend to use words like “gender queer” or “gender fluid.” The word “queer” came up many times across different groups, often to describe anyone who is not straight or cisgender. Some trans men and women preferred just the terms “man” or “woman,” while some identified strongly with the term “transgender.” The graphic below shows just some of the words the participants used to describe their gender.
The way nonbinary people conceptualize their gender varies. Some said they feel like they’re both a man and a woman – and how much they feel like they are one or the other may change depending on the day or the circumstance. Others said they don’t feel like they are either a man or a woman, or that they don’t have a gender at all. Some, but not all, also identified with the term transgender.
“I had days where I would go out and just play with the boys and be one of the boys, and then there would be times that I would play with the girls and be one of the girls. And then I just never really knew what I was. I just knew that I would go back and forth.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s
“Growing up with more of a masculine side or a feminine side, I just never was a fan of the labelling in terms of, ‘oh, this is a bit too masculine, you don’t wear jewelry, you don’t wear makeup, oh you’re not feminine enough.’ … I used to alternate just based on who I felt I was. So, on a certain day if I felt like wearing a dress, or a skirt versus on a different day, I felt like wearing what was considered men’s pants. … So, for me it’s always been both.”
– Nonbinary person, mid-30s
“I feel like my gender is so amorphous and hard to hold and describe even. It’s been important to find words for it, to find the outlines of it, to see the shape of it, but it’s not something that I think about as who I am, because I’m more than just that.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“What words would I use to describe me? Genderless, if gender wasn’t a thing. … I guess if pronouns didn’t exist and you just called me [by my name]. That’s what my gender is. … And I do use nonbinary also, just because it feels easier, I guess.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
Some participants said their gender is one of the most important parts of their identity, while others described it as one of many important parts or a small piece of how they see themselves. For some, the focus on gender can get tiring. Those who said gender isn’t a central – or at least not the most central – part of their identity mentioned race, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic class as important aspects that shape their identity and experiences.
“It is tough because [gender] does affect every factor of your life. If you are doing medical transitioning then you have appointments, you have to pay for the appointments, you have to be working in a job that supports you to pay for those appointments. So, it is definitely integral, and it has a lot of branches. And it deals with how you act, how you relate to friends, you know, I am sure some of us can relate to having to come out multiple times in our lives. That is why sexuality and gender are very integral and I would definitely say I am proud of it. And I think being able to say that I am proud of it, and my gender, I guess is a very important part of my identity.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“Sometimes I get tired of thinking about my gender because I am actively [undergoing my medical transition]. So, it is a lot of things on my mind right now, constantly, and it sometimes gets very tiring. I just want to not have to think about it some days. So, I would say it’s, it’s probably in my top three [most important parts of my identity] – parent, Black, queer nonbinary.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s
“I live in a town with a large queer and trans population and I don’t have to think about my gender most of the time other than having to come out as trans. But I’m poor and that colors everything. It’s not a chosen part of my identity but that part of my identity is a lot more influential than my gender.” – Trans man, early 40s
“My gender is very important to my identity because I feel that they go hand in hand. Now my identity is also broken down into other factors [like] character, personality and other stuff that make up the recipe for my identity. But my gender plays a big part of it. … It is important because it’s how I live my life every day. When I wake up in the morning, I do things as a woman.” – Trans woman, mid-40s
“I feel more strongly connected to my other identities outside of my gender, and I feel like parts of it’s just a more universal thing, like there’s a lot more people in my socioeconomic class and we have much more shared experiences.” – Trans man, late 30s
Some participants spoke about how their gender interacted with other aspects of their identity, such as their race, culture and religion. For some, being transgender or nonbinary can be at odds with other parts of their identity or background.
“Culturally I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican, a little bit of the macho machismo culture, in my family, and even now, if I’m going to be a man, I’ve got to be a certain type of man. So, I cannot just be who I’m meant to be or who I want myself to be, the human being that I am.” – Trans man, mid-30s
“[Judaism] is a very binary religion. There is a lot of things like for men to do and a lot of things for women to do. … So, it is hard for me now as a gender queer person, right, to connect on some levels with [my] religion … I have just now been exposed to a bunch of trans Jewish spaces online which is amazing.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s
“Just being Indian American, I identify and love aspects of my culture and ethnicity, and I find them amazing and I identify with that, but it’s kind of separated. So, I identify with the culture, then I identify here in terms of gender and being who I am, but I kind of feel the necessity to separate the two, unfortunately.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s
“I think it’s really me being a Black woman or a Black man that can sometimes be difficult. And also, my ethnic background too. It’s really rough for me with my family back home and things of that nature.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s
Navigating gender day-to-day
For some, deciding how open to be about their gender identity can be a constant calculation. Some participants reported that they choose whether or not to disclose that they are trans or nonbinary in a given situation based on how safe or comfortable they feel and whether it’s necessary for other people to know. This also varies depending on whether the participant can easily pass as a cisgender man or woman (that is, they can blend in so that others assume them to be cisgender and don’t recognize that they are trans or nonbinary).
“It just depends on whether I feel like I have the energy to bring it up, or if it feels worth it to me like with doctors and stuff like that. I always bring it up with my therapists, my primary [care doctor], I feel like she would get it. I guess it does vary on the situation and my capacity level.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“I decide based on the person and based on the context, like if I feel comfortable enough to share that piece of myself with them, because I do have the privilege of being able to move through the world and be identified as cis[gender] if I want to. But then it is important to me – if you’re important to me, then you will know who I am and how I identify. Otherwise, if I don’t feel comfortable or safe then I might not.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“The expression of my gender doesn’t vary. Who I let in to know that I was formerly female – or formerly perceived as female – is kind of on a need to know basis.” – Trans man, 60s
“It’s important to me that people not see me as cis[gender], so I have to come out a lot when I’m around new people, and sometimes that’s challenging. … It’s not information that comes out in a normal conversation. You have to force it and that’s difficult sometimes.” – Trans man, early 40s
Work is one realm where many participants said they choose not to share that they are trans or nonbinary. In some cases, this is because they want to be recognized for their work rather than the fact that they are trans or nonbinary; in others, especially for nonbinary participants, they fear it will be perceived as unprofessional.
“It’s gotten a lot better recently, but I feel like when you’re nonbinary and you use they/them pronouns, it’s just seen as really unprofessional and has been for a lot of my life.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“Whether it’s LinkedIn or profiles [that] have been updated, I’ve noticed people’s resumes have their pronouns now. I don’t go that far because I just feel like it’s a professional environment, it’s nobody’s business.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s
“I don’t necessarily volunteer the information just to make it public; I want to be recognized for my character, my skill set, in my work in other ways.” – Trans man, early 30s
Some focus group participants said they don’t mind answering questions about what it’s like to be trans or nonbinary but were wary of being seen as the token trans or nonbinary person in their workplace or among acquaintances. Whether or not they are comfortable answering these types of questions sometimes depends on who’s asking, why they want to know, and how personal the questions get.
“I’ve talked to [my cousin about being trans] a lot because she has a daughter, and her daughter wants to transition. So, she always will come to me asking questions.” – Trans woman, early 40s
“It is tough being considered the only resource for these topics, right? In my job, I would hate to call myself the token nonbinary, but I was the first nonbinary person that they hired and they were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, let me ask you all the questions as you are obviously the authority on the subject.’ And it is like, ‘No, that is a part of me, but there are so many other great resources.’” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“I don’t want to be the token. I’m not going to be no spokesperson. If you have questions, I’m the first person you can ask. Absolutely. I don’t mind discussing. Ask me some of the hardest questions, because if you ask somebody else you might get you know your clock cleaned. So, ask me now … so you can be educated properly. Otherwise, I don’t believe it’s anybody’s business.” – Trans woman, early 40s
Most nonbinary participants said they use “they/them” as their pronouns, but some prefer alternatives. These alternatives include a combination of gendered and gender-neutral pronouns (like she/they) or simply preferring that others use one’s names rather than pronouns.
“If I could, I would just say my name is my pronoun, which I do in some spaces, but it just is not like a larger view. It feels like I’d rather have less labor on me in that regard, so I just say they/them.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“For me personally, I don’t get mad if someone calls me ‘he’ because I see what they’re looking at. They look and they see a guy. So, I don’t get upset. I know a few people who do … and they correct you. Me, I’m a little more fluid. So, that’s how it works for me.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s
“I use they/she pronouns and I put ‘they’ first because that is what I think is most comfortable and it’s what I want to draw people’s attention to, because I’m 5 feet tall and 100 pounds so it’s not like I scream masculine at first sight, so I like putting ‘they’ first because otherwise people always default to ‘she.’ But I have ‘she’ in there, and I don’t know if I’d have ‘she’ in there if I had not had kids.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s
“Why is it so hard for people to think of me as nonbinary? I choose not to use only they/them pronouns because I do sometimes identify with ‘she.’ But I’m like, ‘Do I need to use they/them pronouns to be respected as nonbinary?’ Sometimes I feel like I should do that. But I don’t want to feel like I should do anything. I just want to be myself and have that be accepted and respected.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I have a lot of patience for people, but [once someone in public used] they/them pronouns and I thanked them and they were like, ‘Yeah, I just figure I’d do it when I don’t know [someone’s] pronouns.’ And I’m like, ‘I love it, thank you.’” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
Transgender and nonbinary participants find affirmation of their gender identity and support in various places. Many cited their friends, chosen families (and, less commonly, their relatives), therapists or other health care providers, religion, or LGBTQ+ spaces as sources of support.
“I’m just not close with my family [of origin], but I have a huge chosen family that I love and that fully respects my identity.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“Before the pandemic I used to go out to bars a lot; there’s a queer bar in my town and it was a really nice place just being friends with everybody who went and everybody who worked there, it felt really nice you know, and just hearing everybody use the right pronouns for me it just felt really good.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I don’t necessarily go to a lot of dedicated support groups, but I found that there’s kind of a good amount of support in areas or groups or fandoms for things that have a large LGBT population within them. Like certain shows or video games, where it’s just kind of a joke that all the gay people flock to this.” – Trans woman, late teens
“Being able to practice my religion in a location with a congregation that is just completely chill about it, or so far has been completely chill about it, has been really amazing.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s
Many participants shared specific moments they said were small in the grand scheme of things but made them feel accepted and affirmed. Examples included going on dates, gestures of acceptance by a friend or social group, or simply participating in everyday activities.
“I went on a date with a really good-looking, handsome guy. And he didn’t know that I was trans. But I told him, and we kept talking and hanging out. … That’s not the first time that I felt affirmed or felt like somebody is treating me as I present myself. But … he made me feel wanted and beautiful.” – Trans woman, late 30s
“I play [on a men’s rec league] hockey [team]. … I joined the league like right when I first transitioned and I showed up and I was … nervous with locker rooms and stuff, and they just accepted me as male right away.” – Trans man, late 30s
“I ended up going into a barbershop. … The barber was very welcoming, and talked to me as if I was just a casual customer and there was something that clicked within that moment where, figuring out my gender identity, I just wanted to exist in the world to do these natural things like other boys and men would do. So, there was just something exciting about that. It wasn’t a super macho masculine moment, … he just made me feel like I blended in.” – Trans man, early 30s
Participants also talked about negative experiences, such as being misgendered, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, some shared instances where they were treated or addressed as a gender other than the gender that they identify as, such as people referring to them as “he” when they go by “she,” or where they were deadnamed, meaning they were called by the name they had before they transitioned.
“I get misgendered on the phone a lot and that’s really annoying. And then, even after I correct them, they keep doing it, sometimes on purpose and sometimes I think they’re just reading a script or something.” – Trans man, late 30s
“The times that I have been out, presenting femme, there is this very subconscious misgendering that people do and it can be very frustrating. [Once, at a restaurant,] I was dressed in makeup and nails and shoes and everything and still everyone was like, ‘Sir, what would you like?’ … Those little things – those microaggressions – they can really eat away at people.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s
“People not calling me by the right name. My family is a big problem, they just won’t call me by my name, you know? Except for my nephew, who is of the Millennial generation, so at least he gets it.” – Nonbinary person, 60s
“I’m constantly misgendered when I go out places. I accept this – because of the way I look, people are going to perceive me as a woman and it doesn’t cause me huge dysphoria or anything, it’s just nice that the company that I keep does use the right pronouns.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
Some participants also shared stories of discrimination, bias, humiliation, and even violence. These experiences ranged from employment discrimination to being outed (that is, someone else disclosing the fact that they are transgender or nonbinary without their permission) without their permission to physical attacks.
“I was on a date with this girl and I had to use the bathroom … and the janitor … wouldn’t let me use the men’s room, and he kept refusing to let me use the men’s room, so essentially, I ended up having to use the same bathroom as my date.” – Trans man, late 30s
“I’ve been denied employment due to my gender identity. I walked into a supermarket looking for jobs. … And they flat out didn’t let me apply. They didn’t even let me apply.” – Trans man, mid-30s
“[In high school,] this group of guys said, ‘[name] is gay.’ I ignored them but they literally threw me and tore my shirt from my back and pushed me to the ground and tried to strip me naked. And I had to fight for myself and use my bag to hit him in the face.” – Trans woman, late 20s
“I took a college course [after] I had my name changed legally and the instructor called me out in front of the class and called me a liar and outed me.” – Trans man, late 30s
Seeking medical care for gender transitions
Many, but not all, participants said they have received medical care, such as surgery or hormone therapy, as part of their gender transition. For those who haven’t undergone a medical transition, the reasons ranged from financial barriers to being nervous about medical procedures in general to simply not feeling that it was the right thing for them.
“For me to really to live my truth and live my identity, I had to have the surgery, which is why I went through it. It doesn’t mean [that others] have to, or that it will make you more or less of a woman because you have it. But for me to be comfortable, … that was a big part of it. And so, that’s why I felt I had to get it.” – Trans woman, early 40s
“I’m older and it’s an operation. … I’m just kind of scared, I guess. I’ve never had an operation. I mean, like any kind of operation. I’ve never been to the hospital or anything like that. So, it [is] just kind of scary. But I mean, I want to. I think about all the time. I guess have got to get the courage up to do it.” – Trans woman, early 40s
“I’ve decided that the dysphoria of a second puberty … would just be too much for me and I’m gender fluid enough where I’m happy, I guess.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I’m too old to change anything, I mean I am what I am. [laughs]” – Nonbinary person, 60s
Many focus group participants who have sought medical treatment for their gender transition faced barriers, although some had positive experiences. For those who said there were barriers, the cost and the struggle to find sympathetic doctors were often cited as challenges.
“I was flat out turned down by the primary care physician who had to give the go-ahead to give me a referral to an endocrinologist; I was just shut down. That was it, end of story.” – Nonbinary person, 50s
“I have not had surgery, because I can’t access surgery. So unless I get breast cancer and have a double mastectomy, surgery is just not going to happen … because my health insurance wouldn’t cover something like that. … It would be an out-of-pocket plastic surgery expense and I can’t afford that at this time.” – Nonbinary person, 50s
“Why do I need the permission of a therapist to say, ‘This person’s identity is valid,’ before I can get the health care that I need to be me, that is vital for myself and for my way of life?” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s
“[My doctor] is basically the first person that actually embraced me and made me accept [who I am].” – Trans woman, late 20s
Many people who transitioned in previous decades described how access has gotten much easier in recent years. Some described relying on underground networks to learn which doctors would help them obtain medical care or where to obtain hormones illegally.
“It was hard financially because I started so long ago, just didn’t have access like that. Sometimes you have to try to go to Mexico or learn about someone in Mexico that was a pharmacist, I can remember that. That was a big thing, going through the border to Mexico, that was wild. So, it was just hard financially because they would charge so much for testosterone. And there was the whole bodybuilding community. If you were transitioning, you went to bodybuilders, and they would charge you five times what they got it [for], so it was kind of tough.” – Trans man, early 40s
“It was a lot harder to get a surgeon when I started transitioning; insurance was out of the question, there wasn’t really a national discussion around trans people and their particular medical needs. So, it was challenging having to pay everything out of pocket at a young age.” – Trans man, early 30s
“I guess it was hard for me to access hormones initially just because you had to jump through so many hoops, get letters, and then you had to find a provider that was willing to write it. And now it’s like people are getting it from their primary care doctor, which is great, but a very different experience than I had.” – Trans man, early 40s
Connections with the broader LGBTQ+ community
The discussions also touched on whether the participants feel a connection with a broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community or with other people who are LGBTQ+. Views varied, with some saying they feel an immediate connection with other people who are LGBTQ+, even with those who aren’t trans or nonbinary, and others saying they don’t necessarily feel this way.
“It’s kind of a recurring joke where you can meet another LGBT person and it is like there is an immediate understanding, and you are basically talking and giving each other emotional support, like you have been friends for 10-plus years.” – Trans woman, late teens
“I don’t think it’s automatic friendship between queer people, there’s like a kinship, but I don’t think there’s automatic friendship or anything. I think it’s just normal, like, how normal people make friends, just based on common interests.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I do think of myself as part of the LGBT [community] … I use the resources that are put in place for these communities, whether that’s different health care programs, support groups, they have the community centers. … So, I do consider myself to be part of this community, and I’m able to hopefully take when needed, as well as give back.” – Trans man, mid-30s
“I feel like that’s such an important part of being a part of the [LGBTQ+] alphabet soup community, that process of constantly learning and listening to each other and … growing and developing language together … I love that aspect of creating who we are together, learning and unlearning together, and I feel like that’s a part of at least the queer community spaces that I want to be in. That’s something that’s core to me.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I identify as queer. I feel like I’m a part of the LGBT community. That’s more of a part of my identity than being trans. … Before I came out as trans, I identified as a lesbian. That was also a big part of my identity. So, that may be too why I feel like I’m more part of the LGB community.” – Trans man, early 40s
While many trans and nonbinary participants said they felt accepted by others in the LGBTQ+ community, some participants described their gender identity as a barrier to full acceptance. There was a sense among some participants that cisgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual don’t always accept people who are transgender or nonbinary.
“I would really like to be included in the [LGBTQ+] community. But I have seen some people try to separate the T from LGB … I’ve run into a few situations throughout my time navigating the [LGBTQ+] community where I’ve been perceived – and I just want to say that there’s nothing wrong with this – I’ve been perceived as like a more feminine or gay man in a social setting, even though I’m heterosexual. … But the minute that that person found out that I wasn’t a gay man … and that I was actually a transgender person, they became cold and just distancing themselves. And I’ve been in a lot of those types of circumstances where there’s that divide between the rest of the community.” – Trans man, early 30s
“There are some lesbians who see trans men as being traitors to womanhood. Those are not people that I really identify with or want to be close to.” – Trans man, early 40s
“It’s only in the past maybe dozen or so years, that an identity like gender fluid or gender queer was acceptable even within the LGBTQ+ community. … I tried to go to certain LGBTQ+ events as a trans man and, you know, I was not allowed in because I looked too female. The gay men would not allow me to participate.” – Nonbinary person, 50s
“Technically based on the letters [in the acronym LGBTQ+] I am part of that community, but I’ve felt discrimination, it’s very heavily exclusive to people who are either gay or lesbian and I think that’s true … for queer or bisexual or asexual, intersex … anybody who’s not like exclusively hardcore gay or lesbian. It’s very exclusive, like excluding to those people. … I feel like the BTQ is a separate group of people…. So, I identify with the second half of the letters as a separate subset.” – Trans man, late 30s
Policy and social change
When asked to name the most important policy or political issues facing transgender and nonbinary people in the United States today, many participants named basic needs such as housing, employment, and health care. Others cited recent legislation or policies related to people who are transgender that have made national news.
“Housing is a huge issue. Health care might be good in New York, it might be good in California, but … it’s not a national equality for trans folks. Health care is not equal across the states. Housing is not equal across the states. So, I think that the issues right now that we’re all facing is health care and housing. That’s the top, the most important things.” – Trans woman, early 40s
“Definitely education. I think that’s very important … Whether you identify as trans or not as a young child, it’s good to understand and know the different things under the umbrella, the queer umbrella. And it is also just a respect thing. And also, the violence that happens against trans and nonbinary people. I feel like educating them very young, that kind of helps – well, it is going to help because once you understand what’s going on and you see somebody that doesn’t identify the same as you, you’ll have that respect, or you’ll have that understanding and you’re less likely to be very violent towards them.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s
“Employment is a big one. And I know that some areas, more metropolitan progressive-leaning areas, are really on top of this, but they’re trans people everywhere that are still being discriminated against. I think it’s a personal thing for me that goes back to my military service, but still, it’s just unfortunate. It’s an unfortunate reality.” – Trans man, early 30s
“I think just the strong intersectionality of trans people with mental health issues, or even physical health issues. … So in that way, accessing good health care or having good mental health.” – Trans man, late 30s
“I honestly think that the situation in Texas is the most pressing political and policy situation because it is a direct attack on the trans community. … And it is so insidious because it doesn’t just target bathrooms. This is saying that if you provide medical care to trans youth it is tantamount to child abuse. And it is so enraging because it is a known proven fact that access to gender affirming medical care saves lives. It saves the lives of trans youth. And trans youth have the highest suicide rate in the country.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s
Participants had different takes on what gets in the way of progress on issues facing transgender and nonbinary people. Some pointed to the lack of knowledge surrounding the history of these issues or not knowing someone who is transgender or nonbinary. Others mentioned misconceptions people might have about transgender and nonbinary people that influence their political and policy perspectives.
“People who don’t know trans people, honestly … that’s the only barrier I can understand because people fear what they don’t know and then react to it a lot of the time.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“Sometimes even if they know someone, they still don’t consider them to be a human being, they are an ‘other,’ they are an ‘it,’ they are a ‘not like me,’ ‘not like my family,’ person and so they are put into a place socially where they can be treated badly.” – Nonbinary person, 50s
“Just the ignorance and misinformation and this quick fake social media fodder, where it encourages people who should not be part of the conversation to spread things that are not true.” – Trans man, late 30s
“Also, the political issues that face nonbinary people, it’s that people think nonbinary is some made-up thing to feel cool. It’s not to feel cool. And if someone does do it to feel cool, maybe they’re just doing that because they don’t feel comfortable within themselves.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s
“There’s so much fear around it, and misunderstanding, and people thinking that if you’re talking to kids about gender and sexuality, that it’s sexual. And it’s like, we really need to break down that our bodies are not inherently sexual. We need to be able to talk with students and children about their bodies so that they can then feel empowered to understand themselves, advocate for themselves.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
When asked what makes them hopeful for the future for trans and nonbinary people, some participants pointed to the way things in society have already changed and progress that has been made. For example, some mentioned greater representation and visibility of transgender and nonbinary people in entertainment and other industries, while others focused on changing societal views as things that give them hope for the future.
“I am hopeful about the future because I see so many of us coming out and being visible and representing and showing folks that we are not to stereotype.” – Trans woman, early 40s
“Also, even though celebrity is annoying, it’s still cool when people like Willow [Smith] or Billie Eilish or all these popstars that the kids really love are like, ‘I’m nonbinary, I’m queer,’ like a lot more progressive. … Even just more visibility in TV shows and movies, the more and more that happens the more it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we are really here, you can’t not see us.’” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“We shouldn’t have to look to the entertainment industry for role models, we shouldn’t have to, we should be able to look to our leaders, our political leaders, but I think, that’s what gives me hope. Soon, it’s going to become a nonissue, maybe in my lifetime.” – Trans man, 60s
“I have gotten a little bit into stand-up comedy in the last few weeks, and it is like the jokes that people made ten years ago are resurfacing online and people are enraged about it. They are saying like, ‘Oh, this is totally inappropriate.’ But that comes with the recognition that things have changed, and language has changed, and people are becoming more intolerant of allowing these things to occur. So that is why I am hopeful, is being able to see that progression and hopeful continued improvement on that front.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s
“I think because of the shift of what’s happening, how everything has become so normal, and people are being more open, and within the umbrella of queerness so many different things are happening, I think as we get more comfortable and we progress as a society, it’s just going to be better. So, people don’t have to hide who they are. So, that gives me hope.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s
For many, young people are a source of hope. Several participants talked about younger generations being more accepting of those who are transgender or nonbinary and also being more accepted by their families if they themselves are trans or nonbinary.
“And then the other portion that gives me hope are the kids, because I work now with so many kids who are coming out as trans earlier and their families are embracing them and everything. … So I really am trusting in the young generation.” – Nonbinary person, 60s
“I mean kids don’t judge you the same way as adults do about gender, and they’re so expansive and have so much creativity. … So it’s just the kids, Gen Z, and it just makes me feel really, really hopeful.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“The youth, the youth. They understand almost intrinsically so much more about these things than I feel like my generation did. They give me so much hope for the future.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s
“I think future generations, just seeing this growing amount of support that they have, that it’s just going to keep improving … there’s an increase in visibility but there’s also an increase in support … like resources for parents where they can see that they don’t have to punish their kids. Their kids can grow up feeling like, ‘This is okay to be this way.’ And I feel like that’s not something that can be stopped.” – Trans man, late 30s
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.