Perhaps this is an odd question, but...

Question: Does a transgender person become a different person after transitioning?

I'm seeking an answer from a philosophical point of view (hence why I ask here).

As a result of transitioning, a transgender person adopts a new gender identity, which they use for living and interacting. They often adopt a new name, undergo physical bodily changes, update their identity documents, and so on. Sometimes their sexuality changes (e.g. going from "attracted to women" to "attracted to men") which is usually considered an essential part of someone's identity. However, they still have pre-transition memories, and retain the same education, etc.

Transgender people will probably simultaneously say something like (a) no, I'm still the same person, (b) yes, but in a metaphorical sense, or (c) no, I was that person to begin with.

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    To put your question in context, suppose I go to sleep at night then wake up the next morning. By what logic, reasoning, and philosophical principles am I still the same person? Only if we know how someone's future self is the "same" person can we begin to talk about how they might not be.
    – user4894
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 2:37
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    Or if I break a leg, am I the same person? If the broken leg is healed, am I the same person? If I win the lottery, am I the same person?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 13:00
  • @user4894 et al. It's quite normal to hear - from males and females alike, and either at a chat level or as the result of sociologic / psychologic research - expressions that describe different ways of looking at something, reacting to something etc. based on gender. For example "In situation X men tend to do Y while women tend to do Z", or "Most men prefer X whereas most women prefer Y" and so on. It's possible that this is the kind of differences the OP refers to with the expression "different person". Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 13:34
  • It's the difference between the identity of something material and what's called personal identity. This is a philosophy SE so the question and answer are related to philosophical ideas. Obviously this question has wide ranging answers coming from other fields, like sociology, gender studies, psychology, etc. But in terms of philosophy this is a question highlighting the difference between material identity and personal identity.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:58
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    The short answer is: none of the changes that take place are qualitatively different from many changes the average cisgender person experiences. And, continuity of identity is a puzzle anyway. Your answer will be the same as whatever you believe of cis people, but the answer is no simpler to achieve for cis people.
    – commando
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 5:29

3 Answers 3


Philosophy makes a distinction between the identity of material objects* (and immaterial objects if those are thought to exist) and what is called "personal identity." From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article Personal Identity:

Personal identity deals with philosophical questions that arise about ourselves by virtue of our being people (or, as lawyers and philosophers like to say, persons). This contrasts with questions about ourselves that arise by virtue of our being living things, conscious beings, material objects, or the like.

In terms of the identity of a material object, philosophers would argue that a transgender person has the same identity as before. From the SEP's article on Identity:

A distinction is customarily drawn between qualitative and numerical identity or sameness. Things with qualitative identity share properties, so things can be more or less qualitatively identical.

A transgender person will have a massive amount of qualitative similarities with the person they were before coming out as transgender. These include:

Causal history of physical interactions

Genetic details and natal history

Collection of memories and historical subjective experiences.

The history of a person, the actions they've taken, who their parents are, the event of their birth, all of these and more are enough qualitative facts that are enough to say that someone has the same material identity as they did before. It is the same reason we would argue someone is the same person at one moment that they are one moment later.

In terms of personal identity, there are reasons to argue that a transgender person may be a different person than before once they come out. From the World Health Organization:

"Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

"Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

So, taking the definition of gender to be a collection of rules, behaviors, activities, and attributes of an individual, we can argue that a change in these would fall in line with the definition of personal identity. Someone's personal identity can be seen as the answers to the question "who am I?" that they would give.

Consider that there is a transgender person named Alice, and Alice lived for twenty years as a man. At that point in her life she realized that she was transgender and wanted to be treated as the woman whom she felt she was. If we had asked her when she was 16 who she was, (maybe at that time it would have seemed appropriate to say "who he was" depending on the circumstances) she might have said something about her interests and her desired career and being someones son and so on. However, after she has had her revelation about her gender, her answers to that question would completely change. She would no longer identify herself as someones son, she would identify herself as a woman and a daughter. In this way, her personal identity has in fact changed with time. We could also consider the situation in which Alice as having known since she was 6 that she felt more like a girl and that was how she wanted to be identified. We would then need to look at her different behaviors and activities, as suggested by the WHO definition of gender, to evaluate whether or not she has had a change of personal identity.

At any rate, personal identity is different than the general metaphysical idea of the identity of a material object. It would not be well supported to argue that a transgender person is a different material object before and after they come out. In terms of personal identity, philosophy treats these issues by asking about things like social and psychological identification, as well as others. A transgender person may be, and most likely are, a different person after their transition, in terms of personal identity.

In regards to the three points made at the end of your question, a philosopher might make the arguments:

a) They would agree that they're the same material object, with the same qualitative properties of identity outlined above.

b) The metaphorical sense would be what was outlined above as personal identity, in some respects their personal identity has changed.

c) This depends on the person, if the person has felt since they were very little that they knew they were transgender then maybe that aspect of their personal identity hasn't changed, but there might be other aspects of their identity such as their actions, how they dress, how they talk, etc. that have changed after they came out.

*Additionally I'd like to say, of course I am not suggesting that we should treat people "like objects," I am just using a metaphysical distinction. Material objects are things that are created from matter and physically exist; the societal and cultural issues of referring or treating somebody as an "object" is a completely different matter. I'm not mixing the two.

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    FYI, the trans community prefers "transgender person" rather than "transgendered person." It is an adjective, not a verb.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 4:15
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    @Kevin so how do you call the process of changing your physical appearance?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 12:58
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    @gnasher729: "Transitioning" is usually preferred.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:20
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    There are arguments on both sides of the issue over "transgender" and "transgendered" within the trans community, and both of them have points that address the grammar. I didn't feel like getting in an argument.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 18:53

Like so many terms, "person" is ambiguous as to epistemic considerations (what we can say we know of any person) and ontological ones (what exists of any person). If a white canvas has a speck of blue upon it, then some might say it is still just a white canvas, others that it has changed completely... yet in either case, it is a canvas which reflects light.

In short: same body - modified, enhanced or otherwise - and same history/trajectory, with a transitioned identity - legal, gender, status function(s) and such. So...

No, they are still the same person (body, history and such as well the "now you see the real me").

Yes, of course they are a different person (gender identifier, legal status).

Not to suggest that personhood is an unresolvable contradiction, yet there are aspects of identity which appear paradoxical (e.g. the ship of Theseus or the grandfather's axe). Personhood is a dynamic and fluid notion in some senses, and others, not so much (e.g. if you are homo sapiens sapiens and alive... you are a person, but, if you were a homo sapiens sapiens and are no longer alive... not so much.)


Change of social role or change of person?

None of a person's memories, plans, intentions, history, friendships, and family relationships will necessarily be other than they were before the transition, indicating that the person is the same person before and after the transition.

The person is the same person in spite of the fact that the relationships may get different names ("sister" instead of "brother", etc) at the same time as the person who has transitioned gets a different name and/or gendered pronoun and takes a different role in society.

Persons change their roles in society every day without becoming other persons. Marriage, emigration, legal issues, hiring and promotion, parenthood, etc. all change, but you still (for example) owe Frank $15 for lunch last week, and you still go to opening day baseball every year with Mary and your dad. Add to this list gender wherever transition or "passing" is a possibility.

Relationships: social role vs. friendship

Social role is constructed and may change, but friendship is personal. Friendship doesn't become different by virtue of gender transition or any other social change. Some aspects of a relationship may change without altering friendship, just like aspects of personal identity (including age) change.

Here's a philosophical definition for "friendship":

Friendship, as understood here, is a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other’s sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friendship)

Consider the "best friend's wedding", when a person who is good friends with a person of the opposite sex gets married to someone else.

The opposite-sex friend's social role will change with the wedding, including the possibility of severely restraining emotional intimacy... but this does not mean that an "estranged" best friend isn't a true friend. An emotionally intimate relationship could very well be bad for well-being after the friend gets married.

Again, let's say they haven't spoken in years; but that doesn't mean they are not the married person's friend... perhaps it's because they want the marriage to work! That may be more in the interest of well-being than maintaining intimacy would, considering the possibility of the spouse being nervous about rivals. This was played out with great drama in Charles Dickens' famous book, "A Tale of Two Cities".

A person who has transitioned is the same person, and their friendships are held together by the same intention for well-being, after as before.


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