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Trans Rights: Finding and Evaluating Information

This guide provides information and resources around research into trans rights, including tracking the status of current legislation.

Finding Information

Searching for information can be a time-consuming process. Identifying the search terms that best match your information need and forming a search strategy can help make the process more productive and less frustrating.

Library resources are organized to try and make them as discoverable as possible, particularly through the use of assigned headings and other linked metadata. Below are some search tips and suggested search terms to help you - if you have any questions, or need a little extra help, please don't hesitate to Ask a Librarian.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Subject headings are pre-defined 'controlled vocabulary' words used to describe the topic content of a resource. They are added by library and publishing staff to help researchers identify resources on the same subject.

Catalog record of Before We Were Trans, with the subject headings "Transgender people > History," "Gender Nonconformity > History," and "Sexual Minorities > History"circled.


Searching with subject headings: the search function/database will look for the subject only in the subject or descriptor fields so results are usually very relevant to the topic. However, you will need to do some preliminary searches to determine which subject headings are relevant for your topic.

Keywords are natural language words - essentially, the words or phrases you would type into a search engine.

Searching with keywords: can offer more flexibility, as you can combine the words and phrases as you choose, However, the search function/database will search for the keywords anywhere in the resource/record, so they may yield overwhelming or irrelevant results.

Search Strategies

When searching the history of Trans people, you may need to use outdated or offensive language. This is because the articles were written in their own time, and because many databases were originally developed based on print journal article indexes. Database companies don't always go back through their materials to add new or more appropriate subject headings: it can depend on the database, the company licensing it, and the goals of the particular database. 

When searching for trans materials, it can be helpful to use terms such as Transgender or Transsexual as search terms. By putting them in the subject heading search box, you'll be able to weed out articles that aren't actually on trans topics but mention the word "transgender" as part of the umbrella phrase "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer" or LGBTQ.

Some outdated terms you may need to search include: 

  • Berdache [offensive term for North American Indigenous people who are gender-diverse] links to a PDF
  • Transvestite [often used widely for trans people who may not have access to gender-affirming care, cross dressers, and Drag Queens]
  • Transexual or Transsexual [this term was used in scholarship and within the trans communities (in the late 1990s to early 2000s) to refer to trans people who have had gender-affirming care including hormones or surgery. The single "s" was exclusively used by trans communities and allies]
  • Homosexuals or Homosexuality 
  • Transgenderism [at once point this was a preferred term, but it has taken on more negative tone]
  • Sex Change [this is still widely used, especially in Cornell's own catalogue, but it is considered an offensive or degrading term]

Library of Congress Subject Headings

These links go directly to the subject browsing of the Cornell University Library catalogue, so you can view how the books are arranged and organized in the library. Explore these pages to gain a better understanding of the language used, as well as the potential biases revealed by how information is categorized. 

Evaluating information

It is important to take a moment to evaluate any resources or news stories to ensure the accuracy of the information within them. This will help disrupt the spread of misinformation that could be potentially harmful.

In the first instance, always take a moment to check the following:

  • who is responsible for the creation and publication of the information?
  • who are the organization's members?
  • does the organization have a 'mission' or statement of purpose?
  • where does the organization's funding come from?

Be alert for groups that present as scientific/medical organizations but which are actually activist groups (e.g., the 'Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine', or SEGM: it has been widely reported that despite presenting itself as a mainstream medical association, this organization is actually a think tank aligned with several anti-LGBT groups, and promotes the rapid-onset gender dysphoria, or ROGD, hypothesis - a term discredited and actively discouraged by medical associations worldwide, due to the lack of scientific evidence behind it and the potential harm that its' use may cause). Some recent articles on ROGD have even been retracted or revised.

This tab contains links to other useful tools to help you evaluate information.

Lateral Reading

Lateral reading is a key skill for evaluating resources on the internet. This video provides a great introduction to the skill.

Fact checking websites

These websites can be particularly helpful when assessing news stories and reportage. Though not infallible, they can help identify misquotes and misappropriation of research and data.

Misinformation, Disinformation & Propaganda