About the Trans Glossary

Foreword

Hi! I'm erin houdini, rope mistress, anti-escape artist, and a woman of trans experience. This glossary is a way of communicating the concepts and issues faced by trans people through the language we use to describe our lives. While you're reading, keep in mind that this is not a bible, and it's not a matter of political correctness. The conceptual frameworks and terminology discussed in this guide are continually evolving, as is the article itself. Special thanks go to Theo and genderhack for revision and editing support.

Sources

GLAAD Media Reference Guide (7th Edition)
Whipping Girl, Julia Serano (2007)
The Riddle of Gender, Deborah Rudacille (2006)
Transgender Warriors, Leslie Feinberg (1997)
Transgender History, Susan Stryker (2008)

Terms of use

This document is free to use however you'd like as long as you credit me and provide a link back to transgender-glossary.html. Please don't hesitate to email me at erinhoudini@erinhoudini.com with any questions, concerns, or just to let me know you found it really useful. Definitely drop me a line if you"re using it for a college course, health clinic, or other professional application, as I strive to keep the information accurate, inclusive, and current. If you"d like to be distribute print copies, there's a compact downloadable trans glossary PDF!

Social Etiquette 101

If you make a mistake, accept being corrected gracefully, and move on.

You don't have to be terrified of accidentally offending someone. That just makes things awkward. If you make a mistake and dwell on it, that's even more awkward. Even worse is starting an argument defending ignorance or assuming you know better than someone with obviously more education and experience on an issue. Being corrected is ok, and it doesn't make you stupid or insensitive. Just learn, and move on.

Use their chosen name.

A trans person's "real" name is the name they choose to identify with, and no birth assignment or bureaucratic paperwork can refute that. Often trans people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to change their name legally. Never put their name or pronouns in quotes. It's sarcastically derogatory.

Use pronouns consistent with their identity.

Regardless of whether or not someone has taken hormones or had surgery, refer to them with pronouns appropriate for their identity. If you slip up on someone's pronoun, don't make a big deal out of it. Trans people understand that this happens sometimes, so just correct it and move on.

If you do not know someone's pronoun, be tactful.

Until you get a chance to talk with them, try to either avoid pronouns altogether or use the gender-neutral they/them/their. Once you"re involved a more personal conversation, it's usually ok to ask, "Do you have a preferred pronoun?" Just don't go up to the only gender non-conforming person in the room and publicly ask for their pronoun, and don"t assume that the answer is always going to be she or he.

Sex and Gender 101

Gender

The sum of how one relates to themselves and others through their sexuality, personality, and physical body.

Gender Identity

One's actual, internal sense of being male or female, neither of these, both, etc. Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender Expression / Presentation

The physical manifestation of one's gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine or feminine). Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their birth-assigned sex.

Sex

The assignment and classification of people as male or female based on imprecise perceptions of their physical anatomy. Sex is not fixed or immutable, and no single criterion (e.g. genitals, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, hormones, fertility, etc.) definitively describes one's bodily shape or configuration, so such a classification is arbitrary and irrelevant outside specific medical contexts where a single aspect of anatomy is important.

Sexual Orientation

A person's enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to others. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is primarily attracted to other women would probably identify as lesbian.

Trans Terminology 101

Trans

Prefix or adjective used as a simultaneous abbreviation of either transgender or transsexual, derived from the Latin word meaning across from or on the other side of. Because it avoids the political connotations of both those terms, many consider trans to be the most inclusive and useful umbrella term, as there are transgender people who do not identify as transsexual, and transsexual people who do not identify as transgender.

Transgender

Commonly used as an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex or gender they were assigned at birth, and for those whose gender expression differs from what is culturally expected of them. Some people use transgender to describe their primary gender identity. The term transgender is not indicative of sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.

Transsexual

Similar to transgender in that it indicates a conflict between one's gender identity and sex assigned at birth, but with implications of physical/hormonal/surgical transition from one binary societal gender role to the other. The term has started to fall out of favor due to its narrowness and problematic use as an objectifying term within the porn industry.

Trans Woman / Trans Man

Trans woman refers to a woman of transgender experience. She might actively identify herself as trans, or she might just consider being trans part of her medical history. It is grammatically and definitionally correct to include a space between trans and woman. The same concept applies to trans man. Unless you're involved in a conversation specifically about trans issues, you should just stick with woman or man.

Transition

The complex process of leaving behind one's coercively assigned birth sex. Transition can include: coming out to one's family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgery. It's best not to assume that someone will "complete" this process at any particular time.

CAFAB / CAMAB

Acronyms meaning coercively assigned female/male at birth. No one, whether cis or trans, gets to choose what gender they're assigned when they're born, which is what makes it coercive. In the rare cases when it's necessary to refer to the birth-assigned sex of a trans person, this is the way to do it.

Sexual Reconstruction Surgery / SRS

Refers to several different surgical procedures, and is only one small part of transition. Also occasionally referred to as genital reconstruction surgery (GRS), these terms are both preferred over "sex change operation" or anything with "reassignment." Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Overemphasizing the importance of SRS to the transition process should be avoided.

Gender Dysphoria

Clinical term referring to the various symptoms of malaise regarding one's assigned gender/sex. Prior to the DSM-V, the term "gender identity disorder" was used, but that was removed as it often led to gender variance being stigmatized and misdiagnosed as a pathological condition.

Transphobia

Fear, discomfort, distrust, or disdain directed towards trans people or trans concepts. This word is used similarly to homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, etc.

Cross-dressing

Most commonly used to describe the act of dressing and presenting as the "opposite" gender. One who considers this an integral part of their identity may identify as a cross-dresser. Transvestite is an obsolete term with the same meaning. Drag queens and drag kings are cross-dressing performers who take on stylized, exaggerated gender presentations. Cross-dressing and drag are forms of gender expression and are not necessarily tied to erotic activity, nor are they indicative of one's sexual orientation. Do NOT use these terms to describe someone who has transitioned or intends to do so in the future.

Cis

Prefix or adjective that means not trans, derived from the Latin word for being on the same side (as opposed to across from). There's seldom any meaningful differentiation between cisgender or cissexual, as both imply that one (for the most part) lives comfortably as their gender assigned at birth. In discussions regarding trans issues, you'd differentiate between women who are trans and women who aren't by saying trans women and cis women, but this term otherwise probably won't come up. Cis is not a fake word, not a slur, and is not intended to "label" anyone; consider trans and cis neutral descriptors analogous to homo and hetero, a pair of Greek-derived prefixes used in discussing sexuality.

Sex and Gender 201

The Gender Binary

A system of viewing gender as consisting solely of two categories, termed male and female, in which no other possibilities for gender or anatomy are believed to exist. This system is oppressive to anyone who defies their coercive birth assignment, but particularly those who are gender-variant or do not fit neatly into one of the two standard categories.

Binary

Used as an adjective to describe the genders female/male or woman/man. Since the binary genders are the only ones recognized by general society as being legitimate, they enjoy an (unfairly) privileged status.

Non-Binary

Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man, used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is non-binary). Non-binary identities do fall under the umbrella of trans* identities, but not all trans people are non-binary (e.g. Erin is a binary woman with a trans history).

Heteronormative / Heteronormativity

These refer to the system in which the stereotypical dynamics between primarily heterosexual masculine men and primarily heterosexual feminine women are privileged, being viewed as normal/natural/right, while all other gender/sexuality dynamics are viewed as abnormal/inferior/wrong.

Queer

Broadly used to indicate that one rejects heteronormativity, usually also signifying that one embraces progressive politics and is not heterosexual. There's a lot of overlap between queer and trans, but not all queer people are trans, and not all trans people are queer. The word queer has long been used as a hateful slur towards gay people, so although many have reclaimed it from their oppressors, be careful with its use.

Genderqueer

Similar to queer, but more specific to rejecting binary gender identities. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither male nor female, may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels. Some genderqueer people do identify within the binary (e.g. "genderqueer woman"), but reject the conventions and expectations associated with that gender.

Sexqueer

A rejection of labeling one's physical body as female or male. Being sexqueer is not indicative of one's current anatomy, birth assignment, or birth anatomy, and should definitely not be confused with intersex.

Intersex

Describes a person whose natal physical sex characteristics (e.g. anatomy, chromosomes) are ambiguous in the context of the male/female binary. A person may not know they have intersex anatomy until they reach puberty and their body changes differently than expected, or until they find themselves infertile as an adult. For intersex infants born with ambiguous external genitalia, parents and medical professionals typically assign them a sex and perform surgical operations to conform the infant's body to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults are speaking out against having had to undergo potentially harmful medical procedures which they did not consent to. Being intersex does not necessarily imply anything regarding one's gender, orientation, or trans status.

Bisexual

Currently being reclaimed to mean that one is attracted to both their own gender, as well as other genders, allowing this very common identity better compatibility with the concept of non-binary gender. Thanks go to Radical Bi for the update.

Pansexual

Open to all genders and sexualities. Sometimes the terms omnisexual and multisexual are used in the same manner, whereas monosexual would mean that one is only attracted to their own gender.

Heteroflexible

Similar to bisexual or pansexual, but with a stated heterosexual preference. Commonly used to indicate that one is primarily interested in heterosexual relationships but is "flexible" when it comes to physical sexual activities. The same concepts apply to homoflexible.

Trans Terminology 201

Trans*

With the widespread use of the terms trans woman and trans man, trans (by itself) has come to be strongly associated with the experience of transitioning from one binary gender to the other. Many non-binary and other gender non-conforming individuals use trans* (with the asterisk, pronounced tran-star) to indicate that they're definitely not cis, but not necessarily a trans woman/man either.

Gender Fluid

A non-binary gender identity that indicates shifting between different genders, sexualities, presentations, etc. The term bigender is similarly used by those who feel they have both male and female sides to their personalities, such as cross-dressers. Do not confuse these terms with Two-Spirit, a gender identity specific to Native American and First Nations cultures.

Neutrois

An identity referring to one that has no gender and/or rejects the influence of gender on their person. Sometimes the terms agender or nongendered are used in a similar fashion. Identifying as neutrois is not indicative of one's anatomy, birth assignment, or pronoun preference.

Butch

An identity or presentation that leans towards masculinity. Butch can be an adjective (she's a butch woman), a verb (he went home to butch up), or a noun (they identify as a butch). Although commonly associated with masculine queer/lesbian women, it's used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.

Femme

An identity or presentation that leans towards femininity. Femme can be an adjective (he's a femme boy), a verb (she feels better when she femmes up), or a noun (they're a femme). Although commonly associated with feminine lesbian/queer women, it's used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.

Drag

Exaggerated, theatrical, or performative gender presentation. Although most commonly used to refer to cross-dressing performers (drag queens and drag kings), anyone of any gender can do any form of drag. Doing drag does not necessarily have anything to do with one's sex, gender identity, or orientation.

Sissy

Usually used by cross-dressers with a "little princess" aesthetic, e.g. frilly pink dresses, petticoats, curly blonde wigs, mary jane shoes, etc.

Genderfuck / Genderfucking

Used to describe gender expressions that "fuck with" gender norms and expectations, often as a political statement or social commentary.

Passing

Being perceived by others as a particular identity, gender, age, race, etc., regardless of how the individual in question identifies, e.g. passing as straight, passing as a woman, passing as a youth.

Chaser

A cis person who fetishizes trans people. It"s used in other contexts as well to refer to those who fetishize members of a marginalized group.

Cissexism / Cissupremacy

Bias in favor of cis people over trans people, or beliefs that cis people are inherently superior to trans people by means of being more real, natural, etc.

Social Etiquette 201 Terminology to Avoid

As a disclaimer, not all terms listed in this section are necessarily bad, but they can be very degrading if used in the wrong context or directed towards the wrong person. Please try to avoid these terms and usages unless someone identifies with them and asks for them.

Problematic: tranny, she-male, he-she, it, trap, hermaphrodite, T-girl, boi
Preferred: do not use these at all

These are all derogatory. Tranny is a slur that has been used for decades to degrade feminine spectrum trans people; although many trans people have reclaimed it, it is still a hurtful slur to many others. She-male and the like are degrading terms commonly used in pornography. Although T-girl and boi are somewhat common identities, many trans people feel they imply they are not "real" women and men.

Problematic: real, bio, genetic, natural, born
Preferred: cis

Trans people are not fake, artificial, or unnatural. Their genetics have the same effect on them that cis people's do, and they're born to be who they are just as much as cis people are. Cis is also preferable to non-trans, which would unfairly create a labeled group and an unlabeled one.

Problematic: sex change, pre-op, post-op, non-op, female/male-bodied
Preferred: do not reduce trans people to their bodyparts

Bodyparts are not the defining trait of one's identity. If you do need to talk about surgical options or techniques, be as medical and specific as possible, e.g. "Erin underwent vaginoplasty in July 2009." Be tactful and aware when asking trans people about their medical history. It's usually none of your business.

Problematic: MtF, FtM, transgenders, a transgender, a transsexual, a trans
Preferred: trans people, transgender people, trans women, trans men

The acronyms MtF and FtM are still very common, but their use is being phased out because they make it sound like someone is stuck in transition forever and define trans people by their birth assignments. Trans and its variations are adjectives, not nouns. Using them as nouns strips trans people of their identities and objectifies them. You wouldn't say "Erin is an MtF," you'd say "Erin is a woman."

Problematic: transwoman, transman, trans-woman, trans-man
Preferred: trans woman, trans man

The one-word transwoman or hyphenated trans-woman imply that trans women are a "third gender," distinct from woman. By including the space, trans is just an adjective modifying a particular type of woman, just like Asian woman or young woman or liberal woman.

Problematic: "between the ears" versus "between the legs"
Preferred: gender is who you are, sex is how medical doctors classify your anatomy

Gender is no more a "social construct" than sex is, just as sex is no more "real" than gender. If anything, one's gender identity that arises from self-awareness and a lifetime of social development is far more "real" than any judgment based on what that person's body was shaped like when they were an infant.