We are frequently asked about the different terms used within the Trans community, so to help not just the LGBTQ+ community we have compiled a list of terms which we hope may help. If we have missed anyone then please do let us know via the Contact Us page.
A plain-language Trans glossary
The most common meaning of Transgender is given in a BBC article: “an umbrella term for people whose gender is different from their “assigned” sex at birth – that written on their birth certificate. Gender can refer to one’s own, internal sense of being a man or woman, or another type that doesn’t fit either category.” (i) This meaning usually includes cross-dressing people, non-binary people and some intersex people, as well as people who are actually transitioning permanently to another gender (ii). (See below for definitions of some of these).
However, some people use “transgender” in a more narrow sense to apply to people who decide to live permanently and full-time as a different gender, people who are transitioning or have transitioned. In that meaning, it is similar to the older word “Transsexual”.
Please note that it is not a noun, you do not say “X is A transgender”, you say “X is transgender”.
Opposite of transgender – when someone’s sense of gender matches the gender they were first assigned, and also their physical sex.
Sex and gender are two different things – gender is whether you consider yourself to be male, female or other (this is called Gender Identity) and whether you live in society as male, female or other (Gender Expression). Sex on the other hand is whether you are physically male or female, based primarily on the type of genital organs ( though intersex people also exist, see Intersex). (ii)
Sex and Gender can differ for example when a person transitions male to female and is living as a woman, and has obtained legal recognition of her gender. In this case, her gender identity has always been female, and her gender expression is female, but her physical sex may be male. If she then has SRS surgery to make her physically female, she is bringing the physical sex of her body into line with her gender, i.e. “affirming” her gender, not changing it. (iii)
When a person feels that their gender identity does not match their physical sex or gender they were identified as at birth. Such a person often feels discomfort (sometimes from an early age) with the way in which society expects them to dress and behave, and that they want to dress and act like someone of another gender. This discomfort can be very strong. (ii)
Gender Identity Clinic (GIC)
A clinic which specialises in treating people with gender identity issues such as Gender Dysphoria. In the UK, there are seven NHS GIC’s catering to adults, and one catering to children and young people. (viii) Usually a person would be referred to one by their GP, i.e. their normal doctor. The GIC may then offer some treatments and/or refer the person back to their GP with a recommendation for treatment (e.g. in the case of someone who is going to transition, they may recommend that the GP prescribes hormones). (vii)
Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC)
A document issued under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act in the UK, to someone who has permanently changed gender. It entitles them to a new Birth Certificate with their new name and title if their original one was issued in the UK, so for most legal purposes they will henceforth be that gender, and officials who have access to records of the person’s original gender are prohibited from revealing it except in special cases.
In order to obtain one of these the person must satisfy a panel “that they have already changed their name, title and gender role, on a continuous basis, for at least two years; there is an expectation that they intend to live in the altered gender role for the rest of their lives. A medical opinion indicating that the applicant has experienced gender dysphoria is necessary. However, no medical treatment is required.” (GIRES, reference ii)
Genderfluid implies that the person has a different gender identity at different times: for example, someone who lives as a man and a woman at different times. A male-to-female cross-dressing person who has a strongly female gender identity when they dress female, but a strongly male one the rest of the time, might describe themselves as genderfluid. Bigender can mean the same, but can alternatively mean that the person feels that they are both genders at the same time (so might also come under the heading of Non-Binary or Genderqueer).
Genderqueer, Non-Binary, Agender, Demigender, Neutrois, Hijra, Two-Spirit
Genderqueer (GQ), also termed non-binary or gender-expansive, is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. (v). Other terms are more specific about the person’s gender identity: for example Agender means that the person does not identify as a specific gender (viv). Neutrois is similar in meaning but more negative – the person feels that they have no gender. Both of these are negative definitions – lack of gender, rather than a third gender. Demigender means that the person has a partial attachment to a gender (e.g. “Demiboy”) but does not fully identify as that gender (vv).
Hijra, Two-Spirit on the other hand both indicate that the person identifies as a third gender, neither male nor female. Both originate with particular cultures that recognise non-binary people, respectively Subcontinental Asian and Native American. Hijras have legal recognition as a third sex, in India.
Androgyne means that the person identifies as both genders simultaneously. (From the Greek words for man and woman).
I have not attempted to compile or define an exhaustive list of non-binary genders as it is a long list and tends to grow and change in usage.
Some Non-binary people prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “them” but some prefer pronouns such as one, ze, sie, hir, co or ey (v)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Treatment in which the patient receives hormones, either to replace existing ones or to supplement existing ones. Transgender people who are intending to transition permanently with medical support are often prescribed hormones corresponding to the gender which they wish to be by their GP on the advice of a specialist at a Gender Identity Clinic. Male to Female patients may be prescribed Oestrogen, whereas Female to male may be prescribed testosterone. During the period of Real Life Experience which is required before the patient can have Surgery (see below) the hormones help to reduce secondary sexual characteristics of their birth sex and to enhance secondary sexual characteristics of the gender that they are transitioning to. During this period, they may also be prescribed drugs that neutralise their existing hormones, e.g. anti-androgens.
After SRS, the person continues to need hormones appropriate for their new sex, as their body does not produce any significant quantity of hormones. Without these, health problems would occur.
This is not usually available to young people (under 17 in the UK) who decide to transition. They may instead be prescribed drugs that block the onset of puberty, so that they will not develop characteristics of the gender that they do not want to be, and can go on to have HRT and SRS as adults.
Intersex is not a gender identity. An intersex person is someone whose body has not developed all the characteristics that would make them one sex or another. In some cases they may have some physical characteristics of one sex and some of the other, however in others, they appear to be consistently of one sex, but at a less visible level, their genetic characteristics are not typical of that sex (e.g. Klinefelter syndrome or XXY). If a baby has physical characteristics that are not typical of one sex, surgery tends to be used to make them more typical of one sex, and they are then assigned to one definite gender on official documentation. (This practice is now becoming controversial). However, some intersex characteristics do not become apparent until later in life. (iii)
Because sex is not the same thing as gender, being intersex is therefore not a gender identity. Some intersex people have a gender identity that matches the gender they were assigned (cisgender), or may have a gender identity that is the other binary gender (transgender). Alternatively, they may feel that they do not want to conform to either binary gender (non-binary).
Using the wrong gender when talking to or about a trans person. E.g. a shop assistant addressing a trans woman as “Sir” or using the pronoun “him” when talking about them to a colleague.
Real Life Experience (RLE)
Nowadays called “Social gender role transition” by the UK NHS. Living full-time as the other gender in society, for a certain period of time, so that the person can prove that it is what they want, and that they can function in that role. NHS UK officially require one to two years of Real Life Experience before surgery. (But the norm is usually two). (iv) See also Transitioning.
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), formerly known as GRS
Change of the main physical sex characteristics through surgery. It does not normally include secondary characteristics such as breasts, Adam’s Apple. It is impolite to refer to it as a “sex change” or to refer to someone as being “pre-op” or “post-op”. (iii) The way trans people generally view SRS is that their gender does not change during surgery, the surgery is just to bring the external sexual characteristics into line and affirm their gender.
It is not usually available to young people (under 17 in the UK) who decide to transition. They may instead be prescribed drugs that block the onset of puberty until they reach adulthood.
Trans is generally used as a short form of Transgender. However, because some people use Transgender with a narrower meaning, people have started to use Trans* to make it clear that they are using it with the broader meaning, to include non-binary and other groups. (ii) E.g. a support group or youth group might choose to use Trans*rather than Trans to make this clear.
To quote GIRES: “Many trans people, having transitioned permanently, prefer to be regarded as ordinary men and women, and therefore, cisgender. In these cases, where it becomes essential to refer to their pre-transition status, the phrase ‘woman (or man) of trans history’ may be used.” (ii)
Trans man (FtM, F2M)
Female to male transgender person. (i) Many people get these terms the wrong way round. Note: it is not polite to run the two words together, e.g. to say “Transman”.
Trans woman (MtF, M2F)
Male to female transgender person. (i)
Making the change to permanently live as another gender. It applies to all spheres of life: work, social and in the family. Steps involved can include the person changing their name, telling other people the pronoun they want to be known by, e.g. “She” instead of “He”, and changing various documents such as their passport that include a record of their gender.
At the same time, the Trans person may undergo processes or treatments that change the sex of the body or the appearance of it. One pathway of transitioning involves Hormone Replacement Therapy (see above). Later they may apply for Sex Reassignment Surgery.
Access to HRT and SRS is strictly controlled. Before having surgery, authorities often require the person to have “Real Life Experience”, i.e. living full-time as the other gender in society, for a certain period of time, so that the person can prove that it is what they want, and that they can function in that role. This is usually two years in the UK.
Other treatments or processes that are more readily available and can be started earlier in the transition include: laser treatment or electrolysis to remove facial and body hair on Trans Women, breast binding for Trans Men (to hide their breasts), voice coaching for both sexes.
The role of counselling and psychotherapy is often overlooked, but this may be used as well. It can help the person to be more clear about whether they wish to transition or help them with problems arising from transitioning (stress within the family, dealing with negative reactions from society). It is sometimes available on the National Health Service, particularly for young people.
In addition to SRS, there are types of cosmetic surgery that may be used by those committed to transitioning. These include mastectomy for Trans Men, breast implants and reduction of the Adam’s Apple for Trans Women, and facial surgery. These are not usually available on the National Health Service in the UK, e.g. breast implants generally are not.
Many people feel that this word is becoming old-fashioned (ii). It means that the person has physically changed their sex or intends to do so.
Reasons why it is seen as outdated may be because it does not include non-binary identities, it assumes that the person is going from male to female or vice versa, and also because it relates to the old idea that biological sex basically governs gender. Some transgender people live full-time as another gender without ever transitioning surgically. Therefore, it is probably better in most cases to use the term “Transgender” and not to try to make a distinction between different groups within the Trans community.
However, the word “Transsexual” still has a legal significance. The Equality Act 2010 in the UK protects Transsexual people from discrimination in the workplace and in society generally, but does not protect other categories of Transgender people. A person is legally considered to become transsexual as soon as they start the process that will lead to their sex changing, not when they have surgery.
The act states: (1)A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.
(2)A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. (vi)
It is impolite to use “transsexual” as a noun. So it is better to say “X is transsexual” rather than “X is A transsexual”. However, it is more polite still to say “transgender”. (Or to ask onesself whether the person being spoken to needs to know that and perhaps leave it out altogether).
Transvestite / Cross-dresser
The older term “Transvestite” is becoming replaced by “Cross-dresser”. However, some feel that both are becoming outmoded. It refers to someone who wears the clothes of the other gender from the one they were assigned at birth. If a person is described as this it can IMPLY that the person is presenting as the other gender part-time and not transitioning. GLAAD state “Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women”. (iii) However, it is dangerous to assume that this is the case – to quote GIRES, “someone who cross-dresses intermittently for some years, may later change fully to the opposite gender role” (ii) This is a highly political area – some Trans people and supporters feel that a distinction should not be made because it risks alienating one part of a vulnerable group and giving preferential treatment to another part.
However, other people within the community wish to make a distinction, because cross dressing is not always about gender identity. In some cases it may be an outlet for gender dysphoria, when a person feels unable to transition because of circumstances (see Transitioning). However, in others it may be done for sexual or fetishistic reasons and therefore may have little to do with the person’s sense of gender.
Arguably, in most cases it is better to use the term “transgender” unless the person self-identifies as a cross-dresser, since this reduces the risk of offence.
The term “Tranny” is generally regarded as offensive and should not be used.
Some vernacular (slang) terms
These have been included because they are widely used terms and it may be useful for people to know the meanings. However, as with all vernacular, care should be taken when using them in order not to cause offence.
A person who is romantically or sexually attracted to transgender people. Normally a male who is attracted to trans women, and makes an effort to meet them either through forums or by going to the clubs that they frequent. Sometimes referred to as a “Tranny chaser”, but this is offensive to both admirers and Trans Women.
Going out in public as the other gender, as opposed to going to a club or trans-specific venue. The term is normally used by part-time transgender people rather than full-time transitioning people as, in the past, part-time people did not usually go out in public dressed (whereas transitioning people have to).
However, in recent years, the distinctions between the two groups have arguably become more blurred and at the same time Western society has become more accepting of trans people who do not completely pass as the other gender, and therefore this has become more common.
(The term is thought to originate from the “Blade” movies, where “day walker” meant a vampire who could go out in the daytime).
Referring to a transitioned person by the name they used in their old gender identity, which they stopped using when they transitioned. This is sometimes done by parents who refuse to accept their child’s transition, or people in authority who believe that they should use the person’s legal name. Police and media dealing with trans homicide cases have been criticised for insisting on using the name on the victim’s official documentation when they were always known by a different one. It is regarded by trans people as very insensitive and offensive.
When a part-time trans woman wears male clothing. (Possibly derived from “Dressed as a boy”). E.g. “I went to a friend’s wedding at the weekend but had to go in drab”.
Dressed/Dressed femme/en femme
Presenting as female, usually when the person is part-time.
To “read” somebody is to notice that they are Trans, rather than someone who was born in that gender. It is more polite to pretend not to notice.
When someone who has completed their transition does not want other people to know that they have a Trans history. The person wishes simply to live in the gender that they are now, as if they have always been this gender. This is often after they have completed their transition and have had SRS and obtained a GRC (see above), so there are very few reasons why they would need to reveal their Trans history.
Trans woman. Normally used by part-time transgender people to refer to themselves or each other, particularly when socialising.
- “A guide to transgender terms”,BBC Magazine, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32979297
- “Terminology”, GIRES, http://www.gires.org.uk/terminology
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender
- Gender dysphoria – Treatment http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gender-dysphoria/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- Wikipedia, “Genderqueer”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genderqueer
- UK Government legislation site, “Equality Act 2010”, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/7/enacted
- NHS UK, “How to find a Gender Identity Clinic”, http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Transhealth/Pages/local-gender-identity-clinics.aspx
(viii) GIRES, NHS Gender Identity Clinics (England), http://www.gires.org.uk/health/nhs-gender-identity-clinics-england
(viv) Oxford Dictionaries, Agender, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/agender
(vv) Gender Wiki, Demigender, http://gender.wikia.com/wiki/Demigender