Glossary of Trans Terms
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) offers these general descriptions to help in the understanding, respect and inclusion of transgender identities and experiences.
This list was developed through research into current best practice on terminology internationally and consultation with transgender (hereafter trans) people. However, language is dynamic and these descriptions should not be seen as exhaustive or complete. There is ongoing discussion within trans communities about the usage, meanings and the implications of certain terms. Indeed, some terms are hotly contested.
If you know or are working with a person who is trans we suggest that you speak to them directly about what words or terms they use to describe themselves and their experiences. For more information contact us: email@example.com
Introduction to Sex and Gender
It is important to clarify the distinctions between sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
Sex: The designation of a person at birth as male or female based on their anatomy (genitalia and/or reproductive organs) or biology (chromosomes and/or hormones).
The phrase “sex assigned at birth” (replacing “biological sex”) is a more accurate and respectful way to acknowledge the process of sex assignation that occurs at birth through a perfunctory look at external anatomy. It might not be possible in all cases (e.g. intersex) to identify an individual as male or female at birth. For trans people, assigned sex may differ considerably from gender identity (see definitions of Transgender and Intersex).
Gender Identity: Refers to a person’s deeply-felt identification as male, female, or some other gender. This may or may not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender Expression: The external manifestation of a person’s gender identity. Gender can be expressed through mannerisms, grooming, physical characteristics, social interactions and speech patterns.
Sexual Orientation: Refers to a person’s physical, emotional or romantic attraction to another person. Sexual orientation is distinct from sex, gender identity and gender expression. Transgender people may identify as lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, queer or asexual (see definition of Transgender).
Androgynous or androgyne: A person whose gender identity is both male and female, or neither male nor female. They might present as a combination of male and female or as sometimes male and sometimes female.
Cisgender: A non-trans person (i.e. a person whose gender identity and gender expression is aligned with the sex assigned at birth).
Cisgender is a newer term which is beneficial in acknowledging that everyone has a gender identity (i.e. a non-trans identity is not presented as normal or natural which stigmatizes a trans identity as abnormal or unnatural).
Cissexism: The assumption that a cisgender identity is more authentic or natural than a trans identity. The belief that a person’s sex assigned at birth always remains their real gender (e.g. suggesting that a trans woman is ‘really a man’ or a trans man is ‘really a woman’).
Coming out: The process of accepting and telling others about one’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. Many trans people will ‘come out’ as a different gender to the sex assigned at birth and may begin a social or physical transition (see definition of Transition).
Some trans people choose to ‘come out’ or be ‘out’ about their trans identities to raise visibility or acknowledge their experiences. Others do not want to ‘come out’ as they feel this implies that their gender identity is not valid or authentic (e.g. a trans woman who comes out as trans may be perceived to be less of a woman).
It is important to never out someone as trans without their permission. Forced outing – whether intentional or unintentional – is a form of transphobia (see definition of Transphobia).
Crossdresser: A person who wears clothing, accessories, jewellery or make-up not traditionally or stereotypically associated with their assigned sex.
There are numerous motivations for crossdressing such as a need to express femininity/masculinity, artistic expression, performance (e.g. drag queen/king), or erotic enjoyment. However, people who crossdress generally have no intention or desire to change their gender identity or assigned sex, although some people may go on to identify as transgender or transsexual.
'Transvestite' is a term sometimes used instead of Crossdresser. However, this term is generally falling into disuse and may be considered derogatory by some. This is due to the fact that transvestite is used as a formal psychiatric/diagnostic term suggesting that a person crossdresses for sexual gratification, which can be stigmatizing.
Drag king: A person with a female gender identity who performs, dresses or presents in a stereotypically masculine role for entertainment purposes.
Drag queen: A person with a male gender identity who performs, dresses or presents in a stereotypically feminine role for entertainment purposes.
Disorder of Sex Development (DSD): A generic definition encompassing any issue noted at birth where the genitalia are atypical in relation to the chromosomes or gonads. Since 2006, this is the preferred term for intersex by some, but not all, medical practitioners in the area.
DSD has been contested because it presumes an underlying ‘disorder’ and that there is something intrinsically wrong with the intersexed body requiring it to be fixed as either male or female (see definition of Intersex and Variation of Sex Development).
FTM: A female-to-male trans person (see definition of Trans man).
Gender Identity Disorder (GID): In DSM-IV, GID is the psychiatric diagnosis used when a person has (1) a strong and persistent cross-gender identification and (2) persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex, and the disturbance (3) is not concurrent with physical intersex condition and (4) causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
GID is a controversial issue. Many trans people see GID as an unwanted psychiatric diagnosis that is stigmatising and pathologising and does not represent their experience or does not acknowledge gender diversity. To others it is a useful diagnostic tool that accurately describes a medical condition and facilitates medical treatment. Some people prefer the term ‘gender dysphoria’ instead of GID; this avoids the negative connotation of the word ‘disorder’.
In the current Irish context, in practice a diagnosis of GID is required to access hormones or surgery through the public healthcare system.
Genderqueer: A person whose gender varies from the traditional 'norm'; or who feels their gender identity is neither female nor male, both female and male, or a different gender identity altogether.
Gender variant: People whose gender identity and/or gender expression is different from traditional or stereotypical expectations of how a man or woman ‘should’ appear or behave.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Hormones: The use of hormones to alter secondary sex characteristics. Some trans people take hormones to align their bodies with their gender identities. Other trans people do not take hormones for many different reasons (see definition of Transition).
Hermaphrodite: Generally considered derogatory; has been replaced by the term intersex (see definition of Intersex).
Intersex: An umbrella term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.
A person with an intersex condition may have elements of both male and female anatomy, have different internal organs than external organs, or have anatomy that is inconsistent with chromosomal sex. These conditions can be identified at birth (where there is obviously ambiguous genitalia), at puberty (when the person either fails to develop certain expected secondary sex characteristics, or develops characteristics that were not expected), later in adulthood (when fertility difficulties present) or on autopsy.
Many individuals who are intersex do not identify as transgender or do not consider themselves covered by the transgender umbrella.
MTF: Male-to-female trans person (see definition of Trans woman).
Sex Change: Generally considered derogatory; has been replaced by the terms 'transition' or 'surgery' (see definition of Transition and Surgery).
Surgery: A set of surgical procedures that alter a person’s physical appearance or the functioning of their existing sexual characteristics. Other terms include Gender Confirmation Surgery, Gender Reassignment Surgery, Sex Reassignment Surgery, Genital Reconstruction Surgery, Sex Affirmation Surgery and so on.
Some trans people undergo surgery to align their bodies with their gender identities. Other trans people do not undergo any surgery for many different reasons.
Some trans people define themselves by their surgical status such as post-operative (post-op), pre-operative (pre-op) or non-operative (non-op). However, these terms place emphasis on genitals as a marker for gender identity and may be rejected by people who do not see their gender as related to surgical status.
Tranny: A slang term for many different trans identities. Some find this term highly offensive, while others may be comfortable with it as a self-reference, but consider the term derogatory if used by outsiders. It is recommended to avoid using this term.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. This term can include diverse gender identities such as: transsexual, transgender, crossdresser, drag performer, androgynous, genderqueer, gender variant or differently gendered people.
Not all individuals with identities that are considered part of the transgender umbrella will refer to themselves as transgender. For some, this may be because they identify with a particular term (such as transsexual or genderqueer) which they feel more precisely describes their identity. Others may feel that their experience is a medical or temporary condition and not an identity (for example they feel they have gender identity disorder but are not transgender).
TENI advocates the use of transgender or trans as an umbrella term as it is currently the most inclusive and respectful term to describe diverse identities. However, we acknowledge and respect each individual’s right to self-identify as they choose.
Trans or trans*: Commonly used shorthand for transgender. Avoid using this term as a noun: a person is not 'a trans'; they may be a trans person.
Transphobia: The fear, dislike or hatred of people who are trans or are perceived to challenge conventional gender categories or ‘norms’ of male or female. Transphobia can result in individual and institutional discrimination, prejudice and violence against trans or gender variant people.
Transition: A process through which some transgender people begin to live as the gender with which they identify, rather than the one assigned at birth. Transition might include social, physical or legal changes such as coming out to family, friends, co-workers and others; changing one's appearance; changing one’s name, pronoun and sex designation on legal documents (e.g. driving licence or passport); and medical intervention (e.g. through hormones or surgery).
Transsexual: A person whose gender identity is 'opposite' to the sex assigned to them at birth. The term connotes a binary view of gender, moving from one polar identity to the other. Transsexual people may or may not take hormones or have surgery.
Use of the term ‘transsexual’ remains strong in the medical community because of the DSM’s prior use of the diagnosis ‘Transsexualism’ (changed to “Gender Identity Disorder” in DSM- IV).
The term ‘transsexual’ is hotly debated in trans communities with some people strongly identifying with the term while others strongly rejecting it. Moreover, for some, ‘transsexual’ is considered to be a misnomer inasmuch as the underlying medical condition is related to gender identity and not sexuality.
Trans man: A person who was assigned female at birth but who lives as a man or identifies as male. Some trans men make physical changes through hormones or surgery; others do not.
Trans man is sometimes used interchangeably with FTM (female-to-male). However, some trans men don’t think of themselves as having transitioned from female to male (i.e. because they always felt male). Some people prefer to be referred to as men rather than trans men while others will refer to themselves as men of transgender experience.
Trans woman: A person who was assigned male at birth but who lives as a woman or identifies as female. Some trans women make physical changes through hormones or surgery; others do not.
Trans woman is sometimes used interchangeably with MTF (male-to-female). However, some trans women don’t think of themselves as having transitioned from male to female (i.e. because they always felt female). Some people prefer to be referred to as women rather than trans women while others may refer to themselves as women of transgender experience.
Transvestite: See definition of 'Crossdresser.'
Variation of Sex Development (VSD): Another term for ‘intersex’ preferred by some medical practitioners and intersex people in place of DSD as it removes the stigma of 'disorder' from the nomenclature (see definition of Intersex and Disorder of Sex Development).
 Adapted from the following resources: Fenway Institute's Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms (www.thefenwayinstitute.org); Primary Care Protocol for Transgender Patient Care, Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, University of California, San Francisco, April 2011.
 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 4th Edition, Text Revision, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.