Transgender Terminology

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The recent news stories about transgender teens have started conversations. The other day, while meeting some friends for breakfast, the topic came up. One woman said, “I am confused. I don’t understand all the terms, for example: Is transsexual the same as transgender? And one newscast referenced gender identity disorder. Isn’t that saying that everyone who is a transgender has a disorder? Haven’t we moved further than that? I do want to know but am not sure how to find out.” I am sure my friend is not the only one confused. The following is a list of terms commonly used and an explanation of what each means.

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    Bi-gendered - A term referring to individuals who have a gender identity that includes both genders. If you are bi-gendered, you might feel one gender is stronger than the other but you still identify with both genders.

    Cross-dresser - The older term for cross-dresser is transvestite. A person who is a cross-dresser wears clothing traditionally worn by the other gender (for example a male wearing clothing traditionally seen as worn by women). Cross-dressers do not want to live as the other gender. Most commonly, the term cross-dresser is used to describe a heterosexual man who sometimes dresses as a woman. Cross-dressers are different than drag-queens, who are typically gay men who dress like women for the purpose of entertainment.

    FTM - Female to Male - An individual who was assigned the female gender at birth but identifies with the male gender.

    Gender identity - This term refers to someone’s internal identification with a specific gender. You might have been assigned the male gender at birth but internally identify with the female gender, or a combination of both male and female. Your “internal” gender is your gender identity. You might or might not outwardly express your internal gender through behavior, hairstyle, clothing, voice or body characteristics. How you outwardly express your gender is referred to as “gender expression” or “gender presentation.”  

    Gender dysphoria - previously referred to as gender identity disorder, however, this term is now outdated. Gender dysphoria is a term used to describe a difficulty in emotionally coping with having a gender identity that differs from the gender you were assigned at birth. While this diagnosis is controversial, some advocates believe it is important because it provides a diagnosis for hormonal treatment and/or sexual reassignment surgery and it is needed to advocate for these medical services to be paid by insurance companies.

    Gender non-conforming - This term refers to individuals whose gender expression is different than would others would see as traditional for the gender assigned to them at birth.

    Intersex - A term that refers to a condition where a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t meet the traditional definitions of male or female, for example, a person might have female anatomy on the outside and male anatomy on the inside.

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    MTF - Male to Female - An individual who was assigned the male gender at birth but identifies with the female gender.

    Sex Reassignment Surgery - Previously called sex change surgery, which is now considered a derogatory term. Sex reassignment surgery is actually a series of surgeries which change a person’s body to reflect the gender he or she identifies with. Not every person who is transgender wants or needs sex reassignment surgery. For some, it is medically necessary.

    Sexual orientation - An umbrella term that refers to your sexual attraction. You might be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual.

    Transition - The period of time when a person starts to live as the gender he or she identifies with. The transition time can include a change of name, clothing, different hairstyles and different behaviors. Some might have sexual reassignment surgery during this time or legally change their name on their drivers license and other government documents.

    Transgender and transsexual - Transsexual is an older term that means the same as transgender - many people prefer the term transgender but they are interchangeable. It is a term for people who were born into a gender they don’t identify with. Their expression and behaviors reflect the gender opposite of the one they were assigned at birth. The term transgender is an adjective, not a noun, as it is used to describe someone, such as “transgender teens.”  When someone uses the term “transgender man” or “transgender woman,” they are referring to the which gender the person identifies with, so, a transgender man would be for a transgender person who currently identifies as a man.

    According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD, some things you should keep in mind when talking with or referring to a transgender person:

    • Use the person’s chosen name rather than their birth name, regardless of whether the person has legally changed his or her name.
    • When possible, ask the person whether “he” or “she” is preferred
    • If in doubt, use the pronoun that most closely represents the person’s outer appearance

    It is always best to ask someone how they define themselves and then respect that choice.


    “GLAAD Media Reference Guide-Transgender Issues,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer,

    “Transgender Terminology,” Updated 2014, January, Staff Writer, National Center for Transgender Equality

Published On: January 07, 2015