This list is not exhaustive and is designed to provide general information surrounding common terms and definitions used regularly by the transgender community and our allies.
Some definitions are relative to personal preference—the best thing to do when you’re unclear on how to use terminology to talk about the trans people you know is to ask them!
Sex is a trait that determines an individual’s reproductive function - male or female - in species that reproduce sexually. In biology, a female is someone who produces the larger sex cell (ovum) and a male is someone who produces the smaller sex cell (sperm). Sex is genetically determined in humans by the XY sex-determination system (where males carry and X and a Y chromosome, while females carry two X chromosomes) however many chromosomal variations exist which can give intersex individuals a variety of sex characteristics. One’s sex cannot be determined by looking at genitals alone, though this is typically that is done.
Primary sex characteristics are the differentiating physical attributes that include the penis, scrotum and ability to produce and deliver sperm in some; as well as the vagina, uterus and Fallopian tubes, clitoris, cervix and the ability to bare children in others. Secondary sex characteristics include enlarged breasts, facial hair, height differences, widened hips, pubic hair and the growth of the Adam’s apple.
Gender refers to the socially constructed norms, behaviours, relationships and societal roles traditionally associated with being a man, woman, boy or girl. This includes styles of dress, activities, social expectations and the outward performance of one’s identity. Gender expectations vary dramatically across cultures and can shift according to time and place.
Assigned Sex (At Birth)
Sex assignment is the discernment of a child’s sex at birth, usually by a doctor, midwife, nurse or relative. It is the visual inspection of an infant’s genitalia and subsequent recording on their birth certificate. The word “assigned” highlights the fact that the discernment of sex is superficial, non-technical and involves none of the chromosome testing required to actually determine one’s biological sex.
Pronouns are words used to stand in for someone’s name in a sentence. Common pronouns include he, him, me, mine, they, them, she, her, we, it, it’s, us, you, your, etc. Everyone has pronouns and we all use them every day, without thinking!
An acronym for assigned male or assigned female at birth. It refers to the moment after birth where the attending physician observes the child’s genitals and proclaims whether they are male or female. These terms are not to be used as a descriptor of your trans friends; and is used mostly in medical settings when discussing certain biological functions.
An acronym for presumed male/female at birth. As above, though the use of “presumed” over “assigned” is preferred by some trans folk.
Someone who’s gender identity or gender expression is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes binary trans people (trans men and women) as well as many non-binary trans people (trans people who’s gender does not align with their assigned sex but do not align with “man” or a “woman”).
Someone who’s gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. The majority of people who are assigned male and female at birth are cisgender, and do not feel any discomfort related to their gender or sex.
Nonbinary is an umbrella term used to refer to folks who don’t identify as a man or a woman, or who don’t identify with any gender. Many nonbinary people identify as transgender too, as their gender is typically different than their assigned sex at birth; however not all nonbinary people do. Terms like gender-fluid, androgynous, and gender nonconforming all fall under the nonbinary umbrella, and have a wide variety of individual expressions.
A trans person who has received medical assistance to physically transition from their assigned sex to a different sex. Some people view this term as outdated, while others may choose to identify this way for historical or personal reasons. Do not refer to someone as a transsexual if they have not given you permission to do so.
A man who was assigned female at birth.
A woman who was assigned male at birth.
An AFAB trans person who aligns mostly with masculinity but may not feel wholly like a man.
An AMAB trans person who aligns mostly with femininity but might not feel wholly like a woman.
A medical term in the DSM-5 to describe , “clinical significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender”. Not all transgender people experience dysphoria, and gender affirmation is documented to be the best way to alleviate dysphoria, improve mental health and significantly reduce risk of suicide in transgender individuals.
Gender Affirmation/Confirmation (Transition)
Transitioning is the process of shifting from one gender expression to another. This usually includes a social transition (a change of name, pronouns, title and clothes), medical transition (hormone therapy and/or surgeries) and legal transition (the amendment of legal documentation such as drivers licence, passport and/or birth certificate). It may take many tries for someone to figure out what works for them, and the journey for most is ongoing!
Detransitioning is usually when a trans person must stop or reverse parts of their transition (social, medical and/or legal) due to safety concerns, medical reasons, social pressure, finances or poor mental health. Very rarely does someone de-transition because they thought they were trans and turned out not to be.
Acronym for Female to male. Refers to someone who is AFAB and transitions to male, maybe with the help of surgeries, clothing, binding, social affirmation and hormone replacement therapy.
Acronym for Male to female. Refers to someone who is AMAB and transitions to female, maybe with the help of surgeries, clothing, tucking, social affirmation and hormone replacement.
Acronym for Hormone Replacement Therapy. HRT is used by cisgender and transgender individuals to maintain or elevate certain sex hormones in the body and produce certain physical or psychological effects.
Testosterone. Often used by trans men, trans masculine people and AFAB non-binary folks to achieve male sex characteristics.
Estrogen. Often used by trans women, trans feminine people and AMAB non-binary folks to achieve female sexuality characteristics.
- Refers to an affirmative mastectomy for folks with breasts to achieve a flat (or masculinised) chest.
- Refers to an affirmative breast augmentation for folks who desire breasts (or a feminised chest).
Refers to affirmative genital reconstruction, typically the creation of a penis or vagina respectively.
Facial feminisation surgery. Refers to an affirmative surgery to achieve a more feminine face shape through the shaving and filing of the jaw and chin.
Individuals who plan on taking testosterone but have not started.
Individuals who plan on taking estrogen but have not started.
flattening or compressing the breasts with a binder, strapping tape, sports bras or bandages to achieve a flat chest.
obscuring and compressing the penis and testicles with underwear, tape, or other tools to achieve a flat genital area.
placing stuffing, socks, toys or other material in the front of the underwear to achieve a bulge that emulates a penis.
Refers to a collection of negative feelings, ideas and actions held by individuals and/or society about transgender people. Transphobic people typically feel intense dislike, hatred, anger and/or discomfort towards those they perceive to be trans or otherwise gender non-conforming in their presentation, and may become avoidant, violent or aggressive when confronted with real or hypothetical transgender people.
A term coined in the novel Whipping Girl by Julia Serrano in 2007, referring to the unique oppression experienced by trans women and trans-femmes who sit at the intersection of transphobia and misogyny. Transmisogyny is the hatred and degradation of trans women through discrimination, media, violence and prevailing negative cultural attitudes.
Transmisogyny Excluded (TME)
In most anecdotal cases, TME refers to the phenomenon trans men and trans-masculine folks experience during transition, as they go from being socially perceived as female to being socially perceived as male.
Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF)
A TERF is a feminist who purposefully excludes trans women when campaigning for women’s rights. She often uses her biology (e.g. reproductive organs, breasts, ability to bare children, etc) to insist she is a “real” woman, and will typically accuse trans women of “appropriating” or “performing” a version of womanhood that is offensive to feminism. A TERF will also insist trans men, trans masculine people and AFAB nonbinary folks are simply “confused women” harbouring internalised misogyny.
A colloquialism used in good humour. A trans person may say they have “gender envy” when they see someone they want to look like. Whether it’s their gender presentation; body aesthetics; physique or other attributes, a trans person may get gender envy because they don’t look like the person they’re looking at. Gender envy may also be applied to the aesthetics of inanimate objects, works of art, buildings, or any number of other things - again, usually with a degree of humour.
A colloquialism used in some circles to refer to the trans experience of immediately noticing other trans people in public. This is a specific and harmless application of the clocking phenomenon (which occurs across many communities) and should not be used by cisgender people to refer to people they assume to be trans based on optics.
Now, here's how you can be better trans ally.
Image credit: Krišjānis Kazaks