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Transgender Basics Video and Vocabulary December 20, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in Gender Identity, LGBT, Resources, transgender.
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Transgender Basics – an amazing video from The Center in New York City.

I have also included their glossary of terms, as an educational tool. As always, comments are welcome.


Here we identify and explain differences between the separate continuums of sex, gender role, gender identity, and sexual orientation; in addition to articulating basic transgender terminology.

We want to try to use language that people consider affirming to themselves. Based on the understanding that this is actually a more accurate way to speak about people, that transgender individuals are experts on their own lives and we’re going to try to sustain language in the same level of expertise. We’re also confirming the NYC Human Rights law.

The following terminology is taken from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) as well as various Gender Identity Project materials. The original GLAAD text may be found on GLAAD’s website.


An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.

Transsexual (Transexual)
An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities. Many transgender people prefer the term “transgender” to “transsexual.” Some transsexual people still prefer to use the term to describe themselves. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

Gender Non-conforming
A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from the societal expectations based on their assigned sex at birth. Gender Non-conforming individuals may or may not pursue any physical changes, such as hormonal or surgical interventions. Gender non-conforming individuals may or may not identify as trans, male or female.

A term used by some individuals who identify as between genders, or as neither man nor woman. Genderqueer identity may be seen as an identity under the gender non-conforming umbrella. Genderqueer individuals may or may not pursue any physical changes, such as hormonal or surgical intervention. Genderqueer individuals may or may not identify as trans.

DEROGATORY see Cross-Dressing

Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following cultural, legal and medical adjustments: telling 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 surgical alteration.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)
Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition (see Transition above). Preferred term to “sex change operation.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the importance of SRS to the transition process.

To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it. “Cross-dresser” should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex, or who intends to do so in the future. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID)
A controversial DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender-variant people. Because it labels people as “disordered,” Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive. The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don’t conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play or behavior. Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and/or institutionalization. Replaces the outdated term “gender dysphoria.”



Problematic: “transgenders,” “a transgender”
Preferred: “transgender people,” “a transgender person”
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, “Tony is a transgender,” or “The parade included many transgenders.” Instead say, “Tony is a transgender person,” or “The parade included many transgender people.”

Problematic: “transgendered”
Preferred: “transgender”
The word transgender never needs the extraneous “ed” at the end of the word. In fact, such a construction is grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can be transformed into participles by adding “-ed” to the end of the word, and transgender is an adjective, not a verb.
Problematic: “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative”
Preferred: “transition”
Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to truly change one’s sex.

Problematic: “hermaphrodite”
Preferred: “intersex person”
The word “hermaphrodite” is an outdated, stigmatizing and misleading word, usually used to sensationalize intersex people.


Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” or “masquerading”
Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Please do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” other people, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are extremely insulting.
Defamatory: “she-male,” “he-she,” “it,” “trannie,” “tranny,” “gender-bender”
These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used (See GLAAD’s Defamatory Language section).


1. sarah - December 22, 2009

Reading some of the references, I realise that these terms are geographical too. In the UK, Transvestite is not considered derrogartory, but is normally shortened to TV. Also, most transsexual people in the UK, will use the word transsexual, as thanks to our health system, most people intending to have surgery will have surgery, but in the US, you have to essentially fund everything yourself, which means only those with the resources are able to “fully” transition, and may therefore simply refer to themselves as trans or transgender, but I’ve found that you will have as many opinons as you have people.

2. Kim - December 22, 2009

Why some of these definitions are transphobic…

“sex change operation” – No, a transsexual woman is a woman… sex doesn’t has only to do with the absence or presence of a penis. The term “sex change operation” is a term who causes harm not only to transsexual people (cause transphobic people think a transsexual woman is a “man” or “male” before the genital surgery and this is wrong) it causes much more harm to intersex people cause of the idea that you can “change” or “assign” sex with a genital surgery (often children are forced to underwent this surgery but it doesn’t change sex at all)

“Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF).”

The terms FTM and MTF are problematic, too, cause behind you must have the ideology that gender sterotypes or a genital surgery can change from M to F or F to M. This is wrong, too… and also causes harm to intersex and transsexual people. To be male or female is reduced onto factors who are not the main factors for being what you are (neither a penis or a gender role tells the truth of your sex/gender identity). The ideas of sex- or gender-changes lead to the transphobic word:

“Gender Identity Disorder (GID)” a term that is the reason for the main human rights violations not only against transsexual people (homosexual and intersexual, too) cause it is based on an ideology that a penis tells you what gender you must have (and that you must act like your genitals – if you don’t act like them you show “gender atypical behaviour”)

“Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time.”

The ideology of “sex changes” is transphobic, cause it wrongly implies that a transsexual woman is born “male” and you can “assign” gender/sex via an “sex change operation” (very problematic for intersex people).

Cagpaign Transsexuality and Human Rights

3. Geekgirl - December 22, 2009

Thank you both Sarah and Kim. Please keep the comments coming. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that the transgender community is very diverse and the vocabulary is ever evolving. I look forward to the day when we reach full understanding and can use words that reflect that understanding.

Sarah, on a lighter note, I’m glad you made the point about transvestite. Not that I know much about the controversy about the word, but because I adore Eddie Izzard, who describes himself as an executive transvestite.

4. Editorial Staff - March 7, 2010

You may wish to review the Fenway Health Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms at http://www.fenwayhealth.org/site/DocServer/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf?docID=7081.

5. http://ask-a-geek.com/groups/an-increasing-availability-of-college-scholarships-helps-empower-current-college-freshmen/ - April 1, 2013

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