Trans Terminology

 min read
August 14, 2022

Transgender – an adjective that describes a person who does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Cisgender – an adjective that describes a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. Note: This is not a slur or a bad word. Please read this post if you are wondering why you would consider using this word to describe yourself if you're not transgender.

Transition – any step(s) a person takes to affirm their gender identity; this may or may not include changes in one’s name, pronouns, physical appearance, taking hormones, undergoing surgery, among many other things. There is no one way to transition.

Sex – usually refers to biology, but there is no one way to define biological sex. Most people attempt to define biological sex one way (usually with external genitalia or chromosomes), but the reality is there are five main major components of biological sex: chromosomes, hormones, expression of hormones, internal genitalia, and external genitalia. Most folks exist in within two binaries of classically ‘male’ and ‘female,’ but biological sex is a spectrum, and many people exist between the two main categories. These folks are called “intersex.” There is nothing wrong with their bodies, this is just a normal and natural expression of human biological diversity. See this page for more.

Intersex – an adjective used to describe someone born with reproductive anatomy that does not fit typical definitions of “male” or “female.” There is nothing wrong with their bodies, this is just a normal and natural expression of human biological diversity. It’s important to realize that intersex anatomy isn’t always discovered at birth! Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until puberty, or finds themselves infertile as an adult, or even until a post-mortem autopsy. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing they are intersex. Learn more here.

Gender identity – a person's internal sense of their own gender. This does not have to match “biological sex,” though it often does as most people are not transgender.

Gender expression – a societal box we check or don’t to try to communicate our gender with others. This is culturally, temporally, and geographically constrained and is best defined by social construct.

Gender binary - the concept that there are only two genders (male and female) and that one (male) is superior to the other (female.) Learn more here.

Trans man – a man assigned female at birth.

Trans woman – a woman assigned male at birth.

Cis man – a person who was assigned male at birth and identifies as male.

Cis woman – a person who was assigned female at birth and identifies as female.

FTM – this stands for “Female to Male” and it refers to people assigned female at birth but who identify as male. I (and many others) have grown to dislike this term because it implies that I once female, which does not feel accurate. Of course, I was assigned female at birth, and haven’t always had the language or resources or safety to explain my identity as man, but I have always felt like a boy, like myself.

MTF – this stands for “Male to Female” and it refers to people assigned male at birth but identify as female.

Trans masculine (abv: trans masc) – a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies on the masculine end of gender expression (this is usually considered more a inclusive and less rigid term than “trans man”/”trans male.”)

Trans feminine (abv: trans femme) – a personal who was assigned male at birth but identifies on the feminine side of the gender spectrum (again, this is usually considered more a inclusive and less rigid term than “trans woman.”)

Non-binary – describes someone who does not identify within the gender binary. For some folks this means identifying somewhere between the binary ”ends” (male and female), for some it means identifying as a combination of genders, and for others it means feeling a complete lack of a gender. For many folks, being nonbinary entails liberation from the stereotypes and gender roles attached to the gender they were assigned at birth. Note: Many folks use the term “enby” as a short term for nonbinary. This is the spelling of the abbreviation “NB” but folks have strayed away from using “NB” to refer to nonbinary folks as “NB” is used more widely as an abbreviation for non-Black folks.

Gender Dysphoria – the discomfort or distress that arises from the incongruence of gender identity and gender assigned at birth. Often abbreviated to 'dysphoria' and not to be confused with body dysmorphia. See here for more about this.

Gender-affirming – accepting someone’s true gender through explicit language or practices and treating them in
ways that actively support them living authentically in that gender.

Gender-affirming healthcare –

Gender-affirming surgery –

Top surgery – a mastectomy for transmasculine folks, a “masculinization” of chest. Often includes nipple grafts. See page on top surgery for more information.

Bottom surgery – gender affirming surgery for one's genitalia. Previously referred to as “sex/gender reassignment surgery” or “genital reassignment surgery,” but these terms are no longer commonly used nor considered most respectful. 'Bottom surgery' is not only a more inclusive term, but it is also more accurate. Biological sex is more than just one’s genitals, and when trans folks receive gender-affirming surgeries, we are not "reassigning" our sex or gender. That is, I've always been myself, a man. I just haven't always had the words, knowledge, or courage to share that with the world. Getting top surgery was gender-affirming. It didn't make me a man.

HRT – abbreviation for hormone replacement therapy, and sometimes also referred to as GAHT, or Gender Affirming Hormone Therapy. This is a process by which some trans individuals access gender-affirmation through taking testosterone (for trans masc folks) or some form of estrogen and testosterone suppressants (for trans femme folks.)

T or E – common abbreviations for testosterone and estrogen, respectively.

Misgender – the act of referring to someone in a way that does not reflect that person’s gender identity. For example, using incorrect pronouns, calling someone by an old name (a deadname), using an incorrect prefix (e.g. Mr., Ms., ma'am, or sir). Misgendering can be especially painful for trans individuals because it drags forth a history of not being seen as who we truly are. Learn more about pronouns here.

Deadname – refers to the name someone was given or used before they transitioned and/or discovered their true gender identity. This term is an adjustment to the term, ‘birth name” for a few reasons, namely that these names are dead. Some people also feel that when deadnamed, a small part of them dies. Like misgendering, deadnames often drag forth a great deal of pain and trauma for trans folks of having to live as someone they are not. Some folks also refer to deadnames as “old names.”


This is a non-comprehensive list of words that I'd strongly discourage you from using if you are not transgender. If you are transgender, I still encourage you to read these definitions so you are informed about your community's history, but inthe end, use whatever terms make you feel most comfortable!

Transvestite/crossdresser – an outdated term referring to someone person who engages in an “opposite” gender expression, but who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. If you do not identify as this, I strongly discourage using this term.

Transsexual – this usually describes a transgender person who has taken steps in their medical transition. Some people would only consider those who have had bottom surgery 'transsexual' but it seems that the most common consensus is that a transsexual person has undergone some physical transition step, such as hormone therapy, top surgery, and/or bottom surgery. This term is considered outdated and is literally outdated in that it is no longer included in the DSM as it was from 1980 through 1994. I discourage you from using this, especially if you're not transgender, for two reason. First, this discloses someone's surgical/medical status which is not yours to disclose unelss explicitly given permission to do so. Second, it can drag forth the harmful pathologizing history that 'transsexualism' drags forth. Read more about this history here.

Sex Change –

Womxn – in the 1970s feminists who wanted to remove the word ‘men’ from the word ‘women’ began using ‘womyn.’ This quickly became associated with (cisgender) white feminism and thus ‘womxn’ was adopted in an attempt to be inclusive of women of color and trans women. However this effort has backfired in many ways, namely through implicitly asserting that the original word ‘women’ is not inclusive women of color and trans women, which is false. Trans women are women. Women of color are women. Thus, I’d advise NOT using this term because it is often too loaded. If you mean to call out trans women or women of color or cis women specifically, do so. Check out this article or this article for more.

A few thorough guides that are easily shareable:

Common Mistakes & Suggestions on Correction--


GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender Terms

Glossary of Terms - Human Rights Campaign (

PFLAG National Glossary of Terms | PFLAG