Terms to know

A transgender individual is someone whose gender identity and gender expression are different from the sex recorded on their birth certificate--sometimes called sex assigned at birth. For instance, a transgender man is someone who was born with female genitalia but who identifies as a man, while a transgender woman is someone who was born with male genitalia but who identifies as a woman.

A cisgender individual is someone whose gender identity and gender expression correspond to the sex they were designated at birth. A majority of people are cisgender, but a small but not insignificant number of people are transgender. Transgender and cisgender are sometimes shortened to trans and cis, as in, a trans person or cis person.

Just like cisgender people, transgender persons' identities can be anywhere on the gender spectrum, including non-binary identities such as gender-fluid or genderqueer. They may also identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight or any other sexual orientation.

Transitioning is the process whereby a person begins to live as a member of a gender that is different from the sex they were designated at birth. This process varies from individual to individual, and can involve social, legal, and/or physical aspects. A person’s gender identity does not depend on whether they are taking hormones or have undergone surgery. People who identify as transgender may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.

Before transitioning, transgender persons experience gender dysphoria, meaning that they experience feelings of discomfort with the sex they were assigned at birth as well as a strong and persistent identification with a different gender. Studies suggest that transgender persons experience manifestations of gender dysphoria from a very young age.

An older term that you might still come across is transsexual. The term transgender has largely come to replace transsexual, as a means of clarifying the distinction between biological sex and gender identity.

Persons who are transgender are distinct from cross-dressers. Cross-dressers are individuals who regularly or occasionally wear the clothing socially assigned to the opposite gender for fun, relaxation, sexual gratification, etc., but are usually comfortable with their gender and do not wish to change it.

Transvestite is a term that is no longer used and is considered pejorative; originally, it had the same meaning that the preferred term “cross-dresser” does today.

The term "drag" refers to the theatrical performance of one or multiple genders via dressing in the clothing of a different gender, or in a manner different form how one would usually dress. For instance, drag queens perform in highly feminine attire. Drag kings perform in highly masculine attire. Drag often presents a stereotyped image. Individuals who dress in “drag” may or may not consider themselves to be transgender.

For persons just learning about transgender identities, the new terminology can be a lot to absorb, and there can be uncertainty about what pronouns to use when referring to a trans person. Transgender journalist Jane Fae offers three simple words of advice: “Ask. Listen. Respect.” A person’s name will often indicate their pronoun preference. But if you are unsure, it’s ok to ask a person politely what pronouns they prefer. Fae explains, “People are individuals. Ask politely, listen to what individuals have to say and respect what they tell you. It’s a principle and an approach to life that will take you a long way—and not just with the transgender community.” (A guide to transgender terms, 2015).


A guide to transgender terms. (2015, June 3). BBC News Magazine. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32979297

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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