Transgender Terminology 101

As a cissexual queer girl and a strong ally to the trans community, it’s important to educate others about what I can. While I can’t share personal stories about the trans experience–since it’s not an experience I’ve personally had–I can do something as simple as educating others about terminology and ways to be a good ally.
First, the most simple and important thing to being a good ally: listen. Listen, listen, listen. Don’t take away the voices of the folks who are experiencing first hand what it’s like to be transgender or gender non-conforming. While your voice is important, trans people know their own needs best. Allies are there to support and help lobby for their liberation, their causes.

Often, people have good intentions and want to be respectful, but do not know accepted transgender terminology, and end up using words or phrases that are hurtful to trans or gender non-conforming folks.
I also find that when people know unoffensive words to use, they aren’t as hesitant or nervous to talk about a certain subject–in this case, transgender issues. And since many of us in the queer community already know that silence equals death, sharing a common vocabulary is so undeniably important.

Here are some basic vocabulary words that are important to know!
I am sharing these from a really amazing resource, the Transgender Packet, developed by Brett-Genny Janiczek Beemyn, Director of The Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts. It is probably one of the best quick-info I’ve seen on transgender topics. I recommend checking out the link for more trans 101.
Note: I’ve edited a couple of things, such as the words “transmen” or “transwomen”, as they should be two words, “trans men” and “trans women”.
The definitions for cissexual and cissexism are from the amazing Julia Serano. Visit her page for a glossary with more important terms that aren’t in the Trans Packet. (Also, read her mindblowing book, Whipping Girl!)

Cissexual: A synonym for non-transsexual.
Cissexism: The belief that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual genders.
Crossdressers: Individuals who, regardless of motivation, wear clothing, makeup, etc. that are considered by the culture to be appropriate for another gender but not one’s own (preferred term to “transvestites”).
Drag or In Drag: Wearing clothing considered appropriate for someone of another gender.
FTM Individuals: Female-to-male transsexual people, transsexual men, trans men, or trans guys— individuals assigned female at birth who identify as male. Some transmen reject being seen as “FTM,” arguing that they have always been male and are only making this identity visible to other people (instead, they may call themselves “MTM”).
Gender: The social construction of masculinity and femininity in a specific culture. It involves gender assignment (the gender designation of someone at birth), gender roles (the expectations imposed on someone based on their gender), gender attribution (how others perceive someone’s gender), and gender identity (how someone defines their own gender).
Gender Identity: An individual’s sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
Gender Non-Conforming: Alternative terms for transgender, meaning one who varies from traditional “masculine” and “feminine” gender roles.
Genderqueer: People who identify as neither male nor female, as both, or as somewhere in between, and who often seek to blur gender lines. It is a particularly common identity among transgender youth. Among the dozens of more specific genderqueer terms are transboi, boydyke, third gendered, bi-gendered, multi-gendered, andro, androgyne, and gender bender.
Intersex People: People whose sex chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, and/or genitalia are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female. About one in 1,500-2,000 children are born visibly intersex (preferred term to “hermaphrodites”).
MTF Individuals: Male-to-female transsexual people, transsexual women, trans women, or trans grrls—individuals assigned male at birth who identify as female. Some trans women reject being seen as “MTF,” arguing that they have always been female and are only making this identity visible to other people (instead, they may call themselves “FTF”).
Sie or Ze: A non-gender specific pronoun used instead of “she” and “he.”
Trans or Transgender People: Most commonly used as an umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity and/or expression is sometimes or always different from the gender assigned to them at birth. Transgender people include transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens and kings, genderqueer folks, and others who cross traditional gender categories.
Transitioning: The period during which a person begins to live as their “new” gender. It may include changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, and altering legal documents.
Transsexual People: Individuals whose gender identity is different from their assigned gender at birth. Transsexual people often undergo hormone treatments and gender confirmation surgeries to align their anatomy with their core identity, but not all desire or are able to do so.
Two Spirit People: A Native American/First Nation term for people who blend the masculine and the feminine. It is commonly used to describe anatomical women who took on the roles and/or dress of men and anatomical men who took on the roles and/or dress of women in the past (preferred term to “berdache”). The term is also often used by contemporary LGBT Native American and First Nation people to describe themselves.

Of course, there are far more terms used in the transgender community that aren’t covered here; this is meant to be an introduction, or clarification of terms that folks may have heard before but still aren’t sure about. I know it can be totally confusing to learn a bunch of new words at one time, but it is worth having the knowledge to know how to respect and use respectful words.. it makes a complete difference being able to describe different aspects of an experience and identity–that way, we are able to talk about them.

V xx

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