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Transgender Terminology

It is important to understand that not all people who might fall into this category from an outsider's perspective identify as transgender, nor will they all use this terminology to describe themselves. When interacting with this population, it is crucial to avoid seeking or attaching labels to persons for whom those labels are not appropriate or comfortable.

Note: Always ASK patients how they define themselves, and respect and USE their preferred self-definitions and pronouns appropriate to their gender identity.

Transgender-related terminology includes (but is not limited to):

  • Female-to-Male (FTM): describes the trajectory of a person who is changing or has changed their body and lived gender role from a birth-assigned female to an affirmed male. Also, trans male, trans man, or transman.
  • Gender Identity: the sense of one's self as male or female.
  • Gender presentation: the expression of gender. People may present or express gender in a variety of ways that may or may not correspond with their gender identity. If a person says they are transgender, the gender they are expressing through their dress, hairstyle, mannerisms, or other behaviors may or may not correspond to the gender an observer might perceive through their presentation. Most people who are NOT transgender dress and comport themselves in ways that reinforce their gender identity. Transgender people usually do the same, but often they are unable to do so without social and/or medical support, so the first time (or first several times) they are encountered, particularly if they are pre-transition, they may be presenting their gender as they believe they are expected by others to present, rather than as they would feel most comfortable, or as they would if they felt they were free or otherwise able to express their gender identity.
  • Genderqueer: one who defies or does not accept stereotypical gender roles and may choose to live outside expected gender norms. Genderqueer people may or may not avail themselves of hormonal or surgical treatments.
  • Male-to-Female (MTF): describes the trajectory of a person who is changing or has changed their body and lived gender role from a birth-assigned male to an affirmed female. Also, trans woman or transwoman.
  • Trans: shorthand term for a variety of transgender identities. Also, trans people or transpeople. Avoid using this term as a noun: a person is not "a trans"; they may be a trans person.
  • Transgender: literally "across gender"; sometimes interpreted as "beyond gender"; a community-based term that describes a wide variety of cross-gender behaviors and identities. This is not a diagnostic term, and does not imply a medical or psychological condition. Avoid using this term as a noun: a person is not "a transgender"; they may be a transgender person.
  • Tranny / transie: slang terms for transgender or transsexual. Some people find these highly offensive, while others may be comfortable with them as a self-reference, but consider them derogatory if used by outsiders. It is recommended that health care providers avoid using these terms when speaking with or about transgender patients.
  • Transsexual : a medical term applied to individuals who seek hormonal (and often, but not always) surgical treatment to modify their bodies so they may live full time as members of the sex category opposite to their birth-assigned sex (including legal status). Some individuals who have completed their medical transition prefer not to use this term as a self-referent. Avoid using this term as a noun: a person is not "a transsexual"; they may be a transsexual person.
  • Transvestite: a psychiatric term applied to male-bodied people who wear female clothing, periodically, episodically, for sexual gratification, and may experience significant distress. Some people who crossdress will use this term as a self-referent, but others reject its potentially stigmatizing psychiatric/diagnostic meaning, or use the term crossdresser in its place because they do not dress for sexual gratification or feel distress about the behavior.
  • Transition: a term meaning the period of time when a transgender or transsexual person is learning how to cross-live socially as a member of the sex category opposite their birth-assigned sex, or is engaged in early hormone use. Some people use this term to describe their medical condition with regard to their gender until they have completed the medical procedures that are relevant for them.

Note: Patients may wish to be labelled 'Male' or 'Female' according to their gender identity and presentation, their legal status, or according to the way they are registered with their insurance carrier. They may wish to be referred to as 'Female' in one situation (e.g., in their record with the physician's office and in personal interactions with physician and office staff), but 'Male' in other situations (e.g., on forms related to their insurance coverage, lab work, etc.). The application of specific terminology could change at various times over the patient's lifetime. This principle cannot be over-emphasized: Always ASK patients how they define themselves, and respect and USE their preferred self-definitions.