/Speaking Trans – Definitions to Know and Terms to Avoid Pt. 1

Speaking Trans – Definitions to Know and Terms to Avoid Pt. 1

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By Veronica Leroux, TGT Staff Writer

According to studies, only around 10% of the population knows someone who is TransGender. What this means to the TG community is that 90% of the public has little to no understanding of how to correctly speak to or about TransGender individuals. Even if you are Trans, you may know that some of the terms you hear are being used incorrectly. In the spirit of tolerance and education, let’s explore some of the core principles and differentiate them within the Trans community specifically and the human sexual condition more generally.

SEX is a classification assigned at birth, based on the appearance of an infant’s anatomy, in particular the reproductive organs.

GENDER IDENTITY is an internally-held sense of one’s own gender. While most people identify as male or female, a TransGender person’s GENDER IDENTITY does not match their physical bodies, and may range to include a sense of something other than the male and female  binary identities.

GENDER EXPRESSION is the way a person physically presents their gender to the outside world. This can include name, gender pronouns, clothing, mannerisms, and more. A TransGender person will express themselves according to their GENDER IDENTITY, which does not align with their assigned birth sex.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION refers to a person’s enduring physical, romantic and emotional attraction to other people. Many people wrongly believe that SEXUAL ORIENTATION is determined by or dependent on GENDER IDENTITY. Just like anyone else, TransGender people can be straight, bisexual, gay or lesbian. A person who has transitioned from male to female and is attracted exclusively to men would likely consider herself to be a straight woman. We would only ask that people respect and accept our views, even if the concept itself seems deeply confusing.

Now let’s turn our focus to some terminology which would apply more to TRANS-specific references. Please note that the word TRANS can be shorthand for either TRANSGENDER or TRANSSEXUAL, and is typically not considered to be derogatory.

TRANSGENDER OR TRANSSEXUAL? These terms are often used interchangeably, but the two terms actually have quite different meanings. TRANSGENDER is an umbrella term and an adjective which describes those who cross over or otherwise challenge the socially accepted border  between the genders. While this may include social or medical transition, it is not a requirement. A TRANSSEXUAL is a person who does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. It is interesting to note that medical transition is not a requirement to be a TRANSSEXUAL, since not all those who would like to transition are able to because of medical conditions. According to the DSM-V, “Gender Dysphoria” is the term which should be used to describe the condition of TRANSSEXUALS.

TRANSGENDER MAN/TRANS MAN/FTM: A person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a man. FTM is an abbreviation which stands for “Female To Male”. Many prefer to be simply called a Man.

TRANSGENDER WOMAN/TRANS WOMAN/MTF: A person assigned male at birth, who identifies and lives as a woman. MTF abbreviates “Male To Female”. They may prefer to be referred to as a Woman.

CROSSDRESSER: Replaces the older term of “Transvestite”, and refers to a heterosexual man who sometimes wears clothing, makeup and/or other accessories typically associated with women. The term would specifically be applied to someone who does not wish to change their sex or live as a woman. The term is often confused with DRAG QUEEN, which denotes a man who appears as a woman for entertainment purposes or a DRAG KING which is a woman performing dramatically as a man.

CISGENDER: A general term used for someone who is, simply, not Trans. The latin prefix “CIS-” means literally “on the same side as”, and is therefore the opposite or an antonym of “TRANS-“. In other words, a CISGENDER man or woman would identify on the same side as their assigned birth sex.

TRANSITION: The process of altering one’s gender status over an extended period of time, usually years. The steps taken can range and can include medical, personal and legal changes. Some medical portions may include surgeries such as breast augmentation for MTFs or mastectomy for FTMs, GRS (Gender Reassignment Surgery) and FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery). The medical portion of TRANSITION often includes Hormone Replacement Therapy, which is the administration of estrogen to MTFs and testosterone to FTMs.

We’ve explored some of the general terms you may come across when speaking to or about Trans people. In Part 2, we will continue with definitions as well as provide an explanation as to why some terms are considered derogatory. In general, it is a good habit and the most respectful approach to refer to someone by the name and pronouns they prefer. Even if it appears obvious, Trans people will usually appreciate when someone asks them which pronouns and name they would like used, and would rather be asked than “misgendered”. Remember, the only stupid question is the one not asked, and many Trans Men and Women are more than happy to educate others about their lives and experiences.