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Transgender Definitions

The power of language to shape our perceptions of other people is immense. Precise use of terms in regards to gender can have a significant impact on demystifying many of the misperceptions associated with gender.  Given the complexity of gender, it is not surprising that an increasing number of terms and phrases are developing to describe it.  However, the vocabulary of gender continues to evolve and there is not universal agreement about the definitions of many terms. Nonetheless, here are some working definitions and examples of frequently used (and misused) terms.

Unfortunately, like gender, pronouns are based in two separate categories (male or female): him or her; she or he.  A few prefer the use of 'hir' to express the spectrum of gender that they feel while others prefer the use of the pronoun of the gender they feel inside or are outwardly portraying.  As a general rule, it is recommended to use pronouns that reflect the gender the individual is presenting.

Finally, it is important to note that gender and sexuality are independent of each other--one does not dictate the other.  A simplified explanation of the two is that 'sexuality' refers to what is between one's legs while 'gender' refers to what is between one's ears.  Hopefully the definitions below will offer additional clarity of the two. 

Androgynous:  The general use of being androgynous is a person that blends both male and female gender characteristics into a single presentation, or someone that lacks any specific gender identification. An example of the first might be singers Annie Lenox or David Bowie. An example of the second would be Hirjras (of India ) who are often described as "neither man nor woman".

Autogynephilia:  The love of oneself as a woman.  A sexual behavior (or deviation) proposed in 1989 by Ray Blanchard, who defined it as "a man's paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman." It is part of a behavioral model for transsexual sexuality informally known as the Blanchard, Baily, and Lawrence theory; an attempt to explain transwomen.

Bi-Gendered:  A person who lives a dual life, having one role as a man and another role as a woman. Bi-gendered People spend significant time in each role and Have separate names, pronouns, social circles, and gender identities. Often one social circle is unaware of the person's other identity. Sometimes called a transgenderist. (4 on the Benjamin genderscale.)

Binding:  The process of flattening (and thereby "hiding") ones breasts to present a flat look under their clothing.

Birth Sex (or Biological Sex, Anatomical Sex):  The common, but imperfect, sorting of people as “male” or “female.” Sorting people by sex typically begins at birth, when (usually) a baby is declared to be either a boy or a girl. The determination of sex as “male” or “female” is almost always based on the physical structure of one’s reproductive organs that is used to assign sex at birth.  Biological sex is determined by chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for assigned females, penis and testicles for assigned males). Given the potential variation in all of these, biological sex must be seen as a spectrum or range of possibilities rather than a binary set of two options.

Boi:  A slang term sometimes used for biologically born women that portray a male identity. Also used to describe a submissive male, as in the term houseboi, someone subservient to a dominant male.

Butch:  (1) A female who crossdresses in men's clothing, has a masculine haircut, and takes on the masculine gender role, but does not try to pass as a man or change pronouns. (2) A term used within the lesbian community associated with a masculine or tough acting woman.

Cisgender:  Someone whose physical sex, gender role and gender identity are congruent.  Someone who is not Transgender.  Refers to people whose sex assignment at birth corresponds to their gender identity and expression.

Cross Dresser:  A person who enjoys dressing in clothes of the opposite sex; this may or may not also include a degree of exploration into gender identity.

Cross Gender:  Used to describe children who have adopted attributes that transgress the usual socially assigned gender roles or expectation, or who do not identify as either of the two sexes as currently defined.

Drag Queens or Drag Kings:  A person who performs femininity or masculinity theatrically opposite their birth sex.  They may or may not be transgendered.  Also, DRAG may stand for 'Dressed As a Girl', while DRAB may stand for 'Dressed As a Guy'. 

Endocrinologist:  Doctors skilled in the study of endocrinology; the study of the endocrine glands of the human body, the hormones produced by them, and their related disorders. Endocrinologists are consulted before engaging in and monitoring of sex reassignment hormone therapy.

Eunuch:  A castrated human male.

Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS):  A surgical procedure that alters the structure of the human face to present a more feminine appearance.

Female-to-Male (or FTM, Transman, Transmasculine):  A child or adult who was born anatomically female but has a male gender identity. The word 'Transman' is the more appropriate descriptor.

Female Impersonators:  Men that strive to authentically impersonate women for a living, to include surgically altering their bodies,  for performance purposes. Not to be confused with drag queens that present more a caricature of a woman rather than an actual woman. They may or may not be Transgender.

Gender:   A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people.  A collection of traits, behaviors, and characteristics that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness.  Traits considered masculine or feminine can differ from culture to culture or in different historical periods.  Examples of feminine and masculine cultural associations include: the association of “gentleness” or the color pink with the female sex, or the associations of “strength” or the color blue with the male sex.  Gender is often used synonymously with sex, but this is inaccurate because sex refers to physical/biological characteristics and gender refers to social and emotional attributes.  "Sex" is what you have between your legs, "gender" is what you have between your ears.

Gender Bender:  A person who presents elements of both masculine and feminine appearance without trying to pass as the opposite sex. Examples include a man in a skirt, or with painted nails, styled hair, or dangling earrings, a woman in jacket and tie, or in a tuxedo, or a short masculine haircut or bound breasts. A gender bender is expressing how they are most comfortable.

Gender Characteristics:  The physical attributes of a person, as they relate to the traditional stereotypes of "man" or "woman" and "male" or "female."  Gender characteristics include height, body shape, deepness of voice, body hair, and also include biological sex differentiations like genotype, hormonal
metabolism and genitals.

Gender Expression:  Refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation. Gender expression is how someone presents their gender to the world.  Everyone has a gender identity and a gender expression.   Gender expression should not be viewed as an indication of sexual orientation.

Gender Fluidity:  Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid children do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of girls or boys. In other words, a child may feel they are a girl some days and a boy on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately.

Gender Girl (GG) or Gender Woman (GW):  A person who's birth gender and gender identity are identically female.   

Gender Identity:  A person’s internal self-awareness of being either male or female, masculine or feminine, or something in-between.  Gender Identity is how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. Most people experience their gender identity as conforming to their physical sex. That is, most people who are born with female bodies also have a female gender identity (i.e., an internal sense that “I am a woman”), and most people who are born with male bodies have a male gender identity (i.e., an internal sense that “I am a man”).  Some individuals experience their gender identity as not conforming to their physical sex (i.e., a person who is born female but does not have the internal sense that they are a woman, or a person who is born male who does not have the internal sense that they are a man).  These individuals may be described as “transgender.”  Individuals become conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years.  Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex, but transgendered individuals develop their gender identity opposite to their birth sex.  Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID):  Previous psychological diagnosis found in the DSM IV.  The term has been removed from the DSM V and replaced with Gender Dysphoria. 

Gender Neutral:  People who dress so as to express no gender or ambiguous gender.

Gender Nonconforming: Refers to individuals whose behaviors and/or interests fall outside what is considered typical for their assigned sex at birth. Someone who identifies as “gender nonconforming” is not necessarily transgender. While their expression of gender may fall outside of those considered typical for their assigned birth gender, they nonetheless may identify as that gender nonetheless. Some distinguish between these two terms by how an individual is perceived. That is, a “gender nonconforming” individual may have their atypical expression experienced by others either neutrally or even positively. “Gender variant” might be used to identify an individual whose gender expression is viewed negatively by others.

Gender Normative:  See Cis-gender

GRS: Traditionally, an acronym for Gender Reassignment Surgery--formerly know as Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or a 'sex change'.  The GRS acronym is evolving to to represent Gender Reconfirmation Surgery or Genital Reconfiguration Surgery, both of which more closely describe the intent of the surgical procedure rather than the results of.  For example, MTF GRS aims to alter the body to create the appearance of and in some cases, the functionality of, female genitals, but cannot create, nor transplant, the female sexual organs themselves.

Gender Role:  A set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society.  Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: Masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender.  Some cultures more readily embrace transgenderism and have incorporated more than two gender roles in their society.

Gender Queer:  A gender-variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.  This term represents a blurring of the lines around gender identity and sexual orientation.  Gender Queer individuals typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Gender Variance:  The degree to which a person's gender expression, or gender identity, or gender characteristics is different from cultural expectations.

Gender Variant:  See Gender Nonconforming

Gynophilia:  The romantic and/or sexual attraction to adult females, while Androphilia is the romantic and/or sexual attraction to adult male.  These terms are increasingly used in the reference of transgender people and their attractions to people of their same birth gender.  The terms homosexual, gay or lesbian to describe a Transgender man's attraction to woman or Transgender woman's attraction to men are not accurate.

Intersex (IS):   About 1% of children or at least one in every 2,000 children is born with a sexual anatomy that is difficult to label as male or female (see for more specific statistics).  They are born with chromosomes, hormones, genitalia and/or other sex characteristics that are not exclusively male or female as defined by the medical establishment in our society.  They may be born with genitals that look like most boys’ or girls’ genitals, but have internal reproductive organs usually associated with the other sex.  In most cases, these children are at no medical risk, but most are assigned a biological sex (male or female) by their doctors and/or families and are subjected to numerous genital surgeries and hormone treatments in order to conform their bodies to the standard of either “male” or “female.”  There is a growing movement to prevent such surgeries in children.  The outmoded term is Hermaphrodite. 

Male-to-Female (or MTF, Transwoman, Transgirl):  Abbreviation for “male to female” transgender or transsexual persons.  A child or adult who was born anatomically male but has a female gender identity.  The word 'Transwoman' is the more appropriate descriptor.

Significant Other (SO):  A wife, husband, fiance, girlfriend, boyfriend or life partner of a Transgender individual.

Sexual Orientation:  Term that refers to being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender.  Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are separate, distinct parts of our overall identity.  Although a child may not yet be aware of their sexual orientation, they usually have a strong sense of their gender identity.

Transgender (TG):  Sometimes used as an umbrella to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.  More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender.  Some Transgender individuals may identify with both sexes (Gender Fluid).  Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific gender.)  Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Transgender Status: Having a gender identity or gender expression that differs, or does not differ, from societal expectations based on gender assigned at birth.

Transgenderist:  Not to be confused with "transgender" or "transgendered".  A transgenderist is a person who lives fulltime or nearly full-time in the opposite gender from their birth sex, but does not desire surgery. Also called a non-operative transsexual. Sometimes the term "transgenderist" has been used to describe what this glossary calls a bi-gendered person.

Transition: The process by which a transgender individual strives to have physical presentation more closely align with gender identity. Transition can occur in three ways: social transition through nonpermanent changes in clothing, hairstyle, name and/or pronouns; medical transition through the use of medicines such as hormone “blockers” or cross hormones to promote gender-based body changes; and/or surgical transition in which an individual’s body is modified through the addition or removal of gender-related physical traits.

Tranny:  A slang term that refers mainly to MTFs rather than FTMs.

Transphobia: Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination.

Transsexuals (TS):  A person whose gender identity does not match their birth sex and physically alter their bodies surgically and/or hormonally. This physical transition is a multi-step process that may take years and may include, but is not limited to, sex reassignment surgery, also referred to as GRS. 

Transvestite (TV):  Outdated term for Crossdresser.

Tucking:  The process of flattening (and thereby "hiding") the male genitals to present a flat look under their clothing.

Two-Spirit:  A term that refers to transgender traditions of some Native American cultures; such traditions varied among groups.

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