Posted on 4. July 2016 in Resources

The terminology below can be used when covering trans stories. As a general rule the wishes of the individual being described should be prioritised and respected. If you do not know how to refer to somebody, ask them. 

This list does not aim to be an exhaustive list of terminology used by the trans community. It was compiled by TGEU, with influence from:

Core Terms

Gender – traditionally refers to a social and cultural construct of being a man or a woman. However some people do not identify within the gender binary of man/woman. Gender exists independent from sex, and an individual’s gender does not always correspond with the sex assigned at birth. (See: Gender Identity, Sex)

Gender Expression – the external manifestations of gender, expressed through a variety of externally perceptible indicators, such as a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, behaviour, etc. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Gender Identity – a person’s inner sense of their gender. For trans people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others.

Transgender/Trans – an umbrella term that includes people who have a gender identity that is different from their gender assigned at birth and people who wish to portray their gender identity in a way that is different from expectations based on their gender assigned at birth. This can include, among many others, transsexual and transgender people, nonbinary people, transvestites, cross dressers, agender, multigender, genderqueer people, intersex, and gender diverse people who relate to or identify as any of the above.

Nonbinary an umbrella term for genders other than man and woman. This is also a term for a specific gender. While nonbinary can be considered a trans identity, not everyone who is nonbinary considers themselves trans. Be aware that Indigenous communities and communities of colour have other words to describe gender variance. Sometimes these terms can be included in the nonbinary umbrella and sometimes they cannot. Always consult experts from these communities and the individuals you are reporting on in regard to this.

Trans Woman – a woman who is trans, or a woman who was not assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is female. ‘Trans woman’ is two words – trans is an adjective used to describe woman. Making this one word is considered disrespectful and inaccurate as it implies a trans woman is not really a woman.

Trans Feminine/Trans Femme   — a term that often refers to trans women and nonbinary trans people who have a more feminine gender than the one they were assigned at birth. This term, although inclusive of trans women, is not interchangeable with trans women.

Trans Man  – a man who is trans, or a man who was not assigned male at birth, but whose gender identity is male. ‘Trans man’ is two words – trans is an adjective used to describe man. Making this one word is considered disrespectful and inaccurate, as it implies a trans man is not really a man.

Trans Masculine/Trans Masc — a term that often refers to trans men and nonbinary trans people who have a more masculine gender than the one they were assigned at birth. This term, although inclusive of trans men, is not interchangeable with trans men.

Transition — the social, legal, and/or medical process of aligning one’s life with one’s gender. This can (but does not always) include changing one’s name and pronouns; altering dress, speech, and mannerisms; updating documents and legal registries; and seeking medical treatment to change physical characteristics. To come out as trans can be a part of, but is not the same as, transitioning. Transitioning is often described as a singular event, though many trans people also see it as an ongoing process.

Sex – the classification of people as male or female. At birth infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. However a person’s sex, as defined by biology, is a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. People whose biological sex cannot be classified as either male or female are classified as intersex, however they may identify as intersex, male, female, trans, or other.

Sexual Orientation an emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people. An individual’s sexual orientation is independent of their gender identity. Being trans or nonbinary does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Other Important Terms

AFAB/AMAB – the acronyms for ‘assigned female at birth’ and ‘assigned male at birth’, respectively. Please consider if this information is necessary or relevant to the story before including it.

Detransition – when a person who has already transitioned stops pursuing trans-specific healthcare or returns to live as their gender assigned at birth.  Trans people can have different transition paths. Some paths are non-linear or involve starting and stopping. A very small number of people transition and then decide to live again in their assigned gender – less than 1% of those who have surgery.

Gender Dysphoria – discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics). Gender dysphoria, though often linked to being trans, is not a requirement to be trans.

Depathologisation (of trans identities) – declassifying trans as psychologically abnormal. Trans identities were depathologised in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases in 2019.

Trans-Specific Healthcare (TSHC) [also/previously referred to as gender reassignment surgery (GRS), gender-affirming healthcare (GAH)] – medical interventions, including hormone therapies, surgeries, and others, to bring the primary and secondary sex characteristics of a person’s body into alignment with their internal self-perception.

Puberty Blockers – a medicine that delays the effects of puberty. They can be prescribed for young trans people, or young people who are questioning their gender, to delay the development of secondary sex characteristics associated with sex hormones. Changes are not permanent, and treatment typically starts around 10 or 11, to give children (and parents) more time to decide on future treatment.

Cisgender/Cis – a term used to describe non-trans people. It is used in the same way as heterosexual is used to mean non-homosexual.

Intersex – individuals who are born with sex characteristics (sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, hormonal structure and/or levels and/or chromosomal patterns) that do not fit the typical definition of male or female.

Transsexual — a term that often refers to someone who has had or seeks trans-specific medical care. Once the dominant word to describe someone who wants or seeks gender-affirming medical treatment, this is now a more niche and intracommunity term. Some consider it outdated or offensive. It may be appropriate to include the word if quoting historical materials, or if someone self-describes in this manner.

‘Conversion therapy’ — any sustained effort to modify a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression based on the assumption that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is a mental disorder and should be changed. It’s recommended to use this term in quotation marks.

Deadname — a trans person’s given or former name that they no longer use, also often referred to as a ‘given name’ or ‘legal name’. There’s never a reason to publish someone’s deadname without express permission. Reporters should refrain from asking for this information unless it’s absolutely necessary for background checks or public records access. While deadname is usually a noun, it’s also used as a verb to refer to the act of using the wrong name for a trans person.

Misgender – the act of gendering someone incorrectly. This often involves using gendered words that are inappropriate or the wrong pronouns.

Queer previously used as a derogatory term to refer to LGBTI people, queer has been reclaimed by people who identify beyond traditional gender categories and heteronormative social norms. However, depending on the context, some people may still find it offensive.

Transphobia — a matrix of cultural and personal beliefs, opinions, attitudes and aggressive behaviours based on prejudice, disgust, fear, and/or hatred directed against individuals or groups who do not conform to, or who transgress societal gender expectations and norms. Transphobia particularly affects individuals whose lived gender identity or gender expression differs from the gender role assigned to them at birth, and it manifests itself in various ways, e.g., as direct physical violence, transphobic speech and insulting, discriminatory media coverage, and social exclusion. Transphobia also includes institutionalised forms of discrimination such as criminalisation, pathologisation, or stigmatisation of non-conforming gender identities and gender expressions.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) — also known as ‘Fundamentalist Feminism’, is a small but loud sub section of radical feminism. A TERF is a trans exclusionary radical feminist who generally focuses on removing trans rights, legal protections, healthcare access, and supportive social environments. Its foundational framework is biological essentialism – the idea that biology supersedes culture and all other influences.

Terms to Avoid

‘Biological Sex’ – common in scientific writing as a synonym for birth sex, natal sex, or assigned sex at birth. Outside of medical literature, ‘assigned sex at birth’ is preferable over ‘biological sex’.

Avoid using ‘biological’ in reference to people, rather than in broad references to the concept of biological sex. Noun phrases like biological men, biological males, biological women, or biological females are often used by anti-trans groups to invoke a person’s assigned sex at birth as their ‘real’ gender, in contrast to their gender identity.

‘Gender Ideology’– refers to an empty signifier to consolidate opposition to progressive developments in society. Conservative movements have used this Vatican-coined term extensively in their efforts to undermine protections for women and LGBTI people.

‘Identifies as’ – just as a journalist would not write ‘identifies as a man’ or ‘identifies as a woman’ about a cisgender person, journalists should not write ‘identifies as nonbinary’ or ‘identifies as trans’ about a nonbinary or trans person. Simply state that someone is trans,  nonbinary, a man, or woman, etc., unless directly quoting a trans source.

Tranny, Shemale, Crossdresser, Hermaphrodite – broadly considered slurs, although some people might use them to self-identify. Never use one of these terms unless the person specifically uses it in reference to themself, and even then, use it with care, such as in a direct quote.

Transgendered/Transgenders – ‘transgender’ is an adjective and should not be used as a noun or a verb. This is outdated and is widely considered offensive. Do not use it in copy.

Post-Op/Pre-Op – terms to describe whether a trans person has already undergone some or all gender-affirming surgeries (post-op) or not (pre-op). It’s important to remember that not all trans people will seek surgery, and trans people are trans regardless of whether or not they choose to medically transition in any way.

Sex Change/Sex Swap/’The Surgery’ – assumes that a trans person requires surgery to be considered trans, emphasises a gender binary (male/female).