Gender identity terminology: What’s your pronoun?

As healthcare providers, especially those working in the area of FFS surgery, it’s part of our job to stay consistently up-to-date with the constantly changing and evolving gender identity terminology.

The patients that come to us have often had negative experiences. And they want to change that.

They’re placing their trust in us, which is a big deal. Showing that we’re sensitive to their wishes by employing the correct terminology is a simple way to show we’re worthy of that trust.

A glossary of terms for healthcare providers

All our interactions, from the boxes they have to tick on our forms to the words we use when they come in for treatment, need to confirm our experience and commitment in their eyes as much as possible.

We can begin simply by asking, “What’s your pronoun?”

If you’re concerned about employing the correct terminology surrounding gender identity, or aren’t confident with using it, then here’s a list of some of the key terms you should to know about your trans and gender non-conforming clients.

Gender identity

The gender that you consider yourself to be, which might be female, male, a blend of the two, neither or other. This may or may not coincide with the sex you were assigned at birth.

Gender expression

The way you express your gender to others, through your behaviour, hair, dress or voice. This may or may not fit with gender norms, in a gender binary world which are typically viewed as feminine or masculine–that’s ok.


An umbrella term currently used for anyone who may identify as AMAB (assigned-male-at-birth) or AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth), or expresses their gender in a way that varies from the stereotypical norms associated with the gender binary. This isn’t necessarily linked to sexual orientation, which is a different topic altogether.

Trans can be used to describe both those who have socially or physically transitioned and those that haven’t.

The term transgender is now increasingly being shortened to just ‘trans’ or trans* and much debate remains on the most inclusive term, but in the end, gender is a social construct and therefore there may be no end to the distinct labels or categories.

‘TS’ is an old-fashioned term for this that you might still see used as an adjective in some medical and legal documents, but is generally avoided nowadays. Similarly, cross-dresser, has nothing to do with gender identity although some people may participate in the CD community at some stages of transition.

Gender transitioning

This is the process people pursue to align the way that their gender is perceived with what they know their gender to be. It involves adaptation in all spheres of life.

People change their gender expression at different rates, however it is usually gradual, taking months or years.

It is a personal journey that isn’t the same for everyone. It can generally be divided up into two main areas:  social transitioning, which might involve wearing different clothing and changing their name or pronouns, and physical transitioning, through medical changes to their bodies, such as FFS surgery, hair removal, hormone therapy, counselling, top surgery (chest), bottom surgery (genital affirmation), voice therapy or surgery, and a multitude of other gender confirming services.

Someone that’s transitioned is affirming their gender identity by making changes to their gender role, expression and sometimes their physical characteristics to better reflect that identity.

Gender affirming Medicine and Healthcare

Those who choose to transition often seek medical and surgical services. But as people, they have other healthcare needs just as anyone else. It’s not easy to find GP’s or family doctors both willing to work with patients in transition and sensitive to their needs.

Depending on what is available in their country, obtaining all the necessary services is an expensive, time consuming, often painful process. Costs means accessing these services in many countries is limited to those of certain socioeconomic status, making a short-term medical transition a privilege for those with financial stability. In the few countries where the public health system or private health insurance covers gender transition services, it is still complicated due to bureaucratic hoops and hopelessly long waiting periods of years just for an initial intake appointment.

Gender non-conforming

A broad term referring to people who defy the typical cultural expectations of the way they should behave, or don’t fit into just one gendered box.

Two-spirit and Gender Fluid

Someone who embraces a more fluid gender identity. They might see themselves as being a combination of male and female.

Gender dysphoria

This is a condition of distress when someone doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.


Someone who doesn’t identify with or express one fixed gender.


Identifying or outwardly presenting as neither typically masculine or feminine.


Someone who doesn’t identify with the two-gender model: either man or a woman. They see gender as a spectrum and normally reject the categories altogether. Many but not all non-binary people also identify as transgender.


Someone who is in the process of exploring their gender identity.

Takeaway message on gender identity terminology

This is just a short-list of the many individual gender identities that may exist. Making sure that, as healthcare providers, we use the current terminology, means we will understand our patients better and be able to meet their needs more efficiently. In turn, they will feel more at ease and respected–just as any consumer should expect from their trusted medical provider.

These terms change frequently as time passes, so make a point of staying on top of the appropriate, respectful terms the community prefers.

Best Practices guides with trans-friendly glossaries

Here are some gender identity terminology guides, or glossaries, as a resource for any professional who wishes to learn more about their trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming patients. Because you matter.

Human Rights Campaign – Glossary of Terms

Stonewall – UK – Glossary of Terms

ACAS – Gender Identity Terminology

Refinery29 – Gender Identity Terms

APA – Definitions Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity

It’s Pronounced Metrosexual – A Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Definitons

Patient Relations Manager Lilia Koss, presentator of Lilia's Livestreams
About the author

Hello world! I’m Lilia Koss and I use she, her, and they pronouns. What are yours? With a background in humanities and diverse professional experiences, I have been working with the Facialteam founders and directors since 2008. Involved from the ground up, so I’ve had hands in many pots: patient coordination, orientation events on 3 continents, social media, written and audiovisual content about our gender-affirming healthcare...but now life is more defined. Lately, I focus my energies on Public Relations, community management and live streaming to help raise the visibility of trans health. Life is pretty complete.