Transgender Terminology Explained: 80+ Essential Terms for 2023
The expansive world of transgender terminology is ever-changing. This glossary will equip you to communicate more effectively and respectfully with the trans*, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming community. Explore vital terms for 2023, ranging from gender identity and expression to gender-affirming care.
As healthcare providers specializing in facial feminization surgery (FFS), we consider learning the current terminology essential to inclusive discussion with our patients. This comprehensive glossary aims to provide an overview of transgender terms, to encourage respectful and informed dialogue with our patients.
Understanding Gender Identity and Expression
A person who does not identify with any gender or feels a lack of connection to any gender.
Presenting or identifying as neither typically masculine nor feminine.
- Assigned sex at birth (ASAB)
The sex (male, female, or intersex) designated to an individual at birth, typically based on their physical characteristics. Examples are AMAB (assigned-male-at-birth) and AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth).
Identifying as two genders or experiencing two gender identities, either simultaneously or interchangeably. Similar to Two Spirit identity among First Nation people.
A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth.
The act of wearing clothing typically associated with a different gender. Cross-dressing is not necessarily related to one’s gender identity.
A term for individuals who partially identify with a specific gender but not entirely.
- FtM (Female-to-Male)
A term used to describe someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. Also referred to as a transgender man.
- Gender dysphoria
A state of distress experienced when one’s gender identity does not align with the sex assigned at birth.
- Gender expression
The way a person communicates their gender to others through behavior, appearance, and voice, which may or may not adhere to societal gender norms.
- Gender identity
One’s internal sense of their gender, which can be male, female, a blend of both, neither, or something else entirely.
Not identifying or feeling specifically associated with any gender.
A term for those who do not adhere to traditional cultural expectations of gender expression or behavior.
Individuals who do not identify or express one fixed gender.
- Gender transitioning
The process through which individuals align their gender expression and identity, often involving social and physical changes.
A term for individuals born with a combination of male and female biological characteristics that may include chromosomes, hormones, or reproductive organs.
- MtF (Male-to-Female)
A term used to describe someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female. Also referred to as a transgender woman.
A gender identity that falls under the non-binary umbrella, often characterized by a neutral or null gender.
Individuals who do not identify within the binary gender system (male or female), often rejecting these categories altogether.
Identifying with or encompassing multiple gender identities.
Those in the process of exploring their gender identity.
- Third gender
A gender category beyond male or female, recognized in some cultures and societies.
An umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from societal expectations based on the sex assigned at birth.
A term often used to describe individuals who have undergone medical interventions to align their physical characteristics with their gender identity.
A term used by some Indigenous cultures in North America to describe individuals who embody both masculine and feminine qualities or take on roles traditionally associated with both genders.
Embracing Gender-Inclusive Language
- Gender-neutral language
Language that does not assume or reinforce a specific gender, aiming to include all gender identities.
- Singular they
A gender-neutral pronoun used to refer to an individual whose gender is unknown or unspecified.
A gender-neutral title used as an alternative to gendered titles like Mr., Mrs., or Ms.
Alternative gender-neutral pronouns used by some individuals who do not identify with traditional gender pronouns.
- Preferred name
The name an individual chooses to be called, which may differ from their legal name.
- Preferred pronouns
The pronouns an individual chooses to be referred to by, which may not align with their assigned sex at birth.
Words used to refer to someone in place of their name, such as he, she, or they. Using a person’s correct pronouns is an essential part of respecting their gender identity.
- Gender-neutral pronouns
Pronouns that do not specify a gender, such as “they,” “them,” and “their.”
Referring to a transgender person by their birth name, which they no longer use, instead of their actual name.
Incorrectly assigning or referring to someone’s gender, often through the use of incorrect pronouns or gendered language.
Hormone Therapy: The Basics
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Medical treatment that involves replacing or supplementing hormones to help align an individual’s physical characteristics with their gender identity.
The primary male sex hormone, often used in hormone therapy for transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth.
The primary female sex hormone, often used in hormone therapy for transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth.
- Anti-androgen “blockers”
A medication used to suppress the production of androgens (such as testosterone) in transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth.
Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS) Explained
- Forehead reconstruction
A surgical procedure that reduces the prominence of the brow ridge and reshapes the forehead to create a more feminine appearance.
A surgical procedure that reshapes the nose to create a more feminine or harmonious appearance.
- Chin and jaw contouring
Surgical procedures that reshape the chin and jawline to create a more feminine facial structure.
- Tracheal shave
A surgical procedure that reduces the prominence of the Adam’s apple to create a smoother, more feminine neck contour.
- Hairline Feminization
A surgical procedure that brings the hairline forward, creating a more feminine hairline and forehead shape.
- Simultaneous Hair Transplant
A surgical procedure performed during forehead feminization surgery that involves transplanting hair follicles to areas of the scalp affected by hair loss or to create a more feminine hairline. This technique allows for hairline and forehead feminization procedures to be done in a single surgery.
A Closer Look at Genital Surgery
A surgical procedure that creates a vagina and vulva for transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth.
A surgical procedure that employs the skin and tissues of the male reproductive organs to reconstruct only the external feminine genitals such as the clitoris, labia major, and labia minora.
A surgical procedure that constructs a penis for transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth.
A surgical procedure that creates a phallus from the clitoris for transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth.
The surgical removal of the testicles, often performed as part of gender-affirming surgery for transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth to impede production of masculinizing hormones. Normally it is recommend to avoid this if planning other gender affirming genital surgery in which the tissues are beneficial for vulva reconstruction.
The surgical removal of the uterus, with or without ovaries, cervix or vagina opening, often performed as part of gender-affirming surgery for transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth.
Mental Health and Well-Being in Focus
A state of unease or dissatisfaction, often related to the distress experienced when someone’s gender identity does not align with their assigned sex at birth.
A state of intense happiness and self-confidence, often related to the joy experienced when someone’s gender identity is affirmed and recognized by others.
- Trans Resilience
The ability to cope with and adapt to stress, adversity, and challenges, which is important for transgender individuals navigating the complex journey of transition and societal expectations.
A range of mental health services, including counseling, psychotherapy, and support groups, that can be helpful for transgender individuals and their families in addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of a gender transition and their overall well-being.
Intersectionality and Inclusivity: Building Bridges
The interconnected nature of social categorizations, such as race, class, and gender, and how they create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
- LGBTIQ+ and Trans Ally
A person who supports and advocates for the rights and dignity of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
- Safe space
An environment in which transgender individuals feel secure, respected, and free from discrimination or harm.
Navigating Additional Transition-Related Terms
- Voice therapy
A non-surgical approach to help transgender individuals develop a voice that aligns with their gender identity.
- Top surgery
A term used to describe chest reconstruction surgery for transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth, or breast augmentation for transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth.
- Bottom surgery
This is a colloquial term used to describe a variety of surgical procedures that transgender individuals might choose to undergo as part of their transition. For transgender women (MTF), this could include vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, or other genital surgeries. For transgender men (FTM), this could include phalloplasty or metoidioplasty. The goal of these procedures is to align the individual’s physical body with their gender identity.
- Legal transition
The process of changing one’s legal name and gender markers on official documents, such as identification cards, passports, and birth certificates.
- Social transition
The process of changing one’s social roles, presentation, and interactions to align with one’s gender identity, which may involve changing clothing, hairstyles, names, and pronouns.
A term used when a transgender person chooses not to disclose their transgender status to others, living entirely as their affirmed gender.
The act of revealing someone’s transgender status without their consent, which can be harmful and disrespectful.
- Gender-affirming care
Healthcare services specifically tailored to the needs of transgender individuals, which may include hormone therapy, surgeries, and mental health support. Term which is favored instead of the antiquated “sex reassignment” for being a more inclusive term that recognizes gender identity is not necessarily binary.
A compression garment worn by transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth to flatten the chest and create a more masculine appearance.
Prosthetic devices worn by transgender men or non-binary individuals assigned female at birth to create the appearance of male genitalia.
The practice of concealing the penis and testicles to create a smoother, more feminine groin area, often used by transgender women or non-binary individuals assigned male at birth.
The practice of limiting access to gender-affirming care based on subjective criteria or personal biases, which can be detrimental to transgender individuals seeking treatment.
- Informed consent model
An approach to gender-affirming care that emphasizes the individual’s autonomy in making decisions about their treatment, rather than requiring them to meet specific diagnostic criteria or obtain approval from mental health professionals.
An extensive glossary is an essential resource to ensure best practices as a healthcare provider to the trans, nonbinary and gender-exploring patient. There are now many guides for professionals published by the community and updated on a regular basis.
By staying informed about the latest terminology, we can foster a supportive, equitable, and inclusive environment for our diversity of transgender patients. Language and understanding evolve over time, so we must be committed to making this part of our professional development and continuing education.