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A Transgender Glossary Of Terms And Definitions

by Tanya Domi on August 9, 2013

in Tanya Domi,Transgender Life In The Military

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 In conjunction with our week-long series “Transgender Life in the United States Military,” The New Civil Rights Movement is offering this glossary of terms, via Fenway

Cis, Cisgender:  People whose gender identity and gender expression align with their assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificates). Cisgender is a newer term that some people prefer when writing and speaking about transgender and non-transgender people, with the non-transgender people being referred to as “cisgender.” In this manner, a transgender person is not singled out as being different or abnormal.

Gender Dysphoria:  Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person feels there is a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.

Gender Identity:  A person’s innate, deeply-felt psychological identification as a man, woman, or neither, which may or may not correspond to the person’s external body (phenotype) or assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on the birth certificate).

Gender Expression:  The social manifestation of a person’s gender identity, which may or may not conform to the socially-defined behaviors and manifestations that are commonly referred to as either masculine or feminine. These behaviors and characteristics are expressed through carriage (movement), dress, grooming, hairstyles, jewelry, mannerisms, physical characteristics, social interactions, and speech patterns (voice).

Sexual Orientation:  A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to others. May be lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual. Sexual orientation is distinct from sex, gender identity and gender expression. A person’s sexual orientation should not be assumed based on the perceived sex of that person’s partner(s), since the partner’s gender identity may not match the perception.

Surgery:  Persons with gender dysphoria may or may not have surgery and, if they have surgery, they may have one or more types of surgery, depending upon their circumstances.  Numerous terms are used to describe the genital surgeries that some people may undergo, including “gender affirmation surgery” (GAS), “gender reassignment surgery” (GRS), “genital reassignment surgery” (GRS), “genital reconstruction surgery” (GRS), “genital surgery” (GS), and “sex reassignment surgery” (SRS). The foregoing terms are purposely listed in alphabetical order in view of the strong feelings some people have with respect to what is the right or better term to use; clinicians should listen to their clients to see which terms they prefer. Colloquially referred to as “bottom surgery” or “lower surgery.”  “Sex reassignment surgery” is increasingly falling into disuse as many people find the term offensive. Those terms that use “sex” or “gender” are relating to the legal significance of the surgery, not the medical classification of the surgery itself.

In discussions with clients, all a clinician really needs to say is “genital surgery.” Some people may have an orchiectomy, penectomy, vaginoplasty and labiaplasty.  Some people may have a hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.  Some people may have breast augmentation. “Top surgery” is a term most often used by transmen to refer to the removal of breast tissue, relocation and resizing of nipple complexes, and chest reconstruction to a male chest structure.  Some people may have “facial feminization surgery” (FFS).  Some people may have a chondrolaryngoplasty (‘trach shave” or Adam’s apple reduction).  Surgery is not essential for some people to resolve their gender dysphoria. Moreover, for some people, surgery is a relatively minor aspect of their gender affirmation.  Some people cannot have surgery because of, among other reasons, financial constraints and health reasons.  Many people consider “sex change,” “sex change operation,” “sex change surgery,” “pre-op,” and “post-op” as pejorative and, therefore, these terms should be avoided. “Pre-op” and “post-op” are medical terms relating to one’s state re: surgery, and not states of being.

Transgender:  An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from their assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificates). Some groups define the term more broadly (e.g., by including intersex people) while other people define it more narrowly (e.g., by excluding persons who continue to identify as transsexual, a term commonly in use last century). A group of leading medical specialists considers those who identify as transgender to be a subset of the larger class of sexual variations known as “intersex.” Transgender may be thought of as a purely neurodevelopmental form of intersex (otherwise known as “Variations of Sexual Development”).

Transition:  The process that people go through as they change their gender expression and/or physical appearance (e.g., through hormones and/or surgery) to align with their gender identity. A transition may occur over an extended period of time, and may involve coming out to family, friends, co-workers, and others; changing one’s name and/or sex designation on legal documents (e.g., driver’s licenses, birth certificates); and/or medical/surgical intervention.

Tranny:  Pejorative term for a transgender person. Offensive at the same level as the n-word, faggot, or dyke.

Trans man:  Generally refers to someone who was identified female at birth but who identifies and portrays his gender as male. People will often use this term after taking some steps to express their gender as male, or after medically transitioning. Some, but not all, transmen make physical changes through hormones or surgery. Analogous to trans woman.

Transphobia:  Dislike of, or discomfort with, people whose gender identity and/or gender expression do not conform to traditional or stereotypic gender roles.

Transsexual:  People whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificates).  People who, often on a full-time basis, live their lives as a member of the sex opposite of their birth-designated sex. Commonly in usage in the U.S. during the 50s-70s, and now generally superseded by “transgender” or, simply, “trans.”

For a more comprehensive list of terms and definitions, you can visit Fenway Health online, and read their complete glossary.

Editor’s note: The New Civil Rights Movement is publishing a week-long series of articles about transgender people who are serving or have served in the United States military despite the present ban. All week we will be sharing the stories of real people’s lives in a considerable effort to expose the unnecessary barriers that obstruct transgender open service in military, and show why the transgender medical exclusion is antiquated and must be removed. You can read all the articles as they are published here.


TD_PIX11Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement.  She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.

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