One of the first steps to becoming a trans ally is using correct, respectful language to describe transgender experiences and identities. This is a powerful way to promote the recognition and equity of trans and non-binary folks.
These terms have only become widespread in their use in the past few decades, and understandably are still under construction. They’ll continue to evolve as we deepen our understanding of the breadth of people’s experiences and identities. We’ve included some terms you’re likely to use and encounter, but there are certainly many more out there!
Cis or cisgender are terms used to describe people whose gender identity is in alignment with the sex assigned to them at birth. Cis means “in alignment with” or “on the same side”. The prefixes cis- and trans- work together as umbrella terms to classify all gender identities, so no identity is normalized.
The social classification of people as masculine and/or feminine. Whereas sex is an externally assigned classification, gender is something that becomes evident in a social context.
For many years, trans has been used as an umbrella term to describe people with gender identities or presentations that differed from what was expected. However, gender-diverse is being used increasingly as a substitute for transgender, to acknowledge the linguistic and cultural limitations of transgender as a word to describe all non-cisgender experiences.
Characteristics and behaviors that may be perceived as masculine or feminine, such as appearance, clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.
A person’s deeply held internal sense of being male or female or some other gender, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth. The ability to determine someone’s gender identity rests with the individual.
Gender Confirming/Affirming Surgery/Surgeries
Refers to surgical alteration of anatomy to affirm one’s gender identity. This is only one of many routes of transition. Whether for financial, medical or social reasons, many trans people do not opt for surgery. This term is also evolving and some activists refer to surgeries as “assisted puberty”.
The umbrella abbreviation for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Two Spirit and + community. The + represents that gender definitions are fluid and subject to change, and that those questioning are welcome in the community.
Some people don’t identify as male or female, but rather as neither or as a combination. These people live as both, either or neither gender. These folks may identify as non-binary or genderqueer and may ask others to refer to them with the pronoun they/them/theirs or xe/xim/xir (pronounced ze, zim, zeer), or faer or hir.
The classification of people as male, female or intersex. Sex is usually assigned at birth and is based on an assessment of a person’s reproductive systems, hormones, chromosomes and other physical characteristics.
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad and respectful term that is generally the most appropriate term to use. Trans is also acceptable.
Transgender Man and Transgender Woman
Use these terms to refer to how a person identifies and lives today. For example, someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman is a transgender woman.
The period during which a person begins to live to be consistent with their gender identity. There is no one way to transition. Transition may involve “coming out” by telling family, friends or coworkers, using a different name, changing pronouns (she/he/they), changing clothing or appearance, and/or accessing medical treatment such as counseling, hormone therapy or different types of surgery; however, none of these steps are required.
An irrational fear or hatred of trans people. This is often expressed in the form of harassment, violence, targeted misinformation, institutionalized discrimination and murder.
A cultural and spiritual identity used by some First Nations peoples to describe having both masculine and feminine spirits. It can include people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. For some, Two-Spirit describes a spiritual middle gender role in traditional societies. Two-Spirit people often act as mediators and keepers of certain ceremonies. It should only be used by, and in reference to, Native and First Nations peoples.
Glossary terms are from the National Center for Transgender Equality, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, Rainbow Health Ontario and Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution, 2017, by Susan Stryker.