The transgender glossary: a guide to the many shades of the gender spectrum

  • Transsexual:  a person who feels that their mental gender and physical bodies are mismatched, and who has taken medical and/or legal steps to transition from one gender to another.  (There's a small but very vocal minority of transwomen who object to being included in the "transgender" umbrella.  This just goes to show that humans are political creatures at every level.)

  • Crossdresser: a guy who dresses in women's clothing.  "Crossdresser" is considered more polite in the US than the older term "transvestite" as the latter is supposedly more indicative of a sexual fetish.  But I hear that in the UK the opposite is true.  And of course there are some crossdressers who do have a sexual fetish.

  • Genderqueer: a person whose gender presentation is deliberately androgynous or ambiguous.

  • Intersex: a person whose bodily characteristics put them somewhere between "male" and "female".  Depending on which conditions are counted this may be as common as 1 in every 100 people.

  • F2M, FtM: a person who was born a female but transitions to a male.

  • M2F, MtF: a person who was born a male but transitions to a female.

  • Transition: the often long and complicated process of legally & medically transitioning from one gender to another.  This can but doesn't always include surgeries!

  • Drag queen: (usually) a gay man who may be feminine in everyday life, but for whom the female persona is (usually) a stage act.

  • Drag king: the (usually) lesbian counterpart of a drag queen

  • Boi: often used in both lesbian and bdsm culture to denote a boyish but female-bodied person. Sometimes also used to refer to young gay guys.

  • GGirl: genetic girl, i.e. cisgender girl.  "Cisgender" is the preferred term.

  • Gurl: used to distinguish m2f crossdressers from cisgender girls.  Nowadays most crossdressers prefer the term "tgirl"

  • Tranny, shemale, ladyboy: these are mainly considered porn words, though there are a few people who are trying to reclaim them (along the lines of slut and queer.)

  • Top surgery: Breast implants (for m2f) or mastectomy (for f2m).

  • Bottom surgery: more properly known as "SRS" or sex-reassignment surgery, this is the genital reconstructive surgery that MIGHT be part of somebody's transition.  And while we're on the subject of surgery, keep in mind that these are private medical matters.  You wouldn't feel entitled to all the gory details of a stranger's gall bladder operation, would you?  Some people like sharing personal details like that. Others feel it's invasive.  Try to be sensitive to this when and if you express your curiosity.

Stories of people exploring gender boundaries have been increasingly popular in the media over the past few years.  From reality TV to hometown politics, trans folks are on the public radar.  From this media outpouring you may have noticed that there's a whole alphabet soup of lingo related to gender bending.  You may also have scratched your head wondering what the heck some of the jargon means, or which term properly describes your feminine coworker who enjoys dressing as a woman at your office holiday parties. To settle your confusion, I've compiled a glossary of terms to help you keep up when you find yourself in a conversation about gender bending.

  • Cisgender: what you are if the body you were born with and your gender presentation (clothes, mannerisms, etc)  are aligned.  In science something is "cis" if it stays the same and "trans" if it changes state.
  • Transgender: an umbrella term covering everyone who doesn't fit into the (rather small, if you think about it) cisgender box.  This includes all of the below terms.
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