Glossary of Terms

This is a glossary of some terms one may encounter when discussing transgender issues and working with transgender people. It is not an exhaustive list.

Agender: Agender refers to those who do not identify as being either male or female.

Asexual: A term used to describe people who are not sexually attracted to any gender and/or have no desire for sexual relations. Someone who is asexual may still be romantically attracted to others. Assexual people may still engage in sexual relations.

Assigned Gender: This is the gender that is assigned when a person is born. Someone, usually a doctor or a midwife, examines the genitals of the newborn and determines whether or not the person is male or female based on the genitals that they observe to be present. Many intersex people are coercively assigned a gender at birth based on what the doctor and/or parents decide the child will be rather than allowing the child to grow and determine their own identity. This often includes surgeries to have the child’s genitals conform to the expectation of male or female genitals that the doctors have.

Biological or anatomical sex: This is used as a way of describing the sex that someone was born with. Often trans people are described as being “biological males” or “biological females” depending on what they were assigned at birth. This is a problematic term given the number of disorders of sexual development there are. One also sometimes sees the term used in connection with GCS and “changing biological sex.”
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. A majority of people in the world are cisgender.

Bisexual: A term describing people of any gender who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to both men and women.

Female to Male (FtM): Someone who is assigned female at birth and later identifies on the trans spectrum as moving toward a masculine or male gender identity or expression is often referred to this way. Not everyone who is assigned female at birth and identifies as transgender will use this to describe themselves.

Gay: A term relating to sexual orientation. Most often used to describe a man who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to men. Some women who are attracted to women use this term to describe themselves. Transgender men may identify as being gay.

Gender Congruency Surgery (GCS): Surgeries that a person may undergo to have their body be more congruent with their gender identity. These include, but are not limited to, vaginoplasty, hysterectomy, phalloplasty, breast augmentation, mastectomy, and facial feminization surgery.

Gender Non-Conforming: This term is often used to describe those who do not conform to societal expectations regarding their gender role based on the gender they were assigned at birth. This term is most commonly used to describe children and adolescents by those who are caregivers, educators, and health care providers. This is not usually a term that a person would use to describe themself.

Gender variant: A term used to describe some who do not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. The person may or may not identify with one of the binary genders of male and female.

Gender creative: This term has become more common over the last few years to describe those who do not conform to the gender binary and are expressing their gender in their own ways.

Gender fluid: Someone whose gender identity is not static and may change constantly. This may also refer to someone who views their gender identity and expression as being a fluid concept.

Genderqueer: This term is used by people whose gender identity falls outside of the gender binary and whose gender expression does not fit into stereotypical gender binary concepts.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Medical treatment that some transgender people undertake to block hormones that their body is producing and replace them with the hormones of the sex they are medically transitioning to. Often this is referred to clinically as cross-sex hormone treatment.

Lesbian: A term relating to sexual orientation. This refers to women who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to women. Transgender women may identify as lesbian.

Male to Female (MtF): Someone who is transgender and was assigned male at birth and identifies as female. Someone who is transgender and assigned male at birth may or may not refer to themselves as a male to female person. For clinical purposes this term provides a reference point when evaluating the care that a person wants or needs.

Medical transition: The process by which one uses medical intervention to align their body more closely to their gender identity. This can include one or more of the following, hormone replacement therapy, gender congruency surgeries, counselling, and therapy. Access to gender congruency surgeries and hormone replacement therapy in North America and many countries around the world is provided with reference to the guidelines in the WPATH SOC version 7.

Queer: A term used by people as an umbrella term for LGBT, genderqueer etc to describe themselves. This is a reclaimed word and for many people it is still offencive. In some places the term is still used as a slur and to cause harm.

Sex: Biological aspects of one’s body that indicate, from a biological perspective, whether someone is male and female. In biology there is a range of how one is biologically male or female. Sex is also often used on identity documents to indicate whether someone is male or female and is based on genitalia at birth.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): Surgery that modifies a person’s genitalia to the opposite from what the person was born with. This is primarily a binary term as the surgeries are such that the person is then physically viewed as being the opposite sex. Many jurisdictions that permit sex/gender changes to official identification require evidence of SRS to change sex / gender markers.

Sexual Orientation: Refers to the gender or genders a person is sexually and/or romantically attracted to. This is distinct from gender identity. The terms used to label sexual orientation are mostly linked to gender identity.

Social Transition: The process by which one transitions from presenting as one gender to another gender presentation in daily life. This most commonly refers to those who are transitioning from one binary gender to the other binary gender. One may transition socially without undergoing any medical transition.

Trans: An abbreviation that is often used to encompass all people who identify as transgender, in part because often transgender is seen as a term that is used for those seeking full social and medical transitions. However, there are some who use trans to refer to those who seek full social and medical transitions. One sometimes sees this with an “*” at the end to indicate inclusivity, there are differing opinions on using trans*. Another view of the use of the asterisk is that it is promoted by those who would erase trans women’s voices and identities.

Transgender: An umbrella term used in reference to those who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. It includes people who are medically transitioning, socially transitioning, as well as those who are not socially or medically transitioning. People who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth may or may not identify as transgender.

Transvestite: This is a term that was in common use in the 1960s and 1970s to refer to transgender people. It is an umbrella term used to describe those who were assigned male at birth, are medically and / or socially transitioning, as well as those who engage in cross-gender dressing.

Transsexual: Someone whose gender identity does not match the gender assigned at birth and seeks medical interventions to physically transition. This term is now most commonly used by health care providers. Someone who is medically transitioning may or may not use the term transsexual to describe themselves.

Transition: The process of moving socially and / or medically away from the gender and sex assigned at birth. See also: Social Transition, Medical Transition.

Tranny: A highly offencive term usually applied to transgender women. This term should never be used. Some transgender people have reclaimed this term for themselves, but only the individual should use it, and then in reference to themselves and not in reference to others for whom it is offencive. Using it to describe someone else is not appropriate, especially when one is not transgender.

Two-spirit: Two-spirit is a term that belongs to indigenous people of North America and the concept predates European contact and colonization. It is a term that refers to people who are indigenous and do not fit within what Europeans define as the gender binary and heteronormative ideas of sexuality. Historically, prior to contact by Europeans, two-spirit people were highly respected.

WPATH The World Professional Association for Transgender Health: WPATH is an international interdisciplinary organization that works to promote evidence based care across disciplinary lines. For more information on WPATH see

WPATH Standards of Care (SOC): The WPATH Standards of Care are internationally recognized guidelines for the care of transgender people. The SOC is currently at version 7 which was published in 2012. The first version was published in 1979. A PDF of the current SOC as well as access to earlier versions is available on-line from WPATH. The current version is usually abbreviated as “SOC 7”