Transgender/Nonbinary 101

Definitions and Terminology

“Gender identity or expression” is defined as “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.” This is consistent with Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s (MCAD) past decisions and existing laws.

Agendered – Person is internally ungendered.

Ally – Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and cisgender and heterosexual privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of LGBTQIA people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.

Androgyne – Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

Bigendered – A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.

Binding – The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest.

Bottom Surgery – Surgery on the genitals designed to create a body in harmony with a person’s preferred gender expression.

Butch – A person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. ‘Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but it can also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.

Cisgender – Refers to people whose sex and gender are congruent by predominant cultural standards: women who are assigned female sex at birth, men who assigned male sex at birth. This term was created to challenge the privileging of such people relative to those who are transgender.

Coming Out – May refer to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersex person (to “come out” to oneself). May also refer to the process by which one shares one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersex status with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.). This can be a continual, life-long process for homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.

Cross-dresser – Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.

Discrimination – Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both individual acts of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the affected group.

Drag – The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically.

Drag King – A person who performs masculinity theatrically.

Drag Queen – A person who performs femininity theatrically.

Femme – Feminine identified person of any gender/sex.

FTM / F2M – Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual person.

Gender Binary – The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also ‘Identity Sphere.’)

Gender Confirming Surgery – Medical surgeries used to modify one’s body to be more congruent with one’s gender identity.

Gender Cues – What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.\

Gender Expression – refers to how a person expresses their gender identity, or the cues people use to identify another person’s gender. This can include clothing, mannerisms, makeup, behavior, speech patterns, and more. There are some in society whose gender expression does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes what men or women should look or act.

Gender Identity – A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, or other gendered. Gender Identity is how someone identifies his/her/their/hir own gender — a person’s inner sense of ‘being’ male, female, etc. Many people, but not all, have a gender identity of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ which is also consistent with their assigned sex at birth. There are some people who feel their assigned sex at birth is not consistent with their own gender identity.

Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society. (Also referred to as ‘Genderstraight’.)

Gender Oppression – The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege cisgender (gender-typical people) and subordinate and disparage transgender or gender variant people. Also known as “genderism.”

Gender Variant – A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.).

Genderism – see “Gender Oppression.”

Genderqueer – A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. Often
includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary

Hermaphrodite — An out-of-date and offensive term for an intersex person. Check out this link for more information. (See ‘Intersex Person’.)

Identity Sphere – The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without weighting any one expression as better than another.

In the Closet – Refers to a homosexual, bisexual, transperson or intersex person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society. An intersex person may be closeted due to ignorance about their status since standard medical practice is to “correct,” whenever possible, intersex conditions early in childhood and to hide the medical history from the patient. There are varying degrees of being “in the closet”; for example, a person can be out in their social life, but in the closet at work, or with their family. Also known as ‘Downlow” or ‘D/L.’

Intergender – A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.

Institutional Oppression – Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.

Internalized Oppression – The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.

Intersexed Person — Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.

LGBTQIA – A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual community.

MTF / M2F – Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.

Oppression – The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.

Outing – Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.

Packing – Wearing a phallic device on the groin and under clothing for any purposes including: (for someone without a biological penis) the validation or confirmation of one’s masculine gender identity; seduction; and/or sexual readiness (for one who likes to penetrate another during sexual intercourse).

Pangender – A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

Passing – Describes a person’s ability to be accepted as their preferred gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual.

Prejudice – A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.

1) An umbrella term used to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to hetero/cis-normative society.

2) A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid.

3) Many LGBTQIA people distance themselves from the word due to its hateful use against them and are thus reluctant to embrace it. However, some LGBTQIA people have reclaimed the word as a proud label for their identity and unity among the broader community.

Sex – A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersex bodies.

Sex Identity – How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between, beyond, or neither.

Stealth – This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in the public sphere about their gender history, either after transitioning or while successful passing. (Also referred to as ‘going stealth’ or ‘living in stealth mode’.)

Stereotype – A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.

Stone Butch – A person who may or may not desire sexual penetration and/or contact with the genitals or breasts. (See also ‘Butch’).

Stud — An African-American and/or Latina masculine lesbian. Also known as ‘butch’ or ‘aggressive’.

Top Surgery – This term usually refers to surgery for the construction of a male-type chest, but may also refer to breast augmentation.

Trans – An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.

Transactivism – The political and social movement to create equality for gender variant persons.

Transgender – A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

Transgender (Trans) Community – A loose category of people who transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central ethic of this community is
unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms including gender and sexual identity and orientation.

Transgender/Nonbinary can be used as an umbrella term for people who transgress or transcend our normative notions of gender. This term includes but is not limited to those who identify as transgender, transsexual, nonbinary, bigender, gender queer, gender fluid, two spirit, cross dressers, and gender benders.

Traditional Gender Stereotypes: Culturally defined code of acceptable behavior for men and women. Men/boys are to exhibit masculine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles and women/girls are to exhibit feminine gender presentation, behaviors, and social roles.

Transition – This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender variant person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.

Transman — An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as females. Also referred to as ‘transguy(s).’

Transphobia – The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.

Transsexual – A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.

Transvestite – Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex. While the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘transvestite’ have been used synonymously, they are in fact signify two different groups. The majority of transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from dressing in “women’s clothing”. (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but the term ‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)

Transwoman – An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.

Two-Spirited – Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term ‘two-spirit’ is usually considered to specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.

Ze / Hir – Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and used by some gender non-conforming persons. Pronounced /zee/ and /here,/ they replace “he”/”she” and “his”/”hers” respectively.

*This terminology sheet was created by Eli R. Green ([email protected]) and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside ® 2003-2004, adapted from the University of Missouri. A note about these definitions: Each of these definitions has been carefully researched and closely analyzed from theoretical and practical perspectives for cultural sensitivity, common usage, and general appropriateness. We have done our best to represent the most popular uses of the terms listed; however there may be some variation in definitions depending on location. Please note that each person who uses any or all of these terms does so in a unique way (especially terms that are used in the context of an identity label). If you do not understand the context in which a person is using one of these terms, it is always appropriate to ask. This is especially recommended when using terms that we have noted that can have a derogatory connotation.



Frequently Asked Questions

Are transgender people the same as gay/lesbian people?

No. Trans/NB is about gender identity and gender expression where as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual/straight is about sexual orientation, which is emotional and physical attraction to others. While trans/NB people are sometimes assumed to be gay or lesbian based on stereotypes about gay men and lesbians, the terms are not interchangeable. Trans/NB people also have a sexual orientation, just as everyone else in society, which can be heterosexual (straight), bisexual, or gay or lesbian.

Can I tell if someone is transgender?

Not always. Some transgender people ‘pass’ almost always as the gender they identify with and live as; there are many transgender people whom no one would know they are transgender or where assigned a different sex at birth, and who choose to keep their personal histories confidential. Others ‘pass’ only occasionally or not at all due to a number of factors, such as access to transgender specific medical treatment. Sometimes transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because others suspect them to be transgender or gender nonconforming. In other situations, transgender people are discriminated against or harassed because someone shares a transgender person’s history inappropriately with others, turning private information into gossip.

A trans/NB person does not have to disclose that they are transgender/NB, just as others have the right to privacy about their identity, their medical status, or other information that is not pertinent in a given situation.

What is gender transition?

Gender transition is a personal process in which a transgender/NB person goes through when they begin to live and identify as the gender they see themselves as. This process includes a social transition, which a person changing their gender expression, such as clothes and hairstyle; pronoun; and possibly their first name, to be reflective of the gender they are transitioning to. This process may also include support from therapist and a medical transition, which can be hormone replacement therapy and/or gender affirming surgery.

For some trans/NB people, they may not access medical transition due to the prohibitive cost, access to providers, physical health issues, lack of health insurance coverage, and/or personal choice. The reality is that many transgender people live, present, and are accepted as the gender they see themselves as without medical transition, hormones, and/or gender affirming surgery.

Much of this information has been taken from: UMKC LGBTQIA Programs & ServicesMTPC’s Transgender 101