Transgender Health Program: Terms and Tips

We’ve put together a glossary to help you better understand the transgender and gender-nonbinary communities. We’ve also included tips on how to treat gender-diverse people respectfully.


Stock photo of a transgender woman in an office.

AFAB and AMAB: Acronyms for assigned female at birth and assigned male at birth.

Agender: A general term to describe someone who has no gender.

Ally: Any non-LGBTQ+ person who helps or supports an LGBTQ+ person or the LGBTQ+ community.

Assigned gender: The gender a person is identified as at birth, usually based on their anatomy.

Cisgender: Descriptive term for people who identify with their assigned gender. From the Latin prefix cis-, which means “on this side of,” as opposed to trans-, which means “on the other side of.”

Gender-affirming surgery: Any surgery that changes a person’s body to align with the person’s gender identity. This may involve chest reconstruction (commonly called top surgery), genital reconstruction (also called bottom surgery) and other physical changes.

Gender dysphoria: A person’s deep dissatisfaction, anxiety or distress about the disparity between the person’s gender identity and assigned gender. Not all transgender people have gender dysphoria.

Gender expression: The external ways in which people show their gender. This could be through their name, pronouns, appearance, voice, mannerisms and other means. Transgender people’s gender expression often matches their gender identity. But gender expression doesn’t always fit society’s defined roles.

Gender fluid: This means having a gender identity that changes — long term, day to day or on any other timeline.

Gender identity: A person’s inner sense of their gender, whether it’s male, female, a combination of both, fluid or neither. Transgender people’s gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Your gender identity may not be obvious to other people.

Gender nonconforming: A descriptive term for people whose gender identity or expression doesn’t fit traditional male and female roles and behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean transgender. For example, someone who was assigned male at birth and who identifies as male but whose gender expression does not fit traditional male roles may consider himself gender nonconforming but not transgender.

Genderqueer: Another term for gender nonconforming.

Intersex: This is an umbrella term to describe people born with chromosomes, hormones and/or anatomy that is not typically male or female. Intersex people can be any gender, including transgender or gender nonbinary.

Multigender: Identifying as two or more genders. People who identify as two genders may call themselves bigender.

Nonbinary: Anyone who identifies as neither male nor female. Some nonbinary people consider themselves transgender; others do not.

Sexual orientation: A person’s physical, emotional or romantic attraction to others. While sometimes confused with gender identity, it’s not the same. Gender identity is who you are. Sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to (if anyone). Your sexual orientation may be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual (someone who does not experience sexual attraction) or something else.

Transgender: An umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity or gender expression is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Not all transgender people change their bodies with hormones or surgery, and not all match their gender identity with their gender expression. Transgender is sometimes shortened to trans. Neither is used as a noun.

Transition: The process of aligning gender expression with gender identity. Transition is different for every transgender person. Some make social changes, such as using a different name and pronouns, or wearing different clothes. Some use hormone therapy to change themselves physically and emotionally. Others choose surgery. Many choose a combination. Transitioning may be public, including telling family, friends and co-workers. It may include changing your name and gender on legal documents. Or it may be private.

Being respectful

Most of the time, a person’s gender is irrelevant. If it is relevant with a transgender person, there are ways to be respectful.

Terms to avoid

Terms vary by region, ever-evolving language and other factors. In some cases, a person may find that one of the following terms best describes their experience. But in general, these terms are outdated, and we avoid them.

Biological male/female, born a man/woman: Considered derogatory. Use “assigned male/female at birth” or “designated male/female at birth.”

Gender identity disorder: This is an obsolete medical and psychological term for gender dysphoria.

Hermaphrodite: Outdated, offensive term for intersex.

MTF and FTM: Old acronyms for male-to-female and female-to-male. Transgender woman and transgender man are generally accepted terms instead.

Preferred name, preferred pronoun: Like anyone, a transgender person’s name and pronouns are what they call themselves, not what they prefer to be called. For the same reason, avoid “real name.”

Pre-operative, post-operative: Whether a transgender person has had gender-affirming surgery may have nothing to do with transitioning. It’s usually an invasion of privacy to  describe someone in such terms.

Sex-change operation: Many transgender people who have surgery — and not all do — see themselves as affirming their gender, not changing it. Gender-affirming surgery is preferred.

Sexual orientation: This refers to a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to others. It is not the same as gender identity.

Tranny: Offensive to most transgender people, even though some may use it to describe themselves.

Transgendered: Incorrect adjective for transgender, the same as saying someone is “maled” or “femaled.”

Transsexual: An older adjective for people who have changed, or want to change, their bodies to align with their gender identity. Some transgender people use the word to describe themselves, but many do not.

Best practices

  • If you’re unsure what name or pronoun someone uses, politely ask. It’s usually OK to ask: “What pronouns do you use?” Remember, it’s not what pronouns they “prefer.”
  • Do your best to use someone’s name and pronouns consistently, even if you knew the person by another name.
  • Acknowledge any language mistakes you make and how it may make the person feel.
  • Talking about a transgender person’s previous identity is called deadnaming. It’s disrespectful. If you don’t know how to refer to someone in the past, ask. If the person doesn’t want to discuss it, respect that.

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Other questions and concerns

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