Terminology & Language

Below is some of the language used by trans communities and professionals. You may find this changes over time as the community develops terminology. This isn’t an exhaustive list but covers the main areas of language used.

Binding Flattening of the chest to create the appearance of a “male” torso. This is commonly done by trans men and some non-binary people to hide breast tissue. It can be done safely and in moderation, but usually requires purpose-made clothing (binders).
Cisgender (often shortened to cis) When one’s gender identity matches the gender assignment given at birth. This is used to describe anyone who is not transgender.
Gender A person’s inner perceptions of being male, female, or otherwise. Gender is a spectrum, with most people falling on either male or female. It is different than someone’s sex characteristics.
A transgender person’s gender is different than the gender assignment that was made at birth.
Gender assignment The designation of male or female that newborn children are typically given based on their sex characteristics. This typical assignment does not allow for intersex children or those who will grow up to be non-binary.
Gender binary The socially constructed idea that someone’s gender can be one of two options, either male or female. As of May 2015, UK law only recognises someone’s gender as either male or female. Non-binary people and some intersex people fall outside the gender binary.
Gender confirmation
(or reassignment/ realignment)
Many trans people undergo medical procedures, including hormone replacement and surgery, to align their bodies to their gender. This has several names, but is most often called gender confirmation or gender reassignment. It is also sometimes referred to as sex reassignment.
Gender dysphoria The discomfort that many trans people have due to the incongruence between their gender and their bodies (sex characteristics). People with significant gender dysphoria often undergo gender confirmation to feel happier and more comfortable.
Gender expression How a person displays or portrays their gender to others through dress and/or societal gender roles. See social presentation.
Gender neutrality The idea that policies, language, and other social settings should avoid distinguishing according to people’s sex or gender, in order to avoid discrimination. E.g. in sports, careers, changing rooms etc.
Gender recognition The process through which many trans people go through to have their gender legally recognised by the government. As of November 2015, gender recognition in Northern Ireland is only available to single trans people over the age of 18 who have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It is not available to non-binary people as UK law only recognises the gender binary.
Gender role The social role assumed of people based on their gender. Stereotypical gender roles are often seen to be regressive and harmful when imposed on young people.
Intersex Term for people whose physical sex is not definitively male or female. Intersex people are assigned a legal gender of either male or female at birth, and some people are surgically operated on without their consent as infants or young children. Some intersex people grow up to be transgender, and do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Some intersex people identify as intersex and/or non-binary instead of male or female.
Non-binary Term for people whose gender is outside the gender binary. This can include people who are neither male nor female, somewhere in between, both or otherwise. It is an umbrella term covering many different identities.
Social presentation The way a person ‘presents’ is their gender expression. How a person presents affects how their gender is perceived by society. A person who presents in a feminine way is more likely to be perceived as female.
(or sex characteristics)
A set of multiple characteristics of a person’s body that defines someone as male, female or otherwise. This includes genitalia, chromosomes, hormone levels and other physiological factors. Sex is a spectrum, with most people falling on either male or female. Commonly, children are born intersex.
Trans boy/man Term for a boy/man who was assigned female at birth.
Trans girl/woman Term for a girl/woman who was assigned male at birth.
(often shortened to trans)
Term for people whose gender is different to the gender assignment that was made at birth. This includes trans men, trans women and non-binary people.

It is an umbrella term to describe anyone who is not cisgender. Transgender should be used as an adjective.

Transphobia Analogous to homophobia, this is the hatred or prejudice against trans people. This can take many forms, including violence, bullying, social rejection and discrimination by institutions.
Transsexual Medical and legal term typically used to describe a trans man or woman who transitions medically, legally and socially. It is used by some trans people to describe themselves, though is falling out of common use. It should not be used to describe a trans person unless at their request. Transsexual should be used as an adjective.
Transition The process through which many trans people go through to change their social presentation, gender role, legal documents and/or bodies to better reflect their identities. This can involve changing names, attaining gender recognition, adjusting their gender expression, and undergoing medical interventions.

Not all trans people transition, and transition is a personal process which means very different things to different people.