5 min read

The Vocabulary

The Vocabulary
To increase understanding is a laudable goal; hence the definitions and explanations given below.
- "Terminology of the Imperium," from Dune, Frank Herbert

Transgender issues and transitioning have a lot of terms, and not all of us tend to use them the same way. Think of this as the "master glossary" for Transition Without Tears, as these reflect the terms as I generally understand them.

  • Literally: the literal translation of each of the components of the word.
  • Colloquial: used colloquially or in ordinary conversation, not formal or literary.
  • Facetious: used "tongue in cheek" or humorously and not seriously.
  • Warning: A term which is now considered derogatory, and should not be used.
  • Commentary: My personal comments or experiences with the term.
  • Usage: common ways the term is often used.
  • Examples: example of the term in use or the concept the term is for.
  • See: A different term where the concept is covered because this is less-commonly used than another word.
  • See related: A term that is related, but not necessarily synonymous.
  • See also: A term that is synonymous or used interchangeably.
  • Also: A synonymous or interchangeable term that is not given its own entry here.
  • Contrast: A term that is an antonym, opposite, or opposed concept.

(I am indebted to Joreth Innkeeper's Polyamorous Terminology page for the stylistic manner of formatting these entries.)


AFAB - Acronym for "assigned female at birth."

AMAB - Acronym for "assigned male at birth."

bigender - Literally: bi- = two + gender.  Having a gender identity that matches with both male and female.  Also: bi-gender. A related term is "two-spirit," though this term is only used among Native Americans.

Commentary: For a time, I identified as this, especially when I was switching back and forth between gender appearances.

boy mode - Used in describing a crossdresser or drag queen when they are not in feminine presentation. Also: en homme, (for drag queens) "out of face."

cis - Short for cisgender (q.v.).

cis woman/cis man - A woman/man who was assigned female/male at birth and continues to identify as such.  Also: ciswoman/cisman, though the single-word forms are considered outdated.

cisgender - Literally: cis- = on the same side + gender. Having a gender identity that matches the sex one is assigned at birth. Contrast transgender.  Regarded by many as a slur, even though it really isn't; it's the proper scientific way of saying "not transgender."

cishet - Colloquial; short for "cisgender heterosexual." Usage: often among activists.

crossdresser - A person who dresses in the clothing commonly associated with the opposite gender, which may be for any purpose.

Commentary: This was how I identified at first, when I simply dressed as Amy. I am no longer a crossdresser, because I'm a woman dressing as a woman.  Crossdressers are sometimes considered to be "under the transgender umbrella"; many of them go on to identify as transgender.

deadname - The name that a trans person was previously known by before their transition.

Commentary: This term may sound dramatic, but it's a useful shorthand for "former name." If you do know a trans person's deadname, don't use it; always use their current given name.

drag queen - A person assigned male at birth who dresses as a woman, often in very exaggerated caricature, for the purpose of entertaining others. Also: "drag king" (for the opposite situation, a person assigned female at birth dressing as a man for entertainment purposes).

Commentary: While I engage in drag performance, I am not, strictly speaking, a traditional drag queen. Sometimes trans women who perform drag are called "tran-queens" or "trans queens." Even cis women perform drag; they are sometimes called "bio queens."

egg - Colloquial; a trans person, or someone the speaker suspects of being trans, who doesn't realize they're trans yet.  When they do have this realization, it's called "hatching" or "cracking their egg."

en femme - Literally: "in woman" (French). Used of male crossdressers when they are presenting as women.

Commentary: This could be said of drag queens, too, but the more common term they use for this state is "in face."

enby - Colloquial; short for non-binary. Derived from the pronunciation of the letters "N-B."

femme name - The name adopted as an alias by a male crossdresser while presenting as a woman.

Commentary: "Amy" was my femme name before it became my legal name.  A drag queen would probably use "drag name" or "stage name" for this concept.

gender dysphoria - A psychiatric diagnosis (appearing in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, usually called "DSM-V") denoting that an individual feels that their gender identity is not the same as their assigned sex at birth, i.e., that they are transgender.  Replaces the older term "gender identity disorder."

gender euphoria - The feeling of happiness reported by many transgender people when they are able to present as or live as their proper gender.  Contrast: gender dysphoria; this term is used as an antonym, though it is more of a colloquial usage.

gender expression - How a person outwardly presents themselves, appearing as a member of a particular gender.

gender identity - A person's inner sense of self as being a member of a particular gender.

non-binary - A person who does not identify with either the female or male gender. This may encompass people who identify with some non-specified "third gender" or who do not identify with any gender.  Also: nonbinary.

pass - Of a crossdresser or transgender person, to be perceived by others as the gender they are presenting as. Also used in related terms such as passing, passable, and so forth. Example: "Thanks to my voice training, I can pass over the phone now."

read - Of a crossdresser or transgender person, to be perceived by someone else as their underlying or former gender, or just as being a crossdresser/transgender person. Example: "Too bad I got read over at the bar the other day."  Also: clocked (though this is sometimes used in the context of a complication of gender confirmation surgery).

TERF - Acronym for "trans-exclusionary radical feminist." A feminist who does not recognize trans women as women and hence believes they are not entitled to the same privileges as cis women, particularly the use of women's spaces. Usage: often among activists.  Pronounced as the word "turf."

Commentary: I like the alternate term "feminism-appropriating radical transphobe," or "FART." :D

trans - Short for transgender (q.v.)

trans man - A person who was assigned female at birth but now identifies as being male. Also: transman, though the single-word form is considered outdated.

trans woman - A person who was assigned male at birth but now identifies as being female.  Also: transwoman, though the single-word form is considered outdated.

Commentary: This is a label I use for myself.  Note that "trans" in this context is an adjective that modifies the base noun "woman" (similar to the adjectives "blonde," "blue-eyed," or "Japanese"). This emphasizes that trans women are, in fact, women.

transgender - Literally: trans- = on opposite sides + gender. Having a gender identity which differs from the sex one is assigned at birth.  Contrast cisgender.  Usage: Always as an adjective (e.g. "transgender woman" or "She is transgender"), never as a noun. The form "transgendered" should also never be used.

Commentary: This is my usual label for myself.

transgenderism - Warning: This term is commonly used by anti-trans advocates to dehumanize transgender people and reduce their identity to a "condition." Do not use.

transition - The process whereby a transgender person alters their gender expression to match their gender identity.  This may have many aspects, including social (the adoption of clothing and other trappings associated with the gender), legal (changing one's legal name and gender identity as displayed on government documents), medical (the use of hormones), and surgical (gender confirmation surgery, or other surgical interventions). Contrast: "sex change" (the trans person is not changing their sex, they're expressing their proper gender).

transphobia - Literally: trans (from transgender) + phobia (fear).  An irrational fear or hatred of transgender people.  See related: transphobic (something that demonstrates transphobia), transphobe (one who is transphobic).

transsexual - Literally: trans- = on opposite sides + sexual.  Of a person, having changed, or in the process of changing, physical sex, by medical or surgical means. Sometimes used as a synonym for transgender, though this use is now considered outdated.

Commentary: I also consider this label to apply to me, though I don't tend to use it.

transvestite - Warning: An outdated and somewhat derogatory term for crossdresser. Do not use.