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Introduction to Language

Terminology relating to gender and trans identities can change at a phenomenally fast pace. The use of specific terms becomes contested, and new best practice terminology emerges. The use of certain terms also depends on individual preference and the terminology they feel best represents their own identity and experience.

This resource sets out some key terminology in relation to gender and trans identities, including outdated terminology and sites of contest. It is not exhaustive, but additional terms can be requested for inclusion.

[…]phobia

If a term ends in -phobia then it denotes a fear or disliking directed at people of a particular identity (i.e. transphobia relating to trans people). Also refers to action (and inaction) that harms, insults or erases people of a particular identity.

AMAB / AFAB

AMAB is an acronym for 'assigned male at birth'. Similarly, AFAB is an acronym for 'assigned female at birth'.

Variants include MAAB/FAAB, and CAMAB/CAFAB (coercively assigned male/female at birth) which is more commonly used in reference to intersex people.

Cis / Cisgender

Cis as a prefix means “on the same side as” and is therefore used to refer to individuals whose gender identity is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth (cis people).

The term 'cis' is important in that it challenges the idea of trans as 'other' i.e. it prevents the terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’ being used to implicitly refer specifically to non-trans women and men, or the use of inappropriate qualifiers like 'real' or 'normal' or 'biological' men or women.

Cisnormativity

Related to cis/cisgender. The result of society’s assumption that being cis and identifying as the same gender you were assigned at birth is the norm or ‘default’.

Coming out

Refers to sexuality and/or gender identity. The process by which one accepts and/or comes to identify one’s sexuality or gender identity. Also refers to the process of sharing one’s sexuality or gender identity with others.

Drag king/queen

A drag queen is a drag performer that often plays with visual representations of femininity. Likewise, a drag king is a drag performer that often plays with visual representations of masculinity.

Fluid(ity)

Generally used with another term attached i.e. genderfluid. This term describes an identity that may change or shift over time. This does not however mean the person is ‘confused’, or that their identity is any less authentic.

Gender reassignment

A term used in legislation to refer to trans people, including non-binary people (as per Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover in 2020). The term should be used only in the context of legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.

Gender assigned at birth

This refers to the gender that is recorded on an individual's first birth certificate. This is separate from

This terminology should only be used if you have to refer to a how a trans person was perceived before their transition.

Phrases such as ‘born a man’, ‘became a woman’ etc. should be avoided, since these imply a change in gender rather than a change in how others perceive a person's gender.

Gender dysphoria and gender identity disorder

Medical language used to refer to a medical condition in which a person has been assigned a gender (usually at birth on the basis of their physical sexual characteristics) but identifies as belonging to another gender.

People who have severe gender dysphoria are diagnosed with gender identity disorder. A person with gender dysphoria might experience anxiety, discomfort, or disgust relating to gendered, or perceived gendered, aspects of their physical characteristics or how others perceive them.

Gender expression

An external display of gender (or gendered expectations), through a combination of dress, demeanour, social behaviour and other factors. This can determine how a person’s gender is perceived by others.

Gender / Gender identity

A sense of fit within a gender category e.g. female, non-binary, male. For cis people there is a sense of congruence between their gender assigned at birth and their gender identity, whilst trans people experience an incongruence.

Genderqueer

‘Queer’ is a term that was reclaimed from its derogatory usage in the 1990s (more on this in the Introduction to Queer Pedagogy). This term is usually associated with sexuality but since then the term has branched out and can be used in a number of ways. Genderqueer can refer to individuals who resist gender norms without seeking to change their physical sexual characteristics but this is not always the case.

Heteronormativity

The result of society’s assumption that heterosexuality and relationships between opposite binary-gender individuals are the norm or ‘default’.

Intersex

An intersex person is someone whose anatomy or physiology differs from contemporary cultural stereotypes of what constitutes typical male and female bodies.

Intersex issues are distinct from trans issues but some intersex individuals may wish to transition later in life if they feel they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The terms hermaphrodite or hermaphroditic are considered outdated and derogatory.

LGBTQUA+

LGBTQUA+ is the acronym used at Warwick to refer to lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and undefined people, people on the asexual or aromantic spectra, and others who experience similar forms of prejudice and/or discrimination (+). Whilst this variant is used by Warwick, there are many different acronyms used nationally and internally.

Non-Binary

An individual who defines their gender outside of the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’ genders. There are many identities that fall under the umbrella of ‘non-binary’, including agender/genderless (no gender), bigender (some combinations of the binary genders of ‘male’ and ‘female’), genderfluid and so on. A similar, but less commonly used, umbrella term is ‘genderqueer’.

Passing

Refers to trans people whose gender is being correctly inferred by society / an individual. It is inappropriate for anyone else to pass comment on how well a trans person is passing.

Questioning

An individual who is unsure about or is exploring their own sexual or romantic orientation or gender identity.

Real-life experience

A phase during supervised medical transition in which an individual must live, work and study in the gender which they identify with before they can start hormone therapy and/or undergo surgery.

Stealth

A trans person who has not (widely) disclosed to others that they are trans might refer to themselves as ‘stealth’.

Trans

Someone whose gender identity or expression differs from the gender they were assigned at birth, and who self-defines using this term. This includes non-binary people. This term should only be used as an adjective, and not a noun.

Trans*

An older form of ‘trans’ that has been abandoned for the perception that it ‘others’ non-binary trans people, who were included within the term only by virtue of the *.

Trans man (& FtM)

Someone who was assigned female at birth, but who identifies as male. Their gender identity/gender is male. 'FtM' is sometimes used within the community but should not be used by others to refer to a trans man. Similarly, avoid transman (without the space).

Trans woman (& MtF)

Someone who was assigned female at birth, but who identifies as a woman. Their gender identity/gender is female. 'MtF' is sometimes used within the community but should not be used by others to refer to a trans woman. Similarly, avoid transwoman (without the space).

Transgender

The term denotes a movement from an assigned gender position and mainly refers to binary (male or female) trans people. It can also imply variation from gender norms and expectations. What counts as transgender varies and depends on context, however, it has recently been used to refer only to those who identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. It is not commonly used now, but if necessary then should only be used as an adjective.

Transition(ing)

The process a trans person undergoes when changing their social role, forms of address (e.g. names, pronouns), appearance, and/or legal information to be more congruent with their gender identity. Transition might be undertaken with or without medical intervention, and there is no one necessary set of actions which must be taken.

Some trans individuals may choose not to transition, because they are unable to financially, because they fear for their safety or lack support, or simply because they choose not to. If undertaken, the process of transitioning can take years.

Transsexual

An outdated term that can be traced to Magnus Hirschfeld. Was created to establish a difference between individuals that wished to change their gendered clothing and those that wished to change their bodies. Should not be used except when quoting legislature.

Transvestite

An old word that was created in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. It is associated with those that wear gender-atypical clothing, for a variety of reasons. Generally identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth, transvestites should not be confused with trans people in general.

Undefined

An individual may not label an aspect of their sexual or romantic orientation, or gender identity. This might be because they resist the use of labels, or cannot find one which adequately represents them.

Misgender

Referring to a person using incorrectly gendered language. For example, using male pronouns for a trans woman.

Deadname

Both a noun and a verb. A deadname is a name by which a trans person was formerly known, which may or may not still be their legal name. To deadname a trans person is to use this former name in reference to them.

Out / Outing

The act of revealing a person's gender, trans identity, and/or sexual orientation to another without their consent.

Dysphoria

The experience of anxiety, discomfort, or disgust relating to (perceived) gendered aspects of a person's own physical characteristics, or how others perceive them.

Pronoun

Words that you use in place of a noun, like someone’s name. Instead of always having to use people’s names, we often use pronouns in their place. Examples include he/him, she/her, and they/them pronouns.

Gendered pronouns associate a gender with the person you’re referring to, whilst gender-neutral pronouns do not.

Sexual orientation

An individual's sexual orientation denotes the set of people that they may be sexually attracted to. Some common sexual orientations include gay, lesbian, bi, heterosexual, and asexual.

Being trans is not a sexual orientation, and does not dictate a person's sexual orientation.

Romantic orientation

An individual's romantic orientation denotes the set of people that they may be romantically attracted to. Some common romantic orientations include homoromantic, biromantic, heteroromantic, and aromantic.

Being trans is not a romantic orientation, and does not dictate a person's romantic orientation.

Gender Recognition Certificate

A trans person may seek to have their gender fully recognised under the law by applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. However, it is an expensive, inaccessible and lengthy process and not all trans people choose to (or are able to) engage with it.

It is unlawful to request to see an individual's gender recognition certificate, or to ask whether they have one.

Legal gender

The gender marker on your legal documents can be updated to reflect your gender if it differs from the gender you were assigned at birth. You can update most legal documents except your birth certificate with a letter from a health practitioner, but you must submit apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate to update your birth certificate.

Gender Identity Clinic (GIC)

Trans individuals who wish to access medical support to transition, for example via hormones or surgery, must generally seek a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic. Waiting times for a first appointment are often upwards of three years.