Terms to know

A transgender individual is someone whose gender identity and gender expression are different from their sex at birth--sometimes called sex assigned at birth--based on their physical appearance. For instance, a transgender man is a person who was born with female genitalia but who identifies as a man, while a transgender woman is a person who was born with male genitalia but who identifies as a woman.

Transgender persons' identities can be anywhere on the gender spectrum, including non-binary identities such as gender-fluid or genderqueer. Persons whose gender identity and gender expression correspond to the physical anatomy they were born with are called cisgender men and women.

Transitioning is the process whereby a person begins to live as a member of a gender that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This process varies from individual to individual, and can involve social, legal, and/or physical aspects. A person’s gender identity does not depend on whether they are taking hormones or have undergone surgery. People who identify as transgender may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.

Before transitioning, transgender persons experience gender dysphoria, meaning that they experience feelings of discomfort with the sex they were assigned at birth as well as a strong and persistent identification with a different gender. Studies suggest that transgender persons experience manifestations of gender dysphoria from a very young age.

An older term that you might still come across is transsexual. The term transgender has largely come to replace transsexual, as a means of clarifying the distinction between biological sex and gender identity. It is important to note that persons who are transgender are distinct from cross dressers.

Cross dressers are individuals who regularly or occasionally wear the clothing socially assigned to the opposite gender for fun, relaxation, sexual gratification, etc., but are usually comfortable with their gender and do not wish to change it.

Transvestite is a term that is no longer used and is considered pejorative; originally, it had the same meaning that the preferred term “cross dresser” does today.

Featured Content

BBC Magazine published a list of transgender terminology after a Time magazine article was published about Caitlyn Jenner. Read this brief article for a quick overview.

A guide to transgender terms


A guide to transgender terms. (2015, June 3). BBC News Magazine. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32979297

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.