Transgender language glossary
This transgender language glossary covers many rainbow community terms, while focusing on gender and transgender identities. It covers some context and history about some of the terms, however it is not designed to be exhaustive. We acknowledge that language is always evolving, thus some of the terms here will not fit with how people know themselves to be.
We use “trans” or “transgender”, or “gender minorities” to discuss our communities. We prefer this over using euphemisms such as “gender diverse” or “gender expansive”, as euphemisms are not necessary. While “diverse” means variety, “minority” indicates a group which seen as different to the social majority, and is often discriminated against on this basis, and protected by anti-discrimination legislation. How trans people define themselves is important.
Thank you to our 2020 sponsors, International Trans Fund, Rule Foundation, Wellington City Council, and Wellington Community Trust. Thank you to Gloria Fraser for the Rainbow Mental Health Services Research that led to the development of the new kupu in the te reo Māori section.
Click a word to skip to that section.
Scroll down to view terms in the order they make sense to learn in.
Gender or gender identity (same same).
One’s actual, internal sense of being male or female, neither of these, both, etc. In some circles, gender identity is falling out of favor, as one does not simply identify as a gender, but is that gender.
Simply put, transgender means that a person was assigned a sex and gender at birth which they disagree with.
More broadly speaking, transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is culturally typically associated with the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.
People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms or may simply use transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Some people who fit this definition may not consider themself to be transgender. Therefore, it’s best to use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.
Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctor to change their body. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will want to take those steps. A transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.
The term transgender is neither indicative of sexual orientation, nor hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.
An older term coined by clinicians. Still preferred by some people who have changed or seek to change their bodies – this can involve hormone replacement therapy (HRT), genital reconstruction surgery (GRS), top surgery (removal of breasts), permanent facial and other hair removal, and/or other medical treatments.
In some circles, the term has started to fall out of favor due to its perceived focus on medical transition. However, those who prefer transsexual often see medical transition as an important distinction, due to the definitive experience of incongruity/dissonance/dysphoria, which is often the cause of specific medical needs.
Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and many transsexual people do not identify as transgender.
It is best to ask which term an individual prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective. For example, transsexual woman, transsexual man, non-binary transsexual person.
Trans is generally used as an abbreviation of either transgender or transsexual. It is similarly used as an umbrella in the same way that transgender is used.
Some non-binary and other gender non-conforming people use trans* (with the asterisk, pronounced tran-star). This is to indicate that they’re definitely not cis, but not necessarily a trans woman/man either.
Some use it as a broad umbrella of inclusivity. Others see trans* as unnecessary due to trans and transgender already existing as umbrella terms which capture all non-cis identities. In some areas trans* is gaining popularity while in others popularity is rapidly declining.
Cis, cisgender, or cissexual.
Prefix or adjective that means not trans. Cisgender people identify more or less with the gender assigned to them at birth. In discussions regarding trans issues, one would differentiate between women who are trans and women who aren’t by saying trans women and cis women. Cis is not an insult, but a neutral descriptor – much like heterosexual is to homosexual.
Cishet is a contraction of cisgender and heterosexual, and means literally that a person is both. However, it also has a connotation of being cissexist or heteronormative, and is often used to point out when someone is making cissexist or heteronormative assumptions – “typical cishet”. It is not generally regarded as a neutral descriptor.
Gender expression or presentation.
The physical expression of one’s gender through clothing, hairstyle, voice, make up, body shape, etc. Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender (who they are).
The system for assignment and classification of people, typically as male or female.
This can include:
a. Sex assigned at birth – based on imprecise perceptions of an infant’s sex characteristics, generally only the external genitalia.
b. Legal sex – generally based on a person’s legal identity documents, for example a passport or birth certificate (though these do not always match).
c. Perceived sex – the sex a person is seen as and treated as socially.
Sex is not fixed or immutable. Neither anatomy nor physiology are defined by a single criterion such as genitals, chromosomes, hormones, or fertility.
Sex characteristics include external genitalia, gonads or reproductive organs and fertility, gametes, chromosomes, sex hormones. Secondary sex characteristics include breast development, patterns of hair growth such as facial hair and body hair, and voice development. These can be natal or may change later, including through medical treatments.
The sex binary.
An incorrect system of viewing sex as consisting solely of two categories, termed male and female, with two sets of matching chromosomes, hormone levels, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. The sex binary assumes that sex is immutable biological fact and asserts that no other possibilities or anatomy are believed to exist, or should be allowed to exist. In a word, this system is oppressive, and is a cause of marginalisation for people who do not fit within the sex binary, including many trans and intersex people.
A.F.A.B. and A.M.A.B. (sometimes C.A.F.A.B. and C.A.M.A.B.).
Acronyms meaning assigned female at birth or assigned male at birth. When the ‘C’ is added, it stands for ‘coercively’. In any case, when it’s necessary to refer to the birth-assigned sex of a trans person, this is the best way to do it.
The gender binary.
Similarly to the sex binary, the gender binary is an incorrect system of viewing gender as consisting solely of two categories, termed male and female, in which no other possibilities for gender or anatomy are believed to exist. Gender is neither fixed nor immutable, and no physical criterion (e.g. genitals, chromosomes, hormones) defines one’s gender. Gender is experiential, and therefore only the person themself can define their gender. In a word, the gender binary system is oppressive, and is a cause of marginalisation for people who do not fit within the gender binary.
Trans woman refers to a woman who was assigned male at birth. She may or may not be identified by others as trans, and may or may not identify herself as trans. It is grammatically and definitionally correct to include a space between trans and woman.
Trans man refers to a man who was assigned female at birth. He may or may not be identified by others as trans, and may or may not identify himself as trans. It is grammatically and definitionally correct to include a space between trans and man.
Used as an adjective to describe the binary genders female/woman/girl or male/man/boy.
Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/woman/girl or male/man/boy. Use as an adjective (e.g. Elsa is a binary trans woman and Jesse is non-binary).
Transitioning from being seen as one’s birth assigned gender to one’s actual gender. Transition generally initially includes social elements such as changing one’s clothes, hair, name (socially and maybe legally), changing the gender marker on one’s legal documents, binding breasts or wearing breast forms, etc. It may also include medical treatments such laser hair removal, hormone replacement therapy, or various surgeries. There is neither a wrong way to transition, nor a singular right way.
A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to others. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is primarily attracted to other women may identify as lesbian.
A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to others. An asexual person is not primarily motivated by sexual drive and sexual attractions. However, they may experience sexual attraction in some circumstances, or have sexual relationships for a vast number of different reasons other than primary sexual attraction.
Currently being redefined by bisexual rights activists to mean that one is attracted to both their own gender, as well as other genders. This better reflects the experience of some bisexual people (rather than simply attracted to binary men and binary women).
In common use however, most bisexual people identify as being attracted to men and women, or in some cases “penises and vaginas”.
Some bisexual rights activists say this interpretation is “biphobia”, or stigma against bisexuals, erasing their attraction to non-binary people. However, as it is bisexuals themselves who commonly identify as being attracted to men and women, this may be a misapplication of the term biphobia.
While some bisexual rights activists claim that the “same and different” definition is “reclaiming“, it is more accurately “redefining“, as the “men and women” definition was not imposed from outside of bisexual populations.
Pansexual means being open to attraction to people of any gender, and inherently, explicitly includes transgender and non-binary genders. Some pansexuals experience attractions based on characteristics other than gender. Some experience gender as a primary part of their attractions, but they have these attractions to people of all genders. Pansexual does not necessarily mean without preference.
In the time when “bisexual” was unambiguously understood to mean ”attraction to both males and females”, those who wanted to acknowledge being attracted also to non-binary people, or whose own gender was non-binary or trans, coined the term pansexual.
Note: While some texts will say that pansexual is under “the bisexual umbrella” or “part of the bisexual community”, others will say bisexual comes under the broader “pansexual umbrella”.
In any case, particularly when collecting research data, it is important that these identities are dis-aggregated, along with transgender pansexual vs cisgender pansexual, for example.
Heteroflexible or homoflexible.
Similar to bisexual or pansexual, but with a stated heterosexual or homosexual preference respectively. Heteroflexible indicates that one is primarily interested in heterosexual relationships but is “flexible” when it comes to sexual activities.
Homoflexible, indicates that one is primarily interested in homosexual relationships but is “flexible” when it comes to sexual activities.
A person who sees trans people (usually trans women) as inherently sexual, and sexually objectifies them. As opposed to someone who simply is predominantly attracted to trans women; a chaser does not view trans women respectfully as whole people with humanity and agency, but rather as players in a sexual fantasy.
Heteronormative or heteronormativity.
This refers to the deeply held institutional belief that relationships between heterosexual masculine cis men and heterosexual feminine cis women are normal/natural/right, while all other relationships are viewed as abnormal/inferior/wrong in contrast. It refers to systems and society being structured around this assumption.
Broadly used to indicate that one rejects heteronormativity and is not heterosexual – though sometimes queer is also used by heterosexual transgender people.
Queer is inherently political; rejecting enforced heterosexual narratives, and rejecting assimilationist homonormative respectability politics that reinforce them. In more simple terms, queer rejects “we’re just like you” as the reason LGBTI+ people should have rights.
The term “Queer” was originally a slur reclaimed by Black, trans, disabled, HIV+, and other more marginalised rainbow people (particularly people of colour) who could not and did not assimilate into mainstream white gay culture, which heterosexuals found more palatable. “Queer” was a reclamation, in response to white gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who didn’t respect them, and wanted to distance themselves from “the bad radical queers” as “the respectable ones who deserve rights”.
Queer is sometimes used as an umbrella term to mean LGBTI+, or “not heterosexual and/or not cisgender”, though many queer people reject this. Because of the non-heterosexual connotation, many heterosexual trans people do not like to be called queer and may see this as being misgendered and called homosexual.
The word queer has long been used as a slur, so although it is commonly reclaimed, be cautious with its use – particularly with older generations.
Similar to queer, but more specific to rejecting binary genders. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither male nor female, may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels or the idea of having to define themself. Some genderqueer people do identify within the binary (e.g. “genderqueer woman”), but reject the conventions and expectations associated with that gender.
A rejection of labeling one’s physical body as female or male. Being sexqueer is neither indicative of one’s current anatomy nor birth assignment or birth anatomy, and should definitely not be confused with intersex. (next page)
Describes a a range of conditions where person has a variation of sex characteristics from birth (as opposed to through taking hormones or having surgeries). Variations of sex characteristics means their sex characteristics are ambiguous in the context of the male/female sex binary.
A person may not know they have an intersex condition until they reach puberty and their body changes differently than expected, however most people who are diagnosed with an intersex condition were diagnosed at birth.
When an intersex infant is born with ambiguous external genitalia, parents and clinicians typically assign them a binary sex and perform surgical operations to conform the infant’s body to that assignment. However this practice is oppressive and is increasingly recognised as unethical and abusive; as a result of intersex adults speaking out against having been made to undergo potentially harmful medical procedures which they did not consent to.
It is important to know that an infant undergoing, for example, an operation to create a vagina, generally has to have vaginal dilation and further surgeries throughout their childhood. No child should be needlessly subjected to this.
Being intersex does not necessarily imply anything regarding one’s gender, anatomy, orientation, or trans status.
Most commonly used to describe someone who primarily identifies with their birth assigned gender, but enjoys dressing as other genders. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and for many, this is an integral part of their identity. Cross dressing is not necessarily tied to erotic activity, nor is it indicative of one’s sexual orientation. Do NOT use this term to describe someone unless they self identify with this word.
Queens, drag queens, drag kings, drag.
Drag queens and drag kings are cross-dressing performers who take on stylised, exaggerated gender presentations for show. However for many, this is also an integral part of their identity.
Historically, before the term ”transsexual” was coined, the term drag queen or simply “Queen” referred to trans women. Men who cross dressed as women exclusively for performance were called “butch queens”.
Many older generation trans women in New Zealand still prefer the term Queen, however others may see this as an insult. Use with extreme caution, and always follow the trans person’s lead.
Gender fluid, bi-gender.
These are non-binary gender identities that indicate shifting between different genders or presentations. Similarly used by those who feel they have both male and female sides to their personality, including some drag queens, drag kings, and cross-dressers. These terms are different from and should not be confused with the term Two-Spirit – a gender identity specific to certain Native American and First Nations cultures.
Neutrois and agender.
One who feels neutral in their gender or who rejects the influence of gender on their person. Sometimes the term ‘nongendered’ is used similarly.
Identifying as neutrois or agender is neither indicative of one’s anatomy, birth assignment, nor pronoun use. They can be used in conjunction with another gender signifier, for example neutrois woman.
A peson who feels both masculine and feminine, or who has a gender expression with both masculine and feminine characteristics. Again, only use this term if it is the person’s own self identification.
An identity or presentation of non-heteronormative, reclaimed, queer femininity. Femme can be an adjective (he’s a femme guy), a verb (he loves to femme up), or a noun (he’s a femme). Although commonly associated with feminine lesbian/queer women, it’s used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman.
An identity or presentation of non-heteronormative, reclaimed, queer masculinity. Butch can be an adjective (she’s a butch woman), a verb (she went home to butch up), or a noun (she identifies as a butch).
Although commonly associated with masculine queer/lesbian women, it’s used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman.
Clinical term referring to dissonance between one’s assigned gender and/or body, and their personal sense of self. Originally the DSM diagnosis was “transsexualism”, which was later changed to “gender identity disorder”, followed by “gender dysphoria”. In each case the diagnosis was updated as it led to gender variance being stigmatised and misunderstood as a pathological condition.
“Gender Dysphoria” is now similarly being moved away from, in favor of “Gender Incongruence”.
Transphobia consists of three main parts – stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Any of these elements on it’s own can be transphobia.
Stereotypes include, for example, the idea that trans people aren’t real, that they are delusional, or that they are dangerous. Misconceptions of biology, and ideas of gender oppression revolving around reproductive capacity (gender essentialism) are two further examples of stereotypes – or overgeneralised ideas.
Prejudicial feelings are usually based on these stereotypical ideas, and may include fear, anger, discomfort, distrust, disgust, or hatred directed towards trans people.
Discrimination is actions, based on prejudice.
Transphobia is used similarly to homophobia.
The combination of misogyny, or hatred of women, with transphobia (as above).
A key aspect of transmisogyny is the double bind; trans women are:
1. Presumed to embody the worst of “masculinity” – sexually aggressive or predatory, violent, and domineering.
2. Treated with the worst of misogyny – as objects to be used, without agency, hypersexualised, as though their existence is too seductive. And as though they are over emotional and irrational.
They may be treated in either or both of these ways simultaneously, depending on what is convenient for those who would mistreat them.
Consequently they experience discrimination and violence (including sexual violence), at much higher rates than women in the general population.
In a patriarchal society it is seen as a threat to masculinity when people who could have been men reject manhood in favor of a lower status position – womanhood. As such, trans women are often treated with abjection, or transmisogyny, both interpersonally and structurally.
Additionally, it is in the best interest of those who would mistreat trans women to ensure that society sees trans women in this way. To this end, there is no shortage of dedicated anti-trans campaigners manufacturing transmisogynist disinformation.
Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism, or ‘Fundamentalist Feminism’, is a small but loud sub section of ‘Radical Feminism’. A TERF is a trans exclusionary radical feminist.
Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism generally focuses on removing transgender human rights, legal protections, healthcare access, and supportive social environments.
It’s foundational framework is biological essentialism – the idea that biology supersedes culture and all other influences. Furthermore, that in order to be classified as a woman, one must be able to bear children. This contradicts TERF claims that “woman” is an experience of oppression under patriarchy, which categorically includes trans women.
TERFs are generally against sex worker’s rights, kink, contraceptives, and anti-choice in relation to abortion. TERFs generally have fundamentalist western family values, and sometimes fundamentalist religious views. In addition they are generally anti-vaccination and anti-pharmaceuticals. Fundamentalist feminists have strong links to primitivism and other movements supporting “naturalness”.
While not all anti-trans campaigners or extremists are TERFs, all TERFs are anti-trans extremists.
Cissexism and cissupremacy.
Bias in favor of cis people over trans people, or beliefs that cis people are inherently superior to trans, more real, more natural, etc. This often refers to systems which advantage cis people over trans people or unconscious systems of thought, rather than transphobic individuals.
Being read as the gender one wishes to be read as. The term ‘passing’ is falling out of fashion as it is seen to imply that one should desire to look cisgender.
Bottom surgery, SRS, or GRS.
Bottom surgery, Sexual Reconstruction Surgery (SRS) or Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS), refer to several different types of gender affirmation or transition related surgical procedures which alter the patients genitalia.
These terms are preferred over “sex change operation” or anything with “reassignment.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have GRS. Subsequently, overemphasising the importance of GRS to the transition or affirmation process should be avoided.
Note on te Reo Māori terms
Indigenous terms have no simple translation, because sex and gender are thought about and experienced differently in different cultures. For example, at it’s core, takatāpui is a Māori concept that sits within Māori culture. It has it’s own history and wairua, which are very different to terms such as LGBTQI+.
Māori culture has traditionally included and celebrated people of all genders, and their relationships to people of any gender. It includes all Māori people. Aotearoa became a Brittish colony in 1840, resulting in laws and values which were hostile to takatāpui. However, tikanga Māori continues to awhi and embrace takatāpui whānau.
There is no direct English translation for many cultural terms for gender, but these are some whakaaro or ideas for thought.
Takatāpui is a Te Reo Māori term, which is used similarly to ”rainbow person” or ”rainbow community”, or LGBTQI+.
When speaking te reo Māori, the word for LGBTQI+ people is Takatāpui. Therefore, one would use this word to refer to both Māori and non-Māori. However, usually only Māori people would call themself Takatāpui when speaking English.
Takatāpui originally meant an intimate companion of the same gender – as in the story of Tūtānekai and Tiki. Tūtānekai married Hinemoa, and his close relationship with Tiki was not necessarily a rainbow relationship. However, contemporary use of Takatāpui most often refers to tāne moe tāne (men who sleep with men), or wahine moe wahine (women who sleep with women).
It is sometimes used to refer to other rainbow people, including transgender people.
Tāhine, or ira tāhūrua-kore.
Mixed gender, or non-binary. Tāhine is a blend of Tāne and wahine.
Transgender, or gender that changes, transfers, or crosses over. Irawhiti specifies transgender specifically, so we are seeing a move toward using irawhiti or irawhiti takatāpui to replace the more generic takatāpui for all transgender identities.
Gender affirming, or to have pride in ones gender.
Gender fluid, or to turn, change, or move gender. Sometimes this can also mean transgender.
GenderQueer, or different gender.
Whakawahine, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, and akava’ine.
Trans woman, to create or be in the manner of a woman. Whaka means to create or become or be in the manner of, while wahine means woman. Whakawahine is similar to fa’afafine of Samoa – with fa’a meaning in the manner of and fine meaning woman. Similarly, fakaleiti of Tonga, and akava’ine of the Cook Islands.
Tangata ira wahine.
Trans woman, or a person with the spirit or gender of woman.
Whakatāne, fa’atama, akatāne.
Trans man, to create or be in the manner of a man. Whaka means to create or become or be in the manner of, while tane means man. Similar to fa’atama of Samoa, and akatāne of the Cook Islands.
* Note: the original use of Whakatāne was ‘in the manner of a man’, as with the naming of the town Whakatāne. The town is not named after transgender men.
Tangata ira tāne.
Trans man, or a person with the spirit or gender of man.
Cisgender, or permanent fixed gender.
Gender dysphoria or anxiety.
Tikanga ā-ira whānui.
Rerekētanga āhuatanga ā-ira.
Variations of sex characteristics.
Agender, or no gender.
Mae irawhiti, or mae irahuri.
Anti-trans, or transphobia.
Gender diverse, gender varience.
NB: Many of these words are new; takatāpui, whakawahine, and whakatāne are older words, tāhine was coined in 2014, and many of the others were developed in 2019.
Our glossary is free to use – reference as below. Not for profit. Do not upload to another website.
Note the online version may be more up to date than the PDF version named below.
Originally published 2015.
4th Edition Copyright 2020.
Trans 101: glossary of trans words and how to use them
Gender Minorities Aotearoa
Wellington Aotearoa New Zealand