Many terms or labels related to sexual and gender identities and behaviors are often confused with one another. The following terms are defined side-by-side to help clarify their relative meanings. If you are interested in having a white coat card on hand in the clinical setting, click this icon to order some for your department or office:
Transgender- a more recent term referring to gender-variance broadly understood; it is often used by younger trans persons (not necessarily interested in surgery or hormone treatments) to directly counter or refuse binary thinking. An umbrella term, it includes the next three terms as well.
Transsexual- a more traditional term typically referring to an individual "born in the wrong body" who seeks (full) sexual reassignment surgery. Also often used to refer to someone post-op (i.e. a "transsexual man" or "trans man" who had been female-assigned at birth and vice versa). FTM signifies female-to-male and MTF signifies male-to-female.
Transvestite- refers to a sexual fetish (paraphilia) whereby a man/woman dresses in women's/men's clothing for sexual arousal. Over 90% of transvestic men are heterosexual; all by definition identify with their birth-assigned sex.
Drag Queen- a male drag performer (whereas a "Drag King" is a recent term referring to a woman who performs as a hyperbolized male) with entertainment or sociopolitical connotations. Usually a drag performer does NOT live/identify as their stage personality.
Cisgender- a contemporary term referring to individuals who identify within or as their birth-assigned gender and present with a stereotypically congruent gender expression (i.e. a non-trans person). "Cisgender" or "Cissexual" are helpful terms for remembering that everyone can be labeled.
Homosexual- refers to sexual orientation/sexual preference (i.e. same-sex attraction among gays or lesbians) and is independent of gender identity. Trans individuals may be bi-, hetero-, homosexual, or use any other descriptor for their orientation.
Genderqueer- there are myriad meanings. Similar to how "queer" might refer to non-normative sexual orientation, "genderqueer" relates to a non-binary sense of gender identity and refusal of labels that may or may not involve sexual orientation.
In our society today, it is common for widely used terms to have multiple meanings depending on the person speaking. Additional terms and definitions of those terms are listed below based on input from the participants on this site. The following terms are explained:
Sex, Gender, Transsexual, Transgender, Transition/ Transitioning, Trans, Sexual Orientation, Queer, Passing, Genderqueer, Hetero-Normative.
- "Between the Legs. Generally, any word with ‘sex’ in it is interpreted to refer to the physical characteristics of a person (e.g., breasts or a penis)."
- "Between the Ears. Generally, any word with ‘gender’ in it is interpreted to refer to the mental attitude of a person."
- "Social spectrum where people fall which determines how they are treated and expectations placed upon them."
- "One’s self-identity: male, female or some combination of male and female."
- "Gender Identity- The mental identity and image a person has of themselves. The best way to describe it is to rephrase the concept of “Residual self-image” from The Matrix. Essentially, even though Keanu Reeves is a bald man with tattered clothes in the real world, in the Matrix, he is a well-dressed man with a full head of hair."
- "A person who not only identifies as the gender opposite their birth-assigned sex, but takes steps to bring their body into line with their mental gender."
- "A transgendered person who has corrected or is in the process of correcting the birth defect that has resulted in them having the mind of one gender and body of the other."
- "The medical/scientific term applied to a person who alters their sex."
– "Any person who was assigned a sex at birth, and is content in that sex."
- "Any person who was assigned a female sex at birth, and lives as a female. Generally accepted characteristics include, but are not limited to: Breasts, vulva, vagina, uterus, ovaries, the ability (but not requirement) to menstruate, a higher pitched voice, and many others."
"Any person who was assigned a male sex at birth, and lives as a male. Generally accepted characteristics include, but are limited to: facial hair, body hair, more musculature, deeper voice, a penis and testicles, and many others."
- "An umbrella term that encompasses many identities. Or, to put it another way, all crossdressers are transgender, but not all transgender people are crossdressers. Any person who does not identify with any culturally accepted rule of gender. For instance, a genetic girl who wears a man’s shirt could be considered transgender, since a genetic girl was not wearing a girls shirt."
- "An individual who was born with the mind of one gender and body of the other."
- "Social/anthropological term applied to a person who alters their gender."
- "Transwoman/Transgirl – A transperson assigned male at birth, who has a female gender identity, and generally takes on a more feminine appearance."
- "Transman/Transmale – A transperson assigned female at birth, who has a male gender identity, and generally takes on a more masculine appearance."
- "The process of going from one gender or sex to another."
- "The process a transsexual undertakes of assuming their true gender identity. (A long, slow sideways slide from false to true gender expression.)."
- "A shortened version of either ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’."
- "A prefix; implies movement from one place/thing to a different one."
- "A slang expression for someone who is transgendered."
- "The target of ones affection, no matter what gender they are. Sexual Orientation is not based on one’s gender identity, and is a very mutable term. For instance, a transwoman who is attracted to women would identify as a lesbian woman, not as a straight male, even if the transwoman has not transitioned."
- "An umbrella term that categorizes who a person is physically attracted to."
- "Another umbrella term that encompasses not only gender identity, but also sexual orientation. To put it simply, any sexual orientation or gender identity that does not match society’s expectations. So, all gay men are queers, but not all queers are gay men."
- "Term applied to a person who does not fit the binaries of gay/straight/bi. This word seems to get applied to a person's sexual identity more the their gender identity."
- "A slang expression for someone who is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered."
- "Being taken as a member of the sex opposite your assigned sex without being ‘clocked’ or ‘read’. Generally includes being able to use the facilities appropriate to your gender presentation (E.g., a transwoman being able to use the women’s restroom without incident), being addressed by your preferred pronouns and name without hesitation or prompting, and many other things."
- " A verb; describes one's ability to be perceived as something other that which they were born into. This term was always used in application to Jews who tried to "pass" as non-Jews around the time of WWII."
- "Being Clocked/Being Read – not being taken as a member of your preferred gender. Examples include a transwoman being addressed as ‘he’ or being denied access to the women’s restroom, a transman being addressed as ‘she’, etc."
- "A type of transperson who does not fit cleanly into one category or another."
- "A noun describing a person who exists in between (outside of) the gender binary."
- "Someone who does not express their gender identity in the traditional way (i.e. as either female or male)."
- " A way of looking at the world with the assumption that everybody is heterosexual, and looks at the world in a heterosexual way. An examples of this includes assuming that when a woman refers to a partner, she means ‘husband’."
- "Male and female expectations and roles as defined by a particular society."