Supporting Trans* Community



Supporting a Transgender Loved One

One of the first steps to supporting a transgender family member or friend is to learn and use correct trans* terminology.

As you begin to learn and understand the preferred terms, remember that respect is the basis for Speaking Human. When in doubt, simply ask your transgender family members and friends to share their personal preferences, and then honor them.


The Basics

Sex: The classification of people as “male” or “female” at birth.

Gender Identity:  One’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender Expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics.

Sexual Orientation:  An individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same!

Transgender:  An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from their sex assigned at birth. This includes people who identify as transsexuals, cross-dressers, female-to-male (FTM) individuals and male-to-female (MTF) individuals.

Transition: The complex process of altering one’s birth sex. This can include personal, legal and medical adjustments. Each person’s journey is unique.

Gender Affirmation Surgery:  Preferred term to “sex change operation.” This term “gender affirmation surgery” is superseding “sex reassignment surgery,” though this term is likely to be used in legal documents for some time.

Cross-Dressing: To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. This is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity or sexual orientation.

Intersex:  A person whose biological sex is ambiguous. This term is not interchangeable or synonymous with “transgender.”

Transgender man: A person born female who transitions to become a male.

Transgender female: A person born male who transitions to become a female.

Cisgender:  A term used in gender studies to indicate individuals whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth. This term is not yet widely recognized, so it’s acceptable to use “nontransgender.”


  • Always use a transgender person’s chosen name, even if it has not been legally changed.
  • Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like to use in reference to them. If it’s not possible to ask, use the pronoun consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression.
  • Never put quotation marks around a transgender person’s chosen name or pronoun.
  • Do not say “gay” when you intend to include transgender people. Say LGBTQ or LGBT. (Many transgender people are straight.)
  • Remember that people can be transgender without altering their bodies surgically or hormonally.
  • Do not use “cross-dresser” to identify someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex or who intends to do so.
  • Keep in mind that the term “gender dysphoria” is controversial and that many in the medical and transgender communities advocate abandoning its use.
  • Always use transgender as an adjective, not a noun. Say “He is a transgender man,” or “The event included many transgender people.”
  • Do not add “-ed” to “transgender.” Ask yourself: Do you know any “Germaned” people?
  • Avoid focusing on gender affirmation surgery as doing so implies one must have surgery in order to transition.
  • Avoid saying “opposite gender.” Many transgender people view gender as a continuum, not a binary concept. Use “different” gender instead.


Terms to Avoid:

The following terms are defamatory.

  • Deceptive, fooling, pretending or masquerading. Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity; do not characterize transgender people in this way.
  • She-male, he-she, It, transvestite, trannie, tranny, shim and gender-bender. All of these terms dehumanize people.
  • Bathroom bill. A term used by far-right extremists to oppose nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people. Use nondiscrimination law/ordinance instead.