Digital Transgender Archive

Glossary

This glossary offers brief definitions of some of the key terms that visitors may encounter while exploring the Digital Transgender Archive. We offer this glossary to clarify how we use these terms within the project, rather than how they might be used or understood more broadly. Language is always evolving and we know that many of these terms will continue to shift over time. Given the scope of our collection, we do not typically provide definitions for contemporary terms or slang. For an additional resource on trans-related terminology, we also highly recommend GLAAD’s Media Guide.

If you are new to the DTA and need a place to start, check out the DTA Starter's Guide.

Androgynous

Individuals possessing both masculine and feminine characteristics, which do not clearly identify them as men or women. While androgynous is used commonly as an adjective, it can also be used to describe an individual’s gender nonconforming identity, especially in the form androgyne.

Assigned Sex at Birth (ASAB)

The discernment of an infant’s sex at the time of birth, typically determined solely by an inspection of the external genitalia. Related terms include assigned female at birth (AFAB), assigned male at birth (AMAB), and assigned gender at birth (AGAB).

Ball Culture

A subculture that emerged in early 20th-century New York City in which primarily African-American and Latin American LGBTQ+ people walk (i.e., perform) to compete for various prizes. Many individuals involved in ball culture also belong to houses, or chosen families, headed by and named after established community members (e.g., the House of Xtravaganza).

Bottom Surgery

A colloquial term describing surgical procedures that result in external genitalia and internal reproductive organ function that better align with an individual’s gender identity. Specific procedures include: hysterectomy, phalloplasty, metoidioplasty, scrotoplasty, penectomy, and orchiectomy, among others.

Camp

A wide-ranging and debated term that can refer to an aesthetic sense that values excess and parody, artistic and humorous works that exemplify such an aesthetic, effeminate gay men and transfeminine people, or a broad spectrum of queer effeminacy.

Cisgender

An individual whose gender identity aligns with the gender assigned to them at birth.

Closet

A metaphorical term used to describe the space in which LGBTQ+ individuals live when they have not disclosed their gender or sexual identity publicly (often referred to as coming out).

Coming Out

A shortened form of the term coming out of the closet, this metaphor is used to describe an LGBTQ person’s disclosure of their gender or sexual identity.

Crossdresser

An individual who wears clothes stereotypical to a gender other than their predominantly-identified gender. Individuals often develop a persona while crossdressing.

Deadname

A name that an individual no longer uses or identifies with. Deadnaming is the use or revealing of a person’s deadname without their consent, often with harmful intentions.

Drag King

A performer, often a female-identified person, who dresses in stereotypically masculine attire and enacts a male persona for the purpose of entertainment.

Drag Queen

A performer, often a male-identified person, who dresses in stereotypically feminine attire and enacts a female persona for the purpose of entertainment.

Dyadic

Individuals born with the sexual anatomy, reproductive system, and chromosomes associated with their assigned sex. In other words, someone who is not intersex. Also referred to as endosex and perisex

Female Impersonator

Historical term describing a performer, often a male-identified person, who enacts a female persona for the purpose of entertainment, often for straight audiences. Eclipsed by other terms (such as drag queen) in the late 20th century.

FTM/F2M

An abbreviation of female-to-male, which can describe an individual’s identity or the orientation of their transition. Popular in the 20th century. 

Gender

A socially constructed system that gives meaning to masculinity and femininity and which unevenly distributes power and opportunity according to cultural interpretations of sex. As an element of personal identity, a person’s gender is developed through the interaction of social roles and expectations, one’s response to those expectations, one’s physiology, and one’s internal sense of self.

Gender Affirmation Surgery

Various medical procedures used to alter the appearance and function of individuals’ bodies to better align with their gender identity. Such procedures are referred to by a number of terms such as gender confirmation surgery, gender reassignment surgery, sex affirmation surgery, and sex realignment surgery, as well as historical terms such as sex change and sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).

Gender Binary

A system of gender categorization that defines gender in oppositional and mutually exclusive terms of masculine or feminine. Some individuals identify with a gender outside of this binary.

Gender Dysphoria

The distress or discomfort an individual feels due to discontinuity between their gender and the sex they were assigned at birth, their physical body, and/or the way their gender is perceived by others. Evidence of gender dysphoria is required by many medical professionals to assist a person in their medical transition; as a result, it has been controversial in trans communities.

Gender Essentialism

The belief that certain qualities and behaviors are innate to and biologically determined by one’s gender.

Gender Expression

How a person performs their gender outwardly through their appearance, pronouns, and other traits and actions.

Gender Minorities

Groups of people whose gender identities or practices differ from those of the dominant culture. 

Gender Neutral Pronouns

Pronouns that refuse to designate binary gender. Can include they/them/theirs, xe/zem/zyrs, ze/hir/hirs, and many others.

Gender Norms

Socially determined rules or standards for permitted and expected gendered behavior.

Genderqueer

Individuals who cannot or do not wish to define themselves within or in relation to the gender binary. Similar and more recently coined terms include agender and nonbinary.

Gender-Segregated Bathrooms

Public facilities that are separated into two mutually-exclusive spaces designated for men and women. Gender-segregated bathrooms present a host of difficulties for trans people who often feel policed for entering the bathroom aligned with their gender.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

The use of masculinizing or feminizing hormones (testosterone or estrogen) to bring an individual’s secondary sex characteristics and internal sense of self into better alignment with their gender identity.

Intersex

Individuals with sexual or reproductive anatomy that resists classification into normalized parameters of what is biologically male or female. The term hermaphrodite and its derivatives are outdated and offensive.

Male Impersonator

Historical term describing a performer, often a female-identified person, who enacts a male persona for the purpose of entertainment, often for straight audiences. Eclipsed by other terms (such as drag king) in the late 20th century.

Masquerading

Historical term associated with the 18th and 19th centuries that describes the act of dressing in disguise, often to emulate another gender. 

Misgender

The act of referring to a person’s gender incorrectly, often by using incorrect pronouns.

MTF/M2F

An abbreviation of male-to-female, which can describe an individual’s identity or the orientation of their transition. Popular in the 20th century. 

Passing

An individual’s ability to pass, or be recognized by others as having a specific identity. Though passing can be used in reference to race, class, ability status, etc., it is most commonly used in the DTA to refer to individuals who pass as having a certain gender identity or sexual orientation.

Pronouns

Words used to refer to individuals in the third person other than their name (e.g., she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, zie/zim/zis). Pronouns may change over the course of a person’s transition and they are often important to the affirmation of a person’s gender. (see also: Gender Neutral Pronouns)

Queer

An umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities and/or individuals of non-normative identities and politics that eschews binaries and fixed definitions. Queer is often used to describe an individual’s oppositional relationship to power or the dominant culture.

Sex

Biological indicators such as chromosomes, hormone levels, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics. These indicators are often viewed as discrete and binary, but biological sex exists on a broad spectrum.

Sexuality

How and with whom a person prefers to experience erotic pleasure. Sexuality is often used interchangeably with the term sexual orientation.

Social Construction

The theory that factors of a person’s identity, such as their gender and sexuality, are at least partially determined by social, economic, and cultural factors.

Stealth

The concealment of one’s trans identity, often for safety or public acceptance.

T4T

Trans for Trans; a sexual, romantic, or political orientation among trans people toward other trans people.

Top Surgery

A colloquial term describing surgical procedures that result in breast or chest appearances that better align with an individual’s gender identity, including breast augmentation to feminize one’s appearance or chest reconstruction to masculinize it.

Trans-Affirming Healthcare

Trans-affirming healthcare refers to direct care and supportive environments doctors can provide to trans people, sometimes including transition-related services. For young children, transition may include changes in social markers (e.g., names, haircuts), as well as reversible puberty blockers at the onset of puberty. Surgical interventions and hormone treatments have been used for decades by older adolescents and adults. 

Transfeminine

A trans person assigned male at birth who presents femininely; sometimes used by nonbinary people. 

Trans/Transgender

A broad term used to describe individuals who identify and/or express their gender in ways that go beyond binary and fixed gender norms. May be expressed through self-identification, self-presentation, behavior, dress, body modification, and/or social interaction.

Transgender People in Sports

Transgender people in sports are athletes who identify as trans and compete in gendered leagues. Athletic events for every age group or competitive level attract both trans and cis participants, and athletes who do not identify with their birth sex have competed in sports throughout history.

Transmasculine

A trans person assigned female at birth who presents masculinely; sometimes used by nonbinary people.

Transmedicalism/Truscum

The controversial belief, sometimes known as truscum, that trans identity requires a person to experience gender dysphoria or pursue gender-related medical treatment.

Trans-Misogyny/Transmisogyny

Term coined by Julia Serano to describe the forms of oppression or negative feelings directed toward transfeminine people who exist at the intersection of sexism and transphobia.

Transsexual

A person who transitions from female to male or male to female. Generally refers to individuals who transition their physical bodies into alignment with their gender identities. Popular in the 20th century.

Transition

The personal, social, and physical process of gender identity development and expression for individuals whose birth-assigned genders are incongruent with their self-identified gender.

Transphobia

Antagonism or disgust directed toward trans individuals (or others perceived to be transgressing gender norms) due to their gender identity and/or expression. Transphobia often results in inequalities, discrimination, verbal harassment, physical violence, and sometimes death.

Two-Spirit

An umbrella term coined in 1990 at the Third Annual Inter-tribal Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian American Conference to describe historical and current Native American/First Nations people whose identities and ceremonial and social roles are associated with gender variance. Because Indigenous conceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality differ dramatically across communities and from Western terms like gay, lesbian, and transgender, defining two-spirit in English for a non-Indigenous audience is difficult.

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