Terms and Concepts

To better understand transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming issues, it is imperative to have a firm grasp on certain terms and concepts. This section will guide you through some key ideas that most accurately describe and define trans* terms and concepts. However, please keep in mind that each gender variant person is unique, and these terms may vary in meaning from person to person.

The following definitions are taken from UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center. These terms and others can be found here.

Transgender– Transgender people are those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one’s body (genitals, chromosomes, etc.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing. But, gender and sex are not the same thing.Transgender people are those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man.

Transsexual– Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex they were born as and the sex they identify as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.

Gender Identity– The gender that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a gender. Gender identity is also often conflated with sexual orientation, but this is inaccurate. Gender identity does not cause sexual orientation. For example, a masculine woman is not nescesarily a lesbian.

Genderqueer– A person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and blur the boundaries. Note: Those who identify as genderqueer may prefer to be referred to with pronouns outside the binary of “he/she”. If this is the case, it is very important to respect that person’s identity and use their preferred pronoun.

Gender Nonconforming– Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with their biological sex. “Feminine” behavior or appearance in a male is gender-variant as is “masculine” behavior or appearance a female. Gender-variant behavior is culturally specific.

I highly encourage going over GLAAD’s Transgender Glossary of Terms. It gives in-depth definitions and explanations of correct and preferred terminology while also making note of problematic or defamatory language.