‘Transgender’ is a recent term which has replaced the previous ‘transsexual,’ and along with the new word has come a new meaning. The words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are used interchangeably in much of the writing and speaking about trans people but they mean very different things. This has caused a lot of the misunderstanding around trans issues, so here we have listed some of the most common transgender terminology with explanations.
Note: On this site we use the correct terminology where possible; when we use the misleading terms it is because those are the terms which are widely recognised, and we add an explanation or we put inverted commas around the word or phrase to make it clear.
In this listing of terms we have ordered them so that the basic terms come first and the later ones can be understood in relation to them.
Sex (or Biological Sex)
Biological sex is a binary: there are two sexes, male and female. Males are born with male sex organs (penis and testes) and male reproductive capacity (sperm production). Females are born with female sex and reproductive organs (vagina, uterus), develop secondary sex characteristics (breasts) at puberty and have female reproductive functions (menstruation, gestating a fetus, giving birth). Note: functionality is irrelevant, ie. a man who is unable to produce sperm or a woman who is unable to gestate a fetus does not change the biological fact of their maleness or femaleness. A person’s sex is a biological fact with recognised characteristics and it cannot be changed. A male cannot become a female and a female cannot become a male; no matter how many hormones or how much surgery they have, the changes are cosmetic only.
Intersex people are those who are born with a genitalia which at birth is difficult to classify as either male or female. The condition is extremely rare. Intersex people are not transgender.
Gender is a subjective, abstract idea, ie. people have different opinions on the word’s meaning; it cannot be defined by a recognisable set of fixed characteristics. The word is commonly used to denote characteristics of personality, role and preferences which are attached to one sex or the other, eg. men are logical, women are emotional; men are dominant, women are submissive. These characteristics have no basis in biological reality, ie. they are not fixed innate qualities of the sexes: both males and females are born with equal potential to be either emotional or logical, or both, or neither.
The belief that the above characteristics are biological facts, ie. women are naturally emotional and submissive and men are naturally logical and dominant.
Gender essentialism leads to gender stereotyping, which is the belief that ‘men are like this’ and ‘women are like that’ as unchangeable and natural fact.
To ‘trans’ gender relies on an acceptance of male and female gender stereotypes as a fixed binary, and therefore supposes that a person can move from one set of stereotypical gender characteristics to the ‘opposite.’ Transgender theory posits that gender is an identity and that a person’s identity overrides their biological sex. The theory has developed to the point where biological male and female sex is no longer considered a reality, so that a penis (for example) is considered to be a female sex organ if its owner identifies as a woman. As biological sex no longer exists, any definition of a person as a man or a woman depends on that person’s perception of him or herself only. The categories ‘male’ and ‘female’ have essentially been replaced by subjective personal opinion.
‘Transsexual’ describes a person who experiences sex dysphoria to the extent that hormones and surgery may seem like the only viable option to alleviate the distress of the feeling of inhabiting the wrong sexed body. Sex dysphoria is a psychiatric condition which is painful and poorly understood. It occurs in less than one percent of the population.
Note: transsexuals do not make the claim that they actually are the opposite sex, only that they identify with and live as the opposite sex. It is worth pointing out here that the transgender movement misrepresents these people, who do not share their ideology.
The disgust or distress experienced by inhabiting a sexed body which feels alien to the extent that cosmetic change is sought to either masculinise or feminise the body. ‘Sex dysphoria’ is a more accurate term (see above).
Body dysmorphia is a different thing, not related to transgender. It denotes the state of being dissatisfied with the body to the extent that you ‘see’ faults which don’t exist in reality (eg. an anorexic who sees her body as ‘fat’). ‘Sex dysmorphia’ is sometimes used as an alternative to ‘sex dysphoria.’
Assigned a Gender at Birth
This is interchanged with ‘assigned a sex at birth.’ Neither is accurate. At birth, a midwife or doctor simply correctly classifies a newborn into one or other biological sex group. (Specific ‘gender characteristics’ are then assumed by society and applied to people with different sexed bodies).
The transgender ideology is based on gender identity and the belief that one’s identity is fixed, innate and strong enough to override the fact of biological reality. To ‘identify as a woman’ presupposes a set of fixed ‘female’ gender characteristics (see gender essentialism and gender stereotypes above) so some people (both men and women) find the idea of gender identity problematic.
People who were born women and ‘identify as’ women, and men who were born men and ‘identify as’ men. This term is rejected by some people for the same reasons as above.
MtF and FtM
MtF means Male to Female (Trans woman) and FtM means Female to Male (Trans man). Note: using these terms denotes a belief that a trans person actually is the opposite sex, or if not, they may be used sometimes as a courtesy towards a trans person in acknowledgment of their self-identity.
MtT and FtT
MtT means Male to Trans (Transwoman) and FtT means Female to Trans (Transman). Note: These are alternative terms which are used to denote a lack of belief that a transwoman is actually a woman or a transman is actually a man (note that the word ‘trans’ is affixed to the words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ in this case).
We use the second set of markers throughout the site, only to be consistent with the level of accuracy of information we want to present, and not because we want to express any hostility towards trans people.