Outdated Terms: Transgender Edition (updated January 2021)

Whether you're an ally or a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it can be hard to know what terms are okay to use and what terms have aged out. 

The words we use matter because they help define and narrate the world around us. While it can seem like a a hard line to draw, most of the changes are common sense and used to reflect our cumulative understanding of the transgender experience. 

As we continue to progress as a community and society, there will undoubtedly more changes. The best thing any ally can do is continue to listen and have compassion. 

This guide, while not exhaustive or perfect, is designed to cover the basics and act as a point of reference for anyone familiarizing themselves with the correct terminology. 

Take a look at our previous post on terms and concepts to familiarize yourself with the right words, too!

Outdated terms: what NOT to say

Don't say: transgendered, a transgender, or transgenders'

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from what they were assigned at birth. The word transgender is an adjective. Adjectives describe or modify nouns/pronouns). 

Example: "They identify as transgender." 
"I was happy to see Elliott Page come out as transgender!" 

When used as a verb(e.g. transgendered), it carries the connotation that being transgender is something that happens to someone instead of it being a description of ones' experience.

Similarly, using transgender as a noun(e.g. a transgender, transgenders), it reduces transgender people down to a singular identity which can be used to dehumanize them. 

Don't say: female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female(MTF), biologically male/female, born a man/woman. 

For the most part, a transgender person's gender/transition history should only be shared by them on their own terms. On the rare occasion that it's necessary for you to share, the proper terminology is assigned at birth. 

Example: "He was assigned female at birth." 
"I do not identify with the gender I was assigned at birth."  

FTM and MTF are umbrella terms originating from the medical community. These designations, while seemingly helpful, do not honor the experiences of transgender people nor do they provide necessary medical information. 

Many people who are transgender do not view themselves as having been a different gender in the past. Rather, many people feel as though they found their gender identity just a bit later in life. 

Additionally, FTM/MTF do not provide insight on where a transgender person is in their transition. Not every transgender person will transition in the same way, whether that's their preference, they lack access, or they have a health condition preventing medical transition steps. This means that these acronyms will not provide a surgery history, hormone history, or even the pronouns this person may use. 

This extends to various other terms as well, such as: biologically male/biologically female, genetically male/genetically female, born a man/born a woman. 

These terms are highly medicalized and do not represent the whole of the transgender experience. 

Don't say: sex change, sex reassignment surgery(SRS), "the surgery," or post/pre-op

Transgender people are often subjected to invasive questions. Of these, one of the most common is if they had a "sex change" or "the surgery." 

This is another example of something that should ultimately be up to their own discretion. If you do happen to find yourself in a conversation about this topic, the best way to say it is gender affirming surgery

Example: "Medical insurance should cover gender affirming surgeries." 
"The first gender affirming surgery he had was top surgery." 

Terms like sex change, pre/post-operative, or "the surgery" inaccurately suggest that surgery is a requirement to identify as transgender or that one must have surgery in order to transition. 

Being transgender simply means that one doesn't identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Many transgender people do not undergo surgery for a variety of personal and medical reasons. 

We recommend that you try to avoid inquiring about someone's private medical history overall. 

Don't say: preferred pronouns, male pronouns, female pronouns

Pronouns, by definition, are simply the words you use to refer to someone when you aren't using their name. In this regard, pronouns themselves do not have a gender. 

When explaining your own pronouns or a transgender persons, you should state their exact pronouns. (e.g. he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, etc.) 

Example: "Saira uses she/her/hers pronouns."
"Eli uses he/they pronouns." 

Preferred pronouns implies that ones' pronouns are optional or secondary. Additionally, pronouns do not dictate gender. Some people who identify as women or men will use they/them pronouns and some people who identify as nonbinary will use he/she. 

What's important here is that you don't assume someone's pronouns based off of their gender identity and vice versa. Instead, it is better to ask what pronouns someone uses and share your own. 

Don't say: tr*nny, she‐m*le, he-she, or it

This might be pretty obvious but it's important to address. These words are inherently violent to the transgender community. 

These are defamatory words which dehumanize transgender people. These words have a history of violence. 

Derogatory terms like these are a form of discrimination and harassment towards transgender people. While someone may use these words mistakenly or without hateful intent, the impact may still be the same. 

At the end of the day, transgender people just want to be treated with the same respect as cisgender people. 

One part of that is learning what not to say. The other part of it is being open minded and listening to transgender people when they correct you or explain a new concept.

Remember, someone's transgender status doesn't negate their right to privacy or decency. 

Did this post help you? Have a question that wasn't answered here? Have an idea for a resource that would benefit others? Leave us a comment below! 

Simon Bellamy he/him


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