5 Trans* Feminist Words to Add to Your Vocabulary

So now that you know some of the more basic terminology about how to refer to or talk to a trans* person, let us get into some terminology that allows us to have discussions about the problems the trans* community faces in today’s society.

1. Transphobia

Transphobia is not a clinical phobia like arachnophobia, where you run away, scream, and have a panic attack every time you see a spider.

Scary Spider

Why don’t you love me?

Rather, it is a much different kind of fear, and can often be subconscious.  This type of fear fuels anger, prejudice, disgust, and hatred towards people who are perceived to be trans*,  just like homophobia does towards those who are perceived to be gay.


Cissexism can be fueled by transphobia, but not necessarily.  Sometimes people are just jerks.  Cissexism is the belief or mindset that cisgender identities are inherently better or more real than trans* identities.  So if someone is calling a trans* person’s identity “fake” or if they refuse to treat a trans* person in every way as the gender they identify with, then you are looking at someone who is being cissexist.

3. Cissupremacy

This is when a system or institution is set up to oppress the trans* community, while at the same time privileging cisgender people.  Cissupremacy is founded on cissexism.  It is the belief that cis identities are inherently better or more real than trans* identities.  For example, the whole institutional medical process of transitioning for trans* people is built on cissupremacy.  If a cisgender man or woman has a hormone imbalance, he or she can just go to a doctor and get a prescription with no problem.  If a cisgender man or woman wants to get plastic surgery, they just need to have the money for the surgery itself and do not need to explain themselves at all.  After all it’s their body and  they can make their own decisions and live with the consequences good or bad.

This entire mindset completely changes when it comes to trans* patients.  In order to get any kind transition related treatment if you are trans*, you have to get approval from a counselor, and sometimes two depending on the treatment (one was not discriminatory enough).  Seeing a counselor adds extra financial expense, and gender therapists are extremely rare so it also usually involves driving really far and limits your options to only one or two therapist to choose from.  These therapists can deny you approval for any reason, and I mean ANY reason.  If they think you are not feminine enough or not masculine enough, if  your parents are not accepting of your identity even though you are an adult, if you live in a bad area, if you are not pretty/handsome enough in the gender you identify as, etc.  Many counselors will deny or delay your treatment for arbitrary reasons and stereotypes they have of what makes a “real” man or “real” woman, and since there are very few therapists to choose between, you are pretty much stuck with them regardless of how incompetent they may be.

The worst thing about all of this is that NONE of it is meant to protect or help trans* patients.  All of these hoops we have to jump through are to protect cisgender people.  There is this paranoid notion that a cisgender person might think they are trans*, and regret going through the process later.  The idea is that, even if we delay or deny thousands of trans* patients treatment, it is worth it to protect the one cisgender person who might get treatment and regret it later.  So yeah…cissupremacy.

4. Cisnormativity

Cisnormativity is when the world is interpreted through a cisgender perspective.  Everyone is expected to to look through this lens and understand the world through it.  Cisgender identities are assumed to be the “normal” identity, and any other  is considered “different” or even “abnormal”.  Under cisnormativity, everyone is assumed to be cisgender, unless some kind of cue tells us differently.  In our culture, virtually all of our movies, t.v. shows, books, advertisement, etc. is told from a cisgender perspective.  That right there is cisnormativity at work.

5. Trans-misogyny

Trans-misogyny is a term that is hard to put into words.  It is the intersect between cissexism and misogyny.  It is completely based on the assumption that masculinity and maleness is in every way superior to femininity and femaleness, as well as the idea that cis identities are better than trans* identities.  When a trans woman comes out and starts transitioning and people around her start saying, “Why would anyone want to be a woman?  That’s crazy!” you are hearing trans-misogyny.  When you hear someone criticize a trans woman for being “too feminine” or “too masculine”, while thinking it is not a big deal for a cis woman to express the same levels of femininity and masculinity, you are hearing trans-misogyny.  When you see a feminist group allow and include trans men into their organization, but they then deny and belittle trans women, you are looking at trans-misogyny.


Terminology: How to Refer to a Trans* Person

It can be confusing on what terms to use, how to use them, and in what context are they are appropriate.  Each person often comes up with their own individual understanding of the words they use to describe their identity, so these words can notoriously be fraught with tiny idiosyncratic differences in terminology that  vary as much as the human population that uses them.  Even the same word, like “trans” for example can mean one thing to one person, and then hold a completely different meaning for another person.  Please remember that these are my understanding of the terms and it does not necessarily represent what every trans* person understands them to be.


First, I’ll start off with the word transgender.  This is the most generic blanket term that is used.  It does not have the same stigmatized forceful feel that transsexual can sometimes give off.  Also it focuses more on the concept of gender rather than on the physical nature of sex that the word transsexual implies.  Being an umbrella term, it includes anyone who’s gender identity does not align with the one assigned to them at birth.  Depending on who you ask, it can also include cross-dressers and drag performers as well.

Personally I use transgender as more of a socio-political term to describe myself.  It is a relatively quick simple term to describe the group of people who I share a similar experience with.  It easily lets people know some of the struggles I have had to go through in life.  It also provides a unifying word behind which all groups of gender minorities can rally together and fight for equality.  I never really have seen myself as ever having been a boy/man since I never really accepted the role ascribed to me to begin with.  Rather than becoming immersed in the male role, I just completely shut down and stopped talking or socializing all together.  I did not even let myself have opinions on anything: even a favorite color.  It was not until I actually started accepting myself as a woman that I started blossoming into the person I am today.  Because of this, the word “transgender” can feel strange to me sometimes because I do not see myself as having changed from one gender to another (as the word suggests).

MTF and FTM Transsexual

This word is used to describe people who not only identify as a different gender than the one assigned to them, but also take or desire to take medical intervention into the mix.  They either want hormones, surgery or both.  Although I use medical intervention, I particularly do not like this term because it puts a strong emphasis on the physical transition rather than on who the person is.  Also it has a slightly more negative connotation than transgender does since it has been abused more.


Do not, I repeat DO NOT use this word.  Just because some people *cough* RuPaul *cough* use it does not mean that it is okay.  For many, including myself, this is the equivalent of the “N” word.  It has been used in such derogatory manners over the years that the word itself has inherently become derogatory.  Also never call a trans* person an  “it,”  a “shemale,” or a “he/she” because these are extremely dehumanizing and offensive as well.

Trans vs. Trans*

“Trans” is just a shortening of the word transgender, but implies trans woman or trans man.  Because of this, the relatively recent idea of adding an asterisk to the end to create “Trans*” came about.  The asterisk means that anything can follow the word trans*, and as a result is seen as more inclusive of all that fall under the trans* umbrella.

Ex: “I am a trans woman”


       “Being trans* can mean a number of things”

Trans Woman vs. Trans Man

Some people can get confused on who you are referring to someone as a “trans woman” or “trans man.”  I see ignorant psychology articles that refer to transgender women as, “transgender men,” or “transgender males,” all the time.  A trans woman is a trans* individual who identifies as a woman, and a trans man is a trans* individual who identifies as a man. Period.  Unless you are being a jerk do not call someone who identifies as a woman a “man,” or someone who identifies as a man a “woman.”

Transgender is an Adjective NOT a Noun

This is definitely one of my pet peeves.  Transgender is often used as a noun and this is wrong for two reasons: 1) It is grammatically incorrect and just sounds weird to me o_O   2) Using transgender as a noun reduces our whole identity and being to one trait, when we are complex human beings with many traits and characteristics that define us.

Right:   “They are transgender”

Wrong: “He is a transgender”

Right:   “She is a transgender woman”

Wrong: ” I know lots of transgenders”

Drag Queen/King vs. Cross-dressers

The difference between a drag queen or king and a cross-dresser is that the drag performer does it for performance reasons.  They like to play with gender in a way that puts on a show and is entertaining, and also like to mess with gender stereotypes as well.  Like a cross-dresser, most do not identify as a different gender than the one assigned to them.

Someone who cross-dresses puts on clothes of a different gender because they enjoy it, sometimes for sexual reasons and sometimes not.  They do not do it in order to perform like a drag queen or king, it is rather an internally driven desire.

Sometimes, before coming out as trans*, people will say they are a cross-dresser or perform drag first since it is safer and more contained than coming out all the way and turning everything in their lives upside down.  This does NOT however mean that every drag performer or cross-dresser is secretly trans*.

Gender Queer

Someone identifies as gender queer identifies as neither man nor woman.  Since gender is a spectrum of countless different identities, there are a limitless number of subcategories to identifying as gender queer.  These include, but are no means at all limited to androgynous, bigender and gender fluid.


This is when someone identifies somewhere between genders and does not adhere strictly to man or woman.  Unlike someone who is gender fluid their gender identity and expression tends to stay in one spot on the spectrum and does not move.


Rather than identifying between genders, someone who is bi-gender identifies as man AND woman at the same time.

Gender Fluid

Someone who identifies as gender fluid does not strictly adhere to just one gender.  They often “flow” between different gender expressions at different times.  Depending on the person, the range of expression can vary greatly.

In the end there are SO many different gender identities out there that it would be impossible for me to cover all of them.  Gender identities vary as much as people do, and as a result it creates a wide spectrum rather than a tight dichotomy.  In the end, if you are unsure of someone’s identity or how they want to be referred to, then it is best just to ask.  It is much better than assuming the wrong thing.