How to Navigate Trans Terms and Language

There are two undeniable truths when it comes to language. The first is that it’s powerful, with the ability to devastate with a cruel and disrespectful word choice, or uplift through terms and vocabulary used to be respectful and accepting. The second is that language is ever-evolving, that certain out-of-date expressions move from being inaccurate or clumsy to being insulting.

With this in mind, let’s discuss what gender identity and sexually expressive words and expressions have gone from being inaccurate to completely demeaning, as well as better terms that are respectful, conscientious, and show tolerance.

Trans Terms and Language: Good and Bad

Pronouns and Personal Preferences

As many words and expressions have become cruel and outdated, this doesn’t mean that disapproving of them is completely universal.

Like so much in life, and language, the fundamental thing about which words might be favorable or insulting is set not by you or even a community but by the actual transgender person you’re communicating with.

So politely ask, or better yet wait until they share this with you, and then absolutely respect their preferences.

Shemale or Tranny

It’s a personal choice, but there is a growing consensus that older terms—shemale and tranny—are not only woefully out of date, but also insulting. So strip these from your vocabulary if you are still using them.

Transgendered or Transexual

Although perhaps not as offensive as words like shemale, they are becoming grammatically and symbolically antiqued. Not using them can show that you are aware of, and respect how language has evolved.

Though, as we’ve said, it’s all up to personal preference—not yours but the person you are communicating with—and you will likely meet some trans folks who don’t find these offensive.

Unless told otherwise, try to get in the habit of embracing terms like transgender or simply trans instead.

Pre-Op or Post-Operative

This one is kind of a no-brainer, but these terms still comes up far too often when talking about gender identity. Asking a trans woman on a dating site if they are pre- or post-op before even meeting is often a giveaway that you are fetishizing her (she may think all you know about being trans is what you see in porn, and that’s not going to get you a date!)

For one thing, it’s terribly invasive and insulting, but more than that it shows ignorance, as physical characteristics have no importance in a person’s gender identity. In short, don’t ask and instead listen and respect their personal identity.


This is another painfully outdated term, that now shows nothing but backward thinking and disrespect. While it’s always up to personal preferences, this word for many has changed to “intersex.”

It should be mentioned that as with pre-operative or post-operative, using hermaphrodite again reduces a person to just their physical body and its construction. It’s a non-consensual way of pigeonholing someone—they are neither male nor female, but a third biological type.


Here is something rather special, as it shows respect and gives acknowledgment of those who have transitioned or prefer a non-gender specific or gender-fluid identity.

Cisgender refers to, or is used by, someone who was birthed with a penis and considers themselves a male throughout their life, or a person who was born with a vulva and feels comfortable with considering themselves female.

Gender Fluid or Gender Non-Conforming

Gender identity has truly become not a binary, male or female, but a true (and rather glorious) rainbow of possibilities for self-identity and self-expression.

A gender fluid or gender non-comforming person rejects the binary illusion of what is male or what is female in society by embracing identity or behavior that dismisses these stereotypes.

On the other hand, gender non-conforming can be when a person sees themselves as their own, and unique gender self—sometimes male and female, sometimes their own form of gender, or not having a specific gender at all.


What’s extra cool with the singular they/them is that it’s become a preferred choice for even the cisgendered, as a way to acknowledge and respect the community and even protest against the binary prejudice that too often pervades the language.

What terms have you removed or added to your vocabulary when it comes to transgender dating?

Big thanks to this great page on Transgender Identity Terms and Labels from Planned Parenthood on the subject.

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