I was talking with friends when suddenly, the room fell silent. I had dropped a bomb: I used the word “tranny.”
Today, this considered offensive. Never mind that I picked it up from a dance club frequented by T-girls and their admirers. The girls there joked around and used a funny scene from Seinfeld (tuck or no tuck?) to differentiate between pre-operative and post-operative bodies. “Tranny” was pretty much a term of endearment in this circle, but now it’s mostly used to insult trans people. It should only be used at the discretion of trans persons themselves.
Live and learn. Even with the best intentions, it can be difficult to navigate current and correct terminology. Unfortunately, language that references marginalized folks is often turned on them, making yesterday’s politically correct terms tomorrow’s gauche faux pas. How do you sort it all out?
The more you meet and spend time with trans people, the more you will hear their preferred terms. And don’t worry too much… most trans women have been through a lot, and the last thing they want to do is alienate an ally over a slip of the tongue. Let your trans dates know you support them and ask them to help you with what you need to know.
The terms for men like you who love T-girls can also be inflammatory. When you hear “tranny chaser” perhaps the best response is, “Yes, so?” I prefer the versatile and positive term “admirer.” If you do too, say so!
List of Trans Terms and Meanings
Sex and Gender. The difference between sex and gender is biology- sex is genes, chromosomes, genitalia, and all that jazz. Gender is cultural (traits, dress, and characteristics that reflect sex) and these change through history and across cultures.
Transgender. Transgender is the usually correct umbrella adjective to describe anyone who expresses variation of the gender role assigned at birth.
Transexual. This word is more specific, and describes someone who is taking physical steps to resemble the sex they identify with.
Trans women/T-girls. Transgender women.
Shemale. Faux pas. It came into vogue to refer to trans women with male genitalia through pornography and the sex trade. While some trans women may use it, don’t.
FTM. Female-to-male trans person.
MTF. Male to female trans person.
Transvestite or crossdresser. Men who enjoy dressing up in women’s clothes. Transvestites are usually not transgendered- it’s a sexual kick. Crossdressing is the more current term.
Drag queen. A drag queen is a man who dresses up as a woman for performance and theatrical purposes. He does it for art, or for money, and usually (but not always) identifies in everyday life as a man. Drag is a classic art form from the gay underground and drag queens dress up as Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and other iconic women.
Cisgender. You will sometimes see this term on dating sites, but are more likely to encounter it in activist or political circles. It simply means someone who identifies with the sex they were biologically given at birth.
Gynandromorphophilia. Please don’t use this word unless you’re writing a doctoral paper! This is you: the sexual or romantic love of a trans woman. Alternately, and easier to pronounce, there’s MSTW: men sexually interested in trans women. I like “transamorous.” It’s sweet and to the point.
Don’t worry, you’ll sort it all out before long!
Check out his detailed glossary of trans terms, along with a wealth of information on the subject of transgenderism.