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Transformations: Transgender 101 continues with lesson on terminology

Editor's note: The definitions used below were compiled from multiple expert sources available online. An important authority and source for all transgender issues is the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Greetings, queers and dears!

In my last column, we discussed the basic "Dos and Don'ts" regarding questions and topics of conversation that might come up when you meet someone who may (or may not) be transgender.

To my delight, many readers expressed a great deal of interest in the topic; so today, I’m going to take a moment to discuss a brief list of terminology that is commonly used and/or referred to in the transgender community.

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of all of these terms before, because at one time, some of them were completely foreign to my own “trans-lexicon” as well!

Transgender Terminology

Assigned gender: The announcement by doctors ("It’s a boy/girl") based on an individual’s physical anatomy. Determines the gender roles the person is expected to live within.

Cisgender: A term describing people whose gender identity matches their assigned birth gender. The majority of the population is cisgender. The term is unfamiliar to most people, who simply think of themselves as "normal." The prefix "cis" stems from the Latin-derived prefix (also cis) meaning "to/this the near side" as in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry. (I wouldn’t have known this one, aside from hearing it used by my dad, who is a retired wildlife biologist!)

Coming out: The process of becoming aware of and accepting one's sexual orientation or gender identity. This process is often gradual, as the person makes decisions about how much to disclose, and to whom.

Cross-dressing: Choosing to wear the clothing generally associated with the opposite gender. The term "transvestite," previously in common use, is now considered offensive by many.

Cross-living: Living and dressing full-time as the gender an individual perceives himself or herself to be.

Drag queen: A term historically used to describe gay men who dressed in women's clothing for the purpose of entertainment or personal fulfillment. Drag kings are biologically female and dress as male.

Effeminate: A term used to identify a person (usually male) who expresses and/or presents culturally or stereotypically feminine characteristics. (Note: This term often carries a negative connotation.)

F2M, FTM, Female-to-Male: Used to identify a person who was female-bodied at birth and who identifies as male, lives as a man, or identifies as masculine.

Female-bodied: A person who was assigned female gender at birth, or a person who was born male-bodied and has had surgery to alter their genitals.

Gender: Refers to the characteristics of a particular sex as determined by society. These characteristics are commonly referred to as feminine and masculine. For contrast, see Sex.

Gender dysphoria: A continuous discomfort resulting from an individual's belief that they were assigned the wrong gender at birth. As a clinical psychological diagnosis, the term offends many in the transgender community, although it is often required to receive hormones and/or surgery.

Gender identity: A term referring to a person’s self-identification as male, female, or other. The terms transgender and cisgender refer to gender identity.

Genetic: Often used to refer to the assigned gender at birth; also used to refer to the discussion of an individual’s chromosomal makeup. For example, "my partner is a genetic female."

Gender queer: A term used to describe people who may not think of themselves as transgender, but who identify their gender and/or their sexual orientation to be outside the assumed norm.

Getting read (or getting clocked): Being detected as a person who is cross-dressed.

Hormonal therapy: Also called hormone replacement therapy, HRT, or hormonal sex reassignment. The administration of hormones, often for life, to affect the development of secondary sex characteristics of the opposite gender. Androgens (testosterone) are used for FTM persons, and estrogens are used for MTFs.

In the closet: Not disclosing, or being purposely discreet about, one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Intersex: A term referring to people whose physical characteristics do not match the typical patterns of male or female. The term "hermaphrodite," previously in common use, is now considered offensive.

M2F, MTF, Male-to-Female: Used to identify a person who was male-bodied at birth and who identifies as a female, lives as a woman, or identifies as feminine.

Male-bodied: A person who was assigned male gender at birth, or a person who was born female-bodied and has had surgery to alter their genitals.

Non-Operative (Non-Op): Individuals who have not attained and are not seeking gender reassignment surgery, and who may or may not take hormone therapy. Many transgender individuals achieve sufficient gender identity harmony through cross-living or other forms of gender-related behavior.

Post-operative (Post-Op): Transsexual individuals who have attained gender reassignment surgery and/or other surgeries to change secondary sex characteristics.

Pre-operative (Pre-Op): Transsexual persons who desire gender reassignment surgery for primary and/or secondary sex characteristics and are seeking it as an option. They may or may not cross-live full-time and may or may not take hormone therapy.

Presentation: The totality of one's appearance, including clothing, voice, and behavior.

Queer: A term historically used to ridicule those who failed to conform to societal gender expectations. This term has been reclaimed by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community as a positive and affirming term of communal identity.

Real life test (also called life test): A period of time during which individuals seeking gender reassignment surgery must live full-time expressing and presenting the gender in which they identify. Many doctors require a real life test of two or more years before advancing to surgery.

Sex: The designation of the biological differences between female and male. For contrast, see Gender.

Sex assignment: The declaration of a person’s gender, by doctors, based on the appearance of external genitalia. Determines society's expectations of the person’s gender behavior.

Sexual orientation: A term referring to whom a person is attracted, sexually and emotionally. The terms Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Straight (Heterosexual) refer to sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is not correlated with gender identity; transgender persons can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.

Standards of Care: A set of minimum guidelines formulated by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (HBIGDA) for care of transsexual individuals. Written for and used by medical service providers, the Standards of Care are seen by some transgender individuals as not representing the wishes of those they are designed to serve.

Top surgery: Surgery "above the waist," usually breast augmentation for MTFs and breast reduction for FTMs. Many factors influence the decision of whether to have top surgery, including desire, expense, physical health, possible side effects, age, and access to medical care and information.

Transgender: An umbrella term referring to people who live in a manner that does not conform to social expectations based on their biological or assigned gender.

Transgender community (also gender community): A loose association of individuals and organizations who transgress gender norms in a variety of ways. Celebrating a recently born self-awareness, this community is growing rapidly across all lines. The community's central ethic is unconditional acceptance of individual freedom in gender, sexual identity and expression.

Transition: The period during which a transgender individual begins to live a new life in their gender. Includes the period of full-time living (the real life test) required before gender reassignment surgery.

Transphobia (also genderphobia): The fear of those who are perceived to transgress cultural or stereotypical gender roles. Expressed as negative feelings, attitudes, actions, or behaviors against those perceived as breaking or blurring expected gender roles.

Transsexual: A person who, through experiencing an intense long-term discomfort with their assigned gender, adapts their gender behavior and body in order to reflect and be congruent with their gender identity. This may include cross-dressing, synthesized sex hormones, surgery or other body modifications. These actions may or may not lead to a feeling of harmony between a person’s body and gender identity.

In Summary

This is just a brief list of helpful terms, and like most words in our English language, they sometimes change, or develop different meanings or connotations over time.

I welcome any additions and/or corrections you might have, because just like you, I am always learning new things about my community!

Community Shout Outs

As promised in my previous column, I want to take a moment to talk a little bit about a local San Diego organization that is particularly trans-friendly and does a lot of good in our community – Bienestar Human Services, Inc..

Bienestar, which is located at 3020 North Park Way in San Diego, offers a wide variety of services for the LGBT community, with particular emphasis on the health and well-being of the transgender community, especially our Spanish-speaking trans brothers and sisters!

In 1996, Bienestar founded a group called, "Transgeneros Unidas," which caters specifically to the unique needs of the Latina transgender community. Transgeneros Unidas provides weekly support groups, education and intervention programs, educational forums, as well as social events like "Miss Bienestar."

For HIV-positive clients, Bienestar offers housing assistance, HIV treatment education, mental health counseling, peer support groups, and a food bank. There are also programs for gay and bisexual men, as well as programs and support for those affected by substance abuse.

It's Bienestar's goal to assist our community with empowering ourselves (and others) in order to lead our most healthy and productive lives! For more information, contact Alex Goncalves at agoncalvez@bienestar.org, or call (619) 295-2192.

Melinda Harris is a former columnist for the Riverside Press-Enterprise weeklies and is currently working on the completion of her first novel, "Miranda’s Magick." She operates three online vintage clothing stores on eBay and Etsy, is a part-time student at San Diego City College, an active member of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the proud mom of a grown son. She is also a former rodeo queen and addicted to FarmTown on Facebook! Melinda and her partner live in Hillcrest. She can be reached at melindaharris@live.com.