Trans Terminology 201

Talking about members of the transgender community with sensitivity and accuracy.

The top of a rainbow-colored umbrella pointing downward.

By Karen Yin • March 15, 2016


Coverage of transgender people has been on the rise, leading to an influx of grassroots terminology in mainstream media. The inclusion of trans people in narratives has necessitated immense shifts in language: By adopting terms which originated within the trans community, writers and editors are able to accurately communicate alternative concepts of pronouns, gender/sex, and orientation.

The following list of words entering mainstream consciousness supplements the guides provided by the National Center for Transgender Equality, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and GLAAD for covering the trans community.

  • misgender: To refer to a person, usually a trans person, by the wrong gender, whether deliberate or accidental.
  • deadname: To use the name a trans person was given at birth instead of their current name. Unless you have permission, avoid using deadnames when referring to a time before they transitioned or with formerly.
  • transmisogyny: Hatred of trans women, manifested overtly or institutionally.
  • trans*: An umbrella term for a spectrum of gender identities, including genderqueer and bigender. Without the wildcard (asterisk), trans refers to transgender women and men. Wildcards are also used in other communities, such as veg*n for vegetarian/vegan and Latin@ for Latina/Latino. (If the asterisk might prompt readers unfamiliar with this convention to search for a footnote, insert one with a brief explanation.)
  • TGNC: An initialism which groups transgender with gender non-conforming, instead of with lesbian, gay, and bisexual (as in LGBT), because transgender is an identity, not an orientation.

As a society, we respect different pronunciations and spellings of names, and getting the terminology right is another item on that checklist.

Writers and editors, especially those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, can learn more by paying attention to what trans writers—such as Ryka Aoki and Dane Figueroa Edidi—are writing.

As a society, we respect different pronunciations and spellings of names, and getting the terminology right is another item on that checklist. Style guides are only helpful to a point because they can’t tell you what individual preferences are. As with all personal details, the best practice is to ask.

Karen has long wavy hair and is smiling into the camera. She's wearing a gray T-shirt and an aquamarine pendant.Karen Yin is the author of the upcoming book Conscious Language (Little, Brown Spark) and founder of Conscious Style Guide, a resource for inclusive, empowering, and respectful language; Editors of Color, tools for diversifying your staff and sources; and AP vs. Chicago, an irreverent language blog for anyone who “gives a dollar sign, ampersand, exclamation point, and pound sign about style.” She received the 2017 ACES Robinson Prize for furthering the craft of professional editing.

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter and is reproduced with permission from the Pilcrow Group. Photo by Garry Knight used under CC BY 4.0.

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