Stonewall Scotland | Key trans-related terminology in use in Scotland
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Key trans-related terminology in use in Scotland

Transgender people, Trans people or Gender Variant people
These are umbrella terms used to describe a whole range of people whose gender identity or gender expression differ in some way from the gender assumptions made about them when they were born.

Gender identity
This is an individual’s internal self-perception of their own gender. A person might identify as a man, as a woman or as non-binary/ androgyne/ polygender.

Gender expression
This is an individual’s external gender-related appearance (including clothing) and behaviour (including interests and mannerisms). A person may have masculine, feminine or androgynous aspects of their appearance or behaviour.

Biological sex
A person’s biological sex includes all aspects of their gender-related biological structure: not only their genitals but also their internal reproductive system, their chromosomes and their secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts, facial and body hair, voice, and body shape.

Most people’s biological sex will be clearly and consistently female or male. However, a small but significant number of people have bodies which are not completely male or female. People born with these kinds of physical variations are referred to as intersex people. A person may also have a biological sex which is not completely clearly male or female if they have undergone some hormonal or surgical intervention as part of a process of gender reassignment.

Gender dysphoria
This is a recognised medical issue for which gender reassignment treatment is available on the National Health Service in Scotland. Gender Dysphoria is distress, unhappiness and discomfort experienced by someone about their biological sex not fully matching their gender identity.

Transsexual people often experience intense gender dysphoria which is significantly reduced by transitioning to live as their self-identified gender, perhaps taking hormones and/or getting surgery to make their physical bodies match their gender identity better. Other trans people, including those with non-binary identities, may also experience various degrees of gender dysphoria, especially when unable to fully express their gender identity.

Transsexual people
This is a term used to describe people who consistently self-identify as the opposite gender from the gender they were labelled at birth based on their physical body. Depending on the range of options and information available to them during their life, most transsexual people try to find a way to transition to live fully in the gender that they self-identify as. Transitioning is also known as gender reassignment. Many, but not all, transsexual people take hormones and some also have surgery to make their physical bodies match their gender identity better.

  • A female-to-male (FTM) transsexual man (trans man) is someone who was labelled female at birth but has a male gender identity and therefore is currently seeking to transition, or has already transitioned, to live permanently as a man.
  • A male-to-female (MTF) transsexual woman (trans woman) is someone who was labelled male at birth but has a female gender identity and therefore is currently seeking to transition, or has already transitioned, to live permanently as a woman.

Intersex people
This is a term used to describe people born with external genitals, internal reproductive systems or chromosomes that are in-between what is considered clearly male or female. There are many different intersex conditions. When an intersex baby has ambiguous genitals, medical staff often make an educated guess about which gender to assign to the baby. Sometimes the person’s gender identity matches their assigned gender, but sometimes the guess made by the medical staff turns out not to match the intersex person’s own gender identity. In many cases, an intersex person will simply self-identify as a man or as a woman. However, in some cases, an intersex person may self-identify as being neither a man nor a woman.

Cross-dressing people
This is a term used to describe people who dress, either occasionally or more regularly, in clothes associated with the opposite gender, as defined by socially accepted norms. Cross-dressing people are generally happy with the gender they were labelled at birth and do not want to permanently alter the physical characteristics of their bodies or change their legal gender. They may dress as the opposite gender for emotional satisfaction, erotic pleasure, or just because they feel more comfortable doing so. Cross-dressing men are sometimes referred to as transvestite men, however this is becoming an increasingly out-dated term and may cause offence.

Non-binary, genderqueer, androgyne or polygender people
These are terms used to describe people who find they do not feel comfortable thinking of themselves as simply either men or women. Instead they feel that their gender identity is more complicated to describe and non-binary. Some may identify their gender as being a form of combination between a man and a woman, or alternatively as being neither. Like transsexual people, some non-binary people can experience gender dysphoria and may sometimes at least partially transition socially and may take hormones or occasionally have some surgery done.

Acquired gender
This is a term used in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to mean the gender role that a person has transitioned to live their life in and which matches their self-perceived gender identity. The acquired gender of a male-to-female trans woman is therefore female, and the acquired gender of a female-to-male trans man is male. Many trans people prefer the term "affirmed gender", as it reflects that fact that are not acquiring a new gender identity, but affirming their inner, and until transition, hidden, gender identity.

This is the acronym most commonly used in Scotland to talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. LGBT equality work addresses the two equality strands of sexual orientation and gender identity together due to shared experiences of discrimination and harassment, shared social ‘scene’ venues and community groups, and also similar issues around decisions on whether or not to ‘come out’ about their identity to colleagues, family and friends. However, transgender people can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight – just like anyone else. Many people will refer to variations on this acronym, the most common being LGBTI (which includes intersex identities) and LGBTQ (referring to 'queer' or 'questioning').