Use of Language
Navigate Up
Sign In

Use of Language

The correct use of language is very important when coming in contact with trans clients. Here you can find some tips and guidance.

'Transgender person' (or trans person) is used as an umbrella term for all people whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not match their gender assigned at birth. Persons for whom the gender assigned at birth and their gender identity coincide are called cisgender persons (cis persons).

The umbrella term 'trans person' includes many different gender identities and expressions. Some trans persons seek a social (e.g. new first name and form of address, gender role change) and medical (e.g. gender affirming hormonal therapy; surgery) transition, whereas others prefer only a social transition; some trans people do not identify at all with the binary M/F system, while others do. In Europe, the most common subgroups under the trans umbrella term are the following:
  • Trans women are persons with a (predominantly) female gender identity, who were registered as male at birth.
  • Trans men are persons with a (predominantly) male gender identity, who were registered as female at birth.
  • Some people identify with male and female genders at the same time, or with neither male nor female, or with something totally different from the cultural concepts of "man" or "woman". These people often label themselves as non-binary or genderqueer persons. Terms such as gender variant, gender fluid, gender free etc. are also used. On this website the term non-binary is used to refer to specific information on this subgroup.
  • There are also trans people who only wish to present at certain moments in a different gender role (e.g. by clothing), as a form of gender expression. This is referred to as cross-dressing.
  • Gender non-conforming describes gender expression that differs from a given society’s norms for males and females.​

So there is a very large diversity under the trans umbrella term! It is very important for care providers to adopt a sensitive attitude and to pay attention to cultural and age-related differences (Bouman et al., 2017; T’Sjoen, Radix, & Motmans, 2020)​. After all, these self-definitions can have different meanings for different individuals. For example, some prefer the concept of 'transsexual' where others experience this term as very pathologising. The basic attitude is that the individual’s preferred terminology deserves respect. Language also has a cultural component and therefore trans persons from third countries might not be familiar with any of the terms referred to here or may have different terminology and concepts.

Furthermore, it is also very important to understand that there are many nuanced visions and experiences in terms of gender/body and gender identity that go beyond the dual M/F classification. Finally, it is also important to note that for a part of the trans population, the transgender aspect is a part of their past and has no bearing  today. They are therefore not happy to be reminded of their transition without medical reason. Common terminology among this group is "man/woman with a trans history".​

Given the complexity and nuance of this language, it is always best to ask trans people what terminology they use, do your best to follow their directions, and apologise if you make mistakes.​

  • Bouman, W. P., Schwend, A. S., Motmans, J., Smiley, A., Safer, J. D., Deutsch, M. B., Adams, N. J., & Winter, S. (2017). Language and trans health. International Journal of Transgenderism, 18(1), 1-6.
  • T'Sjoen, G., Radix, A., & Motmans, J. (2020). Language & Ethics in Transgender Health. The Journal of Sexual Medicine.​