Trasngender Terms: What Do They All Mean?

The Subtle Differences Between Some Transgender Terms

I recently interviewed a 17-year-old named Casey who identifies as a pre-op FTM trans teen. It was great to hear about his life, but I also realized that some of the terms he used during our conversation like — pre-op and FTM — might not be familiar to everyone. I thought it might be helpful to give a quick overview of terms that are often used when discussing transgender life.

Transgender Terms 

Here's a summary of some of the more common transgender terms.


  • Transgender: This is something of an umbrella term for individuals who may have the genitals of one sex but a gender identity associated with the other sex. For example, a person born with a penis who feels female may identify as transgender. A "transgender man" identifies as a male and a "transgender woman" identifies as a female. 
  • Transsexual: This is an outdated term that refers to individuals who identify with a gender that's different from the one they were assigned at birth. The person desires to transition from male to female or vice versa. This term has fallen out of favor for a few reasons, one being that it seems to focus more on the body than on gender identity. It also sounds very clinical or medical. 
  • Transitioning: This is the process of changing one's sex to match one's gender identity.
  • FTM or F2M: A trans person who is transitioning from female to male.
  • MTF or M2F: A trans person who is transitioning from male to female.
  • Pre-op: A transgender person who has not had surgery to alter his or her body, although he or she may want to. 
  • Post-op: A transgender person who has had surgery.
  • Non-op: A transgender person who does not intend to have surgery.
  • Hormone therapy: Synthetic hormones are taken to affect things like body shape, hair growth patterns and secondary sex characteristics.
  • T: Shorthand for the hormone testosterone, which is taken by some FTM individuals.
  • Gender confirmation surgery: Sometimes mistakenly called a "sex change operation," and more recently "sex reassignment surgery," this involves physically changing one's sex through surgery. It is often accompanied by hormone treatments.
  • Genderqueer: Genderqueer refers to people who do not adhere to strictly male or female identities and roles. A genderqueer person often chooses to present as neither clearly male nor clearly female, but rather as a gender-free individual whose identity may shift and change over time.
  • Gender identity: A person's inner emotional and psychological inclination as being male or female. 
  • Gender expression: The gender an individual displays to the world and to those around him through things like dress, hairstyle or mannerisms. 
  • Sexual orientation: This term addresses whether an individual is sexually attracted to men, women or both. It's not the same as gender identity, which focuses on the gender a person identifies with. 

Like gender, language can be fluid. A certain term might mean one thing in some circles, while in others it might mean something completely different. Even so, having a general understanding of the language used to discuss transgender life can be a really important step in becoming a more inclusive society.