Getting the vocabulary right: some transgender terminology

Phiwe Ncengi, East London in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Delwyn Versamy)

Phiwe Ncengi, East London in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Delwyn Versamy)

“Imagine yourself holding a pen, about to write with the opposite hand you usually write in. For most, your hand and handwriting, whether left or right, just won’t look, feel or move correctly. The words just won’t fit between the lines. Well, that’s how it feels to be transgender, the feeling that something just doesn’t feel right, and you need to swap the pen into a different hand to feel normal.”

— Hanna, Harlem, New York City

Transgender: A term used for people whose gender expression, identity and behaviour are different from the sex they are born with. 

Transgender man: A trans person who identifies as a man. The term used for the transition is FTM (female to male).

Transgender woman: A trans person who identifies as a female. The term used for the transition is MTF (male to female).

Gender expression: How people present themselves through behaviour, clothing or bodily characteristics.

Gender nonconforming: A term used for individuals who do not conform to the gender norms society generally expects.

Sexual orientation: Describes a person’s attraction towards a particular sex, be it homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual or asexual.

Intersex: People whose anatomy or genetics do not conform to the typical XY male or XX female. They have elements of both sexes’ reproductive organs present.

— Mosibudi Ratlebjane

 
Mosibudi Ratlebjane

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