Transgender identity has only entered mainstream vernacular over the past several years. As such, there’s been confusion about how to properly use this word in writing and conversation.
The term has gotten a lot of media attention of late, thanks to President Trump’s revocation of an Obama-era guidance that protects the rights of transgender kids to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity in the public school system, and the upcoming SCOTUS hearing on March 28 on the case of Gavin Grimm.
As is the case when talking about many marginalized groups, it’s best to educate yourself about proper language in order to more accurately describe their varied experiences.
One key thing to remember is: “transgender” is an adjective ― not a noun.
Refer to people as “transgender men,” “transgender women,” “transgender individuals,” “transgender people” ― never “transgenders.” “Transgender” should be used to modify a noun ― never as a standalone.
Don’t use transgender as a verb ― “transgendered” ― despite Lady Gaga enshrining this word into pop culture vernacular with the lyrics of her song “Born This Way.” This just simply isn’t correct.
Many people also use “trans” as a shortened version of “transgender” ― though the distinction between these two can mean different things for different people.
As a rule of thumb when using “trans,” follow the same adjective-based rules that you would for transgender: “trans man,” trans woman” and “trans people.” Trans is also oftentimes use to describe a spectrum of gender identities under the umbrella term “transgender.”
Use of the word “transgender” gained widespread popularity in the 1990s as a way to describe people who “cross over” traditional notions of the male/female gender binary. The history of the word’s evolution is certainly complex.
Language can be confusing, but it is so important to make an effort to get this stuff right, as this word is used to describe real human experience and real human beings. Language is also always evolving, and there could easily be new ways to talk about this realm of identity in the future.
And if it comes down to it and you find yourself confused ― just ask! It’s always better to ask about LGBTQ themes and ideas you are confused about than to assume or flat out not care.
Language always matters ― and so does your use of it, no matter how you identify.