flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2022-10-03

Language supporting gender diversity

“[I]t is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”

— Epictetus, “Discourses”, book II, chapter 17

If you're not someone who's trans/gender-divergent (TGD), trying to navigate the various language issues related to sex and gender can be bewildering. This piece is an attempt to note some language that's currently often considered problematic, and to provide some language and alternatives that are more likely to be appropriate.

In addition to sections discussing “Problematic language” and “Better language”, i've also included some more general information:

i acknowledge that there's a lot here, and a lot to take in, which is why i've structured this piece as i have: i hope it makes it easier to process things in small chunks (e.g. to start by reading only the headings). i feel a significant part of the issue is that ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are typically so fundamental to people's perceptions of the world - even more so than (say) ideas around monogamy in humans being ‘natural’ and/or ‘correct’ - that it can be difficult to discuss the issues around related language without discussing issues around the words and concepts themselves.

Finally, as a general point, note that individuals are ‘divergent’, groups are ‘diverse’. So it's not correct to describe a particular person as ‘gender diverse’ (possibly unless they're a system/plurality, as in Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Problematic language

As a general guide, avoid language that associates a particular gender with particular anatomy. If you're talking about people with particular anatomy, refer to the anatomy, rather than trying to use euphemistic gender-based language.

‘FTM’, ‘MTF’

These acronyms, which expand to ‘Female To Male’ and ‘Male To Female’, aren't necessarily considered offensive, but their use is increasingly discouraged. There are a few reasons for this, including that they can “keep someone in a state of transition” by referencing how they were assigned at birth, in addition to their actual gender. You probably want ‘trans man’ (instead of ‘FTM’) or ‘trans woman’ (instead of ‘MTF’) - see below.

‘gender reassignment surgery’, ‘sex reassignment surgery’

A person's gender is not necessarily determined by their physical characteristics (nor their chromosomes). So changing someone's physical characteristics via doesn't necessarily imply any change(s) to their gender. This is why a better phrase is ‘gender confirmation surgery’ - see below.

‘Sex reassignment surgery’ is problematic because it can result in a focus on complex arguments about what ‘really’ constitutes ‘sex’ (external physical characteristics? chromosomes? hormone levels?) rather than a focus on the critical issue: a TGD person having a body that reflects their sense of their own gender, the lack of which can have a severely negative impact on their mental health.


This word is generally considered inappropriate; the word you're more likely to want is ‘intersex’. See below.

‘opposite gender’, ‘opposite sex’

This assumes gender and sex are binary, whereas neither is binary (even if most people fit into one of two categories). Refer to the section about “The words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’” for further information.

‘pre-op(eration)’, ‘post-op(eration)’

Not all TGD people want surgery, get surgery, or can even have surgery, for various reasons - refer to the “‘woman-bodied’ ...’ entry below. Avoid these terms unless you're referring to a TGD person who's made it clear they're happy for the terms to be used to describe them.


Primarily a porn term, and not necessarily something that a trans woman self-labels with.


Some people self-label with this, but it shouldn't be used to describe someone unless they invite you to do so; otherwise, it can be as similarly offensive as a white person using the word ‘nigger’.


My experience is that this is rarely used nowadays, though some people do self-label as ‘transsexual’. Again, it's best not to use it by default. It's very misleading due to the existence of words like ‘heterosexual’, ‘homosexual’, ‘bisexual’: people quite reasonably assume it's about someone's sexuality, which it's not. As a result, it leads to the situations where i've been asked if i'm ‘straight’, ‘gay/lesbian’ or ‘trans’, which is analogous to being asked “Are you Australian, or a woman?”


This is usually applied to trans women, but i'm not sure i've ever known a trans woman who self-labels with this word. The reference is to a trans woman ‘passing’ as a cis woman, until you find out they have a penis: it was a ‘trap’. There are very real-world consequences related to this conceptualisation: trans women, usually trans women of colour, can get physically assaulted and killed by straight men whose ‘masculinity’ is threatened in these situations, as in the cases of Gwen Araujo and Jennifer Laudo in the “Further reading” section.

‘woman-bodied’, ‘man-bodied’, ‘female-bodied’, ‘male-bodied’ etc.

These sort of terms are problematic; usually, what they're trying to convey can instead by conveyed by alternatives such as ‘person with a vulva’ - see below.

To use a phrase like ‘woman-bodied’ to mean “someone with a vulva and vagina” implies that i'm not a woman, since i have a penis: my gender dysphoria manifests as feeling that i should have a vulva and a vagina as well as a penis, rather than instead of a penis. However, many TGD people, myself included, can't access surgery for a variety of reasons, including the significant costs involved, lack of authorisations from the relevant health professionals (typically referred to as ‘gatekeepers’), medical issues that might make surgery particularly risky, and so on.

One might ask, “Okay, I can accept you're a woman with a penis, but why can't I then say you're ‘male-bodied’?” Well, as a result of being on hormones, i have ‘female’ breasts, in addition to a penis. So if you refer to people who are ‘male-bodied’, or people who are ‘female-bodied’, am i included in both cases, or neither?

Better language

i use the word ‘better’ here for two reasons: