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The Don'ts for Transgender Talk: How to Avoid Offensive Language

Capital Pride Parade, Washington DC, 2012

Capital Pride Parade, Washington DC, 2012

Don't Use These Terms

  • B!P and G!P: Point blank, these are smut terms that are used to fetishize transgender people for their bodies. They’re slurs. These terms spelled fully are boy!pussy and girl!penis and are used to identify transgender characters as smut fiction. Quite simply, a person’s identity should never be boiled down to their genitalia. This term is used to further the idea that transgender people are a fiction and a fetish and that they are simply there to suit your “strange” sexual urges and fantasies. It erases their transgender struggle as well, because it erases their daily life and literally turns them into nothing more than walking, talking pussies and penises.
  • Born a Man/Born a Woman: Nope. Because a transgender person may feel as though they were always the gender that they currently identify with, it is offensive to say that they were born any other gender. Gender is a fluid personal identifier that can grow with a person, so if a transgender person or character feels as though they were born one gender and are now another, that is fine. But nobody else should ever refer to them with the phrase in this example. It undercuts their right to their gender, especially if they don’t agree with the phrase.
  • Hermaphrodite: This is an outdated term that is meant to describe a person that has different genitalia than the typical two types. It’s a term rooted in abnormality and in the simplest terms, it is a slur. Usually, it’s used to describe intersex people, but it has been used to describe transgender people as well. In both instances, it is highly offensive. There are other words to use that aren’t offensive. Use those.
  • Passing: This is used in reference to whether or not someone “passes” as cis. Passing is something that transgender people have to think about, but it is not something anyone else should use in reference to them. Your character may choose to take precautions in order to better blend in, they may even ask their closest friends for their opinions on their outward appearance, for their own bodily comfort as well as for the social comfort, but not all transgender people are ruled by the social norms of the gender binary. Many transgender people do not blend in and usually they’re aware of it, but not all of them care. Whether they care or not, the “passing” term supports the same ideology that “trannier than thou” does and is hurtful in the same way.
  • She-Male/He-She: Do you see how both genders are there as if the person can’t be one or the other, they have to be both? These terms are usually used in reference to transgender people as a way to acknowledge that they present themselves as one gender while knocking them down by saying they’re still one foot into a gender that they don’t identify with. In short terms, it’s a way to degrade them and remove their right to be just their rightful gender.
  • Transgenderism: In essence, this term is used to put the transgender community and the material in their daily lives into one simple word. In a sentence that it was used, “evidence that transgenderism isn’t immutable and thus doesn’t warrant radical medical intervention” you can see how it is used to oppress the community by likening it to a disease with simple symptoms that “aren’t always present so they shouldn’t be dealt with at all.”
  • Tripe T: This term stands for “trannier than thou” and is used to describe someone who thinks they’re “more trans” than other people. This is usually based on whether or not they “pass” as cis better than other transgender people or how far along they are in their transition. The basics of this phrase is that they are more “anatomically passing” and therefore “more transgender.” Biology does not dictate gender. A trans woman without estrogen is no less a woman than a trans woman with estrogen, just like a trans man is no less than a cis man.

Who You Don't Want to Be

  • TERF: A TERF is a Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminist. As the name implies, they’re radical feminists that don’t think transgender women count as women when they start talking feminism. Basically, it implies that you still see transgender women as men and therefore your feminism views them as men.
  • Transphobic: This term causes a lot of harm, because it is a very offensive thing to be but it is also a very easy thing to be. It can be as subtle as using the wrong words or as powerfully obvious as excluding transgender people from your sexual preference. (i.e., gay men who say they’ll never be interested in trans men, because what they’re saying is that they still see trans men as women and therefore they don’t apply to their homosexuality) Think about it in terms of the fact that it’s hurting another person. It’s really easy to hurt another person. Sometimes, you don’t mean to and it happens. Sometimes, you don’t think that something you’re saying will be hurtful. But if the endgame is that it hurts, then it still hurts. The same is applicable here. Intent means nothing in the face of fact. Even if you don’t intend to hurt someone, you might because you’re still capable. Even if you don’t intend to be transphobic, your words might be. (All of the terms in the "don't use these terms" section above are transphobic, for example.)
  • Tranny Chaser: Someone that qualifies for this term is fetishing transgender people and has done so in a way that likens them to a predator. They usually carry transphobic views and inaccuracies too and spread them. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if you aren’t sure.

Don't Do These Things

  • Clock: Someone that’s been clocked has been openly identified as a transgender person. You should never put the idea that someone else is transgender out into the world without permission. There’s never any reason to put someone on the spot by putting their gender in the spotlight. Some transgender people like to try to live a life where they are assumed cis- or their gender isn’t a topic of discussion. Some people are highly uncomfortable with talking to people about their gender. That needs to be respected.
  • Deadname: A transgender person usually does not use their birth name because it usually causes them dysphoria by reminding them of the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in order to be the person they are today. If a transgender person is using a new name, their birth name is then called their dead name. It is not their “real name,” the name they go by on a daily basis is their real name. Using it is called deadnaming, and it is a definite no-no. If you’re writing a transgender character, it’s okay to share your persons dead name with people they trust or wish to share that part of themselves with, but it isn’t something that any transgender person should be called. Using it around other people is especially dangerous and hurtful, because you could be outing them. You should also never ask a transgender person “what their name used to be.” If they want you to know, they’ll tell you and it doesn’t matter at all as far as who they are now.
  • Misgender: This is the act of calling a person the wrong gender or using the wrong pronouns. It’s alright if you slip up on accident and it is usually best to not make a big deal out of it, but it is something you want to actively avoid. Gender and pronouns do fluctuate for some people, and it is alright to grow into another identity, but you should always respect whatever their current identity is.
  • Stereotype: It’s great to be proud of your body, but biology has nothing to do with “how transgender” a person is. You’re either transgender or you’re not. Those that don’t choose to transition at all are no less transgender than someone who has gone through hormone therapy and/or surgery to alter their body. It is transphobic to base how transgender a person is on their physical appearance. That includes any example of questioning a person’s gender based on stereotypes of what that gender is supposed to look like.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.