What does “transgender” mean exactly, and how does the English language handle gender?

There is an increase in public discourse on transgender rights this spring. Nevada is considering a bill that would provide discrimination protection to transgender people in housing, public accommodation and job protections, similar to laws in place for other protected minorities. A bill in Maine addressing public accommodation for transgender people is also in the news. Meanwhile, hate crime charges are being considered in the beating of a transgender woman who was trying to use the bathroom at a Baltimore-area McDonald’s.

Today, we address the language and meaning of words regarding transgender issues – many of them are actually very new words. We also uncover why English makes it particularly tricky to use transgender vocabulary at first glance. As a Dictionary.com user, you know the power of a well-used word, so read on and fortify your vocabulary.

The word transgender is a recent addition to English. In conversational use as early as the 1960s, “transgender” entered the dictionary in the early 1990s. Trans- is a Latin prefix meaning “across or beyond.” Gender shares the same Latin root as genus. As a classifier for male and female, “gender” replaced “sex” in the 20th century. This was a trend started by feminist writers who wanted to highlight the biological attributes of males and females separate from their social characteristics.

While the word transgender is very new, the idea of behaving outside a traditional gender identity role is quite old: A whole level of meaning to Shakespeare’s plays, often in the form of double entendre revolves around the men dressed up as women to act in female roles.

Discussion around the bills under consideration in Maine and Nevada refer to transmen and transwomen, compounds originating from the word transgender that apply the familiarity of the word and its idea to individual people.

Ambiguity means doubt, but it also means “capable of being two things.” Gender ambiguity is a term that describes the blurring of lines dividing male and female gender identity.

Linguistically, English does not like ambiguity. Pronouns in English are gender-designated (he/she, him/her). The only gender-neutral singular pronoun in English is “it”, which isn’t useful because it applies to objects, not people. The gender-neutral plural “they” is also an easy go-to, but is grammatically incorrect because it is plural, not singular, and can’t be applied to an individual.*

The bills in Maine and Nevada include the phrase “public accommodation.” This is a phrase first used by the disabled access movement of the 1970s, which culminated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Examples of public accommodation include braille text in elevators for blind people and wheelchair accessible doorways for wheelchair users. The language addresses accessibility and accommodation in spaces that are privately owned but open to the public, such as cafes and banks and bookstores. An example often cited for public accommodation for transgender people is the use of gender-specific bathrooms in public places.

We’ve covered some of the new words in a quite new but very important topic. As always, your comments are welcome on the Hot Word, but we want to remind you to keep the debate civil – any uncivil comments will not be published.

* Special thanks Zinnia Jones.


  1. Maria G -  July 3, 2014 - 6:18 pm

    I read almost every post to this article because I feel it is a relevant topic — I also feel I have some relevant information:
    At conception every human person receives 23 chromosomes from his or her mother, and 23 chromosomes from his or her father. Two of these chromosomes are special, and are called the X and Y chromosomes. Every child receives an X chromosome from their mother and an X or Y chromosome from their father. If the child receives two X chromosomes, she will be a girl. If an X and a Y chromosome, he will be a boy. These chromosomes are on the DNA molecules in every single cell of every person’s body. Thus either every single cell of your body is marked masculine, or every single cell of your body is marked feminine.
    Therefor, I feel that to believe you can change your gender you must believe in “My truth, your truth”. There is no way you can change every cell of your body, so if “facts are facts” and Truth is not subjective, it is impossible to change your gender.
    Many individuals may find this an extremely unfortunate state of affairs, and normally I would agree. However, this is where faith in God comes in: If He made the world and every person in it, than He made the world the way He thinks is best, and He has a plan for every person in it. Traditionally it is believed that God can create genderless beings (the angels) and is himself a genderless being. However, he did not choose to make human beings that way.
    It is inaccurate to say that it is alright with the Bible to be transgender because “Jesus loves everybody.” Jesus does indeed love everybody regardless of what they choose to do, but that does not mean He loves everything they choose to do. In fact, Jesus would only not care what we did with our lives if He didn’t love us at all — but He does love us and that is why he gave us his commandments. He has a plan for us, and we can only be happy with Him if we unify ourselves with Him. (Which may mean great sorrow in this life.)
    Prayer and sacrifice can solve all difficulties.

    • Mike -  October 4, 2015 - 4:56 pm

      Really …..get over yourself ….. cancer cells occur naturally in the body so you must think it’s a sin to remove them …. how could god make this mistake ….

  2. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 9, 2013 - 3:45 am

    Oh. My. Gosh. This is _incredibly_ creepy!! (Sorry if _’s aren’t used for emphasis – there’s no bold/italic/underline thing here, and I got told off for using all caps.) People are born male or female. End of story. You might say, “I’m a woman/girl biologically, but I feel like a man/boy inside.” Well, play football, hang out with men/boys, don’t wear “girly” clothes, then. Or you might say, “I’m a man/boy biologically, but I feel like a woman/girl inside.” So do things a lot of women/girls usually do. But there’s no need to go to extremes! You are either a man/boy or a woman/girl, and changing that goes against God’s plan.

    To those who say that you can do anything you want, as long as you aren’t harming anyone: By trying to change your gender, you’re harming people who want to live the way God intended.

    To those who keep dragging the Bible into this: “_Male and female_ he [God] created them” (Genesis 1:27; emphasis mine). Touche.

    End of rant. If my comment offended you, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be uncivil, I’m just voicing my opinion.

    To Vera: I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’ll be praying for you.

    To STaelyn: Thank you for “Trans 101.” (Although we shouldn’t need it in the first place! :( )

    This topic was so interesting, I read all 91 comments, which I almost never do. Sorry for the length.

  3. Britannya -  April 14, 2013 - 9:12 am

    It is as simple as this…..let people live the life they want lo live. as long as they are productive & happy & do what they have to with there family. I am a trans-Woman who only wants the simple things in life, The most simple things. I want to sit out side & have my coffee wile I feel the air & the sun on me, wile I watch my kids play & I have all this now but it was not so simple when I 1st started my journey. but I do see & have lived the hell some of us go threw to get to this passable status. How awful is it that u cannot go to the bathroom just because you are in a part of your life were u don’t belong to one side or the other & u either explode or u break the law and go to the bathroom behind some building? Not fair, But then again I don’t think is fair to spend our tax dollars having a 3rd gender bathroom, when these funds can go towards education & health care. are we that dumb as a society? But I also understand that some of the folks that call them self ” transgender ” are not & only play the role for sexual pleasure or endeavor’s witch makes me very upset just because it gives us ” the ones that live this way for ever ” a bad name leaves a bad taste in society when the true trans people just want to fit in as if nothing has happen. We need to focus on real true to life issues, Much of my sisters in transition have moved on to be better more productive people who now work in the CIA & in government just because they are able to be them self’s & not hide & have the fear of coming out & living the life they want. We are not criminals or rapist ,we are people who what to become better people, To serve out purpose in this earth to the highest potential & one cannot do this if u are not who you really want to be. and when you are who you want to be life smiles back at you & you will do more positive things on this earth…….that’s what is all about , is it not?

    • Therese -  November 27, 2015 - 7:28 am

      God DOES NOT make mistakes!!! Just remember this. There are 2 possibilities:
      1: GOD is REAL He does not make mistakes and those who have repented and been saved will come before HIM to be judged. Those who have never known Him will be given a chance to accept Him, but those who know Him and have chosen to turn from Him will, He will not know them on judgement day.
      2. Everyone lives a good life and all ends happily ever after!
      Next time you post something check your grammar and spelling. You must be very young, please reconsider your choices, I will pray for you.

      • Truth -  May 11, 2016 - 6:34 am

        There are people who are born with different anatomy which cannot be described as male or female completely. This was made by GOD and GOD does not make mistake, and so you too wrote. IT was GOD’s will. GOD love all his children equal and he gave us brains and minds to do something useful with our lives. And Britannya is doing that. You must also be doing that. And GOD has also told to accept everyone and be good & kind. Be that. Respect wishes of others. And now to what Britannya feels- Did GOD say that if you are a man you have to wear jeans and if you are a girl you have to wear skirts. No that is something humans identified, according to their role in early days. Men went out to hunt so comfortable clothes that you don’t have to worry about (just a random eg. there are many logical reasons for everything humans have evolved to). And the clothing evolved. So if someone decides to dress up in skirts or jeans or anything else, how does it mean that the person is defying GOD? Then the person is just defying what ancestors evolved according to the comfort or whatever reason. And this is not a fight for which you should reply with very rude comments, derogatory statements. Lets put it to end and respect everyone. And every time someone does something that is other than what society deems fit, need not be termed as sin. And this is nothing against GOD. I am religious too.

      • S. Smith -  May 17, 2016 - 5:54 am

        @Britannya, educate yourself please. You are the one sounding ignorant. “God is REAL”- really?? When was that proven, exactly? And come down off your high horse, criticizing others for their spelling and grammar. You sound like a real Christian…

        • Dona -  June 1, 2016 - 2:49 am

          @S.Smith, God is real. He lives. And it looks like your the one that sound arrogant cuz he is totally real. Yes I am a real Christian, Roman Catholic, and I am proud of it. If you are not a Christian then God is up in heaven calling you to come to him and of course there are many things that prove clearly that God is real. God all had a plan for us and probably that was the plan for those who are trans
          Also you have no right to judge cuz it say in the bible that if you judge others then God will judge you.


          • Galen -  November 20, 2016 - 2:18 pm

            Your justification for the fact that god is real is that he is real? Your religion is obsolete, your kind once served an important purpose, but now we have science and logic, not fairy-tales and faith. I also find it quite humorous that you are proud to be CATHOLIC of all things, look at the churches history, then talk about being proud. The church committed atrocities because they had god on their side, besides that; religion is meant to control, not provide assistance. Just look at Adam and Eve scenario, the snake and apple were described as evil, and abhorrent. The snake and apple also represented the one thing that allows you to spout your religious bull shit: Knowledge, skepticism, and furthering our minds. Earth would be better without you blind fanatics, learn something once in your life, and don’t live out your life in slavery to fairy-tale.

    • Salvador Sanchez -  July 23, 2016 - 8:35 pm

      Thank you!, everyone is busy pushing there idealistic life styles but in reality whether you believe in god or not we are all going to die, why does it matter if i want to live my life differently than other ignorant people do, i just want to be happy and tats all that really matters, because what if there isn’t a heaven. Thank you for not letting people talk down to you.

  4. GRANT -  February 5, 2013 - 5:55 am

    Just read this with all the comments; very informative, interesting and well worth the time to further educate myself on a topic I frankly knew little about and usually choose to ignore. Society’s attitudes have come a long way since the days of casually assigning the term “queer” and recoiling from folks we didn’t bother to take the time to become enlightened about! I am a straight, retired male with gay nephew (who is disatisfied with that status) and a gay niece (who is apparently completely accepting of and comfortable with her sexuality). Their sexual orientation makes no difference to me~~I love them both. I now have a better handle on the obstacles to societal understanding and acceptance that they have had to deal with since coming of age. Thank you Dictionary.com for this timely and informative piece!

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  7. SHIRLEY -  March 8, 2012 - 4:30 am

    I am a lesbian. My partner and I got screwed on our taxes AGAIN!! The mighty federal government does not recognize gay marriage.
    Me or my wife becoming a man would change all that now wouldn’t it.

  8. wondering -  November 14, 2011 - 2:45 am

    what is the differences between transgender and bisexual?

  9. Emily -  July 27, 2011 - 8:21 pm

    @Not OK: You’re judging people who you have never known, simply because you have heard that they are different. This is what led to the crucifixtion of Christians by the Roman Empire, people! Just let it be. What somebody decides to do with their life is THEIR OWN BUSINESS. I’ll bet that the people who are transgender or transexual feel like they are perfectly normal.

    In addition, the reason there is so much controversy over this, with all of the laws and such, is because people like you would persecute or turn a cold shoulder to them.

  10. Switchhttr69 -  July 4, 2011 - 6:56 pm

    I’ve seen some bloggers use “zie” instead of “she” or “he”; also “hir” in writing, but I’m not sure that solves anything when pronounced (would it sound like “her”?) Of course, the singular “they” has been around for centuries and would also solve the problem.

  11. WhiteAsh -  June 4, 2011 - 5:53 am

    I am very frustrated that grammarians keep insisting that “they” singular is incorrect. It has been in the speech of English for a very long time to fill the need of a third person singular animate indeterminate gender pronoun.

    I take my examples from the wikipedia article on singular they:
    “Eche of theym sholde … make theymselfe redy.” — Caxton, Sonnes of Aymon (c. 1489)
    “Arise; one knocks. / … / Hark, how they knock!” — Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

    Give it up, grammarians, this is how people speak, it is a naturalized part of the language and it’s not going away, so just accept it already.

    • William -  May 16, 2016 - 11:34 pm

      You have only proven that even great writers sometimes make grammatical errors.

  12. Vera -  May 22, 2011 - 11:09 pm

    I wish there had been open discussions like this 20 years ago when after 28 years of marriage I found that I was married to a person who was born with male anatomy but whose brain longed to be female and felt like he was born into the wrong body. For the last few years of the marriage we were both miserable……….he trying to hide it from me and me………trying to figure out what was wrong in those last years of our marriage. After seeing a TV show and finding videos of my, then husband, dressed up as a woman, I finally confronted him. He said that he would talk about it once and that was it, but I demanded that we talk about it a lot. He explained how he wanted to be a woman and felt trapped in a male body. I tried to get psychological help for him, not knowing that this was not a curable problem. You can change the anatomy of a person surgically, but you can’t change that they feel like the opposite sex of the body they were born with. After many months of prayer, tears and soul searching I asked for a divorce and said to my husband, “I cannot be your wife, but I can be your friend.” The hardest thing I ever did was divorcing my husband whom I adored. I still adore him, but now “she” is still my best friend. She had breast augmentation but decided not to have the genital reassignment surgery. She takes hormones, considers herself a woman and I refer to her as such. I still grieve for my husband whom I feel is dead, for all intents and purposes, but I am thankful for my best friend and treasure her friendship. It was not an easy road for either of us, but it would have been a lot easier if people had been more open about it then, like they are now. I felt very alone and like I couldn’t discuss it with anyone. As for what those who pretend to know what God thinks, and bring the Bible into this kind of thing………….my philosophy is that He knows all the facts and only He has the right to judge for the Bible also says “Judge not that ye be not judged for as ye judge ye will be judged also,” I might not have the exact wording but if you care to look it up I think you will find my wording pretty close. I believe with all my heart that God loves all of his children, and that only He knows why we all have different orientations and paths to walk down in this life so only He can make fair judgements.

    • brooklynn -  April 28, 2016 - 1:23 pm

      Vera, your the type of person I need to talk to. I’m having the same thing happen with my husband and I don’t know if we should get a divorce or not… Please help…

  13. Varina -  May 21, 2011 - 10:17 pm

    Thanks, Mark – you go ahead and rant, you rock!
    And thanks, Karen & STaelyn – well said!
    As for you, anti-transgender: You want to bring the Bible into this? Okay: Jesus said “and the greatest of these is love.” He didn’t say “except for homosexuals.” Neither did He exempt any other group. If you’re going to follow God and Jesus, follow ALL They told you to do.
    Can’t remember the representative’s name or the exact quote, but it went something like this: How many homosexuals does God have to make before we understand that He wants them around?

  14. Archon -  May 18, 2011 - 11:40 pm

    For Holly; point out tiny usage errors (in a dictionary column) and look pretty silly?

    Pendarvus’s Theorum of Why It Went Wrong – “It was only a little bit off!”

    “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a message was lost. For want of a message, a battle was lost. For want of the victory, a kingdom was lost.”

    A translator made a tiny error in translating the reply from the Japanese after the Allies requested that they surrender near the end of the WW II. The Japanese said that they were “considering” the offer. He wrote that they were “ignoring” the offer, and the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

    Do you still think we should just ignore the little errors, and hope for the best? It won’t happen.

  15. Holly -  May 17, 2011 - 9:19 am

    For those of you commenting on the asterisk, it’s there to indicate a footnote. Am I the only one who automatically looks at the bottom of whatever I’m reading when I see something like that? For people who point out tiny usage errors, you look pretty silly.

  16. BethO -  May 17, 2011 - 9:09 am

    Of course (and I swear this is my last post), while “they” may be a good long-term plan, lots of people have shared other preferences and also that a woman who becomes a man is now “him”, plain and simple. Not suggesting we use ‘her’ & ‘him’, and then ‘they’ as some other category. I don’t mean that. I mean all be ‘they’.

  17. BethO -  May 17, 2011 - 9:04 am

    But people just kept using it as a singular, and eventually it had to be accepted. The cumbersome habit of writing he/she is sometimes avoided by writing ‘he’ and ‘she’ alternately, and a disclaimer at the beginning of certain texts explains the author’s plans to use pronouns in a less biased way…Marge Percy uses “per” in some places instead of “her” or “him” in the utopian novel “Woman on the Edge of Time”…lots of people have put significant effort into this problem. MacWhorter suggested that we just go with THEY…the trend has already begun!

  18. BethO -  May 17, 2011 - 8:58 am

    Linguistically, the singular/plural problem with “they” has been solved in casual speech, just not in writing…which tends to lag behind and resist change. Historically, pronouns can and do change! “You” was once laughable as a singular, and the proper term was “thou.” (Info from MacWhorter, Word on the Street)

  19. Mr. D [A.K.A] Elysian -  May 17, 2011 - 7:48 am

    I swear to god dictionary, remove my comment one more time; I dare you.!

  20. Jim -  May 17, 2011 - 6:35 am

    If we are blending genders, then why not blend pronouns?

  21. Rnoir -  May 16, 2011 - 10:47 am


    Beautiful response; basically the only comment needed for this article (hell, it should BE the article).

    Thanks for this. “Trans 101″ was awesome

  22. LuannD -  May 16, 2011 - 4:58 am

    Thank god this discussion will not be on my finals. I know less now than before reading the article and comments. Transqueered?

  23. Librarian -  May 15, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    Great response, STaelyn! That was both informative and well-written. Transgender issues are too frequently left out in discussions of gay/lesbian civil rights; the gay community is not always welcoming, even though transgender people have many of the same problems in our hetero-normative society. We may have added the “T” to GLBT, but transgender rights need much more awareness and understanding to catch up to gay rights – sometimes they are similar, sometimes they are not.

    Being interested in words makes me a word geek, I guess. But words ARE important – without an understanding of the appropriate words, you can’t have a conversation about something new. Kudos to Dictionary.com for recognizing that the words to describe the transgender communities (in all their variations) need to be defined and discussed in order to help build both understanding and acceptance.

  24. Carlitos -  May 15, 2011 - 10:06 am

    @ Well Traveled & Relaxed on May 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    “As usual, in America we are having to go off on a tangent resulting in millions of tax money lost on semantics. So do we need a 3rd restroom now or maybe 5 varieties – all so no one is offended?

    China has the right idea and perhaps by necessity, but it works. One restroom, all high wall stalls – who goes in and what they do is their business – literally. Coming out you may be next to a lady at the long wash basin – but that is washing hands – gender does not play a part.

    They don’t have any paper – that is given in small packages in restaurants and such. You use the same for napkin or restroom use. If in public you have some with you. Clearly it is not wasted this way.

    As we delve deeper into semantics of so many people and their supposed unique needs, we get further away from the fact we are all people, and more alike than different if we want to unite rather than isolate.

    In 1911 we had 1 billion one the planet, just 100 years later we have 7 billion. It is time to work on our tolerance, not isolation or the increased fighting will never ebb. I don’t really care about your gender, I will respect you, can you do the same? That was easy.”

    -Amen! Let the people be people. One day, we’ll all be nuetral and the defining moments and characteristics of us and our lives won’t have anything to do with sex/gender, other than perhaps the incredible process of procreation. If they aren’t hurting you or anyone else, leave them be and let them do what they want, just as you would want it.

    …the only thing that I find somewhat disturbing, is the body-modification that many transsexuals want/need. I pity them for not being able to stand against the need to modify their bodies surgically to feel more at home in themselves. But I pity society more for pushing standards of every kind on everyone, all the time. It’s a lot of pressure for anyone to resist. But still, seems to me to be on the same par as breast-augmentation or penis enlargement. I do NOT feel that it’s the same as reconstructive surgery.

  25. firegoddess1 -  May 15, 2011 - 6:40 am

    As for transgenders and what restroom they should/shouldn’t use. What many universities have adopted is a basic rule of “least astonishment”, which I think would be advisable rather than redesigning bathrooms. Least astonishment is simple; if you look/are dressed like a man today use the mens room, and likewise the ladies room. I tried unsuccessfully to convince the administrators to use this practice at my transgendered son’s high school. They insisted he not use the boys bathroom, that if he was uncomfortable using the girl’s bathroom that he should use the nurse’s. The girls did not want him in their bathroom – they were uncomfortable with a student who looked like a boy in there with them, and and while the male students had no issue, the complaint, therefore the resistance, was from a teacher that voiced an objection and thought it was unacceptable. They school listened to my arguments, then decided that he could no longer use the boys room – that he should use the nurse’s bathroom only, requiring obtaining a “sick” pass each time if he had to leave during a class. This is a large progressive high school with gay rights programs, etc. They allowed him to transfer from the girl’s crew team to the boy’s crew team – but… use a stall in the boy’s bathroom??? Because a male teacher had an issue with it – no way! Despite being on male hormones and having had top surgery, despite presenting himself as a male to the world everyday, they got to determine the restroom. We were not asking for a special bathroom to be built. This teacher remembered my son as a female freshman, and that was that. My son was grateful that I had done everything I could to win that battle, and despite not being able to change things for him, I knew that it opened new discussions for the faculty to be challenged by and I hope it will make academic life easier for students in the future.

    Thanks for posting this. My hope is that every discussion carries the potential for greater tolerance and understanding from all sides.

  26. Why? -  May 14, 2011 - 9:24 pm

    “I am just so glad there are legislators who think of the whole population and not just a portion of them. We all share this planet and we should be allowed to do what we want as long as we do not harm others.”

    As true as it is that we shouldn’t harm others for their beliefs and other things like that, is the whole population transgender?? Is it really normal to be transgender?? Since they constitute a small (though growing, or at least more vocal) percentage of the population, should people have to decide if they have rights or not??

    If I recall correctly, democracy is the rule of and by the people, and most of the time, that is the people of the majority. It should not be subject to those who want to force their opinions upon us by rule of law with out our permission. If they are to take this issue to Americans, shouldn’t they take it to the people that will be affected by it? How is this for the whole population if the rights of one group are being upheld above the others, such as the rights of people to have privacy. That doesn’t mean beat people up in the bathroom for what they openly state they believe, for that is cowardly and unAmerican. It just means the majority of sane people want to feel safe from intrusions on their privacy, which is another fundamental of American living, or in other words to have freedom of privacy, and personal rights to breath freely.

  27. Lisa -  May 14, 2011 - 9:24 pm

    It’s interesting that in many languages, even those spoken in countries where women are treated as inferior citizens, there’s only one non gender specific pronoun. It makes you wonder if perhaps gender wasn’t always as big of a deal as it is these days.

  28. Archon -  May 14, 2011 - 6:36 pm

    It’s nice that so many people are willing to assist Amanda with the meanings of “transgender” and “transvestite”, some of them even correctly, but, this is Dictionary.com. Show some intelligence and initiative, and look them up.

  29. LiVia -  May 14, 2011 - 4:48 pm

    Something that someone asked and I was not sure if it got answer is “Whats the difference between Transgender and Transvestite. In actuality Transgender applies to transvestites, however those of us who are Transsexual (transitioning from one gender to another) generally dislike being associated with the Transgender umbrella because it leads to confuse about us being Transvestites, Gender benders, cross dressers, etc, which I believe we certainly are not. I speak about this topic a lot on my blog. Really what these bills are targeting is protection for Gender Identity which is great!


  30. akaHerMajesty -  May 14, 2011 - 4:34 pm

    Bravo Hersch! Good eye! If one is to use any of the many “accessories” that the English language provides us with, one should understand the semantics of that word or accessory before using it. It’s almost like dotting an “i” with a circle….

  31. rainfalls -  May 14, 2011 - 2:19 pm

    if you don’t like a person for who he is..there should
    not be any reason for you to do him any harm..u gotta
    respect the person

  32. Sebrina -  May 14, 2011 - 1:05 pm

    Thank you STaelyn for posting that–I’m sure it will help many people. As someone whose spouse is trans, these issues are very near to my heart.

    I’d also like to put out a general word of caution about the use of “transwomen” and “transmen”. Lately the preferred usage is “trans women” and “trans men”, as people are women or men regardless of whether or not they are also trans.

    I’d also like to second Joe McVeigh on singular they–it’s NOT incorrect, and it’s high time to bring it back into popular use. I’ll use hir/zie/zir/ou as a person prefers, but in general, “their” just sounds much simpler to my ears.

  33. Jewels -  May 14, 2011 - 12:46 pm

    It’s interesting how, linguistically speeking, Spanish avoids ambiguity even more than English. In addition to having Spanish pronouns being gender-designated (él/ella, ellos/ellas), articles are also gender-designated to specify the gender of the noun they are presenting. In Spanish we would say “la manzana” or “el árbol” (implying that manzana is a feminine noun and árbol is a masculine noun) while in English we would use article “the” for both: the apple, the tree.

    I enjoyed reading your article; it was very interesting and clear.

    Linguistically, English does not like ambiguity. Pronouns in English are gender-designated (he/she, him/her). The only gender-neutral singular pronoun in English is “it”, which isn’t useful because it applies to objects, not people. The gender-neutral plural “they” is also an easy go-to, but is grammatically incorrect because it is plural, not singular, and can’t be applied to an individual.*

  34. Jen -  May 14, 2011 - 10:57 am

    When I went to a local WalMart store recently, they were renovating the restrooms. We only had one for both sexes to use and for handicapped people. It was a little odd at first. You were requested to knock before entering (I’m not sure why). You could opt to lock the main door (once again, I’m not sure why someone would since I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable keeping anyone else in the store out of the only restroom where there were three or four stalls and the only changing table). Then you entered and picked a stall or the changing table to use. Most of the people entering seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but most smiled at each other, went about their business, and left. I was changing my special-needs son, so I was in there for about 10 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to do some observation. I can tell you that men didn’t generally take as long to go as women, the women didn’t chit-chat like they normally do between stalls with the possibility of men walking in, and men weren’t the only ones not washing their hands on the way out (yuck!). Otherwise, everything went smoothly. America might be able to go the route of group bathrooms. They already have family bathrooms in some areas. This might solve some of the issues of having to choose which category to place oneself in. I know some women find it annoying when preschool-age boys are peeking under the stalls at them because we have to take with us anyway and not all areas are family friendly. And I know my husband is annoyed at the lack of changing tables in may men’s restrooms. This could solve many issues for Americans.

  35. Guest -  May 14, 2011 - 10:06 am

    I think the article was good, however it makes me wonder; what is the differance between cross-dressing and transgender? I understand that they are two different things, but how? Tecnically speaking, don’t they both dress/become the opposite sex? I’m not trying to insult anyone, I just really want to know.
    Furthermore, how is cross dresing difined now? If a man wears a dress, he’s labeled as ‘cross-dressing’, but what about females? Before, you could say that if they wore pants they would be cross-dressing, but now more and more women are wearing pants, jeans, pantsuis, etc. and that is not concidered cross-dressing. So what would be counted as cross-dressing for a female?
    Once again, I’m not trying to start any fights/arguments, I just was wondering. I apologize if my comment offends you.

    • Lana -  December 27, 2015 - 11:53 pm

      Well, I have to reply in regards to the question asked about the difference between a person who is a Cross Dresser vs. a person who identifies as Transgender. A person who is Transgender and going through the transitioning process will dress in what clothing fits the gender they identify as. It is a medically diagnosable condition that they have had since birth and is considered completely valid by the medical and psychological communities. To transition and change gender and identity requires a lot of effort, expenses, legal court time and costs, documentation modification and everything associated with changing one’s identity. It is much more than being confused about “what” gender a person is. Many transgender persons know from a Very early age that they are the gender they internally identify as, even though they may have the opposite physical anatomy and what they are identified at birth as. There is a very detailed and complex process that years and years of clinical research has uncovered as to what happened and why someone is medically transgender, but it ultimately is about their internal sense of self. We all know innately if we are right or left handed, and in much the same way, transgender persons know their internal gender identity is different than what they are seen as by society and their family. People who are Cross Dressers (*Incorrectly referred to by an outdated and offensive name of ‘Transvestite’), typically cross dress because they enjoy looking female, but they never quit identifying as male, they just like to enjoy the sense of being “pretty” or perceived as feminine sexy. They do not see them selves as the opposite gender, and will return to their male garments and lifestyle at the end of their cross dressing time. For some others, it is a sexual fetish of some type and then there are the people who are professional performers who are sometimes referred to Drag Queens (or Drab Kings), and they cross dress, usually flamboyantly as the opposite gender for entertainment purposes, but don’t cross dress because they specifically feel they are of that opposite gender. Transgender persons dress in the clothing that fits their internal gender identity, like most everyone else does. For a person who is a Trans-Woman (meaning they were birth identified as male, but have an internal sense of self as being a woman), to wear male clothing is often very disturbing and an unpleasant and negative experience frequently resulting in a condition called dysphoria. Every transgender person is different and unique and at the same time, they have some distinct commonalities. Some people who are transgender go through their lives experiencing extreme depression but not understanding why they are so severely depressed, and not realizing that they are transgender. I am aware of some people who did the cross dressing behaviors for quite a long time before they had the realization that the reason they felt “normal” or comfortable, Only when wearing clothing of the opposite gender, was because they were transgender. It occurs later in life for some people who are transgender. Gender and sexual orientation are NOT the same thing. Who a person goes to bed as is the Gender they identify as. Who that person goes to bed With is their sexual orientation. Some transgender women date men like many typical cis-gender women (meaning identified at birth as one gender and self-identifying as that same gender). Some transgender women date only women and were never attracted to men either before or after transitioning. Some transgender men date only other men and were never attracted to females, while others will want to only date females. It is similar for both trans-men and trans-women.
      The transition process is not a fun, nor is it a simple thing for someone to experience. Because of that, and because of the consequences of living an authentic life, a person who is transgender will NOT do it lightly or for frivolous reasons. Many transgender people will finally transition because they finally MUST do it or they will likely die from suicide as the result of the depression caused by gender dysphoria, and the rejection and hate they experience from many (usually fundamentalist religious persons who righteously believe they are speaking for God and the Bible) persons, sometimes including their own families. They are rejected by transphobic and opinionated people that have already judged them in unfair and uninformed ways, and there is even a history of rejection for medical emergency care, or availability of emergency shelters for the indigent and homeless people. Housing can be a problem, as can employment. The suicide rate among transgender persons is the highest by several factors of Any group of people. I think the statistic is something like 48% suicide rate by the time the transgender persons reach 42 years of age! Transgender people are regularly assaulted and murdered at a much higher rate than any other group, and even law enforcement officers have been known to go out of their way to arrest people for “walking while being trans”, implying that walking down a street is part of the sex trade or something. Just makes me shake my head and wonder how this can still be happening in this day and age!
      Some transgender persons will have gender confirmation surgeries and some will not. Many will undergo extensive Hormone Replacement Therapies and painful laser or electrolysis hair removal procedures, augmentation surgeries and other similar processes, while others will not do that either. Not everyone who is transgender desires to do those things and many will never have the financial means to pay for some or all of those expensive procedures. The necessary visits required by the medical guidelines for diagnosing and treating transgender persons requires Psychological Counseling and Therapy Sessions over an extended period of time, possibly years, sometimes it requires Psychiatric sessions to confirm what the Psychologist advised, and then transgender persons will need medical appointments with a MD or DO doctor for further evaluation and referral to an Endocrinologist for evaluation, extensive blood testing and to start Hormone Replacement Therapy. The medical and psychological visits can be unbelievably costly, and the Endocrinologist will schedule recurring visits and blood monitoring every 60 to 90 days for the rest of the transgender person’s life. Imaging what that alone must cost! All because the only way that the transgender person can feel that they are not living a lie and being someone that they never were at any time before they started their transition and were finally able to start living authentically as the person and gender they always internally identified as. Uninformed persons may judge transgender persons negatively from lack of knowledge about what being transgender is, or maybe they are just basing their disgust and hate on their own values or religious teachings. We don’t generally judge someone for being born with Spina Bifida, or for having Down’s Syndrome, but even though there is a large amount of medical evidence proving and explaining what caused many persons to be transgender, some people will hate them and try to harm them anyway. We tend to fear what we don’t understand, right? If someone looks different that ourselves, does that cause us to react in a negative way. Unfortunately, it seems to be society’s nature to do exactly that.
      I am oversimplifying the entire thing with my stream of consciousness comments here, but to summarize, being transgender is not just a choice. Best estimates are that there are only about 3/10th of 1% of the North American population who are transgender. It’s difficult to know for sure, because it is not part of the Census results in this Binary society we live in. That would equate to about 700,000 or 800,000 transgender people in the USA alone! They say that less than 20% of American society even personally knows or has ever knowingly met someone who is transgender. A large percentage of transgender persons have college degrees and even advanced university degrees and certifications. The transgender population is certainly not a threat to anyone and though there are people who make negative fear based comments about some sort of “Transgender Agenda”, the reality is that there are only 2 things you need to know about that: 1. They just desire to be treated fairly and like anyone else, and 2. Refer back to “1″.
      Peace Out

  36. Singular -  May 14, 2011 - 9:09 am

    Transvestite: from L. trans- “across” + vestire “to dress, to clothe”

    Sexual gratification is not necessarily the goal of a transvestite. For many men, cross-dressing is simply a way to express their feminine side; a way to feel pretty, dainty, or even vulnerable. For women, dressing like a man may be motivated by a desire to feel in control, or powerful, or to express more masculine traits that they may feel.

    Characterizing cross-dressing purely as a means to sexual gratification is perhaps a complete mischaracterization altogether.

  37. awestruck -  May 14, 2011 - 7:39 am

    Deep thanks, to Karen & STaelyn. Your posts cleared up a lot of confusion and clarifiedt the differences among the various terms. Thanks so much. I wish you both very good and
    fulfilling lives.

  38. it's better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are not -  May 14, 2011 - 1:04 am

    Good topic, and sensitively written – but it seemed to end just when it was beginning. A nice introduction to the subject, but didn’t really even clarify the term as it is understood or intended in modern usage.

  39. Kate -  May 13, 2011 - 10:45 pm

    @STaelyn – thanks for a well-written and comprehensive explanation of both the terminology and some of the social issues that have developed with the use of that terminology. I consider myself pretty well educated about transgender issues, (I work at an LGBT organization and know several transpeople) and I learned a few things!

    The whole point of Dictionary.com is to show how important understanding the correct use of a word can be, and the Hot Word section is great for getting some “behind the scenes” info about word history. Words are powerful, and how words are used and perceived can affect attitudes and actions. So Kudos to Dictionary.com for starting a discussion about how the words surrounding gender identity have evolved, and why they are important!

    BTW, regarding the frustration about finding the right gender-neutral pronoun…those of us who are old enough remember all the pissing and moaning that went on over adopting the term “Ms.” – because sometimes identifying a woman’s marital status is not relevant to the discussion. And so it goes with finding (or rediscovering) a pronoun that can be used when a person’s gender/sex/orientation is likewise not known/relevant. We shall see!

  40. Annie -  May 13, 2011 - 9:49 pm

    I don’t know if somebody has already mentioned this in the comments but there are non-gender-specific pronouns. Ze replaces he/she, zer or zim replaces her or him (either is applicable to both ftm and mtf). However, they used more commonly for people who identify as asexual, agender, gender fluid, adrogynous etc. Someone who is transgender usually identifies as the the ‘opposite’ of what they ‘are’ – eg. born female but choses to be male. In this case, (female turned male, or ftm) it is polite to refer to them as a male – the gender that the want to be/feel that they are/are now.
    In response to the LGBT rights campaign that is apparent in the coment section, respect is good to keep in mind. One of my closest friends – I share a room with her in college – is a little squeamish when it comes to all this, but I respect her opiniont. She knows that I am fluid, but respects me as well.
    When in doubt, ask. I love it when people care enough to ask me about my sexuality… I love knowing that there’s one moe person out there who understands just a little bit better :)

  41. Jigglez21 -  May 13, 2011 - 6:47 pm

    Honestly, some people are so stupid. why dont you just leave they alone, these people have a hard enough time as it is. we, America, dont need to be all up in there buisness. i think it shouldnt even be this big of a deal. gosh!

  42. Tobias Mook -  May 13, 2011 - 5:42 pm

    Thank you dictionary, uncivil comments anywhere are cruel and pointless. I am proud to live in a day and age where people different from each other are required to act civil. However, I am sure that all of us logophiles would prefer if comments didn’t discriminate against anyone. In practically every post I read some young, brash, dogmatic person remarks against religion.
    I wish that sometime before I die, I can see a place where no one is discriminated.
    Thank you dictionary.

  43. Poets Reach -  May 13, 2011 - 4:19 pm

    Correction: Actually, “they” can be used as a gender neutral singular pronoun, as writers have used it in such a way throughout the history of modern English. Whether doing so is (strictly speaking) grammatically correct, is, like so many other things in English, debatable. Even if you do not consider it “correct” it is unlikely to cause any confusion.
    My information is courtesy of “Our Magnificent Bastard tongue – The Untold History of English” by John McWhorter

  44. WALNUT -  May 13, 2011 - 3:57 pm


  45. DRF -  May 13, 2011 - 3:22 pm

    …Are you using British or American-style punctuation? You really ought to pick one or the other.

  46. Scarlett -  May 13, 2011 - 2:16 pm

    So is the bill trying to make separate bathrooms for transgenders? I am rather curious. And to the person named “_______”, I don’t think you should “shudder” over something like that. You are implying that it is wrong, when it is not. Being bicurious is accepted as the norm because it IS the norm. Everyone has a right to figure out whether or not they are gay, straight, or bisexual.

  47. Miz Know-It-All -  May 13, 2011 - 2:05 pm

    Transgender is a word coined during the sixties by a certain Arnold Loman Phd, lifestyle cross-dresser and convicted federal sexual offender who also went by the name of Charles Virginia Prince. Mr Loman created this word as a device to allow cross-dressing men like himself to enter into womans space by obfuscation of and confusion with the word transsexual. Mr Loman despite a noted penchant for dressing as a woman was not himself a transsexual and because of that was turned down for sexual reassignment on multiple occasions. This word was therefore created by him as a calculated exercise in misogyny to take from women with a transsexual past, any possible physiological legitimacy and transfer it to himself and other men like him who wished to mimic women but not in any substantive way actually be women. The net result of this as been the creation of a word that has come to mean whatever the user wants it to mean, so in essence the word is meaningless, other than a vague indication that the person so referred to is in someway not behaving within the norms of the sexual binary.

  48. sherryyu -  May 13, 2011 - 1:58 pm


  49. Katalina -  May 13, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    Live and Let Live

  50. STaelyn -  May 13, 2011 - 10:59 am

    Good article! I think there should be a little more clarification for the following terms, though. I’m a transgender woman, myself, and there’s some confusion in the comments.

    We often use the simple analogy as such: “Sex” is between the legs, “Gender” is between the ears. Gender, therefore, is typically seen as more appropriate with respect to identity. People of separate gender identities to their sex have been around in cultures dating back millenia; indeed, many Asian and Native American cultures still have words and customs for “third-gender” people.

    Transgender itself in the Western world is treated as an “umbrella” term that includes any form of self-identification that crosses the “traditional” roles of gender identity. It includes crossdressers, transsexuals, genderqueer, and (sometimes) drag, as well.

    Transvestite is often considered a “slur” word these days, as its usage has evolved. Crossdresser has, in effect, taken its place, as someone who only dresses as the opposite gender for therapeutic or sexual relief part of the time. Crossdressers often work and live most of their lives as their birth sex; they simply go out and have a good time dressed up. The idea of altering their bodies via hormones and surgery is often horrifying to a crossdresser.

    Drag, coming from the acronym DRessed As Girl, refers to a sub sect of the modern gay community in which feminine men or masculine women will fully dress as the other gender for show purposes. Often, drag is denoted by an almost caricature-like over-exaggeration of the masculine or feminine features. Drag queen refers to a male in feminine role, and drag king (or sometimes “drab”) refers to a woman in the masculine role. There is some debate still between the gay and transgender subcommunities as to whether or not drag is or is not part of the greater “transgender” umbrella.

    Transgender as an individual identity typically refers to a person who lives “full time” as the opposite gender, or sometimes as a non-binary gender identity. Transgender people often make use of doctor prescribed hormones to naturally alter their bodies to closer match the opposite gender. They will often go through the legal process of changing their names and, if possible, their identifications to back up their gender, and for safety reasons. In both the MtF and FtM cases, surgery of the breasts (either augmentation or reduction, respectively) is usually done.

    Transsexuals are, in many ways, like transgender people. The main difference is that transsexuals often take the additional step of getting genital surgery to match that of the gender they are displaying.

    Even still, there is debate within the communities as to the accuracies of the last two. Some transsexuals despise being called transgender, as they feel it is offensive. Some people, typically women, prefer to identify as “post” transsexuals or “women of surgical history” in their attempts to delete their previous life history and go “stealth” so as not to be connected to their former gender. I, speaking for myself, AM post surgically corrected, as well, but I feel that I don’t like the word “transsexual” to describe me because I think it is far too often taken as a sexual orientation rather than a gender identity. Many transgender people that take bottom surgery, like myself, feel the same.

    Indeed, transsexuals and transgender people can have many sexual orientations, which somewhat dispels the belief that we transition purely to improve our sex lives. I, for example, am a lesbian, and have a female partner, my lovely wife.

    Finally, we have genderqueer. Genderqueer and androgynous people are considered neither fully male or female in identity. Intersex refers to cases where the physical chromosomes and genitals are neither fully male or female. Some genderqueers are intersex, some intersex are transgender or transsexual, and sometimes there are no intersex conditions at play at all. In the case of genderqueer people, and indeed, all transgender people, if in doubt, just ask their preferred pronoun. Some androgynes prefer one pronoun or another. The gender neutral “living” pronouns of sie (zie) or hir (zir) are often employed by genderqueers. Genderqueers may take hormonal or surgical steps towards their identities, they may not.

    Besides, what someone has done medically is really of no interest to anyone else. Respect our identities, and we’ll respect you. When in doubt, address a person by how they are dressed and presenting themselves, as male or female. If they correct you, respect it. If that can’t be discerned, politely ask.

    My apologies for the length, that turned into “Trans 101″ didn’t it?

    • Teri Mills -  May 24, 2016 - 11:52 pm

      STaelyn, that was the best and easiest to understand explanations that I have read! Definitely Trans 101 and well worth the cost of tuition. Oh, wait…. Thank you for taking the time to put it all out there. I would love to have your permission to keep a copy of this and use it to educate others.

  51. awestruck -  May 13, 2011 - 10:57 am

    Important, timely topic. Sonny & Cher’s daughter, Chastity, recently “transitioned” from female to male. Chaz has penned a book which I think is called On Becoming a Man and there is an excellent documentary about his journey that was recently shown on Oprah’s network (OWN), The documentary was very powerful and well done. The documentary was followed by a Rosie O’Donnel face to face interview with Chaz. (I believe Rosie O’D is hosting a weekly documentary show on OWN). In addition Chaz has been on many talk shows and probably will be on many more. If you are interested in understanding the difficult and fascinating subject of people who feel they were born the wrong sex, I highly recommend seeking out the documentary because Chaz is an articulate, impressively honest and earnest person. Anyone who experiences this incredibly brave human being on TV or in person must come away with an expanded heart and mind and deep respect for his courage and humanity.

  52. Karen -  May 13, 2011 - 10:26 am

    Amanda got a lot of responses already, some of which are inaccurate. Transgender is actually technically an umbrella term; it covers all gender-line variant (crossdressers, transvestites, transsexuals, genderqueer, etc.).

    Crossdressers are those that dress as the opposite sex for non-sexual reasons.

    Transvestites are those that dress as the opposite sex for sexual pleasure.

    Transsexuals are those that have a different gender than the sex they were born as, either fully (with surgery), partially (with hormones), or otherwise.

    Genderqueer is a term used for those that don’t want to align with any of the above – they deny all gender, or they claim both genders, or otherwise are different.

    Most transsexuals – especially those with careers – prefer the term transgendered. Transsexual has been co-opted by the adult industry; when someone thinks of that term, they think of sex worker, not Engineer, Architect, Doctor, etc.

    I’m trans myself, and that’s why I use transgendered.

    re: anti-transgender
    “there SHOULD be no TRANSGENDER as it may not be against earthly laws but it does in heavenly laws….”

    Ah, I see. So, you know better than God? Better ask him to stop making intersex children, hermaphrodites, animals that can change sex, and people with chromosomal disorders.

    My view – as a moderate-conservative Christian – is that God knows how things will end up, and knows what I’m going through. He’s seen my heart, He knows how much I’ve suffered, knows that he almost lost me entirely – and knows that these little pills I take fix almost all of it. More than that, He showed me that by being accepting of others, and them being accepting of me, I am able to shine my light upon others, that they too might learn and accept eternal life.

    • The Cool One -  February 12, 2016 - 10:27 am

      As a gay man myself I really appreciate this. I Have Been trying to re-find God and your testimony has definitely helped me. THNX God Bless You

  53. transguy -  May 13, 2011 - 9:47 am

    I am transgender, and do not associate myself with both genders. I consider myself nothing more than any man. I just had a more complicated and rough road to get here than biological men.

    From the moment I get up in the morning, to the moment I go to bed, I am a man. I use the men’s restroom and am recognized as male to everyone in my life. (actually any of you who would meet me on the street would be shocked to know I was born female). I have facial hair, broad shoulders, and a voice lower than most of my biological male friends.

    I’m glad this topic is becoming more and more prominent in social issues, but I get worried that it’s not being represented/explained correctly.

  54. Book Beater -  May 13, 2011 - 9:36 am

    I’m an American and I speak the President’s English. When a person presents themselves as male you are to refer to them as he, likewise for people who present themselves as female.
    All those people intent on correcting the editor’s editing at least respond to the issue. i.e. forms of address for x-gender persons.
    All those who don’t understand what x-gender is check Wiki and don’t bother us with ignorance.
    All those who need to enlighten the ignorant let them live in bliss.
    All those Christians who need to denigrate others. Keep it to yourselves.

  55. Juanderani -  May 13, 2011 - 9:30 am

    Okay, that article cleared a few things up for me. I’ve never felt comfortable with being identified as male, but I never really knew about transgenderism. However, I don’t identify with the possibility of being female, though I would prefer it to my current sex. I suppose as gender goes, I think I fit more into the role of a third gender.
    Perhaps an article about that could be written?

  56. smacky -  May 13, 2011 - 8:59 am

    Aaaaand despite my trying to make sure I wasn’t repeating anyone else, I see I am the umpteenth person to respond to Amanda’s question.

  57. juniper -  May 13, 2011 - 8:46 am


    Transvestite generally refers to a person who dresses in the clothing associated with the opposite sex. The comedian Eddie Izzard describes it as simply wearing whatever he likes, unlimited by gender expectations.

    Transgender usually refers to people who are born one gender but identify as the other (or neither, or both).

    There are many different variations in meaning for both of these words, sometimes affected by social prejudices. It mostly depends how the person wants to define themselves. Gender and identity are hardly black and white – there is a whole range of possibilities.

  58. C -  May 13, 2011 - 8:40 am

    Hi, can the author please clarify this statement, at the time, it is presenting as a grievous error:

    “As a classifier for male and female, “gender” replaced “sex” in the 20th century. This was a trend started by feminist writers who wanted to highlight the biological attributes of males and females separate from their social characteristics.”

    As the commenter Eddie notes above, “sex” is the purely biological distinction, “gender” is the social/societal distinction. Feminism favors the term “sex” and the biological designations of ‘male’ and ‘female’ when biologically identifying (‘classifying’) a person, as they do not carry a connotation of a pre-assigned social role.

    Feminist writers generally seek to highlight the *social* characteristics of ‘men’ and ‘women’, as the social characteristics are what are imprinted on a person by society – a person is not born with these characteristics. (A person is born a specified sex, but she/he is not born with a specified gender.) Feminists are concerned with this distinction, because they seek to highlight the way in which society organizes and shapes the different *sexes*. (i.e. What significance this shaping carries for the various sexes.)

    Your statement might be clarified by switching the terms “biological attributes” and “social characteristics” to read:

    “As a classifier for male and female, “gender” replaced “sex” in the 20th century. This was a trend started by feminist writers who wanted to highlight the social characteristics of males and females separate from their biological attributes.”

  59. Bibbs'Mom -  May 13, 2011 - 7:50 am

    I think this is a great topic and should be straight-forward. People are people and have a right to feel inside like they are “real and genuine” and any attempt to mitigate that should be against the law – unless it infringes on the rights of others. The right to go to the bathroom in private is the answer to part of the “problem” – single, locking non-
    gender specific restrooms would solve that part. Every other public place shouldn’t be an issue. It’s none of my business how someone chooses to express themselves sexually or genderally – not a word, I know, but it should be one – and if someone else has a problem with that, they should examine themselves for the issue. I stand up for anyone who chooses to embrace their own gender or sexuality – as long as they don’t try to hurt anyone else.
    I also think that English is not the only language that has to be re- examined for gender issues. Other languages have their own rules for gender-specific nouns; Spanish and French come to mind, too.
    Good subject!!!! Great to get things to think about in an unexpected way. Thanks.

  60. ME -  May 13, 2011 - 7:48 am

    I love reading this blog for I enjoy expanding my vocabulary and learning at least one new thing everyday. However, it is very disappointing to so often, read comments from people who are too busy spell/grammar correcting the articles rather than enjoy what they are reading. It is very distracting and honestly, very sad.

  61. Daniel -  May 13, 2011 - 7:42 am

    Wonderful piece. This topic needs to be discussed. Thank you for clearing everything up.

  62. Becky -  May 13, 2011 - 6:53 am


  63. Preston -  May 13, 2011 - 6:53 am

    No matter how much you fight against the current we all go down the same paths in the end the choice of which one to take is ours.

  64. Preston -  May 13, 2011 - 6:51 am

    Tolerance evolves into submission of opinion. No matter who you are if your opinion goes against the grain of society you will be thought as arrogant. If we spoon feed future generations to not voice their own opinion and just to swallow their voices then we will become a robot. I say tolerate something so that peace can flourish,but never hide your opinion and always voice your ideals.

  65. Preston -  May 13, 2011 - 6:46 am

    Sometimes I wish I knew what some of these users were talking about. As transgender topics go I wonder as to how they would access a restroom, there is a piece in a psychology book I must read for college that suggests it comes from an imbalance in hormones during development or is caused by severe trauma. So does that mean trans gender roles could be a form of schizophrenia? Could it actually be a form of defense for the victim and in a way may be how they cope with pain? It seems to me that in our world rather than deal with problems, we’d rather just cover them up with superficial laws and “amendments” to make everyone happy, eventually we will become, either neutral in thinking or total anarchy will ensue.

  66. kqueue -  May 13, 2011 - 5:41 am

    I prefer the usage of “hir” when referring to transpeople in writing when discussing their androgyny (so to speak) or if the person’s gender is unknown. Otherwise it is only appropriate to refer to them in the way they wish to be seen. If a man decides to dress up as a woman, you call her “her”. Not it or him. It’s only appropriate. And respectful.
    @Amanda- transgender is being born in the wrong gender and going about changing your lifestyle and body to the gender one feels they are. Transvestite is a man who dresses as a woman on occasion but has no desire to become a woman via surgery and hormone therapy.

  67. stephanie -  May 13, 2011 - 5:16 am

    And in response to Amanda, a transvestite is a person who “assumes the dress and manner of someone usually associated with the opposite sex.” Whereas transgender refers to someone “appearing or attempting to be a member of the opposite sex,” or who may choose not identify within the socially defined categories of male and female all-together.

  68. stephanie -  May 13, 2011 - 5:06 am

    “As a classifier for male and female, “gender” replaced “sex” in the 20th century. This was a trend started by feminist writers who wanted to highlight the biological attributes of males and females separate from their social characteristics.”

    The second sentence should be reversed to say “who wanted to highlight the social characteristics of males and females separate from their biological attributes,” should it not?

    Also, I wish the article had commented on the rise of gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” and “hir,” in response to our currently so polarized pronouns.

    Thanks for the article overall! Glad this topic was highlighted!

  69. Mark -  May 13, 2011 - 1:20 am

    @Amanda: my understanding of the difference between “transgender” and “transvestite” is that transvestite refers to people who like to roleplay or crossdress as the opposite gender for sexual gratification. It doesn’t affect the person’s gender identity (what gender they self-identify with) or how they act or dress in their day-to-day lives. Crossdressing and drag, as well as various roleplaying kinks sometimes fall into the transvestite category. But this is complicated by the fact “transvestite” used to be used to describe anyone who crossed gender lines for any reason. A meaning which is both outdated and limited. It was also a pejorative. Still, the change in use is still relatively recent, so it shows up now and then.

    Whereas “transgender” is someone who lives, dresses and acts the opposite to their birth gender 24/7 because of intersex situation or because they feel it matches their gender identity better than the skin between their legs does. They may get surgery or other medical procedures to change certain anatomical and physical differences, or they may not.

    The main difference between the two is that transvestite is mainly a sexual kink, whereas transgender is so much more than a simple thrill for a night. (Transgender touches on the issues of birth defects, intersex, gender identity, gender expression, etc.)

    I figure if a person has a condition where they feel they need medical help to live a normal happy life, then standing in the way of that is nothing short of cruel. And on a social note, some of our rigid ideas of gender need to loosen up anyways. A woman is a woman, made one by how she thinks and feels and who she is. Not by her clothes or hobbies. Rigidly enforcing certain gender roles, I think, causes more harm than good. /end rant

  70. Anonymous -  May 13, 2011 - 1:08 am

    @Amanda: A transgendered person is someone whose gender does not match their biological sex – i.e. a man in a woman’s body or vice versa. A transvestite is someone who is cisgendered (gender matches biological sex) but who simply enjoys dressing up in the opposite sex’s clothing sometimes.

    In general, people who are transvestites or drag queens/kings would only dress as the opposite gender some of the time, but for the most part feel comfortable dressing and acting and identifying the same as others of their biological sex. This is not the case with a transgender person.

  71. Afsar Ali -  May 13, 2011 - 12:58 am

    My language Khowar (which is spoken in northern area of Pakistan called Chitral) is free of Gender, we are using one word for She/he and it. but distinguishes animate and inanimate by verb. We are facing gender problem while talking in English with some one.
    Example: (hes biran.) He/she is going (boht lashta sher.) the stone is on the floor,( pay lashta asur), the goat is on the floor. The verb (sher) is used for inanimate and (asur) is used for animate. We have no problem with that case. (Khowar is nice language)

  72. anti-transgender -  May 12, 2011 - 11:32 pm

    there SHOULD be no TRANSGENDER as it may not be against earthly laws but it does in heavenly laws….

  73. sam -  May 12, 2011 - 10:38 pm

    I saw the preview for the dog article and thought “hmmm, maybe dictionary.com could actually go a day without having any progressive themed articles.” Then of course I saw this mess. Why can’t we have more masculine gays like in Greek and Roman times. All these tootie frootie progressive gays just get annoying with their constant complaining.

  74. caracal1788 -  May 12, 2011 - 9:58 pm

    Possibly a more educational article, and still very related to etymology may have been an explanation as to the differences between transgender/trans-sexual, transvestite/cross-dresser and homosexual. Despite all denoting very different groups in behaviour and identity, they are frequently confused.

    You perhaps muddy the waters a little yourself: the commonly-used device in Shakespeare’s plays were all transvestite roles, not transgender. To choose to dress as the opposite sex does not correspond to identifying as being of that sex.

  75. Well Traveled & Relaxed -  May 12, 2011 - 9:31 pm


    As usual, in America we are having to go off on a tangent resulting in millions of tax money lost on semantics. So do we need a 3rd restroom now or maybe 5 varieties – all so no one is offended?

    China has the right idea and perhaps by necessity, but it works. One restroom, all high wall stalls – who goes in and what they do is their business – literally. Coming out you may be next to a lady at the long wash basin – but that is washing hands – gender does not play a part.

    They don’t have any paper – that is given in small packages in restaurants and such. You use the same for napkin or restroom use. If in public you have some with you. Clearly it is not wasted this way.

    As we delve deeper into semantics of so many people and their supposed unique needs, we get further away from the fact we are all people, and more alike than different if we want to unite rather than isolate.

    In 1911 we had 1 billion one the planet, just 100 years later we have 7 billion. It is time to work on our tolerance, not isolation or the increased fighting will never ebb. I don’t really care about your gender, I will respect you, can you do the same? That was easy.

  76. _________ -  May 12, 2011 - 6:07 pm

    Sure, transgender is an interesting word, but I’ve recently discovered another, even stranger one: bicurious. This refers to someone who dabbles in being bisexual. This is one whacked world we live in.

    It’s crazy that this has become acceptable, even the norm! [shudders]

  77. Kuya Jobert -  May 12, 2011 - 5:50 pm

    I think transgender seems to be okay. just limit your actions don’t cross-dress.
    here our company Cyber City Teleservices Philippines one of our employees cross-dresses
    and make his voice like a woman. one day in our audit he was caught by our auditor from u.s
    and asked him why he’s wearing a ladies attire and he was reported to our human resource department.
    i think its okay to be a transgender just be a professional dont forget that you have your
    own gender. so place your self in the right place. meanwhile here in Philippines i think almost 10%
    of our popuation are transgenders. you should investigate how they populate so fast? LMAO :)

  78. Glenn -  May 12, 2011 - 4:19 pm

    I continually marvel at an evolving world and the limits our thoughts and behaviors place upon others. Who would consider the challenges it represents to our own ways of communicating? Congratulations on a thought provoking and timely piece!

  79. ♥krackalakin♥ -  May 12, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    Well,being transgender is not an exemption in using the men’s washroom,it’s just knowing your place if you wanna be respected…

  80. Amanda -  May 12, 2011 - 3:24 pm

    What is the difference between transvestite and transgender?

  81. José -  May 12, 2011 - 1:54 pm

    I am just so glad there are legislators who think of the whole population and not just a portion of them. We all share this planet and we should be allowed to do what we want as long as we do not harm others.
    As for the language topic, I totally support the unbiased trend to use both pronouns when referring to either a male or a female (any person should be able to live HIS/HER as HE/SHE pleases) but unfortunately I guess it will be some time before it sticks, specially in countries where English is not a first language and many english-teaching textbooks are still somewhat sexist about the words they choose for dialogs and so forth.
    English teachers worldwide: You do not only teach a language, you can also teach people to be more open minded and tolerant.

  82. Arcanis -  May 12, 2011 - 1:51 pm

    i meant eighth

  83. Arcanis -  May 12, 2011 - 1:50 pm

    i am seventh, yes!

    anyways everyone is, in a way, equal. classifying people is our natural habit, and there does have to be some placement for people in society

  84. louis paiz -  May 12, 2011 - 1:20 pm

    in petry everything is acceptable but anyone, none, someone is singular because it refers to one, everyone is ,so anyone is, someone is everybody are. so please advise. thank you very much.

  85. Eddie -  May 12, 2011 - 12:35 pm

    It should be noted that “Gender” does not replace “Sex”. While sex still refers to physical anatomy, gender refers to the social stigmas and stereotypes traditionally assigned with one’s sex. “Gender” is meant to disintegrate the traditional male/female dichotomy in our social atmosphere. This is certainly a worthwhile effort for all humans.

  86. 13 yr old me -  May 12, 2011 - 11:59 am

    let people be people geez

  87. Joe McVeigh -  May 12, 2011 - 8:09 am

    Not sure if that asterisk was supposed to point to something, but “they” and “them” can be applied to an individual. I recommend Language Log as a jumping off point (see here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?cat=27). Or you could just check your own dictionary.com:
    “—Usage note
    Long before the use of generic he was condemned as sexist, the pronouns they, their, and them were used in educated speech and in all but the most formal writing to refer to indefinite pronouns and to singular nouns of general personal reference, probably because such nouns are often not felt to be exclusively singular: If anyone calls, tell them I’ll be back at six. Everyone began looking for their books at once. Such use is not a recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American writers, have used they and its forms to refer to singular antecedents. Already widespread in the language (though still rejected as ungrammatical by some), this use of they, their, and them is increasing in all but the most conservatively edited American English. This increased use is at least partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of he as a pronoun of general reference. See also he1 .”
    (link: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/they)

  88. TRANSGENDER | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  May 12, 2011 - 6:30 am

    [...] wit, ‘Transgender’ is not a pretender. — Mayhap, the Zeitgeist of change. — Neither actor nor actress [...]

  89. ILikeThis -  May 12, 2011 - 5:23 am

    I like this topic, especially the bill. I hope our government in the Philippines will have this kind of bill as well. I have alot transgender friends and one of them told me that a BPO company denied his application because he’s a cross-dresser and that he was told that the company wont allow that kind of practice and their reason is so “flat”. I’m not sure if these companies are doing it to protect the transgenders againts decremination that would affect there company or what, but my friend is very qualified to do the job. I’m glad though that slowly, the people here in the Philippines are letting go of stereotyping transgenders as “Parlorista”(gay people who in a beauty salon) because before that how they see gay people, and they thinks that its the only thing that they can do. And please people, stop calling us homosexuals “IT”, my gosh, we bleed… we’re human, not an object.
    Pardon my grammar, I’m not so good at it.

  90. Hesch -  May 12, 2011 - 2:57 am

    An immediate nit-pick on “syntax”: in this case, the apparent ‘error’ in construction of the 7th paragraph, which ends with “and can’t be applied to an individual. * “. The “*” has no reference in the posted version from ‘Author: Hot Word’.
    This may be due to this being an excerpt, but that is *not* explicit, which in itself should be noted if true.
    An *excellent* conversation opener “in a quite new but very important topic”. Thank you.


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