Communicating properly

Imagine you are about to strike the deal of a lifetime but suddenly it all falls through because you committed a downright blunder. But stay calm, embarrassing situations can easily be avoided with a little knowledge and practice. At this point we present you various formulations and terms about trans people, which you should absolutely avoid, and of course the appropriate alternatives.

Do not forget: no matter how well you express yourself, always clarify with the trans person in your working environment, whether, when and with whom you are allowed to talk about their coming-out, their trans identity etc.


6 frequently used assumptions about trans people,…

… Which contribute nothing at all to the understanding of trans – and alternative expressions.

1 – A trans woman is a man and a trans man is a woman

Assumptions such as ‘A trans man is a woman, who at some point in life realizes that she wants to live as a man’ or “The work colleague Yvonne Müller, who has lived as a man since 2007, …” give the impression that the person is actually the sex they were assigned at birth.

“A trans man is a man who was assigned a female sex at birth due to external characteristics.” or “My colleague Balian Müller, who before his transition…”

2 – “Was formerly a man or a woman”

The idea that trans people used to have a different gender promotes the misleading idea that “trans people are only the one and then become the other one.” Trans people would never speak of a transformation. They do not transform, but merely make visible what they were before. They live the identity that has led them to say: “I am trans” (or how the everybody wants to express themselves).

“My boss used to live as a man.” or “My co-worker used to live as a woman.”

3 – Reassignment

It is not through an operation that a woman becomes a man or vice versa. A person adapts their life to their gender identity. Sometimes physical approximations are part of it, sometimes not.

“Gender adjustment” or “gender correction”

4 – Transsexual

People are particularly difficult to abandon this term, as it is very well known. Many trans people also use it for themselves. But the term has three major problems: first, it sounds like bisexual or heterosexual and therefore suggests that it is about romantic preferences or sexual orientation. Second, it contains “-sexual”, which brings to the idea, at trans it is primarily about how someone lives their sexuality. Third, the term was coined at a time when trans was described as a serious personality disorder. But trans people are not sick. This view is now also represented by experts and also the WHO will no longer use the term in the next edition of its diagnostic catalog.

Trans persons, trans people (sometimes also: trans, transgendered people)

5 – ‘Living in your desired sex’

Trans people cannot wish or choose their gender as much as anyone else can.

‘My boss now has lived for several years according to his true gender identity’.

6 – Sex at Birth

“Sex at Birth” sounds like it is the gender with which a person is born. If a person is assigned a sex at birth, but later lives in a different gender, then this person has had two different genders in their life. This is something that very few trans people would agree with. Most trans people feel that the sex they were assigned at birth was never appropriate for them. To still call it ‘Sex at Birth’ therefore ignores the gender identity.

“The gender assigned at birth”

Use appropriate terms

In this brief overview, you will find terms that are not appropriate, with different positive alternatives.

Appropriate TermsTerms to Avoid
Trans person, transgender, trans man, trans woman, trans persona (or self-description of the person portrayed: please ask)Devaluation: tranny, bull-dyke, former male/former woman, Tgirl, shemale. Other phenomena: Transvestite, third sex.
cis Woman/cis ManNormal man, real man/normal woman, real woman
Gender adjustment, physical approximation or adaptationGender transformation, change, transformation, mutation, rebuilding, transforming
Genetic birth sex or biological birth sex, gender assigned at birthOriginal Sex
Gender assigned at birthOriginal gender, biological gender, actual gender
Gender identityWished gender, opposite gender, correct gender, new gender
Gender-neutral formulations: Child, teenager, person, humanGirls, daughter, teenagers, etc. for a trans man/boy; Son, colleague and similar for a trans woman
was arranged at birth as a girl, came to the world in a body as girls haveWas a girl or woman, former woman, is biologically a woman
Selected first nameOld first name

Some of the terms are used by some trans people themselves, while others are completely rejected. For example, ‘In the wrong body’, ‘Transsexual’, ‘Man-to-woman’ or ‘Woman-to-man’. This may be confusing – but simply orient yourself to the wishes of the individual.

Avoid expressions that are medical such as ‘affected’, ‘patients or ‘Gender Identity Disorder’. Not every trans person suffers the same emotions and issues. Instead, show the sunny sides of the biography.

Avoid representations in which trans people are shown very much to the role cliché. Remember that trans women have other interests than makeup and dresses. Trans people are more than just their gender.


To be correct in your language around trans people is basically not difficult. Terms that suggest that trans people are ‘actually’ but the gender assigned to them at birth is out of place. Sentences that sound as if trans people choose their gender or change it, likewise. (There are of course also trans people with changing sex, but that’s another topic.)

Trans people usually live inconspicuously, just as others do.