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Trans Terminology and Science


Transgender is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups. It involves tendencies to vary from culturally conventional gender roles. Transgender is the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s "assigned sex" (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex). The following information will help allies understand the terminology and science behind transgender identity and sexual reassignment.


Transgender as an Umbrella Term

People often misuse or misunderstand the word ‘transgender’ and make it an umbrella term. Here are some of the words or identifies that are confused with ‘transgender’.


Transsexual: Born into one gender but identify psychologically and emotionally as the other. For example, transition from male-to-female or female-to-male. Transsexual most often specifies an individual with the desire to go through surgery to become their self-identified gender.


Cross-dressers: People who are comfortable with their physical gender at birth, but dress and take on the mannerisms traditionally associated with the opposite gender. Often heterosexual men.


Performers (Drag King/Queens): Dress and act as the opposite sex for pure entertainment. It is often a job, performance or play rather than an identity.


Intersex: People born exhibiting both male and female genitalia. At birth, the attending physician or parents often choose which gender to raise the child, necessitating surgery and/or hormonal treatment.


Gender Benders/Androgynes: People who don’t easily fit into one specific gender. They feel unable to relate to a single identity of male or female. They may appear to be both genders or neither gender, either by choice or by coincidence. Occasionally Intersexuals.


Transgender Classifications


The following are scientific terms for transgendered individuals.


Androphilic Male-to-Female Transgender: These individuals are born with male genitalia, but wish to live their lives as women. Furthermore, identify as homosexual women.


Gynephilic Male-to-Female Transgender: These individuals are born with male genitalia, but wish to live their lives as heterosexual females. Often considered the ‘traditional’ transgender people.


Gynephilic Female-to-Male Transgender: These individuals are born with female genitalia, but wish to live as heterosexual males.


Sexual Reassignment


Sexual Reassignment Surgery: A form of plastic surgery that involves reconstructing one’s birth sex. The process of Male-to-Female sexual reassignment surgery has been around since the 1930’s, when Lili Elbe was the first transsexual woman to become fully sexually reassigned in Germany.


Hormone Therapy: Individuals that are about to undergo sexual reassignment surgery start by taking many hormone treatments to prepare their bodies for the new organs. In an MtF’s case, estrogen is applied regularly, first in pills and later injections, to ensure the body does not reject or damage the creation of the vagina. When MtF individuals first complete their surgery, the body treats the new vagina as an open wound, and thus estrogen injections and dilation are required to keep the vagina from closing.


Male-to-Female Genital Surgery (Vaginoplasty): The basic process of gender reassignment is the inversion of the male genitals into female genitalia (Vaginoplasty). Procedures, success rates, and further functionality vary by the surgeon’s skill.


Facial Feminization Surgery: When individuals undergoing MtF sexual reassignment surgery elect for plastic surgery to remove male characteristics from their faces. This typically rearranges cartilage and bone in the areas of the brow, jaw, forehead, nose, and cheek.


Breast Implants: Some MtF transgender individuals elect to get breast implants or breast enlargement surgeries if estrogen treatments do not yield satisfactory results. Normal estrogen treatments allow for the distribution of fat to the breasts and the buttocks, but progesterone causes the forming of the milk glands.


Voice Feminization Surgery: A surgery sometimes south by MtF transgender individuals to create a more feminine tone. Because estrogen treatments cannot change an individual’s vocal cord range or pitch, many transwomen seek a surgical answer to this issue. However, this procedure carries significant risk in impairing the voice.


Tracheal Shave: A procedure in which a doctor removes excessive or unnecessary cartilage from around the trachea, removing the definition of the Adam’s Apple.


Buttocks Augmentation: Because male buttock to hip ratio is normally significantly lower, some MtF transgender individuals seek Buttocks Augmentation Surgery. However, if a proper dose of estrogen is begun prior to puberty, it will allow for a more correct ratio of fat.


Female-to-Male Sexual Reassignment Surgery: A series of procedures on the sexual reproductive areas of the female body to result in a sexual reassignment. Many transmen opt for only the upper body surgery to re-sculpt the upper sexual organs. Before all procedures, transmen are encouraged to begin and continue testosterone treatment.


Hormone Treatment: As with MtF Transgender individuals, hormones are a pivotal part of preparation. Taking testosterone decreases the functionality of the female organs that will soon be removed, as well as allows the muscle mass of the body to develop in a more masculine frame.


Bilateral Mastectomy: A common and frequent surgery. The process is broken down into two procedures that are 2-3 years apart. First, the individual has incisions made so that the contents of the breasts may be removed. The second treatment is the removal of the excess skin, and the contouring of the upper body into a masculine build.


Hysterectomy: A surgical process that results in the removal of the uterus from the participating patient.


Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO): This surgery is the removal of ovaries and the fallopian tube.


Female-to-Male Genital Reassignment: Uses hormones and mild reconstructive surgery from skin grafts to create semi-functional male genitalia.




  • Factors Which Influence Individual's Decisions When Considering Female-To-Male Genital Reconstructive Surgery by Katherine Rachlin from the International Journal of Transgenderism. This article also discusses some general issues of female-to-male GRT.
  • Emory, L. E., Williams, D. H., Cole, C. M., Amparo, E. G., & Meyer, W. J. (1991). Anatomic variation of the corpus callosum in persons with gender dysphoria. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 409-417
  • Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 7th Edition”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-12-12.
  • Gizewski, E. R., Krause, E., Schlamann, M., Happich, F., Ladd, M. E., Forsting, M., & Senf, W. (2009). Specific cerebral activation due to visual erotic stimuli in male-to-female transsexuals compared with male and female controls: An fMRI study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 440–448.
  • Rametti, G., Carrillo, B., Gómez-Gil, E., Junque, C., Zubiarre-Elorza, L., Segovia, S., Gomez, Á, & Guillamon, A. (2011). White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45, 199-204.
  • Wexler, Laura (2007). "Identity Crisis". Baltimore Style (January/February).http://www.baltimorestyle.com/index.php/style/features_article/fe_sexchange_jf07. Retrieved 2009-10-12


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