the history of the term transgender

written by Kyle William Urban

The word transgender is an adjective ‘relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.’


Beautiful is an adjective, the same way transgender is, because it can be used to describe someone. If you said someone is or was beautifuled, that wouldn’t be grammatically correct. The same way transgendered isn’t grammatically correct. You cannot describe someone as transgendered. I have seen this a lot online. When people do this, it’s either because they don’t know better, or to be offensive.


The history of transgender people and the terminology is long, and often complicated. In the past, transgender identities have been covered up, or ignored. Here is a brief look into the more modern history.


The term transgender wasn’t used until 1965. It was coined by psychiatrist John F. Oliven of Columbia University in his reference work ‘Sexual Hygiene and Pathology’. The term transgender was then

popularized with varying definitions by various transgender, transsexual, and transvestite

people. By the mid-1970s the terms trans-gender and trans people were in use as

umbrella terms and by 1984, the concept of a "transgender community" had developed,

in which transgender was used as an umbrella term.


Between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, the primary terms used under the

transgender umbrella were "female to male" (FtM) for men who transitioned from female

to male, and "male to female" (MtF) for women who transitioned from male to female. These

terms have now been superseded by "trans man" and "trans woman", respectively, and the terms "trans-masculine" or "trans-feminine" are increasingly in use. This shift in preference from terms highlighting biological sex ("transsexual", "FtM") to terms highlighting gender identity and expression ("transgender", "trans woman") reflects a broader shift in the understanding of transgender people's sense of self and the increasing recognition of those who decline medical reassignment as part of the transgender community. 


Nowadays, transvestite and transsexual are outdated terms that are often used as slurs towards people in the trans community. However, some people use these terms about themselves. Trans is used as an umbrella term for everyone who isn’t cisgender (people who identify with their gender assigned at birth). However, not all non-binary, genderqueer etc people relate to the term transgender, so it’s best to ask people how they like to be identified. Never assume someone's label or pronouns, use the words and terms they ask you to.


Not everyone who is transgender can, or wishes to, medically transition. It is a process that takes years and isn’t easy, physically or mentally. Ultimately, it's up to you - don't worry about what other people expect you to do. It's your body, and your mind, and you get to call the shots. Be brave, be authentic and be yourself.

Return to the What does it mean to be Transgender? page to find organisations and groups that can offer support and advice to trans people in the UK.