Ask Addi

What’s the difference between trans and tranny?

“Ask Addi” is Join the Gender Revolution’s weekly advice column for questions about gender, transitioning or general LGBTQ+ issues. Click here if you’d like to Ask Addi a question, or find them on social media, #ASKADDI. Questions are answered anonymously so provide a pseudonym if you’d like.

Can you explain the differences between the terms transgender, transvestite, transsexual, trans, tranny, and what are considered derogatory or offensive? — KWash

Dear KWash,

I’d be happy to! The first step is to divide these up based on offensiveness.

Cool: Transgender, Trans

Grey: Transsexual

Offensive: Transvestite and especially Tranny

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses all gender identities that are not cis men or cis women. It simply means that a person identifies their gender in a way that many people would not identify them. This, of course, includes trans men and trans women but can also be demiboys, neutrois, genderqueer and many more. Our pop culture focuses on trans men and women but they are just more obvious and recognizable examples of transgender people. There’s nothing wrong with calling any of these people transgender though some may prefer you use their more precise gender identity.

Trans is just a shortened form of transgender so again, it’s pretty safe to use that term with people.

A term that falls into a grey area is transsexual. Many people find this to be an outdated and sometimes pejorative term because it focuses on an individual’s biological sex instead of their gender identity. In general, if you use this term you’re probably going to get some odd stares, some eye rolling or maybe a strong talking to. However, there are some people who are using the term again. These people are trans men and trans women who have either had or wish to have gender confirmation surgery (GCS) and want to differentiate themselves from other transgender people who do not feel the need for GCS. In general, don’t use transexual unless a person asks you to refer to them as such.

Transvestite or its shortened form Tranny is a straight up slur as far as trans people are concerned. A transvestite is a person who dresses in clothes that are normally associated with the other sex for pleasure, often sexual pleasure. They are cisgender and their normal gender presentation usually conforms to the gender binary but will put on a dress because it gives them a thrill (if a man, substitute a suit for a woman). A transgender person is not dressing as the other gender but for their own gender. They are not doing it for a thrill. A trans woman puts on a dress because women wear dresses. Calling a trans woman a transvestite is telling her that she’s a man dressed up as a woman as some kind of kink. Same idea for a trans man in a suit. There’s nothing really more insulting you can say to a trans person.

So, recap, if you’re trying to get along with transgender people, stick with transgender or trans or use the person’s specific identity if they ask you to. Only use transexual if the person says, “I am a transexual please refer to me as such.” Never use the term transvestite or tranny with a transgender person, unless you’re trying to be insulting in which case go ahead. It’s nice when people you should cut out of your life self-identify.

Check out the first article in the series if you’d like to know more about Addi’s background or the Ask Addi Archive for additional columns.