Key Terms

Transgender, Passing,Gender Indentity, Transgender Service Member, Gender Marker, Sexual Orientation, Ally, Gender Dysphoria, Cisgender, Gender Expression, Gender, Transition Process, Gender Binary, Transition, Sex, TGNC

Psychological health care providers should be familiar with common transgender terms. This vocabulary continues to evolve and some variations may reflect different cultures, regional preferences, communities or a combination of factors.

Terms and Definitions for DoD Clinicians


Ally*: A cisgender person who supports and advocates for transgender or nonconforming (TGNC) people and/or communities

Cisgender*: An adjective used to describe a person whose gender identity and gender expression align with the sex assigned at birth; a person who is not TGNC

Gender binary*: The classification of gender into two discrete categories of boy/man and girl/woman

Gender dysphoria**: A medical diagnosis that refers to the distress that some transgender individuals experience due to a mismatch between their gender and sex assigned at birth

Gender expression*: The presentation of an individual, including physical appearance, clothing choice and accessories, and behaviors that express aspects of gender identity role. Gender expression may or may not conform to a person’s gender identity

Gender identity**: One’s internal or personal sense of being male or female

Gender identity disorder*: This term is outdated, see gender dysphoria

Gender marker*: An indicator (M, F) of a person’s sex or gender found on identification (e.g., driver's license or, passport) and other legal documents (e.g., birth certificate or, academic transcripts)

Gender marker**: Data element in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) that identifies a service member’s gender. A service member must meet all military standards associated with the member’s gender marker in DEERS, and use military berthing, bathroom and shower facilities in accordance with the DEERS gender marker

Gender transition process**: Gender transition in the military begins when a service member receives a diagnosis from a military medical provider (MMP) indicating that the member’s gender transition is medically necessary, and concludes when the service member’s gender marker in DEERS is changed and the member is recognized in their preferred gender

Human and functional support network**: Support network for a service member that may be informal (e.g., friends, family, co-workers, or social media) or formal (e.g., medical professionals, counselors, or clergy)

Real life experience (RLE)**: The phase in the gender transition process when the individual commences living socially in the gender role consistent with their preferred gender. RLE may or may not be preceded by the commencement of cross-sex hormone therapy, depending on the individual gender transition medical treatment plan. The RLE phase is also a necessary precursor to certain medical procedures, including gender-affirming surgery. RLE generally encompasses dressing in the new gender, as well as using preferred gender berthing, bathroom and shower facilities. According to DoD policy, RLE occurs off-duty, but exceptions may be made

Passing*: The ability to blend in with cisgender people without being recognized as transgender based on appearance or gender role and expression; being perceived as cisgender. Passing may or may not be a goal for all TGNC people

Sex (sex assigned at birth)*: Sex is typically assigned at birth (or before during ultrasound) based on the appearance of external genitalia. When the external genitalia are ambiguous, other indicators (e.g., internal genitalia, chromosomal and hormonal sex) are considered to assign a sex, with the aim of assigning a sex that is most likely to be congruent with the child’s gender identity. For most people, gender identity is congruent with sex assigned at birth (see cisgender); for TGNC individuals, gender identity differs in varying degrees from sex assigned at birth

Sexual orientation*: A component of identity that includes a person’s sexual and emotional attraction to another person and the behavior and/or social affiliation that may result from this attraction. A person may be attracted to men, women, both, neither or to people who are genderqueer, androgynous or have other gender identities. Individuals may identify as lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, queer, pansexual or asexual, among others

Sex reassignment surgery (better known as gender-affirming surgery)*: : Surgery to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics to better align a person’s physical appearance with their gender identity. Gender-affirming surgery can be an important part of medically necessary treatment to alleviate gender dysphoria and may include mastectomy, hysterectomy, metoidioplasty, phalloplasty, breast augmentation, orchiectomy, vaginoplasty, facial feminization surgery and/or other surgical procedures. Note that some people may euphemistically refer to 'top surgery' or 'bottom surgery.' Do not overemphasize the role of medical procedures in the transition process, each gender transition is unique

Transgender or nonconforming (TGNC)*: An abbreviation used to refer to people who are transgender or gender nonconforming

Transgender*: An adjective that is an umbrella term used to describe the full range of people whose gender identity and/or gender role do not conform to what is typically associated with their sex assigned at birth. Although the term “transgender” is commonly accepted, not all TGNC people self-identify as transgender

Transgender service member**: A service member who has received a medical diagnosis indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, including any service member who intends to begin transition, is undergoing transition, or has completed transition and is stable in the preferred gender

Transition*: A process some TGNC people progress through when they shift toward a gender role that differs from the one associated with their sex assigned at birth. The length, scope and process of transition are unique to each person’s life situation. For many people, this involves developing a gender role and expression that is more aligned with their gender identity. A transition typically occurs over a period of time; TGNC people may proceed through a social transition (e.g., changes in gender expression, gender role, name, pronoun and gender marker) and/or a medical transition (e.g., hormone therapy, surgery and/or other interventions). Avoid the phrase "sex change"