Key terminology

The information below is taken from the University's Glossary of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Terminology. This list is not exhaustive - for more information, please refer to the Gender section of the Glossary.

Content warning
Some of the terminology and definitions used on this page relate to subject matter that may be upsetting or triggering for some people.

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Trans and transgender are words often used interchangeably as inclusive umbrella terms used to refer to people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the legal sex (male or female) assigned to them at birth.1 It can also include someone who does not identify as male or female (nonbinary) or someone who is outside any gender definition (Agender, Androgynous).2

An individual does not need to undergo gender reassignment, hormonal treatment or surgery, in order to be considered as trans or transgender. Trans is included in the Equality Act 2010 as one of the nine protected characteristics, listed under Gender Reassignment. 

Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, genderqueer (GQ), genderfluid, nonbinary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bigender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.3

It is important to note that not all people that can be included in the umbrella term ‘Trans’ or ‘Transgender’ will choose to associate with it or refer to themselves in this way.4 For example, someone who has transitioned to another gender, ie from a man to a woman, may not identify as a trans woman, but may instead simply refer to herself and her identity as a woman. Also, see the ‘Trans history’ definition.

Universities UK - Changing the Culture report

EHRC report - Sexual harassment and harassment at work

Stonewall Glossary of Terms

Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

This is the legal term used in the Equality Act 2010 to describe the protected characteristic of anyone who ‘proposes to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’ (Equality Act, 2010). Importantly, the act requires no medical supervision or interventions for a trans person to be afforded protection and may instead mean changing one’s name, pronouns, dressing differently and/or living in their self-identified gender.5

It is important to note that the term Gender Reassignment is considered problematic for many trans people, as it fails to take account of all the nuances of gender identity and the lived experiences of trans people, and is predominantly associated with medical transition. Also, the word ‘reassignment’ is weighted with negative connotations.

Stonewall Glossary of Terms

Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) enables a trans person to be legally recognised in their ‘affirmed gender’ and to be issued with a new birth certificate.6GRCs are issued by the Gender Recognition Panel under the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The act requires that the applicant is over 18, has a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, has lived in their affirmed gender for a minimum of two years prior to the application, and intends to live permanently according to their ‘acquired gender’ status. 

The requirements involved in obtaining a GRC often act as a barrier for trans individuals and as such not all trans people will apply for a GRC, in fact only a small proportion of trans people do apply for a GRC. Many people who identify as trans do not seek legal recognition under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 because they see the process of obtaining a GRC as both unnecessary, bureaucratic and harmful due to its associated requirements.

For more information, also see the ‘Acquired Gender’ and ‘Affirmed Gender’ definitions in this section.

A GRC is not required for an individual to change their gender markers (e.g name, pronouns) at work or to legally change their gender on other documents such as their passport. 

The holder of a full GRC is legally recognised in their acquired gender for almost all purposes. It is never appropriate to ask to see a trans person’s GRC and it is unlawful to do so, because it breaches their right to privacy. Once a person has obtained a GRC their gender history can only be disclosed where there are explicit exceptions in law.

Stonewall Glossary of Terms

A legal term used in the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It refers to the gender that a person who is applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) has lived in for two years and intends to continue living in.7

It is important to note that, for many trans people, this term is seen as problematic, as the word ‘acquired’ suggests that a change in gender has occurred; as well as emphasising a reliance upon undergoing gender reassignment and acquiring legal recognition of one’s gender, in order for an individual to be legitimised and accepted as the gender they are.

7Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

A term that may be used to describe an individual’s gender identity when it does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Note that not all trans people feel comfortable using this term in relation to their own gender. Affirmed gender is a term that is often used when someone has transitioned but decided not to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.8 Many people who identify as trans do not seek legal recognition under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 because they see the process of obtaining a GRC as being both unnecessary, bureaucratic and potentially harmful.

8 Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

single or multiple surgical procedures that alter or change physical sex characteristics of a person in order to better express that individual’s gender identity. A common misconception is that all trans people have undergone some form of surgery, however a large percentage of trans individuals choose never to undergo gender affirming surgery as part of their transition. This may also be referred to as Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS).

‘Real-life experience’ or ‘experience’ are terms used by the medical profession and refer to the period in which an individual is required to live, work and study full-time in their affirmed gender before they can undergo genital surgery. Previously the requirement applied to hormone replacement as well as genital surgery. Some trans staff and students may be asked by a gender identity clinic to provide confirmation from their institution that they are undertaking real-life experience or experience.This is also known as the ‘real life test’.

9 Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

Pronouns are what we use to refer to people in the third person, in a way that takes into account their gender identity, for example ‘he’ or ‘she’. Some people, particularly those with nonbinary identities, may use Gender Neutral Pronouns and ask others to refer to them using ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’.10

Gender Neutral Pronouns can sometimes also be referred to as ‘personal gender pronouns’, and they used to predominantly be referred to as ‘preferred pronouns’. However, it is important to note that the latter is no longer seen as appropriate as the word ‘preferred’ fails to embody an individual’s reasons for selecting their pronouns and is more suggestive of an optional everyday choice, rather than a requirement that helps an individual attempt to match their gender identity with the correct pronouns.

There are other less common gender neutral pronouns, which are referred to as ‘neopronouns’, for example, zie, hir, xe. See the ‘Neopronoun’ definition for more information. 

Some people may choose not to use a pronoun but instead use their name, for example, “Jane drank Jane’s coffee as Jane was thirsty.” 

It is important to use the name and pronoun that you are asked to use. If you are not sure what the right pronoun is, you can listen to what pronouns others are using or if it is appropriate or possible you can politely ask the person what pronouns they use. Deliberate or persistent use of the wrong pronoun is a form of harassment. Also see the ‘Misgendering’ definition.

It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around a trans person’s pronoun, nor is it appropriate to make assumptions about an individual’s pronouns.11 On some occasions you may make a mistake, do not make a big deal of this, just apologise, correct yourself and move on. If you hear someone else using the incorrect pronoun when referring to someone, you can explain the correct pronoun to them.

It should be noted that some languages may not have neutral pronouns, or a sufficient variety of pronouns that could be substituted for gendered pronouns. This may be an issue for students and members of staff who use those languages. 

It is recommended that, where possible, gender neutral pronouns (‘they’ ‘their’ and ‘them’) are used in University policies and forms as this is more inclusive than gendered pronouns like ‘he/she’ or ‘his/hers’.

Ways to help others know your pronouns could include: 

  • adding pronouns to your email signature
  • using your pronouns when you introduce yourself at the start of a meeting 

Whether you use gender neutral pronouns or not, including your pronouns in your email signature is a good signal of allyship and demonstrates a willingness to foster inclusion. 

The Department of Chemistry has produced some helpful guidance on personal gender pronouns which you may find useful.

10 Stonewall Glossary of Terms

11 Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences

Contact us

Equality and Diversity Office
+44 (0)1904 324680