What does it mean?

A transsexual person is defined in UK law by the Equality Act 2010 as a person who:

“is proposing 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.”

“Transsexualism” - the condition of being transsexual - is a medical diagnosis listed in the ICD-10, the international classification system for medical conditions. It is defined as:

“A desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one’s anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one’s body as congruent as possible with one’s preferred sex.”

Many (but not all) transsexual people also describe themselves as transgender and/or nonbinary.

“Transgender” and trans describe a much wider group of people than transsexual, and not all transgender and nonbinary people are transsexual or wish to use the term transsexual.

“The terms ‘transsexual’ and ‘transsexualism’ are often considered old-fashioned and stigmatising, and this terminology is increasingly being replaced by terms, such as ‘transgender’ and ‘trans’, which many people deem more acceptable.” – The Transgender Handbook

Transsexual is sometimes abbreviated to “TS”.

Medical term

"Transsexual" is a word that describes people using a medical condition or diagnosis.

Words like this can:

  • help make it obvious that people should be allowed medical and psychological assistance
  • help when people are trying to find funding or receive a referral to a specialist

However, words like this can also:

  • give the impression that there is something wrong with people (it is “pathologising”)
  • make it seem like people with a medical diagnosis are more genuine or valid than people who do not

Think carefully before using this word to describe someone or a group of people - they may not wish to be described that way.

Change focused

"Transsexual" is a word that describes people by changes they have made or plan to make.

Words like this can:

  • make it more visible that those changes are possible
  • make it more visible that some people want or need those changes
  • make it easier to find people to discuss those changes with

However, words like this can also:

  • imply everyone should want the same things
  • imply everyone should do the same things
  • imply that people who do not make a particular change are inferior or fraudulent
  • help create an expectation that people’s history is public and not private

Think carefully before using this word to describe someone or a group of people - they may not wish to be described that way.

Errors and omissions

Is there something missing from this page? Have you spotted something that isn't correct? Please tweet us or message us on Facebook to let us know, or file an issue on GitHub.