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What does MTF (male-to-female) mean?
The abbreviation MTF means “male to female”. This refers to transgender individuals who were assigned male sex at birth but whose gender identity is female. Male to female trans people usually try to match their biological gender to their social gender. The degree of this transgender congruence differs from person to person.
MTF is often prefixed or suffixed to the word “trans” to further define the identity of a trans person and to differentiate it from other identities. The abbreviation indicates the direction of the transition. The opposite of male to female is female to male or FTM for trans people with a male gender identity who are assigned the female gender at birth. In contexts in which trans identities are discussed, the two abbreviations can also be used without the term “trans” due to the semantic connection.
Some trans people reject the abbreviations MTF and FTM because they imply a change of identity. In discussions about trans identities, they prefer abbreviations that make it clear that an incorrect gender was determined at birth. A male to female trans person might choose the abbreviation AMAB, which stands for “assigned male at birth”.
Distinction from other terms on the transgender spectrum
MTF denotes a certain identity within the transgender spectrum. The abbreviation is therefore a sub-term of transgender. Every person who carries the label male to female is therefore trans. However, a trans person does not have to be male to female trans, but can also wear other labels. In addition to the antonymous term FTM, labels such as non-binary or bigender, which go beyond the binary understanding of the gender identities of men and women, are also possible.
With regard to the generic term transgender, it should be pointed out that binary trans people used to be referred to as transsexuals. This term is no longer used, since trans people are concerned with gender identity and transsexual suggests a closeness to sexual orientation. However, male to female and female to male trans people can be of any sexual orientation regardless of their gender identity.
Differentiating MTF from non-binary labels
A person who is non-binary is assigned a gender at birth, just like male to female and female to male trans people, with which they do not identify. However, their true gender identity does not lie on the other side of the male/female dichotomy. So, non-binary people are neither male nor female. How their gender identity is expressed can however be very different.
The term non-binary can denote a special gender identity and serve as an umbrella term for other labels. An example of a non-binary gender identity is Bigender. This label is a sub-concept of gender-fluid, non-binary identities. It denotes people whose gender identity includes parts of two genders. For example, a bigender might perceive themselves as both male and female, while an MTF trans person might define their gender identity as female only.
Differentiation of MTF from labels related to gender habitus or role
The abbreviation MTF is closely related to the identity as a trans person. In addition to labels that clearly indicate a person who is binary or non-binary transgender, there are also labels with a wider range of meanings. In particular, this includes labels for people who were assigned the male gender at birth, but who either insufficiently identify with it or (temporarily) adopt a female gender role or behavior.
An example of such labels is the term Kathoey used in Thailand and Laos. What the people who are referred to as kathoeys have in common is that they are assigned the male gender at birth. Kathoeys can be trans and feel female like male to female trans people. But there are also kathoeys who are not trans, but homosexual and only show some behaviors or visual characteristics that are perceived as feminine. Some kathoeys also see themselves as a third gender alongside man and woman and would therefore be described as non-binary in our parlance.
The term Kathoey is Thai. In English, ladyboys is sometimes used as an alternative. Ladyboys specifically refers to the Thai kathoeys, but is not applied to a similarly wide range of identities in other countries. Thus, there is no direct equivalent for the term kathoey in other languages.
Other similar English terms are femboys or shemales. The term shemale stands specifically for people who have male genitals as well as - as a result of hormone treatments or operations - secondary female sexual characteristics such as breasts. It is often used in pornography and is therefore viewed as derogatory and rejected by parts of the transgender community.
The Femboy label designates biological men who have an appearance that is considered feminine and also show behavior that is classified as feminine. Usually only younger men up to a maximum of thirty years are referred to as femboys. Sometimes the label femboy is used as a sub-term for non-binary gender identities. Others, however, relate the label only to the temporary assumption of a gender role or behavior that, in contrast to the designation male to female trans, says nothing about the person's gender identity. Accordingly, many femboys do not see themselves as trans. However, it may be the case for others.
Distinction between MTFs and crossdressers
The term crossdresser is often used in connection with male to female trans persons and other transgender identities. However, crossdressing is a form of expression that does not depend on a person's gender identity. The term refers to individuals who wear clothing that does not primarily conform to their assigned or assimilated gender. A crossdresser can therefore be a woman who wears clothing designed especially for men, but also a man who wears clothing that is perceived as feminine.
Crossdressing primarily refers to biological sex. It is a form of expression, but not an expression of gender identity. A male-to-female trans person, for example, who wears clothing that is primarily considered to be for women, expresses their gender identity. This is also the case if the appropriate clothing is worn early in the transition period. In this context, it is not a question of crossdressing.
Crossdressing can - for example with drag queens or drag kings - also be lived out as an art form that is open to all persons of any gender identity. Theoretically, trans people could also be crossdressers. However, crossdressing and trans identity would then not be causally linked. An MTF trans person, whose social gender is expressed in everyday life by wearing feminine clothing, would wear clothing assigned to the male gender when crossdressing. However, many binary trans people would not engage in crossdressing due to gender dysphoria and reject it.
The idea of crossdressing is also strongly influenced by a binary notion of gender and gender. Therefore, non-binary trans identities are often neglected in discussions about crossdressing. Parts of the trans community are therefore critical of the topic of crossdressing.