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  • Georgiann Davis speaks on Intersexuality

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Trans 101* : Primer and Vocabulary

Dominant Western society only recognizes two strictly defined genders: men and women. Gendered experience begins when a doctor assigns one of these two genders to an infant based on the appearance of genitalia.  Caretakers and peers reinforce this gender onto the child, assigning gendered pronouns, identity, roles and expression. Most people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and are referred to as cisgender. Many people, however, identify with a gender or genders different from that assigned to them at birth—these people can fall under the trans* umbrella.   Gender is a complex subject that encompasses several components.

Gender identity is the inward sense of being male, female, both, neither, or any other gender(s). This identity is not visible. Gender expression is an outward means of expressing a person's gender and can include mannerisms, clothing, hair, and other modes of expression. While gender expression is often visible, it is not necessarily an indicator of a person's identity. The only way to know a person's gender is if they tell you.

A common misconception is that sexual orientation and gender identity are the same. In short, gender identity is an inward sense of gender and sexual orientation denotes the gender or genders a person is sexually attracted to. Just like cisgender people, trans* people can be queer or straight.

The trans* community is very diverse, encompassing many identities and experiences. It is especially important to remember that trans* identities are not defined by a singular bodily experience or physical transition. Some trans* people do not change their bodies at all, some undergo hormone therapy but do not undergo any surgeries (or vice versa), while still others choose some combination of physical transition options. Gender is not determined by bodily characteristics, and gender identities must be respected regardless of personal transition choices or needs.


Below are short working definitions to create basic understanding and to help provide a common language for discussing gender identity and trans* issues.


·      FAAB/AFAB: Assigned female at birth and female assigned at birth respectively. These terms refer to what gender you were assigned at birth (in this case female, thus you are expected to be a girl/woman), and are important because many trans* people use them as a way to talk about their gender identity without being pinned down to more essentialist narratives about their “sex” or what gender they “used to be”.

·      Agender: Some agender people would define their identity as being neither a man nor a woman while others would define agender as not having any gender.

·      MAAB/AMAB: Assigned male at birth and male assigned at birth respectively. These terms refer to what gender you were assigned at birth (in this case male, thus you are expected to be a boy/man), and are important because many trans* people use them as a way to talk about their gender identity without being pinned down to more essentialist narratives about their “sex” or what gender they “used to be”.

·      Androgyne: As a gender identity it can overlap with an androgynous gender expression but not always. Androgynes may define their identity in a variety of ways, feeling as if they are between man and woman or a totally separate identity.

·      Androgynous: Having neither a clearly masculine or feminine appearance or blending masculine and feminine.

·      Bigender/Trigender/Pangender: People who feel they are two, three, or all genders. They may shift between these genders or be all of them at the same time.

·      Binarism: Erasing, ignoring or expressing hate towards people who identify outside of the gender binary. Also supporting the incorrect idea that the only legitimate genders are man and woman, and ignoring all others.

·      Boi: This is a term used in a variety of ways by a variety of communities though it generally communicates a level of identification with maleness and/or masculinity. However, because of the versatility of this word this isn’t always the case.

·      Bottom surgery: Any of a variety of gender-related surgeries dealing with genitalia. They can include: vaginoplasty, phalloplasty, vaginectomy, metoidoplasty, orchidectomy, scrotoplasty and others.

·      Butch: A masculine gender expression which can be used to describe people of any gender. Butch can also be a gender identity to some.

·      CAFAB/CAMAB: Coercively assigned female at birth and coercively assigned male at birth respectively. These terms refer to what gender intersex people are assigned at birth and reflect the specific way that intersex people are coerced into one of two limited gender categories which attempt to erase their difference. These terms have been co-opted by trans* people but this needs to stop as these are intersex specific terms.

·      Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth, someone who is not trans*. The Latin prefix cis means “on the same side of.” Cisgender is often shortened to cis.

·      The prefix ‘Cis’ is of Latin origin, meaning "on the same side as or of” therefor someone who is cisgender has a conception of their gender concept /gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.  Cisgender is the opposite of transgender/trans*.  "Cisgender" is preferred to terms like "biological", "genetic", or "real" male or female.

·      Cisgender Privilege: The privileges cisgender people have because their gender identities match their assigned gender and because they are considered “normal”. For example, cis people don’t have to worry about violence and institutionalized discrimination simply due to the fact they are cis.

·      Cissexism: Erasing trans* people and their experiences, and/or expressing hatred and bigotry towards trans* people.

·      Cissexual: Sometimes this term is used synonymously with cisgender, other times it functions as an opposite to transexual in referring to someone who has done nothing to physically change gendered parts their body. Some find this term to be inaccurate or questionable as it puts a lot of the focus of trans* identity on physical transition.

·      Cross dresser: Someone who dresses as and presents themselves as a gender other than the one they typically identify with. Cross dressing can be purely aesthetic, sexual, a facet of someone’s gender identity, or have other meanings.

·      Demigirl: Someone who identifies with being a girl or a woman on some level but not completely.

·      Demiguy: Someone who identifies with being a boy, guy, or a man on some level but not completely.

·      Drag: Taking on the appearance and characteristics associated with a certain gender, usually for entertainment purposes and often to expose the humorous and performative elements of gender.

·      Dyadic: Used as an adjective, this refers to non-intersex people.

·      Dysphoria: Unhappiness or sadness with all or some gendered aspects of one’s body, or in response to social misgendering. Some trans* people experience dysphoria, some don’t.

·      Female bodied: A term for someone assigned female at birth. Though still occasionally used this term is very problematic as it genders bodies non-consensually and plays into cissexism (in that breasts or a vulva, for example, are considered inherently female).

·      Femme: A feminine gender expression which can be used to describe people of any gender. Femme is also be a gender identity to some.

·      FTM/F2M/female to male: A term usually synonymous with trans man but also occasionally used by other FAAB trans* people. This term is problematic to some FAAB trans* people as they feel they were never female and because X to Y terms can put too much focus on traditional means of physical transition.

·      Full Time: Living as and attempting to pass as your true gender identity one hundred percent of the time. This term is problematic to some because it can put a lot of the focus on the physical aspects of trans* identity and ignore the processes many people go through to accept themselves and to come out if they choose to. It is also a term that is getting to be a bit outdated but it’s still used in some communities.

·      Gender: A complex combination of roles, expressions, identities, performances, and more that are assigned gendered meaning by a society. Gender is both self-defined and society-defined. How gender is embodied and defined varies from culture to culture and from person to person.  Gender is a spectrum rather a binary.

·      Gender assignment: The gender we are assigned at birth, usually based on genitals alone. It is assumed that our identities should and will match this assignment but this isn’t the case for most trans* people.

·      Gender attribution: The act of categorizing people we come into contact with as male, female, or unknown. Gender attribution is questionable because it can lead to misgendering people unintentionally because one can never know a person’s gender identity just by looking at them.

·      Gender binary: The pervasive social system that tells us there can only be masculine cis men and feminine cis women, and there can be no alternatives in terms of gender identity or expression.

·      Gender expression: How one expresses their gender outwardly and/or the facets of a person’s expression which have gendered connotations in our culture. There is no right or wrong way to express your gender.

·      Gender fuck: The act of messing with gendered expectations on purpose; the intentional crossing, mixing, and blending of gender-specific signals.

·      Gender gifted: This term can be used very broadly to include any and all trans* and/or gender non-conforming people. It is a celebratory word that highlights how amazing it can be to have a unique and non-normative gender.

·      Gender identity: An individual’s internal sense of what gender they are. One’s gender identity may or may not align with their assigned gender, and one’s gender identity is not visible to others.

·      Gender neutral pronouns: Pronouns other than the usually gendered he or she. Some examples are ze/hir/hirs, and they/them/their but there are many others.

·      Gender nonconforming (GNC): Not fully conforming to gendered social expectations, whether that be in terms of expression, roles, or performance.

·      Gender panic: The fear and revulsion some experience when presented with a person who does not meet their expectations for gender performance, expression, identity or roles.

·      Gender role: Cultural expectations for what people should do with their lives, what activities they should enjoy or excel at, and how they should behave, based on what their gender is.

·      Genderfluid: This term can be used as a specific identity or as a way of articulating the changing nature of one’s gender identity or expression. People who are genderfluid may feel that their gender identity or expression is constantly changing, or that it switches back and forth.

·      Genderless: A term very similar to agender but sometimes with more of a focus on not having a gender

·      Genderqueer: This term can be used as an umbrella term for all people who queer gender, as a somewhat similar term to gender nonconforming, or as a specific non-binary gender identity. As an umbrella term is can include gender nonconforming people, non-binary people, and much more. As a specific identity it can generally be understood as a gender that is neither man nor woman, possible in between the two or seen as a totally separate gender altogether.

·      GSM: An acronym standing for gender and sexuality minorities. GSM is a useful term as it is succinct and it is very inclusive, including people who are gay, queer, bisexual, intersex, pansexual, asexual, lesbians, transgender/trans*, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, kink, polyamorous, and more.

·      Harry Benjamin Standards of Care: A set of ethical guidelines published by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association concerning the care of patients with gender identity disorders. These can be found at: http://www.wpath.org

·      Hermaphrodite: An out of date and generally offensive term for intersex people. Some intersex people may seek to reclaim this term but as a rule, if you’re not intersex don’t use it.

·      Intergender: Those who feel their gender identity is in between man and woman, is both man and woman, or is outside of the binary of man and woman. This term is sometimes used by intersex people who are also non-binary.

·      Intersex: A person born with any manner of supposed “ambiguity” in terms of gendered physical characteristics. This can include reproductive organs, genitals, hormones, chromosomes, or any combination thereof.

·      LGBT: A common acronym which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/trans*. There are other variations similar to this acronym, such as LGBTQQIAA which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/trans*, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and ally.

·      Male bodied: A term for someone assigned male at birth. Though still occasionally used this term is very problematic as it genders bodies non-consensually and plays into cissexism (in that a flat chest or a penis, for example, are considered inherently male).

·      Misgender: The act of attributing a person to a gender they do not identify as. So if you were to call someone a man but they were in fact non-binary, you would have misgendered them. You can cut down on misgendering people by trying to not practice gender attribution, and by asking people their preferred pronouns and terms when appropriate.

·      MTF/M2F/male to female: A term usually synonymous with trans woman but also occasionally used by other MAAB trans* people. This term is problematic to some MAAB trans* people as they feel they were never male and because X to Y terms can put too much focus on traditional means of physical transition.

·      Neutrois: This is an identity generally having to do with feeling one does not have a gender, a gender identity, or a defined gender. Some people who identify as neutrois also identify as agender or genderless, and some neutrois people desire to minimize their physical gender markers and to have a more gender-neutral appearance.

·      Non-binary: Non-binary people are those who identify as a gender that is neither man nor woman or who are not men or women exclusively. Non-binary can refer to a specific gender identity or it can function as an umbrella term which can include (though not always) people who are genderqueer, agender, bigender, neutrois, and others.

·      Outing: To out oneself is to share an identity that was previously unknown to people, usually referring to sexual orientation or gender identity. You should never out someone without their consent.

·      Passing: When used by trans* people it can either mean that one is being read as the gender they identify as or that one is being read as cisgender. For example, a trans man who people read as a man, most likely a cis man.

·      Preferred pronouns: The pronouns one prefers to be called, whether they be he, she, they, it, ze, ey, or any other. It is preferable to always ask someone their preferred pronouns if possible, and to not make assumptions about a person’s pronouns. Always be sure to respect a person’s preferred pronouns, use them, and apologize if you slip up.

·      Pre-op/post-op/non-op: These terms refer to what gender-related surgeries a person has had, plans to have, or does not want to have. Pre-op (pre-operative) means the person plans to or wants to have some form of gender-related surgery but has not yet, post-op means they already have had some form of gender-related surgery, and non-op refers to trans* people who do not desire any gender-related surgeries. These terms should not be used to define a trans* person nor should they be applied to trans* people without their consent.

·      Sex: A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. A binary system (man/woman) set by the medical establishment, usually based on genitals and sometimes chromosomes. Because this is usually divided into ‘male’ and ‘female’ this category ignores the existence of intersex bodies. See intersex.

·      Sexual orientation: Refers to who one is sexually attracted to. Gender identity and sexual orientation may affect one another but they are not the same. The term transgender does not refer to sexual orientation, it refers to gender identity and/or expression.

·      Stealth: To be stealth is to live as the gender you identify as but to not be out as trans*, in affect it means passing as cisgender. Often people go stealth for safety reasons or so that they can have things like job and home security, something a lot of trans* people don’t have.

·      Stud: A term used by people of color, and primarily by African Americans, referring to people, often women, who are masculine or butch. Though many studs identify as women and with the lesbian community, not all do.

·      Third Gender: In some cultures third (and fourth and so on) genders may be commonly accepted alongside man and woman. Some people in western cultures may identify as third gender as well, however it’s important not to erase the multitudes of genders present in the world.

·      Top surgery: This term can refer to any gender-related surgery dealing with a person’s chest such as breast implants, mastectomies, and breast reduction surgeries. This term is more commonly associated with mastectomy procedures however.

·      “Tranny”: A derogatory term used against trans women and some other MAAB trans* people. Some MAAB trans* people are interested in reclaiming this word but as a general rule, if you’re not MAAB and trans*, don’t use it.

·      Trans*: This term has a similar meaning to transgender but the asterisk is meant to show a more inclusive attitude towards the multitude of people under the transgender umbrella.

·      Trans man: A man who was assigned female at birth.

·      Trans woman: A woman who was assigned male at birth.

·      Transexual: This term often refers to binary trans* people (trans men and trans women), or to trans* people who physically transition in any way. While still a preferred term for many, some people dislike the term because of its connection to the medicalization of trans* people and the focus it can put on physical transition.

·      Transfeminine: Usually a MAAB trans* person who identifies more with a female and/or feminine identity/experience. This word is also sometimes used as an umbrella term for most or all MAAB trans* people, however this is problematic as not all MAAB trans* people are feminine identified.

·      Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. “Transgender” can include transsexuals, cross dressers, drag kings/queens, masculine women, feminine men, and all those who defy what society tells them their “gender” should be.

·      Transition: To transition can mean a lot of things but a broad definition is the process trans* people may go through to become comfortable in terms of their gender. Transitioning may include social, physical, mental, and emotional components and may not fit into the narrative we are used to seeing. Transition may or may not include things like changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, changing legal documents to reflect one’s gender identity, coming out to loved ones, dressing as one chooses, and accepting oneself among many other things. Transition in an individual process.

·      Transmasculine: Usually a FAAB trans* person who identifies more with a male and/or masculine identity/experience. This word is also sometimes used as an umbrella term for most or all FAAB trans* people, however this is problematic as not all FAAB trans* people are masculine identified.

·      Transmisogyny: Originally coined by the author Julia Serano, this term highlights the intersectionality of misogyny and transphobia and how they are often experienced as a dual form of oppression by trans* women and some other MAAB trans* people. ·      Transphobia: The fear or hatred of trans* people or those perceived as such.

·      Transvestite: Often used synonymously with cross dresser this term is usually derogatory and isn’t preferred by most people today.

·      Two spirit: A term specific to Native/First Nations cultures and people which some lesbian, gay, queer, pansexual, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people identify as. This term should not be used by non-Native/First Nations people.



Definitions edited from Jess Beckholt’s website: JessMBear.blogspot.com