By Emrys Travis
These definitions are intended to provide an overview and are not a comprehensive discussion of the ideas involved. Many people’s experiences will be different from what is given here. As with all glossaries, this one suffers from only providing a limited number of perspectives and also being stuck in time. It should be treated as a rough guide to the terms it describes, not a be all and end all.
While this is reiterated throughout the glossary it bears repeating: just because someone appears to fit the definition of a term does not mean they identify with it. Do not press definitions on people; describe them using the language they use to describe themselves.
[This glossary has been edited from the one available on the Make No Assumptions site and the one from the Cambridge University LGBT+ Campaign’s “Transgender 101” guide].
‘Gender’ refers to many different concepts and ideas, including a person’s gender (otherwise referred to as ‘gender identity’), and the social construct of gender as a Whole.
In current Western society, people are assigned a gender at birth; either ‘male’ or ‘female’. These two genders carry certain ‘gender norms’ that are variable across time, culture and class. It is expected that everyone will fit into their assigned gender of male or female, and will adhere to a greater or lesser extent with the gender norms associated with that gender. As such, much of the construct of gender is built around a man/woman boy/girl dichotomy.
Most people's assigned gender aligns with their gender identity; however some people identify as either the other binary (male/female) gender or as something else. A person’s gender (or ‘gender identity’) refers to their internal perception and experience of how they fit into gender as a construct.
The act of ascribing gender to something or someone is called ‘gendering’, after which that thing or person can be described as having been ‘gendered’. For example, separating clothing stores into women’s and men’s sections results in that clothing being ‘gendered’ male/masculine or female/feminine.
The term "sex" has a complicated history. Its origins are in trying to tie together colonial ideas about binary gender and ‘biological dimorphism’. Most people assume that ‘biological sex’ refers to two discrete categories of physical traits (chromosomes, hormones, gonads, genitals, and secondary sex characteristics such as breasts and hair) which are gendered as ‘male’ or as ‘female’.
However, many people’s collections of physical traits do not fit neatly into these two categories. Furthermore, understanding ‘sex’ in this binary way as an objective, neutral measure that comes ‘before’ gender is historically and practically inaccurate, and is harmful towards trans people and intersex people, among others. Sex-terminology (male or female) is often used synonymously with gender-terminology (man or woman).
When describing anyone apart from yourself you should consider sex-terminology to be gendered. i.e. never describe a trans woman as male or a trans man as female unless they have specified that this is okay for you to do.
Binary gender/the sex binary/the gender binary
A model for sex and gender in which all people can be described as either male or female or as either a man or a woman. The gender binary states that there are only two genders, and that members of each binary gender have a unique set of gendered traits not present in the other binary gender. (i.e. men are tall, strong, have penises and facial hair; women are short, weak, have larger breasts and vaginas.)
The gender binary as it exists today has its origins in colonialism, where it was and still is used as a part of efforts to wipe out native/indigenous cultures with different gender systems.
The statistical tendency in humans and other species for certain biological traits to be grouped together in some individuals, roughly forming two sets of traits. Biological dimorphism in humans is part of the logic behind binary gender and the binary ‘biological sex’ categories of male and female. However, a statistical observation across a species obviously can’t be applied to all individuals – for example, statistically, people with penises are on average taller than people with vaginas, but there are many individuals with vaginas who are taller than many individuals with penises.
The destruction of native/indigenous genders and gender systems as part of European colonialism. Many cultures with gender systems that differed from a biologically determined male/female binary were forced to assimilate to the gender/sex binary we know today by colonialists. ‘Binarism’ is an oppression specific to people of colour.
People whose gender is not fully described by ‘male’ or ‘female’. Non-binary people may identify with a variety of terms, such as ‘genderqueer’, ‘genderfluid’, ‘demigirl/boy’ (partially identifying as female/male)… However, you should never assume that it’s ok to use a certain term to refer to someone without asking them first.
Transgender (or trans)
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. ‘Transgender’ or ‘trans’ should be used as adjectives – not as a prefix (e.g. ‘trans woman’ not ‘transwoman’), not as a noun (e.g. ‘a transgender person’ not ‘a transgender’), and not as a past participle ('transgendered' is incorrect terminology).
Transgender people may identify fully with one of the two binary genders (male/female), i.e. as a trans man or as a trans woman, or they may identify as non-binary (neither male nor female).
Transgender people may or may not alter their bodies through hormones and surgery, transition socially, or seek legal recognition as their true gender. None of these things are requirements for being trans.
Cisgender (or cis)
The antonym of ‘transgender’. Cisgender people identify with their gender assigned at Birth.
It is important to use ‘cisgender people’ or ‘cis people’ to refer to people who are not transgender, rather than words such as ‘normal’ or ‘biological/physical’, which are transphobic as they reinforce the idea that trans people are abnormal or fake.
‘Transsexual’ is older terminology to describe trans people, generally those who physically transition through hormones and/or surgery. Some trans people, especially older trans people, may use the word ‘transsexual’ to describe themselves. However, it can also be considered a medicalising term, and should not be used to refer to anyone who has not consented to its use.
Sex Assigned At Birth (SAAB)
The sex on your birth certificate. In most cases this is determined by a visual inspection of your genitals by a doctor. However, in the case of some intersex children, before assigning a sex doctors operate on genitals until they are cosmetically closer to binary ideals of what genitals should look like (this is sometimes referred to as Surgically Assigned Sex At Birth).
Assigned Female At Birth/Assigned Male At Birth. Refers to the sex (male or female) assigned at birth. Never ask someone whether they are AFAB or AMAB if they have not freely volunteered this information.
Someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a woman. (Note: An AFAB person may be non-binary (and therefore trans) and still identify with womanhood. They would be a woman and trans; they would not be a trans woman).
Someone who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a man.
Someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies to some extent with womanhood or femininity.
Someone who was assigned female at birth and identifies to some extent with manhood or masculinity.
FTM / MTF
'Female to Male' / 'Male to Female'. Terms used for describing trans men (FtM) or trans women (MtF). These terms are common in medical literature, but generally unpopular today among trans people. This is mostly because they are ‘biologically essentialist’ – they imply that until transition, trans people are ‘female’ or ‘male’ based on their biology. Never default to using these terms unless you specifically know this is how someone likes to be described.
Transphobia can be described as an irrational fear, hatred, or dislike of someone in connection with their being transgender. Transphobic behaviour discriminates against trans people on the basis of their being transgender and may be direct or indirect, from individuals or organisations. For example, physical or verbal abuse of someone for being trans would be direct transphobic discrimination from an individual. A workplace failing to provide suitably private changing facilities for a trans person would constitute indirect transphobic discrimination from an organisation.
Institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings, and opinions that cause harm to trans people may alternatively or additionally be described as cissexist. Some people draw a line between the two words and define things that are caused by hate of trans people as transphobic, and things caused by a general but casual ignorance of them as cissexist.
Transmisogyny refers to institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that specifically target trans women and transfeminine AMAB people. The need for this word reflects that the vast majority of violence (physical and otherwise) against trans people (indeed against LGBT+ people in general) is violence directed towards trans women.
Transmisogynoir refers to institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that specifically target black trans women. As our current understanding of binary gender grew from colonialist violence, anti-black racism is a core part of transmisogyny and transphobia in general.
Refers to feelings of anxiety, discomfort or 'wrongness' a trans person may have about gendered aspects of their bodies, presentation, behaviour or anything else. Individual trans people feel different types and degrees of dysphoria. Experiencing dysphoria is not a requirement for identifying as trans.
‘Transition’ refers to someone changing an aspect of their life or themselves so that they feel it aligns better with their gender identity. Transitioning might include some all or none of the following: medical treatment such as hormone therapy, surgery or voice therapy, a change in how people dress or otherwise changing outward presentation, a change in what name and pronouns they should be referred to by, coming out to friends, family or colleagues, changing name and/or sex on legal documents, seeking new hobbies or otherwise adjusting their social life. None of these is a ‘necessary’ part of transition.
Refers to someone or something which has not been gendered, e.g. a gender neutral toilet is for use by people of any gender.
In general this refers to those people who have genetic, hormonal and physical features that are not consistent with the expectation for their SAAB (that aren't caused by purposeful medical intervention i.e. trans people who have undergone a medical transition are not by default considered intersex). The boundaries of what counts as intersex are largely arbitrarily defined, as most people do not fit all expectations for their assigned sex. One definition applies it to inconsistencies in expected genital/reproductive organ configuration, chromosomes, or hormones.
Intersex people sometimes undergo invasive non consensual medical and surgical procedures as a baby/child/teen to align them with what doctors believe is more "normal", leading to the term Surgically Assigned Sex At Birth (SASAB).
Adjective to describe someone who is not intersex.
Institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that cause harm to intersex people may be described as intersexphobic.
Gendering someone incorrectly. For example, referring to a trans woman as a man, as male, with he/him pronouns, or with other male-associated terms such as 'sir' are all examples of misgendering. This can be very hurtful to trans people (who rightly recognise that it is often a prelude to other forms of violence when it is done on purpose).
By default you should assume that trans women use the same terminology as you would assume cis women use, and that trans men use the same terminology that cis men use.
Refer to people how they refer to themselves, and if you do not know someone’s gender or preferences with regards to pronouns, use gender neutral terminology and ask them in private at an appropriate time.
A name which a trans person no longer uses. Never refer to someone by their deadname unless they have given you direct and explicit permission; doing so is misgendering. However, if a trans person comes out to you before coming out to everyone in their life, you should always ask them how they wish to be referred to in various contexts to avoid either accidentally outing them, or misgendering them and revealing their deadname to people who might not have known it.
Words used to fill in for a noun, e.g. for a person’s name, in a sentence. Examples in English include she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir, ey/em… Whilst pronouns are not necessarily gendered (i.e. not everyone who prefers to be called she/her necessarily identifies fully as female), they do have gendered implications, and therefore referring to someone using the wrong pronouns is misgendering. It’s best to use ‘they/them’ pronouns as a default until you’ve asked what pronouns to use for someone.
The belief or assumption that gender is determined by physical characteristics. For example, assumptions like “(all) men have penises”, “(all) women have vaginas”, or “there are only two sexes/genders” are biologically essentialist.
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