Glossary

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. Some definitions may use terms you’ve not seen before – but hopefully those terms should all have their own entries. 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. No one is going to give an exact, clear-cut definition of the terms here, and attempting to promote one conception of a notion like “gender” above another generally just involves back-and-forth argumentation. What’s more important is listening and reflecting on the experiences of those who go against the society norms, and adapting our views and practices in light of such.In particular, this was most recently edited by a white trans person (with reference to and help from http://lifeoutsidethebinary.com/glossary); as such, some terms are not covered particularly well. Anyone who can help with this (or thinks anything else is missing or inaccurate) should email lgbt-trans@cusu.cam.ac.uk.

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.

Gender

Gender is a term that refers to a myriad of different concepts and ideas, including a person’s gender (otherwise referred to as gender identity), and the social construct of gender which individual gender identities are in reference to.

In dominant thinking in current Western society, people are assigned genders at birth (to line up with their assigned sex at birth) as either male or female. It is expected that all people will fit into their assigned gender and as such much of the construct of gender is built around a man/woman boy/girl dichotomy. These two genders have constructed norms that are variable across time, culture and class. Gender is hence strongly linked to society’s expectations and is not particularly a biological matter.

Most people’s assigned gender is sufficiently congruent with their gender identity; however some people identify as either the other binary 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, afterwhich that thing or person can be described as having been gendered.

Sex

The term “sex” has a complicated history. Its origins are in trying to tie together colonial ideas about binary gender and biological dimorphism observed in humans and in nature. It is still often used to attempt to categorise people as either male or female based on their gendered physical traits (like breasts, facial hair, estrogen/testosterone level, whether they have a Y chromosome, etc…). Whilst some trans advocates encourage this usage in order to distinguish between the psychological and physical aspects of gender, others are critical of it as it this distinction is can be used to grant legitimacy to Sex Assigned At Birth (SAAB) over people’s gender. Sex-terminology (male or female) is also sometimes 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

A model for sex and gender in which all people (and almost all animals) can be described as either male or female, or in equivalent gender roles of man or 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 we currently understand it has its origins in colonialism, where it was and still is used as a part of efforts to wipe out native/indigenous cultures.

Whilst very few people fit either binary category perfectly, many still insist that they (and all others) should subscribe to this system or that there is some innate truth to it. This insistence can take many forms e.g. dyadism, cissexism, transphobia, transmisogyny, binarism, non-binary erasure…

Biological dimorphism

The statistical tendency in humans (and many other species) for certain traits to tend to be grouped together in some individuals, roughly forming two sets of traits, (i.e. in mammals those who have wombs also tend to have larger breasts). It should be noted that these traits are not universal either in terms of which set they fit in between species, or in terms of all of them being grouped the same for all members of a species. i.e. humans who produce large numbers of small gametes (sperm) tend to weigh more than humans who produce small numbers of large gametes (eggs), but this is not always the case. Also, in many other species it’s those who produce small numbers of large gametes that tend to weigh more.

Again, even within a species biological dimorphism is a statistical observation that does not necessarily apply to individuals.

Binarism

[taken from http://lifeoutsidethebinary.com/glossary]

The destruction and erasure of cultural gender identities as a result of european colonialism, forcing people of colour to assimilate to european binary gender roles.

Binarism is a form of oppression specific to people of colour – even cisgender people of colour suffer from binarism. For general non-binary discrimination, see: nonbinary erasure, transphobia, cissexism.

Non-binary gender

People whose gender is not or not wholly described by ‘male’ or ‘female’. Some identities which can be non-binary include androgyne, polygender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, dual-gendered, non-gender identifying, gender questioning, gender variant, gender fluid, butch, femme and cross-dressing & transvestite people.

Some non binary identities are culturally specific and should not be appropriated (e.g. two spirit, boi). As the gender binary is a colonial export, not all people with a culturally specific gender that is not male or female fall under the non-binary umbrella, as whether they identify as such is a matter of personal choice. ‘Non-binary’ therefore does not necessarily encapsulate everyone who is not male or female, and thus should be treated as a specific identity label claimed by those who are comfortable with it.

Transfeminine/transmasculine

These terms used for describing people who identify fully or partially other the other binary gender. For example, a CAMAB non-binary person might not consider themself a trans woman, but might identify partially with femaleness and/or femininity, and could therefore identify themself as transfeminine.

Should only be used as an adjective. Not all people who fit this definition identify with it. Describe people with the terms they use to describe themselves.

Self-determined Gender

A person’s inner sense of their own gender identity, which is independent of their gender expression, biological makeup and any gender that may be externally attributed to them by other people, including legally and socially.

Transgender (or trans)

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from that of their sex assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not alter their bodies to better fit with their gender identity through means such as hormones or surgery.  None of these things are requirements for being trans. Some intersex people identify as transgender but the two are not the same. Should only be used as an adjective e.g. ‘transgender people’.  The word “Transgendered” is used by some people but is not strictly grammatically correct and its use is therefore discouraged.

Trans*

‘Trans*’ with an asterisk is sometimes used with the intention of being an umbrella term. However, the implication behind this often is that some non-cis people (often non-binary folks) do not have the right to claim transness, which is incorrect and harmful. Because of this, most trans people do not use the asterisk (which is not to say good faith cannot usually be assumed on behalf of those who do use it). Read more on this here.

Cisgender

The antonym of transgender. Used to describe those whose gender identity is congruent with their sex assigned at birth.  Should only be used as an adjective e.g. ‘cisgender people’.

There is some resistance to this term from transphobic people who think that the word is unnecessary (this parallels the resistance there was to the word “heterosexual” when non-straight people started using it). If someone is objecting to being called cis on those grounds, or that they would prefer to be called “normal” or “biological”, then this is an exception to the rule about not pushing identities on people.

Such protestations exist to indicate that trans people are not normal or legitimately their gender (as they are the only ones in need of a qualifier), and are transphobic.

Transsexual

Transsexual people are those who identify with the opposite binary gender to their sex assigned at birth and seek to live permanently in this gender role. This is often accompanied by with strong rejection of their physical primary and secondary sex characteristics and a wish to align their body with their preferred gender. Transsexual people might intend to undergo, be undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment treatment (which may or may not involve hormone therapy or surgery). Should only be used as an adjective. Not all people who fit this definition identify with it. Describe people with the terms they use to describe themselves.

Sex assigned at birth

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).

AFAB/AMAB

Female/male assigned at birth. Used to differentiate between which binary gender identity a trans* person was assigned at birth. These terms should only be used when describing distinct challenges the two groups face and should never be used to refer to an individual. Alternatives include DFAB and CAMAB (designated female/male at birth, coercively assigned male/female at birth).

Trans woman

Specifically refers to someone who was CAMAB and is a woman. A CAFAB 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.

Trans man

Refers to someone who was CAFAB and is a man.

NB – the difference in emphasis of the above definitions for trans man and trans woman is due to there being a widespread problem of DFAB non-binary women claiming trans womanhood to circumvent discussions of trans misogyny, whereas the inverse issue is much less of a problem.

FTM / MTF

‘Female to Male’ / ‘Male to Female’. Terms used for describing trans men (FtM) or trans women (MtF).

While used extensively throughout medical literature and a large proportion of older 101s and other texts, the terms are not popular today in the trans community. This is due to the terms being seen as very unclear (they contain both the word male and female), binary focussed and also due to the implication of trans people not being their sex (which is gendered and thus not being their gender) prior to transition.

Do not default to using these terms unless you specifically know this is how someone likes to be described. Describe people using the terms they use to describe themselves.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a medical condition in which a person has been assigned one gender at birth  but identifies as another gender, or does not conform to the gender role society ascribes to them. Gender dysphoria is not related to sexual orientation. Gender dysphoria has replaced gender identity disorder as the word disorder is seen as stigmatising.

A person with gender dysphoria can experience anxiety, uncertainty or persistently uncomfortable feelings about their gender assigned at birth. This dysphoria may lead to a fear of expressing their feelings or of rejection and in some cases deep anxiety or chronic depression. It is effectively treated using methods such as counselling, hormone replacement therapy, surgery or simply social transition.  Individual trans people feels different types of dysphoria to different extents, or not at all. Not all trans people feel that dysphoria is an accurate way to describe their feelings about how they relate to gender. Identifying as having dysphoria is not a requirement for being trans.

Gender reassignment

Gender reassignment is a process undertaken under medical supervision to reassign a person’s gender by changing their physical sexual characteristics. Gender reassignment may involve someone or all of the following: hormone therapy; hair removal and possibly (although not always) chest and/or genital surgery.

Transitioning

The term transition refers to someone changing some aspect of their life/themselves to better fit a gender identity different to one that aspect was previously sculpted to. Transitioning can include any changes which a person feels is necessary or helpful towards their public or private life as their gender. Note that no particular thing is a necessary part of transition if a person doesn’t want it.

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.

Gender neutral

Refers to something with does not have specific genders, e.g. gender-neutral toilet signage might include a WC or toilet symbol, but would not include any combination of the standard “male” and “female” figures.

Intersex

This refers to those people who have genetic, hormonal and physical features that are neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, but are typical of both at once or not clearly defined as either. These features can manifest themselves within secondary sexual characteristics such as muscle mass, hair distribution, breasts and stature; primary sexual characteristics such as reproductive organs and genitalia, and/or in chromosomal structures and hormones. This term has replaced the term ‘hermaphrodite’ which was used extensively by medical practitioners during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but is now only used to refer to animals that display both male and female reproductive capability. Some intersex people may identify as transgender but it is incorrect to assume that these two terms are synonymous. Research suggests that approximately 1% of the population is intersex. For more info, check out isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex

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).

Dyadic

Adjective to describe someone who is not intersex.

Intersexphobia/Dyadism

Institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that cause harm to intersex people may be described as intersexphobia or dyadist.

Transphobia/Cissexism

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. Others prefer to use “cissexism” to avoid disablist implications of describing a system of hate as a phobia. However, neither distinction is universally accepted.

Transmisogyny

Transmisogyny refers to institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that specifically target trans women and transfeminine CAMAB 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.

More specifically, the majority of anti LGBT+ discrimination is directed towards trans women of colour, who are the primary targets of binarism and heteropatriarchy. Transmisogyny is a part of white supremacy. Transmisogyny towards white women is white supremacy causing backlash for certain white people. Cissexism experienced by white trans people who are not trans women is also a part of this backlash.

Transmisogynoir

Transmisogynoir refers to institutions, systems, personal actions, feelings and opinions that specifically target black trans women. As our current understanding of gender grew out of colonialist violence and ideals, anti-black racism is a core part of transmisogyny and transmisogyny in general.

Misgendering

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.

Deadname/Oldname/Birthname

A name which a trans person no longer uses (and in the case of birthname, also the name they were given at birth). Many trans people find the idea of people knowing their oldname uncomfortable, due to the way that cis people will often latch onto an oldname in order to aggressively misgender a trans person.

You should never ever refer to someone by their deadname unless they have given you direct and explicit permission; doing so is a misgendering act. However, if a trans person comes out to you before coming out to everyone, 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.

Each of these words can also be used as a verb i.e. to oldname someone is to refer to them by an oldname.