So… I’ve been meaning to get some kind of glossary put together for a long, long, long while… but it occurred to me lately that also a lot of people have some additional trouble with knowing HOW to use trans terminology.
So I wanted to make a little go-to reference guide, which I’ll probably set up as a static page (and expand after receiving whatever input or questions come along in the comments).
First of all, a basic glossary:
AFAB / AMAB – “Assigned female at birth” / “assigned male at birth”, sometimes also CAMAB / CAFAB for “Coercively assigned”.
Androgyne – An individual whose gender includes both male/masculine and female/feminine characteristics.
Androgynous – A form of gender expression that has both masculine and feminine elements
Androphilia – Sexual and/or romantic attraction to men.
Asexuality – A sexual orientation in which one experiences diminished or absent interest in sexual attraction to others. Romantic interest may or may not be present, depending on the individual.
Assigned Sex – The sex one is determined to be at birth, that is placed on one’s birth certificate, and in which one is socialized. Typically is assigned on the basis of the genitalia’s external appearance.
Autogynophilia – A proposed but largely debunked theoretical etiology of transgenderism in which an AMAB person is aroused by the concept of themselves as female. Frequently used to invalidate trans lesbians.
Bi-Gendered – A gender identity in which one feels comfortable identifying as both male and female.
Butch – A term of self-identification for a queer person, usually a woman, whose gender expression is interpreted as more masculine than feminine.
Cisgender / Cissexual / Cis – Not trans. This comes from the latin prefix “cis-” meaning “on the same side”, which is conventionally used as an antonym to “trans-“, meaning “across”. It is strongly preferred to other qualifiers such as “bio”, “genetic”, “normal” and so on due to the fact that it isn’t loaded with any kind of value judgment. It means “not trans” or “gender identity and gender expression consistent with assigned sex”, and nothing else.
Chaser – A derogatory term for a man who has an objectifying or demeaning sexual attraction to trans women, and who pursues them often through dishonest means (such as joining trans support groups and forums claiming to be in early transition themselves). Does not refer to all men who are attracted to or fetishize trans women, only those who do so in an objectifying or demeaning way.
Cisnormativity – Attitudes, beliefs and actions that treat cisgenderism and cissexuality as more “normal”, “natural” or “default” than transgenderism and transsexuality, and sets of biases leading people to assume various cisgender standards by which they perceive and interpret the world and others.
Cissexism – Attitudes, beliefs and actions that privilege cisgenderism and cissexuality as being preferable, superior, healthier, or more valid than transgenderism and transsexuality.
Clock / Read – A verb meaning to correctly identify as a trans person as trans.
Cross-Dresser – An individual who engages in temporary acts of cross-sex presentation. Distinct from drag in that it is not done for entertainment or performance purposes, and distinct from other types of trans identities, such as transsexuality, in that the cross-sex presentation is temporary, their gender identity is typically consistent with assigned sex, and the cross-sex persona/identity is usually not regarded as more “true” than the assigned-sex persona/identity. Many transsexual people do, however, go through a period of identifying as cross-dressers prior to full self-acceptance and transition.
Disclosure / Spooking – The act of a “passable” trans person informing someone else (in the case of “spooking”, specifically a sexual partner) of their gender status and history.
Drag – An exaggerated and often campy form of cross-sex presentation for the purposes of performance, entertainment or fun.
Drag Queen / King – A performer who engages in drag.
Femme – A term of self-identification for a queer person, usually a woman, whose gender expression is interpreted as more feminine than masculine.
Femmephobia – A term for hatred, fear, ridicule or other negative emotional responses to that which is culturally coded as feminine, as well as beliefs that people or things understood as feminine are inferior, weaker, less preferable, less natural and less valid than that which is understood as masculine.
Gender Expression – The outward manner in which one expresses or presents one’s gender. This is the concept that is described as “masculine”, “feminine”, “butch”, “femme”, “macho”, “sissy”, etc. It is actually comprised of numerous very individual variables (such as being “rational” or “emotional”, “creative” or “pragmatic”, long hair or short hair, fondness for make-up and jewelry or sports and tools, whether one wears “female clothes” or “male clothes”, etc), and whether an individual’s gender expression is interpreted as masculine or feminine is typically based on a loose aggregation of these individual traits. It is independent from, and non-determinant of, gender identity, sexual orientation and physiological sex.
Gender Identity – The inner conceptual sense of self as “man”, “woman” or other, as divorced from issues like gender expression, sexual orientation, or physiological sex. It is a subtle and abstract, but extremely powerful, sense of who you are, in terms of gender, independent of how you dress, behave, what your interests are, who you’re attracted to, etc.
Gender Presentation – How one is presenting oneself in terms of how your gender is to be interpreted by others. For instance, wearing an evening gown, make-up and jewelry would be “female gender presentation”, and a tuxedo would be “male gender presentation”. Gender presentation is not always distinct and binary.
Genderqueer – A term of self-identification for someone whose gender identity does not fit neatly into the conventional male/female binary.
Gynophilia – Sexual and romantic attraction to women.
Misgendering – The act of addressing or referring to someone by terms or pronouns inconsistent with their gender identity. For instance, referring to a trans woman as “sir”.
Passing – A trans person being perceived by others as a cis member of hir identified sex.
Passing Privilege – The set of physical and social characteristics, typically conferred by good fortune rather than effort, that give a trans person the ability to pass.
Santorum – The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is often the byproduct of anal sex.
Sexual Orientation – A descriptor for the gender or genders towards which an individual feels sexual attraction (or the absence thereof). Distinct and independent from and non-determinant of gender identity, gender expression and physiological, assigned sex.
SRS / Sexual Reassignment Surgery / Lower Surgery / Bottom Surgery / Genital Reconstruction Surgery – Surgery for transsexual people, such as vaginoplasty or phalloplasty, designed to reconstruct genitalia into a workable equivalent of that of their identified sex.
Top Surgery – A term for any form of breast surgery (enhancement, reduction or removal) for a transsexual person.
Trans-feminine- An AMAB individual who feels strong discomfort with the expected male gender expression and strongly prefers a more feminine mode of gender expression. Sometimes refers to all AMAB transgender people.
Transgender- An umbrella term referring to any identity that deviates from the assumed cultural norms of gender, gender identity or gender expression.
Transition- The process by which a transsexual person changes characteristics of their sex and gender presentation so as to feel more comfortable with their bodies and social role. May involve medical procedures such as hormone replacement therapy, genital surgery, facial feminization surgery and top surgery, legal decisions such as change of name, documentation, ID and legal sex, changes in presentation such as clothing, make-up, accessories, voice training, mannerisms and body language, etc. Each transition is unique, and there is no one prescriptive path people choose to follow.
Trans Man- The preferred noun for a female-to male transsexual person, regardless of the point at which he is in his transition, or what decisions he made about the precise nature of his transition.
Trans-masculine- An AFAB individual who experiences strong discomfort with expected female gender expression and strongly prefers a more masculine mode of gender expression.Sometimes refers to all AFAB transgender people.
Transphobia- Fear, hatred or ridicule (or any other negative emotional reaction) towards transgenderism and transgender individuals.
Transsexual- Someone whose gender identity is in conflict with their assigned, physiological sex and pursues transition, on an intended permanent basis, in order to feel a greater sense of harmony and congruence with their body, presentation and social/interpersonal role. May be at any point in the process of transition.
Trans Romanticism- Term for specific attraction to transgender individuals. Much less derogatory than “chaser”.
Tranvestic Fetishist- Someone who feels an erotic, sexual thrill or arousal from cross-sex presentation or dress.
Trans woman- The preferred noun for a male-to-female transsexual person, regardless of the point at which she is in her transition, or what decisions she made about the precise nature of her transition.
Two-Spirit- A concept of gender variance in North American indigenous cultures in which a person is regarded as having both a male and female “soul”, “spirit” or identity.
Queer- A term of self-identification for an individual who in some way deviates from the assumed cultural norms of sexuality and gender.
Now, about the style thing…
First of all, pronouns.
It is NOT THAT DIFFICULT. Anyone who claims it’s too confusing or too hard and you can’t be arsed to get this shit straight is a cis-privileged doofus who does not deserve any respect or consideration.
As a general rule, go with pronouns consistent with someone’s presented gender. Remember that presented gender has fuck all to do with passing. If they are presenting as female, regardless of whether or not you think they look like a “real” woman, you use “she” and “her”. If they are presenting as male, you use “he”, “him” and “his”. If in the unlikely event that you truly, honestly can’t tell their gender presentation, go with “they”/”them”/”their” until you get a chance to respectfully, discreetly ask their preference.
Never, ever, EVER use “it”. EVER. That is so dehumanizing it’s not even funny. Anyone who can’t see that has fundamentally failed at human empathy and comprehension of basic respect for others.
Also, do NOT use things like “s/he” or “shim”. Almost as offensive as “it”.
(The exception to this is ONLY if you get a specific individual’s express consent and statement of preference, and then it is to be understood that that consent / preference applies ONLY to the individual who offered you it, nobody else)
“Transgender”, “transsexual” and “trans” are adjectives, not nouns. They are descriptors for a particular characteristic a person may have. Using them as nouns, as in a category of human, like “some of my best friends are transgenders!” is othering and offensive.
Also, since “transgender” is already an adjective, saying “transgendered” is a bit redundant.
Also, try to use them as adjectives, not things from which to construct new compounds. Use “trans woman”, “trans men”, “trans people”, not “transwoman”, “transmen”, or “transpeople”. The latter are offensive in more or the less the same way “blackwoman” or “gayman” would be.
The following are slurs. DO NOT USE THEM, unless you are a) one of the people directly referred to by the term and are doing so ironically or as an act of reclamation in reference to yourself, or b) using the terms to speak about the terms themselves:
It’s also worth noting that the terms “sex change” and “sex change operation” have ended up becoming very archaic and outdated, and do have some trivializing connotations.
Please don’t ever refer to someone’s op-status unless it’s actually immediately relevant to whatever it is you’re talking about. Also, don’t use “post-op” or “pre-op” as nouns. Seriously.
Please don’t describe us like “Natalie, who was born a man but believes she’s a woman”. Just treat us as our identified sex, please?
Please don’t mention our being trans AT ALL unless it’s relevant to what you’re talking about. If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, and we ought to just be accepted as women, men, or however we identify.
Please don’t use “clever” pithy little stand-ins for the terms “men” and “women” that end up excluding trans people, like “XX chromosomer” for women, “people with dangly bits” for men, “vagina-havers” for women, etc.
NEVER EVER PUT QUOTE MARKS around our preferred name, pronouns or gender. Example: “Natalie” likes to go around saying “she” is a “woman”.
Never, ever make references to our birth-name unless it is absolutely impossible to avoid.
Please don’t make references to our assigned sex’s anatomy, even in jest, like “Natalie got caught up in a dick-size contest with Loftus”. It really stings.
Please remember that something that may not be triggering or a problem for cis people of our identified sex, such as referring to women as “dude”, may indeed be very triggering and hurtful for a trans person of that gender.
And basically? Just accept that we are our genders, and treat that fact with some sensitivity (while doing a little to bear in mind we live in a world constantly trying to invalidate that gender). It really is that easy.
Thanks for listening!