BEA: Well, no, I mean, I don’t identify as a man or a woman or as male or female or any of that.
IGNORANT ASSHOLE: Well what are you then?
BEA: I identify as a human being, you ignorant asshole. You ask me who I am, not what. And not that you deserve to know, but I identify as a queer translady. Transfeminine also describes me.
IGNORANT ASSHOLE: [insert derogatory term here].
Obviously, not all people who are ignorant are assholes. As my dad helpfully pointed out to me recently, I myself was not exposed to a lot of the politically correct trans rhetoric before coming out as such. And as the length of this post will indicate, there’s a lot of rhetoric to know (and this is by NO means an exhaustive list of terms).
So, in the interest of sharing knowledge and eliminating (let’s be honest, reducing) ignorance, here is an alphabetical introduction to a lot of trans-related vocabulary that I have come across over the last year and a half.
You may notice that certain words you have heard that are sometimes used to name trans people are absent from this list, and it is quite possible that those words are slurs or have other negative connotations. I purposely excluded any such words from this list so as to curtail their circulation as much as possible. Additionally, while physical transition can manifest itself in any number of medical procedures, I have only listed a few of the most important ones here, so as to curtail the objectification of trans bodies that so often preoccupies itself with the particulars of what a trans body consisted of, consists of, and will consist of.
DISCLAIMER: The following encyclopedia is written with the help of trustworthy trans resources on the Internet as well as two savvy trans friends of mine: Tristan Powell and Darien Wendell. I write this encyclopedia of trans terms as a transgender individual who dedicates herself to trans advocacy and studies these issues extensively. That said, and as will become apparent, this collection is largely refracted through my personal experiences and I do not wish to universalize my specific experience, nor speak as an absolute authority on themes and identities that I do not own. I welcome suggestions for edits in the comment section.
NOTE: Italicized words are defined terms.
Let’s begin. May you never misspeak again.
Let’s begin. May you never misspeak again.
- Agender (adj.): Not experiencing any gender (not to be conflated with asexual, for gender and sexuality stand independently of each other). See gender and sexuality below.
- Androgynous (adj.): [Delightfully] ambiguous in terms of gender. Ignorant assholes (see above) might enact violence—see below—upon androgynous people for not being immediately able to discern their sex (REMINDER: gender and sex also stand independently of each other). See gender and sex below.
- Bigender (adj.): Experiencing two genders (hint: there are infinite). Bigender people might present with different genders from one day to the next. It would be a good idea to ask a bigender friend what pronouns they prefer at any given point in time—see pronouns and self-identify below.
- Binary (n.): A system consisting of two parts. How our society would have us over-simplistically understand gender and sex. Causes invisibilization and violence. See Judith Butler.
- Cisgender (adj.): Identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth. (e.g. If your birth certificate says female, and you self-identify as a girl or woman and use the pronouns she/her/hers, it is likely that you are a cisgender person.) The term was created as oppositional to transgender in order to render cisgender people as Other in the same way that transgender people experience constantly (see transgender and Other below). Critics of the word have argued that it creates yet another binary, when such modes of thinking are exactly what stir up so much trouble in the first place. Cisgender people enjoy more privilege than transgender people do: the Western world is divided into male and female (presumed also to always be men and women, respectively), so they do not have to anticipate problems going to the bathroom or filling out a job application. See privilege below.
- Clock (v.) (slang): To indicate via perception—even subconsciously—that you know that a person is trans. (e.g. Recently, crossing a parking lot, a cis woman clocked me, looking at me with a distrusting and hateful gaze on account of the dissonance she perceived between my gender and my sex.) Be wary of doing this. You may not realize that you are. The next time you see someone who looks “different” in any way, think, “Diversity! Yay!” and continue moving forward.
- Closet (n.) (slang): The proverbial site of an undisclosed gender and/or sexual identity. It only exists because we keep raising our fucking kids to think they must be straight and cis or else. NOTE FROM TRISTAN: “Lourdes Hunter… said that she doesn’t ‘come out,’ she ‘lets people in.’ It means that the space of our identity is privileged and that it is a privilege to be invited into that story, not that we have to divulge something to society unnecessarily.”
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) (n.): The book that is primarily used by the American Psychiatric Association in determining diagnoses. In this most recent edition that came out in 2013—the DSM-IV having come out in 2000—“Gender Identity Disorder” was changed to “Gender Dysphoria” (see dysphoria below). Proponents of classifying trans identities as a mental disorder argue that it is necessary in order for health insurance to cover transition-related procedures, which can quickly get costly without the help of health insurance. Opponents of the diagnosis argue that it only further pathologizes trans people as mentally ill and thus untrustworthy and/or unfit (e.g. Russia recently declared that trans people are unfit to drive). See transition and pathologization below.
- Drag (n.): A cultural practice and form of entertainment in which performers dress, dance, and lip-synch as another gender. Drag is entirely different from trans identities and people, traditionally playing with highly stereotyped forms of dress and movement. This does NOT mean that trans people cannot make for excellent performers in their own right (hi).
- Dysphoria (n.): The unsettling dissonance between perception and necessity. Normally used in reference to trans people whose external bodies are shaped differently than the bodies they see while sleeping (see transition below), but can also refer to the slowly accumulating fear I feel as the night wears on, where my non-normative existence poses an increasing incitement, for some, to violence.
- Eunuch (n.): A man who has been castrated. Eunuchs prominently feature in numerous ancient cultures in a wide variety of roles, serving as everything from singers to soldiers to slaves. NOTE: A eunuch is not the same as a trans woman. Never use that word (nor the word “castrate,” for that matter,) in reference to trans women. Apart from the fact that not all trans women undergo a vaginoplasty, especially non-op people like me, the two terms mean vastly different things by the sheer nature of their cultural contexts.
- Femininities (n.): The infinite ways to present as feminine. Available to someone of any gender or sex.
- Fetish (n.): A strong, persistent sexual desire for a specific object or activity. CLARIFICATION: Being trans is NOT a fetish. There are many people who fetishize (to make a fetish out of) trans people, which is a dehumanizing practice. We, the Trans, neither comprise an object, commodity, nor conduit for your getting off. Goodbye.
- Female (adj.): Someone who identifies as female, regardless of their gender, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, or chromosomes.
- FTM (adj. or n.): Female-to-Male; a person who was assigned female at birth who now identifies as male. Some prefer the term MTM, because they have always been male, regardless of what their birth certificate stated.
- Gender (n.): A social identity and form of presentation and behavior—man and woman are the two most frequent—highly correlated with the biological determinations we call sex, although the correlation renders certain people invisible—see invisibilization below. NOTE: male and female are sexual categories, referring to biology; man and woman are gender categories, referring to society.
- Genderfluid (adj.): Fluctuating between genders.
- Genderqueer (adj.): [from it’s pronounced METROsexual] “(1) A blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with ‘transgender.’”
- Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) (adj.): Describes people who do display non-normative gender presentations. GNC people might use alternative pronouns, dress androgynously, or embrace a more queer aesthetic.
- Genitalia (n.): Reproductive body parts like a vagina or penis. Like different cisgender people, different transgender people have different genitalia from each other. Due to the correlation of gender and sex, however, many people assume one’s genitalia based on external appearance, although that might well not be the case for a transgender person. Unless you are romantically and/or sexually involved with a transgender person, someone else’s genitalia is not your business. Do not ask after it. It is rude. Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I driven to ask this question? What is it about the corporeal unknown that frightens me so?” See transphobia.
- Hijra (n.): A population of people in South Asia who are typically assigned male at birth—although some are intersex—and adopt feminine gender identities (see intersex below). The identity hijra comes out of Hinduism, and is entwined with certain cultural practices, like performing at weddings. Despite social recognition, hijra still face enormous amounts of discrimination, unfortunately, although India recently added a third gender option on its legal documentation. Many hijra work in sex work, as is common with similar identities internationally, including trans women in the U.S. That said, hijra are NOT easily understood as the “Eastern” equivalent of trans women. See underground economy.
- Homosexuality (n.): Unrelated.
- Hormones (n.): [from Wikipedia] “A class of signaling molecules produced by glands in multicellular organisms that are transported by the circulatory system to target distant organs to regulate physiology and behavior.” The two most well-known hormones are called estrogen and testosterone. Many—but not all—trans women take medical dosages of the former and many—but not all—trans men take medical dosages of the latter in order to produce a body in which they can feel more comfortable. Estrogen can cause trans women to have softer, more glowing skin, whereas testosterone can cause trans men to develop body hair and to lower their voice in pitch. NOTE FROM TRISTAN: “I also like to use the phrase ‘develop secondary sex characteristics of the appropriate gender.’”
- Human being (n.): Who I am and who all of you are, dear readers.
- Internalization (n.): The sinking in and settling down and making a home of ugly opinions and terrifying truths. (e.g. After hearing enough stories of trans women being murdered, I am often disproportionately afraid of quotidian occurrences, like public transportation.) (e.g. After hearing enough stories of trans women being murdered, I often struggle to remember that I have worth as a human being.) See transphobia and violence below.
- Intersectionality (n.): [from Wikipedia] “The study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” So if you’re not only black but also trans, life is probably going to be infinitely more complicated to navigate than if you were white and trans or black and cis. See privilege below.
- Intersex (adj.): Possessing indeterminate reproductive organs and/or genetics at birth. There are many corporeal configurations that fall under the category of intersex, but the identity as a whole destabilizes the idea that sex is only limited to male and female. Since most intersex people are raised as one of the two hegemonic genders, many later discover that they feel more comfortable under a different gender, and experience a social shift akin to that that trans people also experience. Additionally, the trans and intersex movements share political goals, like either having more sex categories on legal documentation or abolishing those categories altogether. See ze/hir/hirs below.
- Invisibilization (n.): The cultural process by which populations of people are systematically overlooked. This happens to trans people all the time, as well as other minorities. If you doubt the truth of this statement, name ten transgender celebrities off the top of your head.
- Judith Butler (human being): A theorist and gender celebrity (but not transgender; did you really think I was going to give you one that easily?) who largely paved the way for transgender theory and studies. Her early writings are notoriously dense, but brilliant. She suggested that gender is something that society not only constructs, but also reiterates through the systematic enforcement and practice of gender roles and presentations, thus deferring transcenders of this “exclusionary matrix”—i.e. trans people—to the status of “abject beings.”
- Kathoey (n.): A Thai gender category. Like hijra, kathoey are not easily understood as an “Eastern” equivalent of trans women, despite sharing a male assignment at birth and a more feminine gender presentation. Many kathoey consider the identity its own gender entirely (remember how there are infinite genders?), distinct from effeminate men or trans women. Like hijra, many kathoey work in sex work. See underground economy.
- Life expectancy (n.): The projected lifetime of a specific population or subpopulation. Various sources determine the average life expectancy for trans women to be somewhere around 30 years of age, far less than half the average life expectancy of cis men or cis women in the United States. NOTE: I am 22.
- Love (and Lack thereof): See fetish. (Love is out there, even for trans people, of course, and this definition is undoubtedly shaded with the jaded perspective of one who has gone on two dates in the last fifteen-and-a-half months since coming out as transgender and encountering many awful and ignorant assholes on dating sites and apps. But here is proof of more.)
- Male (adj.): Someone who identifies as male, regardless of their gender, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, or chromosomes.
- Man (n.): Someone who identifies as a man, regardless of their genitalia or sex.
- Masculinities (n.): The infinite ways to present as masculine. Available to someone of any gender or sex.
- MTF: Male-to-Female; a person who was assigned male at birth who now identifies as female. Some prefer the term FTF, because they have always been female, regardless of what their birth certificate stated.
- Non-op (adj.): Short for non-operative. Many transsexual people identify as pre-op or post-op, relative to whether or not they have completed their medical transition, but some trans people do not undergo surgeries or hormone therapy, and they remain just as trans as those who do.
- Normal (adj.): [from Google definitions] Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
- Normative (and non-normative) (adj.): What you should call things that society deems “normal” so as not to imply that non-normative people, identities, behaviors, etc. are somehow “alien,” or, to quote Butler again, “abject.” See queer below.
- Original plumbing (n.) (slang): The unchanged genitalia of a trans man.
- Other (n.): That which is else.
- Other (v.): To make someone or something Other, to demarcate them or it as different from the norm. (e.g. The horrid cis woman in the parking lot othered me when she clocked me.)
- Pangender (adj.): Experiencing many genders.
- Pass (v.) For a trans person to traverse a public space in their correct gender and/or sexual identity and be perceived as such. (e.g. When traveling last summer with a female passport, I made an extra effort to pass as a cis female at the airport so as not to be mistrusted.)
- Pathologization (n.): The vast and reiterative process by which many institutions—chiefly the medical system and the law—posit people such as myself as mentally ill, and, by extension, untrustworthy in airports. Ironically, bearing the immense weight of pathologization only drives me closer toward insanity.
- Phalloplasty (n.): A surgery some trans men undergo to construct a penis out of their original genitalia.
- Privilege (n.): The sum of increased opportunities, rights, advantages, and immunities that any given person might enjoy over another. White people have more privilege than black people because they do not have to worry so much about the ways they are perceived. Cis people have more privilege than trans people because our society mostly structures itself in favor of a two-sex, two-gender system where delineations between sides are clearly and violently marked. Everyone has some kind of privilege. Check yours.
- Pronouns (n.): The gendered shortcut-words by which people refer to themselves in language. Most people use either she/her/hers or he/him/his, but many trans people use many different pronouns that more accurately capture them in language. See self-identify, they/them/theirs and ze/hir/hirs below.
- Queer (adj.): Anything and everything non-heteronormative. It can be used to describe gender expressions, such as in the gender identity genderqueer, as well as non-normative sexual identities. It has more recently transformed from a slur to a site of theory and political activism. Wonderfully nonspecific, it resists easy delineation between differences.
- Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (book): Black trans woman Janet Mock’s hailed memoir. She is one the most prominent—and visible—trans activist/advocates today (look, I gave you one celebrity). An excerpt: “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power—not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” See transphobia and violence below.
- Self-identify (v.): To determine one’s own identity on one’s own terms. Why it is necessary to ask someone for the pronouns and other identifying language they use. Generally imperative.
- Sex (n.1): An activity that can be quite fun and emotionally enriching when done responsibly.
- Sex (n.2): A certain biological status, identified most frequently in our culture as male, female, or intersex. A made-up way to divide people. See x-chromosome.
- Sexuality (n.): See homosexuality.
- Suicide (n.): Too common. Look up Leelah Alcorn.
- Top surgery (n.) (slang): A double mastectomy. A common procedure for trans men as part of their transition.
- They/them/theirs (pn.): Either a plural pronoun set or a singular, gender-neutral pronoun set. If you do not know a person’s preferred pronouns and cannot immediately ask them, it’s a good idea to start with they/them/theirs so as not to presume.
- Trans man (n.): A man who is trans. A lot of people ask me when I use this term (and the following one) what that means they were born as, to which I respond, “I just told you he’s a man” and/or “Why does it matter?” NOTE: Not all trans men are masculine, nor are all trans men sexually interested in women, trans or cis.
- Trans woman (n.): A woman who is trans. NOTE: Not all trans women are feminine, nor are all trans women sexually interested in men, trans or cis.
- Trans (adj.): Describes anyone on the very diverse transgender spectrum, also sometimes called the transgender umbrella. You may also see “trans*” in reference to all trans people, although I do not include the asterisk here because many gender non-conforming people decried its addition, as if they were not included beneath the trans umbrella before the asterisk. Indeed, some people circulate the unfortunate rhetoric of being “trans enough,” as if it were only by physically transitioning that one truly proves their trans identity. Turns out, all trans people and all their trans bodies are just as trans as all the other trans people and all their trans bodies. Trans!
- Transfeminine (adj.): Describes people male-assigned at birth who identify as more feminine than masculine. Usually in reference to non-binary people who lean more that way. This word can also describe MTF transsexual women and trans women, but it does not always (e.g. Butch trans women would probably not identify as transfeminine).
- Transgender (adj.): NOT identifying with the gender and/or sex one was assigned at birth. NOTE: NOT A NOUN. WE ARE NOT REDUCIBLE TO OUR GENDER. See intersectionality above. Additionally, if you wish to refer transgender-related issues or identities or studies, say that. Some people mistakenly speak about “transgender” as if it were an entity in and of itself. NOTE: NOT “TRANSGENDERED.” Ask yourself: do you have many “gayed” friends? Many “Latinoed” friends? No. We are transgender. Period.
- Transition (v.): To journey from a birth-assigned gender and/or sex to the correct one(s). Typically used in reference for a series of medical procedures that can include any combination of surgeries (e.g. top surgery; also see phalloplasty and vaginoplasty), hormone usage (see hormones), and more. Can also be used for non-medical physical transitions, such as maintaining body hair in a new way (i.e. shaving or not, growing it out or cutting it), or the social transition of using a different name, different pronouns, dressing differently, etc. Just like how you shouldn’t ask about someone’s genitalia, you shouldn’t ask about someone’s transition. It is a personal, physical/mental/emotional/psychological health concern of their own and not yours. They will tell you about it if they so choose.
- Transition (n.): The process of transitioning.
- Transmasculine (adj.): Describes people female-assigned at birth who identify as more masculine than feminine. Usually in reference to non-binary people who lean more that way. This word can describe FTM transsexual men and trans men, but it does not always (Femme trans men would probably not identify as transmasculine).
- Transmisogynoir (n.): Prejudice and discrimination against trans women and transfeminine people of color.
- Transmisogyny (n.): Prejudice and discrimination against trans women and transfeminine people.
- Transphobia (n.): Fear of transgender people and the truth we carry. Often manifests itself in violence.
- Transsexual (adj.): NOT identifying with the sex one was assigned at birth. Transsexual people usually physically transition. Generally speaking, transsexual is to transgender as square is to rectangle.
- Trigender (adj.): Experiencing three genders.
- Underground economy (n.): Illicit work, such as drug sales or sex work. Due to transphobia and the discrimination it creates, many trans people are left to engage in such fields of work in order to survive.
- Underrepresentation (n.): The reason why I had to write this encyclopedia and even this blog.
- Vaginoplasty (n.): A surgery some trans women undergo to construct a vagina out of their original genitalia.
- Violence (n.): The reason why I’m scared to take the train at night. Also what happens when you use the wrong pronouns. Disproportionately affects trans women of color. Thankfully, certain badass organizations like the Trans Women of Color Collective are uplifting our trans sisters of color.
- Winkte (n.): In some Native American cultures, such as the Lakota, they operate around a three-gender system: man, woman, and winkte (other tribes call this third gender berdache). Like hijra and like kathoey, winkte are not easily reducible to Western notions of gender and sexuality. But to borrow some Western language to contextualize the identity, winkte are male assigned at birth and live more like women, but remain their own category. They marry men, which says nothing about the sexuality of either the man or the winkte as it would in Western society. In fact, winkte are revered in Lakota culture as possessing higher spiritual powers, serving as a sort of intermediary between men and women. How strange, is it not, to conceive of a culture in which someone outside of the principal two genders could not only be accepted for it, but actually held above?
- Woman (n.): Someone who identifies as a woman, regardless of their genitalia or sex.
- X-chromosome (n.): Along with the Y-chromosome, one of the two biological sex-determining chromosomes. Intersex, female, and male individuals all possess at least one X-chromosome. You might say, instead of worrying about how many X’s someone has or if there’s a Y in that person’s karyotype or so forth, we might just preoccupy ourselves with the indisputable fact that we all share one X in common, us bewildered creatures ever scratching for something substantial and settling for something simpler and seemingly more sensible instead, us people, us who all started out as female fetuses once anyway, us ways of being, us human beings; you might say we might just look at what is the same, sometimes.
- Yellow (n.): A primary color with comparatively long wavelengths. Widely considered to be gender-neutral. The color of my pants as I type this.
- Ze/hir/hirs (pn.): A gender-neutral pronoun set instead of the perhaps more common they/them/theirs. SPECULATION: Perhaps if we all just cared about the fact that we all had an X-chromosome in common, and we all just used the same pronouns, like ze/hir/hirs, maybe, and we didn’t predicate our existence in the world on gender and sex so much as we might on the fact that we’re all human fucking beings, then maybe we wouldn’t see each other so differently, so violently, as binaries and the fear of Something Greater would ever and always have us, and then maybe when you met someone, on the street or in a home, despite any differences you physically perceive or will discover in the ensuing relationship that forms blossoming, yielding love, even, maybe, you would not ask them what they are as they stand there before you, full of history, life, and hope, but who.