34 responses to “An Introduction to Gender Terminology”

  1. Emily

    Thanks so much for this — I’m very new to the nonbinary view, and I really appreciate the help. Could you say a word or two about using an asterisk after trans, as in “trans*”? What does the asterisk represent/replace?

  2. julian

    I always saw the asterisk as a placeholder like “x” in a mathematical equation; it is a variable, and represents whatever the actual answer may be in any given situation (which can change). So “trans*” is just much more efficient than listing all the nouns “trans” can modify. However, I generally forget the star, but still use “trans” in the way meloukhia uses “trans*.”

    Echoing the “thanks” for this post. I’m a newly-revealed genderqueer/non-gendered person, and every time I out myself, I’m met with a string of questions from ignorant* cis folks. It’s nice to have a link to send them so they know WTF I am talking about instead of having to constantly re-explain myself. :)

    *I am using this literally, not meanly

  3. Sanacrow

    Thank you for a very good, concise summary of what can be very confusing language! I’ll be linking folks here pretty regularly, I’m sure. And I’m looking forward to the upcoming posts.
    (from an intersex trans*gressivly gendered butch)

  4. Ouyang Dan

    Thank you for this!

    Even as an ally I find that I am sometimes using language wrong, even when I have been in my STFU & L stage for a while. It is like learning a new language that you have to remember the vocabulary and then remember how to use it … and this is a great 101 on that vocab and usage (I sure hope that was not insulting, I am trying to break that into something I understand).

    I didn’t realize until recently that “cis” isn’t a common lay word, because I tend to throw it around when I am talking to people about things that I write about or care about and I get reactions as if I suddenly started speaking Portuguese and didn’t realize it.

    Be prepared for this to be a highly linked to piece. Kudos!

  5. Sammie

    Nonbinary feminists unite!

    (After some of the horrible things I’ve seen some feminists saying about trans people, I wasn’t entirely sure I was allowed to be a feminist to be honest.)

  6. Sammie

    meloukhia – Yay! I mean, I know I’m not the most active person on this site (I try, but my memory isn’t the most reliable), but it’s nice to know that I’m included.

  7. Sophie

    Just to check my terminology: I’m assuming “cis” is not applied to nonbinary gendered people who do not identify as trans? As in your link I’ve only seen it defined as “the opposite of trans” with no mention of intersex etc people one way or another, and I wanted to check.

    I’m glad you introduced me to the nobinary/binary dichotomy, since I’ve needed those terms from time to time and had nothing to use.

  8. diamond

    I have DID/MPD with male and female alters … so although my body is one thing I may be something else right now. I’ve been thinking about what to call myself. I’m not of the generation where *queer is comfortable, so I’m a bit at a loss.

  9. genderbitch


    Some folks that I know on WiG and personally (who are in similar situations to you) refer to themselves as “plural”, “multiple” or “multigendered” as a way of describing the sum total of the people in the system.

    A few have also created a cover (to avoid having to discuss their DID/MPD and dealing with the ableist and psychophobic bullshit people subject folk with multiplicity to) of the word genderqueer (because of all it encompasses), genderfluid (because externally genderfluid and DID look very similar, so it works well as a cover) or bigendered (for only two individuals in the system) to describe themselves safely.

    And that’s just the id’s I can remember so far. I’m sure there’s more.

  10. Samantha

    @Sophie: “cis” refers to binary identifying people who identify with their assigned, binary, birth sex.


    “This individual may be referred to as a trans person or said to be trans gendered, and as a transsexual person if he or she pursues medical treatment such as hormone therapy, top and bottom surgery, etc.”

    As a non-op transsexual woman, I object a little to that passage. I kind of feel a bit uncomfortable with the medical policing of transsexual people’s bodies: the idea that in order to be a “true transsexual” one must take hormones and seek surgery plus any number of arbitrary medical procedures.

    Hormones help people blend back into society and live as close to a normal life as possible. The way I think of it, they’re not all that different than, say, a scooter is for someone with mobility problems.

    Medical treatment helps us, it does *not ever* define who we are. Or at least that’s my doctrine and I’m sticking to it.


    The only other thing I can really comment on is the use of “trans gendered.” There are many, many trans people, myself included, who object to the conjugation “transgendered/trans gendered.” We feel that it is objectifying our identity, as if it is something that is done to us. We *are* transgender, it doesn’t need to be formed into an adjective because it already is.

  11. Samantha

    @Meloukhia: nono, you misunderstood me. It wasn’t between “transgender” and “trans gender” (it’s transgender, by the way *wink*). It’s between “transgender/trans gender” and “transgendered/trans gendered.” Note the -ed at the end of the second example.

    That is an issue that quite a few trans people find important. We feel that transgender is who we are, just like woman is who we are. We are transgender women. Putting an -ed at the end of a word does a couple things. Firstly, using -ed to designate that a word is an adjective (“transgendered”) implies that the nonconjugated version is a noun (“a transgender”). In the English language, that’s just what -ed does, it turns nouns into adjectives. Many people in the trans community, including myself, find this deeply objectifying.

    The other issue that many of us have with it is that it makes it sound like transgender is something that happened to us: “She was transgendered when the surgeon finished” is something that comes to mind in this. Especially because the root that it conjugates is “gender;” consider the phrase “he gendered her as female.” It makes “transgender” seem like a verb: “to transgender.” I’m a little less clear on this argument myself, too, but it is something that I’ve heard expressed a lot.

    Personally, I have problems with it because of how it turns our identity modifier into a noun. Just remember that trans people don’t transition to be trans people (usually). I am a woman. I am a woman who happens to be transgender. Using “transgendered” objectifies my identity in EXACTLY the same way that calling me “a transgender” objectifies my identity and objectifying people’s identity is not okay.

    Anyway, please don’t get the feeling that I’m angry or anything either. It is a serious issue, but with the way that the popular media treats the word and even some people within the LGBT community use it, people get sloppy and don’t really stop to think about what it means.

  12. Samantha

    I was just looking over what I just wrote in my last post and had a brain moment. I’m thinking, what if you took what I said and replaced “disabled” for “transgendered” in the sense of having something DONE to you which reduces and objectifies your experiences. It’s even more astute in the example of “disabled,” too, because “disable” is, in fact, a verb!

    Something that’s done to me, not something I am.

    Now that I think about it, I’m starting to get bothered by that too. The thing is, I’m not sure I have a better word. Maybe “handicap.” But saying that I’m handicap has connotations of physical disability whereas being specific and saying I’m mentally/neurologically/psychiatrically handicap has all kinds of connotations re: developmental disabilities which is all manner of appropriating of me.

    Gaaaaah! I’ll tell you what, I’m a transgender woman with disabilities. Or I could just go with my reclamitory old standby: “the twitchy tranny.”

  13. Frankincensy

    “It’s also not appropriate to say “transwomen” “transmen” etc–please put a space in, as in “trans woman” and “trans man.” We use a space because we want to avoid creating a new gender; we are using “trans” as a modifier. A trans woman is a woman. A transwoman is… something else.”

    I’d never thought about this before; thank you for pointing it out.

  14. Avalon's Willow

    I did not know that about trans woman, trans man and had been thinking them each one word. But it makes total sense; I’m not a blackwoman.

    Having total facepalm now.

    I have a question though. Just this week I stumbled onto the term FAB as in Female At Birth and it was related to the thoughts that trans women have stolen/taken over the word ‘woman’ so now women who aren’t trans need a new term.

    I found the sites and the people on them … disturbing. I wondered if it was a term to add to the list of what wouldn’t be allowed on FWD.


    It is interesting to me that non-binary was described as it was in the OP, since non-binary and androgyne are terms I would use if asked. And yet I am extremely reluctant to think or imply I have any understanding of what it is to be trans.

  15. amandaw

    Similar with (sorry if I missed it) Woman Born Woman, which is a term invented by cis women specifically seeking to exclude trans* women from… well, everything, I suppose, but from their own damn sex/gender in particular.

  16. genderbitch

    It’s really nice to see a solid effort to avoid the erasure of trans folks here on a feminist resource, especially trans women (since historically we can depend on erasure and exclusion like clockwork). Here’s hoping it starts a trend.
    .-= genderbitch´s last blog ..Attraction, Objectification and Sexual Culture =-.

  17. Sarah TX

    I’ve never gotten a clear picture as to why some people don’t like the term cis sexual or cis gender – the linked to article explains it pretty well! It seems silly to object to the term “cis gender” or “cis woman” when we so easily accept “straight woman”. It’s value-neutral, which seems to be exactly why it’s disliked. Ironic.

  18. abby jean

    sarah tx: the only reason i can see to objecting to the term “cis” is that it (GASP) highlights and allows discussion of cis privilege. which people seem to think would be way easier to just ignore and never deal with ever. i also can’t see any intellectually honest way to object.

  19. Samantha

    In Re: FAB

    There’s also FAAB, which is more value neutral. It means “female assigned at birth” and has its male counterpart, MAAB. It’s still a little binary enforcing but it really does pay homage to the fact that it’s ASSIGNED. Used a lot in with the genderqueer ect… community. Which is a bit problematic in itself because, just like referencing back to trans peoples’ birth assignment is erasing to our identities, it’s erasing towards non-binary people’s identity too.

  20. Sammie

    abby jean: That’s so true. I’ve had people say they don’t like the term “cis” because they didn’t get to choose it, but when given the chance they never come up with an alternative which isn’t “normal” or “non-trans”. Or, you know, something much worse.

  21. myriad

    @Diamond – just wanted to thank you for commenting; i (we) have DID as well and definitely get tripped up on language. we not only have many genders in our system, we also identify as a trans man, and are on hormones and had surgery. (i am not accustomed to putting the space in, but the rationale makes sense. it’ll take some time to train myself to put the space in, but i’ll work on it!) and the person/people who deal with the outside world on a day-to-day basis is/are not genderqueer – they are very comfortable with being identified solely as male. so we don’t want to intrude in genderqueer spaces, because that is a different experience and we do live within the binary most of the time. but we will always have many other genders inside. in the past, we’ve generally referred to it as multigendered, but these days we are afraid to claim that because we live as male pretty comfortably. we have the privileges that come from living within the binary and the challenges/risks of being a person with an explicitly trans body as well, and multigendered tends to erase that. it’s so tangled, and i don’t think we’ll ever find a single word we’re comfortable with that really represents our whole experience. i guess that’s pretty much part of being multiple.

    anyway, it just really warms my heart that other multiples are part of this community, because we usually feel so outside of groups (that aren’t specifically multiple) because being multiple necessarily tends to supercede all other forms of identity (for me). we tend to feel very very other, so it’s nice to know we’re not alone. (o:
    .-= myriad´s last blog ..low, low, low =-.

  22. Samantha

    @Myriad: I know a couple of DID trans people too. You’re definitely not alone out there.

  23. romham

    Just my 2c. The idea of FAAB/MAAB has really REALLY limited use, and i would seriously steer cis folks away from using these terms as any sort of default.

    Consider this from http://dglenn.dreamwidth.org/1588929.html

    “Note that while ‘FAAB’ and ‘MAAB’ are useful in certain contexts when discussing the ideas of sex and gender abstractly, when used casually outside of that context they still reveal too much emphasis on the idea that initially-apparent biology = destiny, and can be used as sneakier ways of saying “real man” or “real woman” for cisgendered in order to exclude trans individuals from gendered spaces.”

  24. Samantha

    @Romham: totally agreed. Sometimes it is appropriate to talk about birth sex though. Maybe “this person’s assigned birth sex was male” would be best. I know I do a double take when people refer to me as male assigned at birth. When I’m talking and using those terms about myself I keep messing up too and saying I’m FAAB. I guess the whole female identity thing runs deep. :p

  25. dasha

    I just gained a lot of enlightenment points. This was truly great. I’m always so awkward identifying my genders and sometimes lack of gender. I tend to put a sock in it in for fear of offending others who don’t fall within the binary limits and use different language than me. Thanks, everyone.

    English can really be inadequate…it’s the bending, breaking, and fusing of the language which keeps it vital.

  26. Amanda

    I’m nongendered, and I started using the term to have a way of saying that I was not trans or cis.

  27. Kali

    I’m cis, and it was my great fortune to be educated very kindly but forcefully on the fact that the best person to make any sort of determination on someone’s gender is…that person! I was in high school and used a thoughtless pronoun that hurt a guy who was a good friend.

    I try to be an ally. I know I make mistakes, but I try. I do my best to refer to a person by the pronouns and terms ze prefers. I do find some of the ways we talk about genders grammatically awkward, but I know that’s my bias and one I have to work on. But that’s part of being an ally, right? Acknowledging your mistakes and making a commitment to try to better them. I don’t want a cookie, I want a better world. I can only hope to be part of that if people can tell me when I have made a mistake.


  28. Cesy

    Thanks for explaining the reasoning behind the space in trans woman. I could never remember which way was correct before because I didn’t understand why.