Julia’s trans, gender, sexuality, & activism glossary!
This is the online glossary for my third book: Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism. It begins with a brief introductory essay, followed by the glossary itself (which you can skip ahead to by clicking that link).
“There Is No Perfect Word: A Transgender Glossary of Sorts”
Glossaries can be quite useful, especially for books on specialized topics (e.g., transgender activism) that rely on subject-specific terminology. However, a drawback of glossaries is that they tend to give the impression that the words listed have cut-and-dried meanings that remain largely undisputed. While this might generally be true for glossaries of terms related to geology, grammar, or guitars, it most certainly is not the case for trans-related terminology. Many of the words and phrases listed here are only several decades old (if that), so they are by no means set in stone. And nearly every single word that refers to some aspect of transgender identities, bodies, or life experiences exists in a perpetual state of debate or dispute, with individual trans people espousing differing word preferences and alternative definitions. In Chapter 45, I describe this lightning-speed language evolution as the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round: In response to the societal stigma that permeates everything associated with trans people (including the words used to describe us), we are constantly inventing new untainted terms and/or reclaiming, redefining, or eliminating older ones.
Here is an analogy to help illustrate this dilemma: I have been a guitarist for about thirty years, and during that time, guitar-related language has barely changed at all. And the reason why it hasn’t changed is that guitarists are not marginalized in our culture - thus everything associated with guitar playing (including terminology) is generally free of negative connotations. However, if guitarists did face severe stigma and undue scrutiny in our culture, then I can assure you that there would be debates over language and calls to eliminate or replace certain words. Some guitar activists would likely argue that the phrase “minor chord” trivializes our existence; that the word “fret” gives the false impression that people should be afraid of us; that “power chord” and “hammer on” play into media stereotypes of guitarists as violent; that “pickup” and “G string” perpetuate the sexualization of guitarists. There would also likely be claims that “guitar-playing person” is a more appropriate and respectful term than “guitarist,” arguments over whether people who additionally play other (less stigmatized) instruments count as “real guitarists,” and calls for more inclusive labels because “guitarist” does not seem to include people who play other stigmatized stringed instruments like the banjo, ukulele, and others.
I am by no means mocking activist responses to language here. To the contrary, I think that it is perfectly understandable why marginalized individuals (whether fictional stigmatized guitarists, or real-life transgender people) would want to change the language that is often used to undermine or injure them. But I also worry about the (typically under-discussed) negative ramifications of these constant shifts in language. What happens to trans folks who have long used a particular term as part of their activism when other trans activists deem that word to be anachronistic or problematic for some reason? Will the former group now be painted as “out of step” with the community, or accused of “reinforcing the oppression” the group faces? (I have seen both happen.) Insisting that everyone use the “correct” language and avoid “inappropriate” language is a surefire way to exclude community members from differing generations, geographies, and cultures, or even activists who simply have different opinions or impressions about those words.
All of us have word preferences (including me), and I think that it is fine for us to advocate on behalf of our preferred terminologies. But nowadays, I strive to avoid word-sabotage - when our belief that our favored word is inherently appropriate, righteous, liberating, and/or inclusive, leads us to automatically presume that people who use alternative language must be behaving in an offensive, incorrect, repressive, and/or exclusionary manner. I have also become suspicious of word-elimination strategies - when we point to some aspect of a word’s origin, history, aesthetic quality (or lack thereof), literal meaning, alternate definitions, potential misinterpretations or connotations, or occasional exclusionary or defamatory usage, and use that as an excuse to claim that the term is oppressive and should be eliminated from the lexicon. While in an individual instance, word elimination may seem perfectly justified (especially in cases where the term has a long history of being used predominantly as a slur), the reality is that any and all words can be readily subjected to this sort of defamation - even our personal favorites! Over the years, I have witnessed word elimination campaigns against virtually every trans-related word that I can think of (many specific examples are listed here). This approach ignores the fact that most words are highly contextual, exhibiting multiple meanings or differing connotations depending upon the context. Many words and phrases can be used in both positive and negative ways, or in productive and disparaging ways. Yet, word elimination strategies insist that any negative usage (whether present or past, commonplace or occasional, real or perceived) automatically trumps all potentially neutral, positive, or productive uses of the term.
Instead of condemning the words themselves, we should instead focus our attention on the ways in which people are using, misusing, or abusing them. And we will be best served if we challenge the negative connotations and false assumptions associated with those misuses and abuses, rather than trying to eliminate the words themselves.
The following trans-, gender-, sexuality-, and activism-related terms regularly appear in my writings. In addition to the definition, I will often add clarifying information and links to further discussion (sometimes citing passages from my books Whipping Girl, Excluded, and Outspoken). Most other links will take you to the glossary entry for that particular word or phrase. If a term does not appear here, it does not mean that it is illegitimate; it simply means that it is not one that I regularly use in my writings. Keep in mind that other people may use certain terms differently than I do (and I often address such disparities in the entries). While I will occasionally update some of these entries, most of this was written in 2015-16 (and thus likely reflects my thinking during that time period).
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You can skip ahead using the following letter-links:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.
Activist Language Merry-Go-Round: a phrase that I coined here (see Outspoken, pp. 244-251) to describe how words that refer to marginalized identities/experiences/bodies become tainted by the stigma those groups face, thus leading activists to continually forward new replacement terms, which in turn eventually become tainted as well. I subsequently discussed this phenomenon further here, here, and in the introductory essay above. See also word-elimination and word-sabotage.
Agender: a person who does not identify with any gender, or who does not experience a gender identity.
Ally: a person who is not a member of a particular minority or marginalized group, but who works to challenge the discrimination that group faces. While allies are necessary and generally viewed in a positive light, activists may sometimes express ambivalent or suspicious feelings toward them for reasons I touch on in Outspoken, pp. 217-232, 269-282 (see also here and here).
Ambiamorous: a neologism I created for people who at certain points in their lives have been happy in monogamous relationships, and at other times have been happy in ethically non-monogamous/polyamorous relationships (see Outspoken, pp. 200-201). My intention was to show that these relationship statuses do not comprise a strict binary, nor a hierarchy where one is inherently more moral, healthy, or evolved than the other.
Androgynous: gender expression or presentation that combines feminine and masculine elements and/or which blurs the lines between masculine and feminine.
APA: in my writings, this usually refers to the American Psychiatric Association, the organization that publishes the DSM (the so-called “psychiatric bible”). The same acronym may also refer to the American Psychological Association (who I sometimes refer to as the “good APA,” because they have historically been more progressive and less pathologizing than their psychiatric counterpart).
Appropriation: to borrow or take something that someone else has created and to use it for one’s own purposes. In activist circles, the term more specifically refers to instances where a dominant/majority group appropriates aspects of a marginalized/minority community’s identities, expressions, creations, and/or culture. While some acts of appropriation clearly contribute to the marginalized/minority group’s erasure, exploitation, and/or denigration, there may be other instances in which the group (or a subset of the group) views potentially appropriative acts in a positive or neutral light, as I discuss in depth in Outspoken, pp. 217-232 (see also here).
Asexual: a term for people who do not experience sexual attraction to other individuals. Asexuality is distinct from experiencing sexual arousal and/or a capacity for romantic relationships with other people.
Assigned Gender (or Sex): refers to the social gender and/or legal sex that is assigned to newborn children, usually based upon the presence (male) or absence (female) of a penis. Trans activists often use this phraseology to stress the fact that people are not simply “born” male or female, but rather, we are nonconsensually assigned a gender/sex by other people, and many of us come to reject these gender/sex assignments over time. See also FAAB and MAAB.
Assimilation: the process by which members of a marginalized/minority group “blend in” as, or become accepted by, the dominant majority. Within activist circles, the word is often used as a pejorative to insinuate that the marginalized/minority individuals in question are “traitors” who undermine the group as a whole. I discuss this pejorative use of the term in Outspoken, pp. 217-232 (see also here), and in my other writings - see “reinforcing” trope and subversivism.
Autoandrophilia: a sexology term to describe sexual arousal centered on the thought or image of oneself as a man. I discuss this phenomenon (what I call Male/Masculine Embodiment Fantasies (MEFs) in Outspoken, pp. 151-155 (which can also be found here). See also autogynephilia.
Autogynephilia: a term forwarded by psychologist Ray Blanchard, and which is routinely used to refer to two significantly different things: 1) a type of sexual thought or fantasy centered on the image of oneself as a woman (what I call Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs) (described here), or 2) a theory Blanchard proposed that asserts that FEFs constitute both a unique sexual orientation and the cause of transsexuality in a subset of trans women (i.e., those he categorized as “autogynephiles”). While the sexual fantasies (i.e., FEFs) certainly exist (and occur in cisgender women as well), Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory (i.e., his categories and claims of causation) has been disproven - see The Case Against Autogynephilia[PDF link] and The Real ”Autogynephilia Deniers”. I have proposed an alternate theory to explain the existence and nature of FEFs (as well as MEFs) in Reconceptualizing Autogynephilia as Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (which also appears in Outspoken, pp. 151-155). Examples of how Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory has been used to invalidate transgender women can be found here and here[PDF link].
BDSM: a complex acronym meant to include consensual acts of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and/or sadism/masochism. People those who practice BDSM sometimes describe themselves as kinky and refer to sexual practices that fall outside the realm of BDSM as vanilla.
Bigender: an identity label that some trans people (including myself, way back) use to express the fact that they see themselves as some combination of woman and man, and/or as constantly moving back-and-forth between those two states. These days, this label seems to be used less frequently than alternatives like genderqueer and genderfluid.
Binarism, Binarist: actions, attitudes, or assumptions that adhere to, or uphold, some binary ideology (usually the gender binary in discussions of transgender issues). See also binary.
Binary: generally refers to the human tendency to describe people or phenomena in terms of two mutually-exclusive categories that supposedly exist in opposition to one another. Within transgender communities, the focus is typically on the gender binary. However, there are countless other binaries in our culture, and they often play a foundational role in marginalization. Binaries tend to have a built-in hierarchy, one that is often discussed in terms of center versus margin or unmarked versus marked -- I discuss examples of the former in Whipping Girl, pp. 290-294, and examples of the latter in Excluded, pp. 169-199.
Biphobia: often literally read as a “fear of” or “aversion to” bisexual people. I typically use the term in a broader manner to describe the belief or assumption that bisexuality is inferior to, or less legitimate than, monosexuality (i.e., being exclusively attracted to members of a single gender/sex). See also monosexism.
Bisexual: an umbrella term for people who experience sexual attraction to members of more than one gender or sex. Some people of bisexual experience prefer alternate labels, including pansexual, polysexual, multisexual, omnisexual, queer, or no label at all - in Excluded, pp. 81-98 (see also here), I coined the acronym BMNOPPQ to denote these various identities. The word “bisexual” has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years (for supposedly “reinforcing the binary”), which I address in the aforementioned citation/link, as well as in Outspoken, pp. 174-178.
: one of numerous terms to describe transition-related surgeries that involve a reconfiguration of one’s genitals (see sex reassignment surgery). While not everybody likes this term, it has the benefit of sounding informal (whereas other terms sound more serious or technical), and it also implicitly acknowledges the importance and legitimacy of top surgery (which many trans people find important or necessary for their well being).
Butch: a term used to refer to masculine gender expression and/or presentation, particularly in people who were assigned and/or who identify as female.
Camp Trans: A longstanding annual protest of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s trans woman-exclusion policy. I discuss my personal experience at Camp Trans in 2003 in Excluded, pp. 22-36. Further discussion regarding this protest and the policy in question can be found in Outspoken, pp. 48-50, 67-88, 78-82, 106-117, and in Whipping Girl, pp. 47-52, 233-245.
Center vs. Margin: a framework for understanding marginalization and binaries that (to the best of my knowledge) had its origins in bell hooks’s book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. When it comes to a specific binary or hierarchy, one group is positioned in the center (i.e., their perspectives are seen as central), while the other group (or groups) are cast to the margins. While those in the center are often oblivious to the cultures and circumstances of those who inhabit the margins, the opposite is not true: People in the margins need to understand both the center and the margin in order to survive (and therefore, they often have a broader and deeper understanding of the binary/hierarchy itself). In Whipping Girl (pp. 290-294), I introduced the phrase “enforced ignorance,” which refers to how people who inhabit the center are expected to be oblivious about the perspectives and experiences of those on the margins, and that if they express too much awareness or understanding of marginalized people, they may become stigmatized themselves.
Chaser: a term sometimes used by marginalized/minority groups to describe members of the dominant/majority group who express sexual interest in them. It is typically used as a pejorative, in contrast to other labels (e.g., “admirer”) that have more positive or neutral connotations. I critique the way this term is sometimes employed within trans communities in Outspoken, pp. 148-150, 204-208, 209-214. See also Fetish, Fetishism, the Fetish Concept.
Cis, Cisgender, Cissexual: labels forwarded by trans activists to describe people who are not trans, transgender, or transsexual, respectively. I forwarded this language (particularly the word “cissexual”) throughout Whipping Girl, explain the origin and logic behind it in Outspoken, pp. 91-97 (see here), and discuss the different ways in which this language is used (or misused) in Outspoken, pp. 257-268, 269-282 (see here and here).
Cis Privilege: societal advantages experienced by people solely as a result of not being trans. I first discussed how such privileges arise and are experienced throughout Whipping Girl, particularly in the chapter “Dismantling Cissexual Privilege” (pp. 161-193), and have subsequently revisited the topic several times. See also privilege, conditional cis privilege.
Cis Terminology: language that uses the prefix “cis” to name the unmarked dominant majority (i.e., people who are not trans) in order to better articulate the ways in which trans people are marginalized in society. See also cis, cisgender, cissexual and cis privilege, cisnormativity, cis assumption and cissexism.
Cisgenderism: a term similar to (albeit less common than) cissexism, to denote the assumption or belief that cisgender identities and expressions are more legitimate than their transgender counterparts. In Whipping Girl, I used cisgenderism and cissexism somewhat differently from one another, as explained here.
Cisnormativity, Cis Assumption: related concepts that enable trans erasure and invisibility. “Cisnormativity” describes a societal mindset wherein cis/cisgender/cissexual are presumed to be the norm, and which enables people to not consider trans people, experiences, and issues. “Cis assumption” is a concept I forwarded in Whipping Girl (pp. 164-170) to describe instances wherein people (because of cisnormativity) automatically presume that every person they meet must be cis/cisgender/cissexual (unless they are provided with evidence to the contrary). Concepts such as being “closeted,” “coming out,” and “passing” as cis, or being “read” or “clocked” as trans, would not exist if it were not for cisnormativity and cis assumption. See also unmarked assumption.
Cissexism: the belief or assumption that cis people’s gender identities, expressions, and embodiments are more natural and legitimate than those of trans people. I discuss cissexism and how it plays out in trans people’s lives throughout Whipping Girl (especially pp. 161-193), in Excluded (pp. 113-117), and Outspoken (pp. 91-97) See also transphobia.
Clock, Clocked: as a verb, slang for noticing or recognizing that a person is transgender (or if you are the trans person in question, the experience of having others recognize you as such).
Closet: when a gender or sexual minority is not out or open to others about that aspect of their person, they are often described as being “in the closet” or as “closeted.” It should be noted that “the closet” only exists because of people’s tendencies to presume that every person they meet will be straight and cis (e.g., see cis assumption, unmarked assumption).
Coming Out: refers to the process of sharing one’s gender or sexual minority status with other people, perhaps for the first time. The phrase may imply that one is “coming out” into their own gender or sexual minority community, or that they are “coming out” of the closet to the predominantly straight general public.
Conditional Cis Privilege: a more accurate term for what trans communities have historically called “passing privilege.” The logic is simple: if people read me as cisgender, they will extend cis privilege to me, but it is conditional in that they are likely to revoke that privilege as soon as they find out that I am actually transgender. I first forwarded this concept in Whipping Girl, pp. 176-180; see also passing, privilege.
Crossdress, Crossdressing: the act of wearing clothing that is typically associated with members of the other gender/sex. While seemingly straightforward on the surface, these terms can sometimes be confusing or invalidating when applied to transgender people. For instance, we may perceive someone as being a man who is “crossdressed,” but they may see themselves as expressing an inner female identity. Similarly, for non-binary-identified people, there is no obvious counterpart for them to be “crossdressed” as. For these reasons, in my writings, I favor phrases such as “presenting as male/masculine” or “presenting as female/feminine,” which convey the same information without making any assumptions about the person’s gender identity, trajectory, or history.
Crossdresser: more generally, a noun that refers to people who engage in crossdressing. However, as an identity, “crossdresser” is most commonly embraced by trans female/feminine spectrum individuals who are male-identified and/or predominantly move through the world as men, but who occasionally wear women’s clothing and/or express a female/feminine identity and role. Historically, men who identify as crossdressers have also been called transvestites -- a term that has fallen out of favor in the U.S., but which is still used in the U.K. The psychological/sexological literature used to draw sharp distinctions between crossdressers/transvestites and transsexuals, and between crossdressers/transvestites (who were presumed to be heterosexual) and drag queens (who were presumed to be gay), but the borders between these identities have subsequently proven to be rather porous. I put forward my theory of crossdresser identity development in Whipping Girl (pp. 283-313), and critique the psychiatric pathologization of crossdressers (via the DSM diagnoses Transvestic Fetishism and Transvestic Disorder) in Whipping Girl (pp. 126-139, 262-271) and Outspoken (pp. 126-144, 145-147, 156-161).
Deadname: refers to the name that a trans person was given at birth, but is no longer actively using. The heavy negative connotation of the word is intended to stress the inappropriateness of referencing a person’s terminated name (which is typically associated with their birth-assigned gender), and therefore effectively misgenders them).
Desistance: a term often used within psychiatric discourses in reference to transgender and gender non-conforming children who (at some later point in time) cease cross-gender-identifying or displaying cross-gender behaviors. I address debates regarding desistance (and their implications for the treatment of transgender/gender non-conforming children) here and here.
Detransition: when a person who has transitioned (or has taken steps toward transitioning) returns to living as a member of their birth-assigned gender or sex. There are a variety of reasons why any given individual might choose to detransition (e.g., personal reasons, a shift in their understanding of gender, social pressure), as I discuss here and here.
Double Standards: when we perceive, interpret, or treat individuals or groups differently, despite similar circumstances. While activists typically contemplate marginalization in terms of overarching -isms (i.e., ideologies or systems of oppression), in Excluded I argue that it can also be fruitful to understand how double standards work on the individual or micro level (which usually involves the unmarked/marked distinction). In doing this, we can strive to challenge all forms of marginalization simultaneously, rather than limiting our activism to one or a few specific issues. See also fixed perspectives, myriad double standards.
Drab: a term used by some trans female/feminine spectrum people to refer to instances in which they purposefully present as male/masculine (e.g., “I was in drab at the time ”). The term can be interpreted as both a critique of masculine attire (e.g., meaning dull, cheerless, lacking in color, uninteresting), and as an abbreviation for “dressed as a boy.” Some crossdressers use the phrase “in drab” as a counterpart to being “in drag” (which they take to mean “dressed as a girl”) -- note: this usage differs from how other gender-variant people use the word drag.
DSM: an acronym for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which has been called the “bible of mental illnesses” because it lists and defines all of the official psychiatric diagnoses as determined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). There have been numerous revisions over the years, the current one being the fifth full revision (i.e., DSM-5). Trans-related diagnoses that have been listed in past or current DSMs include Gender Dysphoria, Gender Identity Disorder, Transvestic Disorder, Transvestic Fetishism (see also Paraphilia). Trans activists generally oppose these psychiatric attempts to pathologize our identities, as I explain in depth in Outspoken (pp. 126-144; see also here[PDF link]) and in Whipping Girl (pp. 115-160).
Drag: sometimes used generically as a synonym for crossdressing, particularly when an individual is described as being “in drag” Alternatively, “drag” refers to a genre of performance art or entertainment that is intended to play with, or challenge, commonly held assumptions about gender. The most familiar forms of drag performance involve male-bodied/identified individuals presenting as women (often called drag queens) or female-bodied/identified individuals presenting as men (often called drag kings), but numerous other variations exist -- e.g., performers may present androgynously, or change their gendered appearance multiple times in one scene, or be “faux queens,” and so on. While many trans-identified people have previously or currently perform drag, there are often tensions between the drag community and other trans (especially transsexual) communities that largely stem from the mainstream public’s tendency to conflate trans identities (which should be taken seriously) with drag performances (which are usually intended to be an act or performance).
Dyke: a queer woman. It is a reclaimed word, and garnered increased usage in the 1990s, particularly among queer women who did not fully identify with the politics and conventions associated with 1970s- and 1980s-era lesbianism. While some people assume the word dyke is synonymous with lesbian, the former is also embraced by many bisexual- and queer-identified women, as well as some genderqueer individuals.
Effemimania: a term I introduced in Whipping Girl to describe our cultural obsession with “male femininity,” specifically the manner in which such expressions are routinely sensationalized, rigorously policed, and pathologized. I provide numerous examples of effemimania, and make the case that it is primarily driven by traditional sexism, in Whipping Girl (pp. 126-139, 283-313, 341-343). See also trans-misogyny.
Essentialism, Essentialist: the belief that all members of a particular category (especially those categories that are presumed to be natural in origin) must share a particular set of characteristics, qualities, or “essence” with one another. One relevant example would be the notion that all women are genetically XX, or are attracted to men. While essentialism fails to account for the naturally occurring complexity and heterogeneity exhibited by humans (and other organisms), people routinely rely on, or resort to, essentialist explanations of how the world works. People often mistakenly conflate essentialism with biology -- I debunk such misconceptions in Excluded, pp. 138-168. Additionally, I outline the differences between essentialism, identity labels, and umbrella terms in Excluded, pp. 11-14.
Ethical Non-Monogamy: the practice of maintaining more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship simultaneously, and in a consensual manner (i.e., all parties are aware of the situation). See also polyamory.
FAAB: an acronym that stands for “female-assigned at birth.” Some trans activists prefer alternatives such as FAB, AFAB (assigned female at birth), or CAFAB (coercively assigned female at birth). (See assigned gender/sex for the logic behind this terminology.) FAAB and MAAB (and their variants) are sometimes used as umbrella terms to denote transgender trajectories (e.g., using FAAB in the same way that I use trans male/masculine spectrum), but this can sometimes have the unintended consequence of enabling others to focus on our birth assignments over our current gender identity and lived experiences (as I describe in Outspoken, pp. 189-191).
Female: in biology, it refers to organisms that produce egg cells, but not sperm cells. With regards to human beings, there are a number of physical and physiological features that are generally associated with females, including sex chromosomes (XX), gonads (ovaries), external genitals (vulva), other reproductive organs (e.g., uterus), predominant sex hormone (estrogens), and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breasts). While all of these traits are commonly associated with females, none of them represent essentialist traits that are present in all females. Indeed, in our culture, the designation of “female” is primarily a social category, as evident in the fact that it is one of two legal sex categories that a person can be assigned, and that this assignment (whether by doctors at birth, or by others who perceive or presume that the person in question is female) will determine the gender norms that one is expected to conform to and how one is treated by others. See also sex and sex/gender distinction.
Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs): erotic thoughts or sexual fantasies wherein one’s own (real or imagined) female body and/or feminine gender expression contributes to the arousal. I have forwarded this terminology (originally here[PDF link], and more thoroughly here; see also Outspoken, pp. 151-155) to replace the pathologizing term “autogynephilia.” See also Male/Masculine Embodiment Fantasies (MEFs).
Femininity, Feminine Gender Expression: behaviors, mannerisms, interests, and styles of dress that are commonly associated with (but certainly not exclusive to) women in our culture. I discuss our cultural tendency to artificialize and denigrate femininity throughout Whipping Girl (but especially pp. 319-343), in Excluded (pp. 48-69), and in Outspoken (pp. 118-122; see also here). See also femme.
Feminism: a diverse array of activist movements which all share the common goal of challenging traditional sexism (i.e., the assumption that femaleness/femininity is inferior to, or less legitimate than, maleness/masculinity). Some strands of feminism focus solely on traditional sexism and envision themselves as a “women’s liberation” or “women’s rights” movement. Others strands of feminism are more broadly focused on challenging multiple (or all) forms of sexism, and thus are concerned with women as well as gender and sexual minorities. Still other strands recognize intersectionality, and thus argue that feminism should be concerned with challenging all forms of marginalization rather than just sexism. See also second-wave feminism, third-wave feminism, liberal feminism, radical feminism, TERFs, sex-positive feminism, trans feminism, holistic feminism.
Femme: the French/Français word for woman; in English it generally refers to feminine gender expression or a feminine identity. Among crossdressers, the phrase “en femme” has historically been used to describe instances in which the person in question is presenting as female/feminine (e.g., “I went to the event en femme”). Independently, lesbian/dyke communities have historically used the term as a noun to refer to visibly feminine queer women. Largely growing out of this latter usage, the word also refers to an activist and cultural movement that challenges masculine-centrism and femmephobia in society.
Femmephobia: a term often used to describe dismissive or delegitimizing views of people who express femininity. In my writings, I often refer to this same phenomenon as anti-feminine sentiment.
Fetish, Fetishism, the Fetish Concept:: In psychology/sexology, the term “fetish” specifically refers to people who experience sexual arousal in response to inanimate objects (e.g., a type of material, an item of clothing). In lay language, however, the word is often used more broadly to describe any type of sexual desire that is considered to be unusual or abnormal (similar to how the word paraphilia is used in within psychology/sexology). In my writings, I have used the phrase the Fetish Concept to describe one particular manifestation of this notion, namely, the tendency to pathologize sexual attraction toward people who are deemed by society to be “undesirable” for some reason. (As an example, someone who finds me attractive may be accused of having a “fetish” for trans people). In Outspoken (pp. 149-150, 204-208, 209-214; see also here), I explain the faulty logic that gives rise to the Fetish Concept, and detail how it needlessly sexualizes and stigmatizes both trans people and our partners. See also chaser.
Fixed Perspective: A phrase I forward in Excluded (pp. 216-228) to describe activist strategies that are only concerned with challenging a finite number of double standards. For instance, some activists engage in “single-issue activism,” while others may imagine themselves as challenging some kind of gender system that they believe functions in a highly specific manner (e.g., only affecting certain people, only occurring in certain ways). As I explain in the cited passage, this sort of thinking (i.e., concern about certain double standards while ignoring or dismissing others) inevitably leads activists to theorize away other people’s concerns, and to champion one-size-fits-all solutions that will negatively impact other marginalized groups. Rather than forward fixed perspectives, in Excluded I argued that we need a more holistic approach to activism that recognizes that there are myriad double standards, and that we should work to challenge all of them simultaneously.
FTM: an abbreviation for female-to-male. Historically, this acronym was used as a noun (e.g., people used to refer to themselves as “an FTM,” or to other people as “FTMs”), but this usage has since fallen somewhat out of favor, and has largely been replaced by the term trans man (or trans men). However, the acronym is still generally considered to be acceptable when used as an adjective (e.g., FTM community, FTM transitioning). In some of my earlier writings (e.g., in Whipping Girl), I used “FTM spectrum” in a manner synonymous with how I now use trans male/masculine spectrum.
Gatekeeper: refers to medical and mental health professionals who are in a position to grant (or deny) trans people’s access to the means of physical transition and/or social and legal recognition. Gatekeepers possess this power as a result of (what trans activists call) the gatekeeper system. The gatekeeper system exists because 1) most legal jurisdictions refuse to acknowledge or legitimize a trans person’s gender identity unless the person has undertaken certain medical procedures (e.g., sex reassignment surgery), and 2) the doctors who carry out such procedures generally require the patient to obtain a psychiatric diagnosis (previously Gender Identity Disorder, currently Gender Dysphoria) from one or more psychiatrists or licensed therapists. I discuss the many problems with the gatekeeper system in Whipping Girl (pp. 115-160) and Outspoken (pp. 126-144; see also here[PDF link]).
Gay: a term for men who are exclusively attracted to other men. Sometimes, the word is used more generally to refer to same-sex orientation and relationships, and the people who engage in them (even if they are not gay men per se).
Gender: as a noun, it can refer to identities or social classes that are generally organized around some or all of the following facets: a person’s assigned gender/sex or legal sex; their physical sex or sex embodiment; the gender/sex they identify with (i.e., gender identity) or live as (i.e., lived sex); their gender expression and/or gender role. Some people define gender more narrowly (e.g., as synonymous with gender identity, or as merely a product of socialization; see sex/gender distinction), whereas I have a more holistic view that acknowledges that gender is “an amalgamation of bodies, identities and life experiences...subconscious urges, sensations and behaviors, some of which develop organically, and others which are shaped by language and culture” (Excluded, p. 107, see also pp. 138-168). While most people in our culture only recognize two genders (man and woman), many people identify outside of this gender binary (see non-binary), and other cultures recognize more than two genders (see third gender).
Gender, Gendering: as a verb, refers to the (typically unconscious and compulsive) act of assigning a female or male gender to every person we see or meet. I describe this phenomenon, and explain how it complicates trans people’s lives, in Whipping Girl, pp. 161-193.
Gender Artifactualism: a term I introduced in Excluded (pp. 117-137) to refer to the belief (often espoused by certain feminists and other academics) that gender is merely a social artifact and/or entirely socially constructed. I further explain why the term is useful (and often necessary) here. Gender artifactualism is usually forwarded to challenge gender determinism (i.e., the belief that gender arises in a natural and unadulterated manner from biology). I refute both these views and offer a more holistic view of how gender arises in Excluded, pp. 138-168.
Gender Binary: a concept forwarded by transgender activists in the 1990s to explain gender-based oppression. The model states that all people in our culture are nonconsensually forced into one of two dichotomous categories (man or woman), and based on that gender assignment, we are all expected live up to the gender norms associated with that group. People who do not fit neatly into either of these classes and/or who fail to adhere to such gender norms (e.g., transgender and intersex people) are typically marginalized in our society. See also binary.
Gender Determinism: the belief that gender differences arise in a natural unadulterated manner from biology (i.e., solely from our genes, physiology, anatomy, etc.). It is the most commonly accepted view of gender in our culture, perhaps because it seems to provide support for essentialist beliefs about women and men. Despite its popularity within the general public and amongst certain biologists, the scientific evidence does support such an overly simplistic view of gender development (as I detail at length in Excluded, pp. 138-168).
Gender Dissonance: a term I forwarded in Whipping Girl (pp. 27-29, 85-89, and elsewhere throughout the book) to describe the cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment between our gender identity/subconscious sex and our assigned gender/physical sex. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term gender dysphoria, which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.
Gender Dysphoria: a psychiatric term that has been used (to varying degrees) since the 1970s to describe the discomfort and/or distress that trans people experience when they are unable to live as members of the gender/sex that they identify as or desire to be. In Whipping Girl, I forwarded the terms gender dissonance and “gender sadness” as non-pathologizing alternatives. In the DSM-5, Gender Dysphoria became an officially recognized psychiatric diagnosis, replacing Gender Identity Disorder. I discuss my thoughts on this latest DSM revision in Outspoken (pp. 126-144, 156-141).
Gender Entitlement: when we nonconsensually project our own assumptions, expectations, value judgments, and beliefs about sex, gender, and/or sexuality onto other people, and favor such interpretations over the way those individuals understand themselves. I first introduced the term in Whipping Girl (e.g., in chapters 5, 8, 10, 20), and further expanded upon the idea in Excluded (pp. 239-256). In those writings, I have argued that gender entitlement lies at the heart of all forms of sexism.
Gender Expression: refers to aspects of one’s behaviors, mannerisms, interests, and styles of dress that are generally considered to be feminine, masculine, or some combination thereof.
Gender Identity: the gender that one identifies as. The term originated in the field of psychology, where it is generally understood to be distinct from an individual’s sex (i.e., their physical body), as well as their gender role/gender expression (i.e., outwardly-directed gender-related behaviors). While most people in our culture identify as either a boy/man or girl/woman, others come to adopt non-binary gender identities. In Whipping Girl (pp. 77-93), I introduced the term subconscious sex in order to distinguish between the conscious and deliberate act of identifying with a particular gender, and the more unconscious and inexplicable self-understanding of what sex/gender one should be (the latter of which many trans people experience prior to explicitly claiming that gender identity).
Gender Identity Disorder (GID): a diagnosis in the previous revision of the DSM (DSM-IV-TR) that trans people were generally required to obtain if they wanted to pursue physical and/or legal transition. The DSM-IV-TR also contained a separate GID in Children diagnosis that was widely criticized for legitimizing gender reparative therapies on gender non-conforming children (as I discuss here). I discuss my views about GID (and GID in Children) in Whipping Girl (pp., 115-160) and Outspoken (pp. 126-144). These diagnoses have since been replaced by Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-5.
Gender and Sexual Minorities: a broad umbrella term for people whose sex, gender, and/or sexuality falls outside of societal norms, and who often face marginalization as a result. I favor this phrasing when I want to make clear that I am referring not only to people who canonically fall under the queer or LGBTQ+ umbrellas, but also other potential minorities (e.g., people who are polyamorous, kinky, sex workers) who might not self-identify as queer and/or may feel excluded by queer politics and communities.
Gender Neutral Pronouns: third-person singular pronouns that, unlike she/her/hers and he/him/his, do not make any presumption about a person’s gender. Some trans activists have forwarded neologisms such as ze (in place of he/she) and hir (in place of him/her). An alternative approach is to use the third-person plural pronouns they/them/theirs in singular form. These latter pronouns have the advantage of already existing in the English language. Indeed, outside of trans-related discourses, when people are unaware of a person’s gender, they will often refer to that individual as “they” or “them” by default.
Gender Non-Conforming: refers to people or behaviors that defy societal gender norms. It is sometimes uses as an alternative umbrella label for transgender or gender-variant people, especially when describing children (who may behave in a gender-non-conforming manner, but not yet understand themselves as being “trans” or as having a specific gender identity.
Gender Performativity: a theory of gender forwarded by Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Unfortunately, this theory (which offers fruitful insights into certain aspects of gender) is often misinterpreted to mean “all gender is drag” or “all gender is performance” -- slogans that I have critiqued in several of my writings (as detailed here).
Gender Reparative Therapy: procedures carried out with the intention of converting transgender or gender non-conforming individuals (usually children) into cisgender or gender-normative ones. (It is also sometimes called Gender Conversion Therapy for this reason.) While various approaches have been attempted in the past, today they typically involve positive and negative reinforcement strategies -- e.g., having parents discourage or withhold gender non-conforming expression, toys, play partners, etc., while encouraging gender-normative behaviors. The history and specifics of these procedures are detailed in Phyllis Burke’s book Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female, and WPATH (the world’s most longstanding transgender health professional association) has deemed gender reparative therapies to be unsuccessful and unethical (as I discuss here).
Gender Role: a term that has been used in psychology to describe the various roles that one is expected to fulfill in society or within relationships based upon their gender status; this might include specific behaviors (e.g., acting masculine, feminine) or more formal interpersonal roles (e.g., father, mother, boyfriend, girlfriend). This phrase is used less frequently today, and has been largely replaced by (or subsumed under) the term gender expression.
Gender System: a term that I have used (especially in Excluded) to generically refer to an imagined system that oppresses people based on their gender (e.g., patriarchy, the gender binary, heteronormativity, kyriarchy).
Genderfluid: a non-binary identity embraced by people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as changing or shifting over time.
Genderqueer: An identity label used by many people who view their gender as falling outside of the male/female or man/woman binaries. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for non-binary-identified people. Others use it in a more specific manner -- for instance, it is sometimes associated with a particular strand of radical queer politics, or a certain type of androgynous or trans masculine gender presentation (as I allude to in Outspoken, pp. 277-278) -- but this ignores the vast diversity in genderqueer identities, sexualities, and trajectories that exists.
Gender Variance: refers to the phenomenon or existence of transgender people, identities, and experiences. See also transgenderism.
Gender Variant: an umbrella term used in a manner similar to how the word transgender is often intended (i.e., to denote people who defy societal gender norms in some way). From my recollection, it seemed to garner popularity in the mid-’00s, perhaps in an attempt to be inclusive of gender-diverse people who were rejecting the label “transgender” for various political or aesthetic reasons. As with other analogous umbrella labels (e.g., gender non-conforming, gender-diverse, trans, trans*/trans-asterisk) it has its proponents and detractors (as I discuss here).
Genital Assumption: a term I coined (see Outspoken, pp. 98-105) to describe the pervasive assumption that a person’s genitals should resemble what other people imagine they will look like (typically, a penis if we perceive them as male, or a vulva if we perceive them as female). See also unmarked assumption.
Hermaphrodite: in biology, refers to animals that have both female and male reproductive organs. In the past, the term has been used to refer to people who we would now describe as intersex (i.e., individuals whose anatomies or reproductive systems do not appear to fit the standard definitions for female or male). Many intersex people consider the word to be stigmatizing, although some have used it in a reclaimed manner (e.g., the Intersex Society of North America’s newsletter Hermaphrodites with Attitude).
Heteronormativity: a societal mindset in which heterosexual people, experiences, and desires are presumed to be the norm, thus invisibilizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual people and perspectives. Often heteronormativity is used in an even broader to include binary gender norms people are expected to conform to, and assumptions about how relationships and families should be organized (e.g., monogamous pairings, nuclear families).
Heterosexual: a term for people who are exclusively attracted to members of the other gender/sex.
Heterosexism: the belief or assumption that heterosexual attractions and relationships are more natural and legitimate than their same-sex counterparts. I discuss this double standard (and its similarities with cissexism) in Excluded, pp. 113-117. See also homophobia.
Hir: a gender-neutral pronoun for third person singular objects (i.e., analogous to “him” or “her”). It is most commonly paired with the third person singular subject pronoun ze.
Homonormative: a term that transgender activists historically used to critique the fact that cisgender gay and lesbian folks are taken as the norm within queer communities, thus invisibilizing other gender and sexual minorities (see Susan Stryker, “Transgender History, Homonormativity, and Disciplinarity,” Radical History Review 100 (2008), 145-157). An alternative usage of homonormative (attributed to Lisa Duggan) refers to when queer communities embrace heteronormative ideals (e.g., marriage, monogamy, gender conformity).
Homophobia: often literally read as a “fear of” or “aversion to” people who are homosexual (and/or those who experience same-sex attraction or relationships). I typically use the term in a broader manner to describe the belief or assumption that same-sex attraction is inferior to, or less legitimate than, heterosexuality. See also heterosexism.
Homosexual: a term for people who are exclusively attracted to members of their own gender/sex. In the mid-to-late twentieth century, the term was sometimes informally used in a broader manner similar to how the word queer is often used today. It has since fallen out of favor as an identity label or term of self-description, and is instead mostly used as a technical term when distinguishing a person’s sexual orientation from those who are heterosexual, bisexual, and asexual.
Holistic Feminism: an approach to feminism (and activism more generally) that I forwarded in the second half of my book Excluded. “Holistic” may refer to one of several tenets of this approach: 1) that gender is “amalgamation of bodies, identities and life experiences...subconscious urges, sensations and behaviors, some of which develop organically, and others which are shaped by language and culture,” 2) that understanding gender and sexuality, or sexism and marginalization, requires a multiplicity of perspectives (rather than a fixed perspective), and 3) that rather than focus on one or a few specific “-isms,” we should instead simultaneously challenge myriad double standards. Other aspects of this approach include understanding how double standards work, expecting heterogeneity, challenging gender entitlement, self-examining desire, embracing ambivalence, and recognizing invalidations. More details and discussion can be found here and throughout Excluded.
Identity, Identity Label: a word or phrase that people use to express some facet of their being. Often people who share the same identity will see themselves as being part of the same “identity group,” and may feel that they also share other qualities (e.g., some essentialist trait, a similar history, a particular view of the world). Because identity labels represent a personal expression of self-understanding and/or affiliation with others, they often serve a very different purpose than umbrella terms, which are more about creating alliances around a shared goal (e.g., ending discrimination) rather than a shared identity. I discuss this difference between identity and umbrella labels in Excluded (pp. 11-14).
Identity Politics: a catch-all phrase for activist movements centered upon people who share a specific identity. This approach tends to be relatively effective in garnering attention for the identity group’s shared issues, experiences, and perspectives (often by portraying the group as being unfairly discriminated against by the dominant/majority group because of who they are). However, the identity-politics approach does have negative drawbacks, such as portraying the group (and their goals) in a monolithic or stereotyped manner, and creating disputes over who “counts” as a legitimate member of the group, as I detail in Outspoken (pp. 269-282; see also here) and throughout Excluded (especially pp. 216-238). See also reverse discourses, fixed perspectives.
Intersectionality: a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which arose out of the work of feminists of color, and which is concerned with how different forms of marginalization (e.g., racism, classism, sexism, ableism, sizeism, etc.) intersect with and exacerbate one another. Within feminism, intersectionality challenges the notion that sexism occurs unilaterally (i.e., men are oppressors, women the oppressed, end of story). I discuss the influence of intersectionality on transgender activism in Excluded (pp. 43-47; see also here) and Outspoken (pp. 106-116; see also here), and the concept is further discussed at great length throughout Excluded.
Intersex: an umbrella term for people whose reproductive or sexual anatomy does not appear to fit the standard definitions for female or male. In the current medical literature, intersex conditions are sometimes collectively referred to as “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD), although many intersex people find such nomenclature to be pathologizing.
Intrinsic Inclinations: a model I forwarded in Whipping Girl (pp. 95-113) to describe subconscious yet persistent desires or affinities (e.g., with regards to sexual orientation, gender expression, or subconscious sex) that predispose us toward particular gender and sexual experiences. In the cited chapter, I make the case that these inclinations (which may be influenced by biology to some degree) do not exist in a vacuum; rather we make sense of these desires or affinities via social constructs, which subsequently leads us to adopt certain sexual or gender identities. This model was intended to bridge the gap between those who assume that gender and sexuality are strictly biologically determined and those who view gender and sexuality as merely social constructs or artifacts. I further expanded upon this model (addressing critics who misconstrued my argument as being essentialist because it invokes biology) in Excluded, pp. 138-168.
Invalidations: a term I began using in 2009 (see here[PDF link]) to describe tried-and-true methods for undermining or delegitimizing minority/marginalized groups. In Excluded (pp. 270-280), I describe a number of such invalidations, which have been used repeatedly against a variety of marginalized groups: the trope of mental incompetence, sexualization, and portraying these groups as inherently immoral, sick or unhealthy, anomalous, inauthentic, and unnatural.
Invisibility: within activist discourses, generally refers to the negative ramifications that stem from a marginalized/minority group (or an individual of said group) not being recognized or acknowledged by society. It can occur because the group in question constitutes a rather small percentage of the overall population (and thus are easily overlooked), and/or because members of the group are mistaken for, or presumed to be, members of the dominant/majority group (see unmarked assumption). Because invisibility can be detrimental, activists often laud or strive for visibility. While visibility has its advantages (e.g., not having to navigate “passing” versus “coming out,” potential increased public understanding of the group’s experiences and perspectives), it also has disadvantages (for instance, the more visible one is, the more likely they are to be targeted for discrimination). I discuss this Invisible/Visible double-bind in Excluded, pp. 181-182.
Isms & Phobias: in a general sense, “-ism” is a suffix that is often used to turn ideas or phenomena into nouns (e.g., baptism, magnetism, heroism, lesbianism). Within activist discourses, “ism” more specifically refers to ideologies that assert that one group of people is superior to, or more legitimate than, another (typically minority or marginalized) group. In most cases, the dominant majority group is explicitly named in the “ism” (e.g., cissexism, heterosexism, monosexism). I prefer such terms because they frame marginalization in terms of an entrenched society-wide mindset that permeates most facets of our culture, and which often functions on an unconscious, internalized level. Alternatively, these same forms of marginalization may instead be described as “phobias” (e.g., transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, respectively). Conceptualizing these phenomena as “phobias” may give the false impression that they represent mere individual reactions (e.g., of fear or prejudice) rather than systemic, institutionalized, and often unconscious, ideologies. However, the “phobia” derivations tend to be more popular and readily understood by laypeople, probably because they explicitly name the marginalized/minority group who is targeted. In my writings, I tend to use the “ism” and “phobia” variants interchangeably to refer to the society-wide mindset discussed above.
Kinky: generically used to describe people and acts that are viewed as sexually atypical or unconventional. It has become increasingly used as an identity label for people who practice BDSM and/or experience sexual arousal in response to certain objects, materials, or scenarios (i.e., what is often called fetishism, although that word has multiple meanings, as I explain in that entry). Sexual acts and behaviors that are not kinky are often described as vanilla.
Kyriarchy: a term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza to describe the many intersecting hierarchies that exist in society based on one’s gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, age, and potentially other factors. While purposefully intersectional and intended to encompass all forms of marginalization, as I discuss in Excluded (pp., 200-228) even kyriarchy fails to address all hierarchies that exist (see myriad double standards).
Legal Sex: the sex category that a government or legal system assigns to a person, and which often appears on their official documents (e.g., passport, drivers license). In the U.S. (and many other Western countries), there are only two options -- i.e., male or female -- which denies the actual variation that exists in biological sex. When a trans person transitions, they may seek to change their legal sex (which often involves navigating the gatekeeper system).
LGBT (and its variants): ever-evolving acronyms often used when discussing gender and sexual minorities. These acronyms originated in the 1990s, when bisexual, and subsequently transgender, activists began to petition for inclusion within (what had, up until then, simply been called) “lesbian and gay” organizations. This explains why these acronyms almost always begin with LGBT (where L = lesbian, G = gay, B = bisexual, and T = transgender). People then began adding one or two Q’s (for queer and/or questioning) to make these acronyms even more inclusive. In the years since, numerous other symbols are sometimes added onto the end of these acronyms; examples include: I (for intersex), A (for asexual), an extra T (for transsexual), the number 2 (for two-spirit), G (for genderqueer), one or two P’s (for pansexual and/or polyamorous), K (for kinky), H (for HIV-positive), U (for undecided), E (for everyone else), and + (to recognize other additional identities and individuals not explicitly included). Some have attempted to rearrange the letters to make pronounceable alternatives (e.g., QUILTBAG, QUILTBAGPIPE). My personal use of such acronyms has shifted over the years: During my early trans activism, I often used LGBTIG; in Whipping Girl, I used LGBTIQ; in Excluded, I used LGBTQIA+; in writings directed at mainstream audiences, I sometimes use LGBTQ for clarity/simplicity. I increasingly believe that these acronyms may have outlived their usefulness, as they were originally intended to denote inclusiveness (in contrast to their “lesbian and gay” counterparts), but nowadays even fairly lengthy acronyms are routinely contested for being exclusionary on the basis that they are missing one or a few letters (or for placing certain letters ahead of others). Furthermore, the adding-more-letters approach is incapable of keeping up with the fact that the referent identity labels themselves are often disputed (e.g., regarding who counts as a legitimate member of the group), and continually shifting in meaning, falling out of favor, and/or being newly invented (see Activist Language Merry-Go-Round). For all these reasons, I prefer using umbrella terms such as queer or gender and sexual minorities, even though they are not without their own drawbacks (see Excluded, pp. 11-14; Whipping Girl, pp. 345-362).
Lesbian: a term for women who are exclusively attracted to other women.
Liberal Feminism: includes most mainstream expressions of feminism, which are typically focused on reforming laws and customs to ensure that women have equal rights in society. People do not usually self-identify as “liberal feminists”; rather, the term is most often used in a pejorative manner by feminists who favor more radical approaches (e.g., radical feminists).
Lived Sex: a term I used throughout Whipping Girl to describe the sex/gender that one moves through the world as. The term is intended to stress the fact that those of us who are transsexual do not merely identify as women or men, but rather we have very real experiences navigating our way through the world as, and being treated as a member of, that sex/gender.
MAAB: an acronym that stands for “male-assigned at birth.” Some trans activists prefer alternatives such as MAB, AMAB (assigned male at birth), or CAMAB (coercively assigned male at birth). (See assigned gender/sex for the logic behind this terminology.) MAAB and FAAB (and their variants) are sometimes used as umbrella terms to denote transgender trajectories (e.g., using MAAB in the same way that I use trans female/feminine spectrum), but this can sometimes have the unintended consequence of enabling others to focus on our birth assignments over our current gender identity and lived experiences (as I describe in Outspoken, pp. 189-191).
Male: in biology, it refers to organisms that produce sperm cells, but not egg cells. With regards to human beings, there are a number of physical and physiological features that are generally associated with males, including sex chromosomes (XY), gonads (testes), external genitals (penis), other reproductive organs (e.g., prostate), predominant sex hormone (androgens), secondary sex characteristics (e.g., facial hair), and certain behavioral traits (e.g., masculine gender expression). While all of these traits are commonly associated with males, none of them represent essentialistic traits that are present in all males. Indeed, in our culture, the designation of “male” is a social category more than anything else, as evident in the fact that it is one of two legal sex categories that a person can be assigned, and that this sex-assignment (whether by doctors at birth, or by others who perceive or presume that the person in question is male) will determine the gender norms that one is expected to adhere to, and how one is treated by others. See also sex and sex/gender distinction.
Marginalization: when a particular subpopulation is relegated to the margins of a community or society. I personally prefer this word over more common terms (which I sometimes use) such as “discrimination” (which seems to cast the situation in terms of individual expressions of prejudice) or “oppression” (which is fitting when describing one group dominating another group, but feels a bit heavy-handed when discussing more subtle forms of invalidation, or instances of exclusion that occur within oppressed populations). Marginalization also literally cites the center-versus-margin hierarchy that can be found in binary forms of thinking (see binary).
Marked: see unmarked/marked.
Masculinity, Masculine Gender Expression: behaviors, mannerisms, interests, and styles of dress that are commonly associated with (but certainly not exclusive to) men in our culture. I discuss our cultural tendency to view masculinity as natural and the unmarked norm (in contrast to femininity, which is viewed as artificial and marked) in Whipping Girl (pp. 319-343), in Excluded (pp. 48-69), and in Outspoken (pp. 118-122; see also here).
Male/Masculine Embodiment Fantasies (MEFs): erotic thoughts or sexual fantasies wherein one’s own (real or imagined) male body and/or masculine gender expression contributes to the arousal. I have forwarded this terminology here; see also Outspoken, pp. 151-155) to replace the pathologizing term “autoandrophilia.” See also Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs).
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: sometimes referred to as MWMF, MichFest, or simply Michigan. During most of its forty-year span (which ended in 2015), it was the world’s largest annual women-only event, and its constituents were largely lesbian- or queer-identified. Starting in the 1990s, the festival garnered increased criticism for its so-called “womyn-born-womyn”-only policy, which essentially barred trans women from attending. I discuss differing views of the festival and its policy in Outspoken (pp. 106-116; see also here), and my personal experience at Camp Trans (the annual protest of the policy) in Excluded, pp. 22-36. Further discussion regarding the festival and its policy can be found in Outspoken, pp. 48-50, 67-88, 78-82, 106-117, and in Whipping Girl, pp. 47-52, 233-245.
Misgender, Misgendering: to refer to a person as, or consider them to be, a gender that they do not identify with. Often, misgendering is unintended (although it can still be invalidating to the person who is subjected to it). People who harbor cissexist beliefs or attitudes will often engage in purposeful acts of misgendering trans people; see also ungendering.
Monosexism: the belief or assumption that bisexuality (i.e., attraction toward members of more than one gender/sex) is inferior to, or less legitimate than, monosexuality (i.e., being exclusively attracted to members of a single gender/sex). I discuss how monosexism plays out in bisexual lives in Excluded, pp. 83-87. See also biphobia.
Monosexual: a person who is exclusively attracted to members of a single gender/sex (e.g., in the cases of heterosexuals and homosexuals).
MTF: an abbreviation for male-to-female. Historically, this acronym was used as a noun (e.g., people used to refer to themselves as “an MTF,” or to other people as “MTFs”), but this usage has since fallen somewhat out of favor, and has largely been replaced by the term trans woman (or trans women). However, the acronym is still generally considered to be acceptable when used as an adjective (e.g., MTF community, MTF transitioning). In some of my earlier writings (e.g., in Whipping Girl), I used “MTF spectrum” in a manner synonymous with how I now use trans female/feminine spectrum.
Myriad Double Standards: a framework for thinking about marginalization that I forwarded in Excluded (particularly pp. 200-215). Typically, when activists talk about challenging “the system” (e.g., patriarchy, the gender binary, kyriarchy), they have a limited number of binaries/hierarchies in mind, and therefore their activism will likely marginalize or exclude other groups. As I explain here and here, we should recognize that there are an indeterminate number of double standards: some that are prevalent, while others less common; some that we are aware of, and others that we are not; some that negatively impact us, and others that negatively impact others. Throughout the second half of Excluded, I provide a series of strategies (under the moniker holistic feminism) to challenge all double standards, which should enable our activism to be intersectional without marginalizing or excluding other groups in the process.
Non-binary: within trans-related discourses, typically refers to people or identities that fall outside of the gender binary. A few examples mentioned elsewhere in this glossary include people who are agender, bigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, and two-spirit.
Non-Op: refers to trans people who choose not to undergo sex reassignment surgery/bottom surgery. Note: This is language used by trans people to share (with whom they choose to share) their genital status; it is generally considered rude/invasive/objectifying for other people to ask about, or to non-consensually divulge, such information. See also genital assumption.
Non-Trans: refers to people who are not trans-identified, or who have not had a transgender experience. In other words, it is synonymous with the more contemporary term cis. I first heard the term “non-trans” in the early ’00s, when it was used by trans activists as a more neutral/less essentialist designation for people who had previously been called “bio boys” and “genetic girls.” I picked up the term, and used it regularly in my activism up until 2005-2006, when I began using cis terminology instead. I will occasionally still use “non-trans,” particularly when writing shorter pieces for mainstream audiences who are not yet familiar with cis terminology.
Oppositional Sexism: a term I coined and used throughout Whipping Girl (initially in pp. 11-20) to describe instances of sexism that are rooted in the presumption that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive, “opposite” sexes, each possessing a unique and non-overlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. Examples of oppositional sexism include heterosexism and cissexism. In Whipping Girl, I made the case that oppositional sexism (i.e., the delegitimization of sex/gender non-conformity) works hand-in-hand with traditional sexism (i.e., the delegitimization of femaleness and femininity) to create most forms of sexism that proliferate in our society. I also described the intersection of oppositional and traditional sexism as trans-misogyny.
Out: within queer discourses, refers to being open or explicit about one’s status as a gender or sexual minority. See also closet and coming out.
Pansexual: another term for people who experience sexual attraction to members of more than one gender or sex. I use the term interchangeably with bisexual, although I personally prefer “bisexual” for reasons that I detail in Excluded, pp. 81-98 (see also here). I have nothing against people who personally prefer pansexual, although I do take issue with people who use word-sabotage to insist that the identity “pansexual” is inherently more radical or inclusive than “bisexual” (for reasons that I explain at length in the previous Excluded reference, and also in Outspoken, pp. 217-232) -- see also “reinforcing” trope and subversivism.
Paraphilia: a psychological/sexological category of sexual desires or practices that researchers consider to be abnormal for some reason or another. While a few paraphilias involve nonconsensual acts (which are understandably condemned), the vast majority are autonomous or consensual sexual behaviors that do not harm others. There is no scientific or evidence-based explanation to explain why some autonomous/consensual sexual acts or desires are pathologized “paraphilias” while others are not; the category seems to have been invented solely for the purpose of pathologizing/stigmatizing gender and sexual minorities. This overarching problem, plus the specific matter of trans-specific paraphilias, is most thoroughly addressed in Outspoken pp. 156-161, see also pp. 136-155, and 204-214, and Whipping Girl pp. 262-271.
Pass, Passing: a concept that originated in discourses regarding race (e.g., people of color who “passed” as white), but has since been applied to other instances where a member of a marginalized/minority group is perceived to be, or blends in as, a member of the dominant/majority group. “Passing” is typically enabled by unmarked assumption, and may allow one to access privileges associated with the dominant/majority group (see e.g., conditional cis privilege), although this often comes at a price (as I discuss in Excluded, pp. 181-184, 188-196). Regarding trans people, there has been a mistaken assumption that we “pass” as women and men -- I have argued (most thoroughly in Whipping Girl, pp. 176-180) that we do not “pass” as women or men, but rather we “pass” as cis people. In that same passage, I explain why the term “pass” is inherently misleading: Because it is a verb, it makes it sound as though trans people are actively pulling a ruse or deceiving others, when in reality we are just being ourselves while other people’s cis assumption leads them to presume that we are cis. (This is why I usually put the word “pass” in scare quotes.) Other trans people who reject the term “passing” favor alternatives such as “blending in” or being “stealth.” When trans people fail to “pass,” they are sometimes described as being “read” or “clocked” as trans.
Pathologize, Pathologization: to portray some human trait as being abnormal, unhealthy, or diseased. For instance, one can describe transgender people as examples of natural variation and gender diversity; alternatively, one can pathologize transgender people by claiming that they suffer from a medical or psychiatric condition such as Gender Dysphoria or Transvestic Disorder (both of which are listed in the current DSM).
Patriarchy: a social structure that is centered on men, and which marginalizes women. See also traditional sexism, gender system).
Polyamory: a term I use synonymously with ethical non-monogamy -- i.e., to describe the practice of maintaining more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship simultaneously, and in a consensual manner (i.e., all parties are aware of the situation). See also ambiamorous.
Post-Op: refers to trans people who have already had sex reassignment surgery. Note: This is language used by trans people to share (with whom they choose to share) their genital status; it is generally considered rude/invasive/objectifying for other people to ask about, or to non-consensually divulge, such information. See also genital assumption.
Pre-Op: refers to trans people who have not yet had sex reassignment surgery, but are considering or planning to in the future. Note: This is language used by trans people to share (with whom they choose to share) their genital status; it is generally considered rude/invasive/objectifying for other people to ask about, or to non-consensually divulge, such information. See also genital assumption.
Predator/Prey Mindset: a model that I forwarded in Whipping Girl (pp. 253-271) and expanded upon in my essay “Why Nice Guys Finish Last” (in the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape) that explains how most people perceive/interpret sexual relations between men and women. According to this mindset, men are sexual initiators or aggressors (i.e., predators) and women are sexual objects (i.e., prey). Men and women who most closely resemble these archetypes tend to be viewed as most attractive or ideal. As “prey,” women are expected to play down or protect their sexuality. If a woman chooses to openly express her sexuality in any way, she will not be viewed as an autonomous sexual initiator/aggressor, but rather she will be viewed as inviting sexual aggression and/or encouraging others to objectify her. I further argue (in the cited chapter) that this mindset helps explain recurring stereotypes of trans women as promiscuous, hypersexual, and/or supposedly transitioning for sexual reasons (see also Outspoken; pp. 126-147; or this PDF).
Present, Presenting, Presentation: with regards to gender, a way of communicating to world (e.g., via clothing, gender expression, name, other cues) what gender/sex one identifies as or wishes to be recognized as. For example, in the years before my transition (when I identified as bigender), I generally presented myself as male, although sometimes I would present as female. Many trans activists have gravitated toward this phrasing to avoid describing people as being crossdressed, which needlessly emphasizes the person’s (presumed) assigned gender and may undermine their gender identity as well. On a few occasions, I have heard people complain that this wording sounds pathologizing (e.g., similar to medical accounts describing people as “presenting” with symptoms of a particular illness); however, to the best of my knowledge, the trans-specific usage of “present” originated in activist language rather than medical/psychiatric discourses.
Privilege: in activist settings, refers to the benefits or advantages one may experience solely as a result of being a member of a dominant or majority group. It is a different way of framing marginalization than the usual approach of discussing the disadvantages or obstacles experienced by the corresponding marginalized or minority group, and the intention is to make members of the dominant/majority group aware of the fact that they too are impacted by this form of marginalization (albeit positively). While I discuss various forms of privilege throughout my writings, I have most thoroughly described cis privilege (view that entry for source material). While privilege is very real, occasionally activists who harbor unilateral/fixed perspectives may invoke the specter of privilege to dismiss or invalidate other marginalized groups, as I discuss in Excluded (pp. 291-297), Outspoken (pp. 95-97), and Whipping Girl (pp. 307-310).
Queer: a reclaimed word that has since become a widely accepted umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities/LGBTQ+ people. Despite its current acceptance, some people who fall under this label reject the term because of its past use as a slur, or because it is too closely associated with gay identities; I address some of these concerns and explain why (and how) I use the term in Excluded, pp. 9-14.
Queer Theory: an academic field that became influential in the 1990s, and which set out to challenge essentialist assumptions about gender, sexuality, bodies, and desires. One of its main strategies was to deconstruct the (typically binary) categories that serve to define and restrict these phenomena. While this field was very influential within feminism and queer and trans activism of the time (and on me personally), its approach of deconstructing categories often undermined the identities and realities of many gender and sexual minorities (particularly trans and intersex people) as I discuss at length in Whipping Girl (pp. 196-212), Excluded (pp. 110-137), and Outspoken (pp. 106-116).
Questioning: In queer/gender and sexual minority discourses, refers to someone who is unsure about, or in the process of exploring, some facet of their gender and/or sexuality. The term is often intended to make queer settings more explicitly inclusive of people who are still trying to figure out their gender or sexual identity.
Radical Feminism: a strand of feminism that originated in the 1960s, and which focuses on the complete elimination of patriarchy and gender roles, rather than merely reforming societal laws and customs (see e.g., liberal feminism). There have been various expressions of radical feminism over the years (see e.g., Alice Echols, Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975). For instance, some self-identified radical feminists take a more intersectional approach, and their goal is to eliminate all hierarchies and forms of marginalization. Other radical feminists view patriarchy as the “primary” oppression -- i.e., the most historically longstanding, and the one that gives rise to all other forms a marginalization. In addition to focusing their efforts solely on eliminating patriarchy, these latter radical feminists often forward a simplistic unilateral view of sexism (in which men are the “oppressors” and women the “oppressed,” end of story) and advocate for abolishing any expression of gender or sexuality that they view as “reinforcing” patriarchal gender roles, such as sex work, pornography, BDSM, butch and femme identities, femininity, and/or transgenderism (see TERFs).
Read: within trans communities, refers to the gender that other people perceive one as. For instance, I may be a trans woman, but others might “read” me as cisgender, or as a “crossdressed man.” In some cases (particularly when it is not followed by a prepositional phrase), “read” implies being “found out” or discovered to be a member of a marginalized/minority group (e.g., transgender), and thus represents the opposite of “passing.”
Reclaimed Word: a word that has historically been used as a disparaging term or derogatory slur against a particular marginalized/minority group, but which is then repurposed by members of that group in a positive or self-empowering way. Examples include queer, dyke, and tranny. For understandable reasons, there may be disagreements among members of the group as to whether said words should be reclaimed or not (as I discuss in great length in Outspoken, pp. 244-251; see also here).
Reinforcing Trope: the assertion (often heard in queer and feminist settings) that some identity, or expression of gender or consensual sexuality, somehow “reinforces” (or “upholds,” or “reifies,” etc.) the patriarchy, the gender binary, heteronormativity, or some other gender system. Notably, this accusation is almost always levied against people who are gender and sexual minorities themselves, targets marked behaviors or traits that do not directly impinge or injure anyone else, and (as I have argued in the passages cited below) primarily serves to create artificial hierarchies within activist settings (see e.g., subversivism). I first noticed this phenomenon with regards to how it has historically been wielded against transsexuals (see Whipping Girl, pp. 145-155, 345-349). I formally began calling it the “reinforcing” trope in a 2010 essay (which now appears in Outspoken, pp. 174-178) addressing how it is sometimes used against bisexuals (also discussed here). I thoroughly eviscerate the “reinforcing” trope throughout Excluded (especially pp. 110-137), wherein I make the case that it is completely arbitrary, denies gender and sexual diversity, and is a common recurring strategy for excluding certain marginalized/minority individuals from activist movements that they have a stake in.
Reverse Discourse: a term coined by Michel Foucault to refer to when a minority/marginalized group takes a hierarchy that has historically been used to marginalize them (e.g., heterosexual = good; homosexual = bad) and uses it as a standpoint from which to prioritize their own beliefs, desires, and perspectives. The term has negative connotations, as it implies that the minority/marginalized group may be buying into an essentialist framework, or engaging in identity politics. I discuss the many problems with reverse discourses (specifically regarding cis/trans) in Outspoken (pp. 269-282; see also here). I also address such “binary-flips” or “hierarchy-flips” (which are similar phenomena) in Excluded (especially pp. 216-238) and Whipping Girl (pp. 345-362).
Second-Wave Feminism: an umbrella term strands of feminism that began to proliferate in the 1960s and dominated through the 1980s, after which third-wave feminism is said to begin. While both second-wave and third-wave feminisms were diverse, and the distinction between them imprecise, it could be said that second-wave feminists often centered their activism around the category of “woman” (e.g., championing “women’s rights” or “women’s liberation”), whereas third-wave feminists were often focused on deconstructing the category of “woman” and/or addressing the many differences that exist among women -- e.g., due to intersectionality, or with regards to sexuality (see sex-positive feminism). Note: “second-wave” implicitly references “first-wave” of feminism -- that is, the suffrage movement, which took place in the mid-nineteenth century through the early-twentieth century.
Second-Wave Transgender Activism: a phrase I coined in 2008 (here; now included in Outspoken, pp. 106-116) to describe a shift I perceived occurring in transgender activism at the time, moving away from focusing on what transgender people had in common (i.e., that we all challenge the gender binary, as argued by “first-wave” transgender activists of the 1990s), and toward an increased discussion about intersectionality and the many differences that exist between trans people (which gained momentum in the late ’00s). I made the case that this shift was analogous to the increased discussion of differences that occurred during the shift from second-wave to third-wave feminisms.
Sex: with regards to bodies, it refers to a suite of sexually dimorphic traits that may include chromosomes, gonads, external genitals, other reproductive organs, ratio of sex hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. In our society, these traits are classified in a dichotomous manner as either female or male, and people are assigned a legal sex on that basis. However, variability exists in all these traits, plus these traits may not all “align” (i.e., all male, or all female) within the same person -- when this occurs, such traits (and the people who possess them) are often described as intersex. Some people believe in a strict sex/gender distinction -- where sex refers to the realm of biology, and gender refers to the purely social -- but I reject that position for reasons mentioned in that glossary entry (and explained more thoroughly in Excluded, pp. 138-168). The truth is that, in our culture, “sex” is both a social and legal category in addition to describing anatomy. In Whipping Girl, I forwarded the term lived sex, which refers to moving through the world as a member of that particular sex.
Sex Embodiment: the experience of inhabiting a sexed body and/or one’s self-understanding or relationship with their own sexual body or anatomy. I began forwarding the term in the late ’00s as a companion term to go with the more commonly discussed gender identity, which seems to articulate our “gender affiliation” fairly well, but which obscures how we relate to our physically sexed bodies -- a matter which is important, and perhaps even central, to many transsexuals’ experiences. Also, I have often found that some people who respect my female gender identity (i.e., my gender affiliation) do not accept my sex embodiment (i.e., they refused to relate to my physical body or sexual anatomy as female).
Sex-Positive Feminism: a movement that had its origins in the 1980s in response to feminists who critiqued or called for the elimination of pornography, sex work, BDSM, and other sexual practices and identities. Sex-positive feminism is based on the notion that autonomous and consensual sex is healthy, and that the policing of such sexual acts negatively impacts women and gender and sexual minorities.
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): one of numerous terms to describe transition-related surgeries that involve the transformation of one’s sex characteristics toward a more desired state. The term is most closely associated with surgeries that involve genital reconfiguration, as in many jurisdictions such procedures are required in order to have one’s legal sex officially reassigned (e.g., from male to female, or female to male). But the term may occasionally be used to refer to other trans-related surgeries. Some trans people prefer alternate names for such procedures, including (but not limited to) gender reassignment surgery, gender confirmation surgery, gender affirmation surgery, or top/bottom surgery. The general public often colloquially refers to such procedures as a “sex change operation,” but that label has fallen out of favor (and is often considered crass) by both the medical establishment and trans activists alike.
Sex Worker: a person whose work involves consensual sexual services, performances, and/or sexually explicit behavior.
Sex/gender distinction: the belief that sex and gender are two clearly separable things. For instance, some feminists have made a strong distinction between physical sex (i.e., the biological) and social gender (i.e., gendered roles that we are socialized into and expected to fulfill). Some transsexuals have forwarded a similar distinction, although in their assessments, gender is a deeply-felt self-understanding of who they are (see gender identity) that exists independent of both gender socialization and their physical bodies. As I have argued (most thoroughly in Excluded, pp. 138-168), such strict sex/gender distinctions ignore the facts that 1) gender identity appears to be influenced (to some degree) by biology, 2) biological socialization alters our biology (e.g., our physical brains), and 3) that “sex” is both a social and legal category in addition to describing our anatomies.
Sexism: any double standard based on a person’s sex, gender, and/or sexuality. In Whipping Girl (pp. 11-20, and elsewhere in the text) I make the case that most forms of sexism fall into one of two categories: traditional sexism (i.e., the assumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to, or less legitimate than, maleness and masculinity) and oppositional sexism (i.e., where people assume that male and female are two discrete, mutually-exclusive categories that each exhibit distinct behaviors, traits, interests, and desires, and that those who fail to live up to this assumption must be abnormal or illegitimate). However, there may also be other forms of sexism that do not fall neatly into either of these categories (for e.g., see subversivism).
Sexual Minority: an umbrella term for people whose autonomous or consensual sexual practices, interests, and desires fall outside of societal norms, and who often face marginalization as a result. See also gender and sexual minorities.
Sexual Orientation: refers to the sex/gender that a person is primarily attracted to. There are four commonly accepted categories of sexual orientation: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual. While these labels/categories are often useful, they do have potential drawbacks: 1) they center attraction around same-sex versus other-sex, which can invisibilize many transgender and intersex people (and those who are attracted to us), 2) it seems to imply that one’s preferred sex/gender category is the most important aspect of sexual desire, when in actuality people’s sexualities vary with regards to a multiplicity of traits and facets.
Sexuality: a broad term that may refer to a person’s sexual orientation, interests, fantasies, desires, acts, expressions, experiences, or some combination thereof.
Sexualization: the act of reducing another person to their sexual body or behaviors, rather than seeing them as a whole person. Most often discussed in relation to the way women are routinely sexualized in our heterosexual-male-centric culture, but as I argue in Outspoken (pp. 126-147; see also here[PDF link]) and Excluded (pp. 273), sexualization is a common method used more generally to invalidate members of marginalized groups.
She-Male: a controversial term to describe pre-op or non-op trans women. The term has been popularized by the sex/pornography industries, and many trans women find it offensive because it is purposefully sensationalistic, it emphasizes the presence of a penis (which many find objectifying), and invalidates our female identities (via its usage of the word “male”). Having said that, I have known a few non-op trans women who have tried to reclaim the word.
: refers to beliefs, meanings, and connotations that we project onto objects (or people) in the world, and which shape the way we see them. For instance, while biological sex is a real thing, many of the expectations and assumptions that we have about social gender (e.g., that it constitutes a strict binary, that blue is for boys & pink is for girls, that men just want sex while women want commitment, etc.) are socially constructed -- these ideas may seem natural and taken for granted for many people in our culture, but other people and cultures may view these matters very differently. While I believe that gender is socially constructed, I have objected to claims made by some feminists that gender is “just a construct” or merely a social artifact for reasons explained in Excluded (pp. 110-168) and summarized here (see also gender artifactualism).
: refers to the process wherein human beings learn cultural norms, customs, values, and ideologies through social interactions with others. Within trans discourses, this topic usually comes up with regards to the gender socialization we experienced early in our lives (i.e., whether we were raised and expected to be girls or boys) and the difficulties in unlearning some of those habits and behaviors upon gender transition. Trans-exclusive radical feminists often point to such gender socialization to invalidate trans people’s identities -- for instance, claiming that I cannot claim to be a woman because I was not socialized female as a child. This ignores the fact that socialization is a life long process, and that human beings regularly cast off beliefs and behaviors that we were socialized to accept as children, and that we constantly learn new ways of being and adapt to new social circumstances.
SRS: an acronym for sex reassignment surgery.
Standards of Care (SOC): a document published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health that establishes guidelines for the treatment of transgender people. Historically, the SOC was extremely restrictive and created myriad difficulties for trans people (as I detail in Whipping Girl, pp. 115-139). The current SOC (“Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender-Nonconforming People, Version 7”) is far more flexible, albeit not without flaws. See also gatekeeper system.
Straight: within queer discourses, the term refers to someone who is not a gender and sexual minority. Some people use the term “straight” in a more narrow way -- e.g., as a synonym for heterosexual -- but I personally reject such usage due to its homonormativity.
Subconscious Sex: a term I coined in Whipping Girl (pp. 26-29, 77-93) to describe an unconscious and inexplicable self-understanding regarding what sex one belongs to or should be. I felt the phrase was necessary to distinguish between these unconscious experiences and the more conscious way we make sense of such feelings (i.e., what we typically call gender identity). Furthermore, the word “identity” makes itI purposefully used the word “subconscious” (which is ambiguous and rarely used in academic/research settings) to capture the vagueness of such feelings (at least as I experienced them) and to avoid making it sound like I believe that they resided in a specific gene or region of the brain. And I intentionally used the word “sex” (rather than “gender”) to reflect the fact that for many transsexuals (including myself) the desire to transition is often driven by sex embodiment (i.e., aligning our subconscious and physical sexes) more so, or in addition to, a sense of sex/gender affiliation (i.e., belonging to and being recognized as a member of that sex/gender). I also argued (in the cited passages) that cissexuals also likely have a subconscious sex, but they tend not to notice or appreciate it because it is concordant with their physical sex (and therefore they tend to conflate the two); this helps to explain the strong knee-jerk negative reactions some cis people exhibit toward transsexuals and the very notion of physical transition. See also intrinsic inclinations.
Subversivism: a term I coined in Whipping Girl (pp. 345-362) to describe the assumption that some genders and sexualities are inherently “subversive” or “transgressive,” and therefore superior to those that are deemed more conventional or conservative (and which supposedly “reinforce” the gender system or gender norms). While this form of sexism is not prevalent in mainstream culture, it does proliferate in certain feminist and queer circles. I discuss subversivism more here; see also “reinforcing” trope.
TERFs: an acronym for “Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists,” a subgroup of radical feminists (who sometimes self-identify as “gender critical” feminists) that are strongly opposed to transgender identities, experiences, and rights. Unlike mainstream expressions of transphobia (which tend to cite religious convictions or biological determinism to support their case), TERFs typically justify their views via the following reasoning: 1) gender is merely a man-made class system designed to oppress women, and which therefore must be eliminated, 2) transgender people “buy into” and thus “reinforce” this class system, thereby undermining women and feminism, and 3) trans women constitute a specific threat because (in their eyes) we are oppressive “men” who are infiltrating women’s spaces and/or appropriating women’s identities and circumstances. Trans activists (including myself) have critiqued TERF positions by pointing out that they are essentialist, ignore intersectionality, and forward arguments that are inherently anti-feminist in other ways (see Whipping Girl, pp. 47-52, 233-245, and Outspoken, pp. 106-116; see also here). Furthermore, in Excluded (pp. 110-137), I demonstrate that their central argument -- i.e., that TERFs are trying to bring an “end to gender” whereas trans people supposedly “reinforce gender” -- is completely arbitrary, and exacerbates sexism rather than reducing it (as I explain here). While the label “TERF” highlights this group’s anti-trans ideology (which often manifests in harassment, doxxing, and actively fighting against trans rights), their faulty “end of gender”-versus-“reinforcing gender” logic leads them to routinely disparage other groups, including feminine women, sex-positive feminists, and sex workers (which is why TERFs are also sometimes described as SWERFs, aka Sex Worker-Exclusive Radical Feminists).
Third Gender, Third Sex: terms sometimes used to describe gender categories other than man and woman that exist in non-Western cultures (see e.g., two-spirit people). These third (and sometimes more) genders are fairly common, although the way that they are conceptualized and the roles they play in society may vary significantly from culture to culture.
Third-wave Feminism: the era of feminism that followed (and was a reaction to) second-wave feminism. It is generally thought to begin in the 1980s, and increasingly garnered attention and support in the 1990s. While both second-wave and third-wave feminisms were diverse, and the distinction between them imprecise, it could be said that second-wave feminists often centered their activism around the category of “woman” (e.g., championing “women’s rights” or “women’s liberation”), whereas third-wave feminists were often focused on deconstructing the category of “woman” and/or addressing the many differences that exist among women -- e.g., due to intersectionality, or with regards to sexuality (see sex-positive feminism). Numerous people have claimed that we have since moved onto the “fourth-wave” of feminism; however, at this time, there is no clear-cut consensus regarding what defines this current period in contrast to the third-wave.
Top Surgery: transition-related surgeries that involve a reconfiguration of one’s chest (either male chest construction in trans men, or breast augmentation in trans women). Some trans people prioritize top surgery over bottom surgery (or vice versa); see also sex reassignment surgery.
Traditional Sexism: instances of sexism that are rooted in the presumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to, less legitimate than, or exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity. I forwarded the term in Whipping Girl (pp. 11-20) in order to distinguish between these instances (i.e., what people traditionally think of as sexism) and other variants of sexism (such as heterosexism, cissexism) that fall under the umbrella of oppositional sexism. I also described the intersection of oppositional and traditional sexism as trans-misogyny.
Tranny: a controversial term for transgender people. The word has a complex history that I discuss in gory detail in Outspoken (pp. 233-251 and references therein; see also here). To briefly summarize: It appears to have been used as an informal, self-referential, in-community word (along with the similar sounding “transy”) in some trans communities as early as the 1970s, but over time, as public awareness of the term grew, it increasingly took on derogatory meanings and sexual connotations (likely due to its usage in association with trans-themed pornography). In the 1990s and early 2000s, many trans activists reclaimed the word, and it was often found in the names of trans-themed organizations and events (see Outspoken pp. 60-68, 233-251). Community sentiments have subsequently shifted toward condemning the word -- while some trans people still embrace it, most seem to view it as an unacceptable slur.
Trans: generally used as an abbreviation of, or synonym for, the umbrella term transgender. When the word precedes “woman” or “man” (as in trans woman or trans man), it typically indicates that the person is transsexual, and that the word modified by the adjective “trans” (i.e., woman or man) refers the person’s gender identity and/or lived sex. Perhaps due to this latter usage, there is sometimes confusion regarding whether the person using “trans” is doing so in a broad transgender-spectrum way, or in a transsexual-specific way; such ambiguity can impact how narrow or broad (respectively) the word cis is defined (as I discuss at great length in Outspoken, pp. 257-268; see here). This confusion might have also led to the recent popularization of the alternate term trans* (trans-asterisk).
Trans*, Trans-asterisk: a variant of trans intended to stress gender diversity and inclusion. This term seems to have originated due to the way asterisks operate as “wild cards” in internet search engines -- i.e., if you search for “trans*,” you may retrieve results that include the words trans, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and so on. In this sense, the word seems inclusive of a multiplicity of trans identities. While trans* has existed for many years, it garnered increased attention and usage in the mid-’00s, as some trans activists claimed that it was more inclusive than trans (sans asterisk), However, in the years since, still others have claimed that trans* excludes various groups (as I explain in my essay Regarding Trans* and Transgenderism). While I have used trans* in my writings on a few occasions, I prefer to use trans (san asterisk) in the broad umbrella sense (as it was originally intended).
Trans Female/Feminine Spectrum: my current preferred umbrella term to describe transgender-spectrum people who were assigned male at birth, but who come to reject male/masculine identities & roles and/or who gravitate toward female/feminine ones. (Note: in my Trans-Misogyny Primer, I suggested that this could be abbreviated “TF spectrum”) In some of my earlier writings (e.g., in Whipping Girl), I used the phrase “MTF-spectrum” to express the same concept. I like this phraseology because it acknowledges our female and/or feminine identities, desires, inclinations, and/or aspirations, without undermining them by referencing gender statuses that were non-consensually assigned to us at birth. Some agender and genderqueer people have told me that they do not like this term because they do not identify as either female or feminine. For these reasons, they may prefer using MAAB as an umbrella term, which I dislike for reasons explained in Outspoken, pp. 189-191. As I explain in the introductory essay to this glossary, there is no perfect word.
Trans Feminism, Transfeminism: a term accredited to Diana Courvant and Emi Koyama, and used to describe transgender perspectives on feminism and/or feminist perspectives on transgender issues. My take on trans feminism can be found in Excluded (pp. 43-47; see also here), Outspoken (pp. 106-116; see also here), and throughout Whipping Girl. While I often describe myself as a trans feminist, I feel that holistic feminism better describes my overall feminist framework.
Trans Man: a person who was assigned female at birth, but who currently identifies and/or lives as a man. Some trans people prefer the spelling “transman” (with no space), which I personally dislike for reasons explained in Excluded, p. 313, chapter 5, note 1.
Trans Male/Masculine Spectrum: my current preferred umbrella term to describe transgender-spectrum people who were assigned female at birth, but who come to reject female/feminine identities & roles and/or who gravitate toward male/masculine ones. (Note: in my Trans-Misogyny Primer, I suggested that this could be abbreviated “TM spectrum”) In some of my earlier writings (e.g., in Whipping Girl), I used the phrase “FTM-spectrum” to express the same concept. I explain my reasoning behind this phraseology, as well as potential objections to it, in the entry for trans female/feminine spectrum above.
Trans Woman:: a person who was assigned male at birth, but who currently identifies and/or lives as a woman. Some trans people prefer the spelling “transwoman” (with no space), which I personally dislike for reasons explained in Excluded, p. 313, chapter 5, note 1.
Trans Woman-Exclusion: a reference to women-only organizations or spaces that instate policies that bar trans women from attending (see e.g., the MichFest “womyn-born-womyn”-only policy). I critique such policies in Whipping Girl (pp. 47-52, 233-245), Excluded (pp. 22-36), Outspoken (pp. 106-116; see also here), and elsewhere.
Trans-facsimilation: the common tendency to view trans people’s gender identities, expressions, or bodies as mere facsimiles or inferior replicas of their cisgender counterparts. I introduced the term in Whipping Girl (pp. 170-172), where I explain the flaws and biases inherent in this mindset. See also ungendering.
Trans-misogyny: a term I coined in my 2005 chapbook On the Outside Looking In, and forwarded in Whipping Girl (first explained in pp. 11-20), to describe forms of sexism that plague people on the trans female/feminine spectrum. It arises at the intersection of oppositional sexism and traditional sexism, and it accounts for why trans female/feminine individuals tend to bear the brunt of societal fascination, consternation, and demonization in considerations of transgender people. A quick intro to the subject can be found in my Trans-Misogyny Primer, and I share some anecdotes that better flesh out the concept in Excluded (pp. 49-53). Further discussion about the origin of the term, and common misconceptions regarding who is impacted by trans-misogyny, can be found in Outspoken, pp. 69-76. As the term has been taken up by others since the release of Whipping Girl, people often spell it as one word (“transmisogyny”); I stick to my hyphenated version both for consistency, and to stress that it involves the interplay of transphobia and misogyny.
Transness: an informal term I have used to describe aspects of a person’s identity, expressions, body, or personal history that are related to the fact that they are trans. See transgenderism
Transgender: the most commonly accepted umbrella term for people who transgress gender norms or defy traditional gender categories in some way. Activists in the 1990s forwarded this term to unite transsexuals, crossdressers, drag artists, butch women, feminine men, and people who are androgynous, intersex, non-binary, and possibly others (as discussed in Outspoken, pp. 257-268; see also here). While the word was intended to be inclusive of all gender-variant people (in the hopes of organizing the largest possible coalition to challenge the gender binary), some individuals or subgroups have objected to being included under the label (see e.g., Whipping Girl, p. 26; Outspoken, pp. 179-188, also here), while some who identify with the term have attempted to exclude other subgroups from using or being included under the label (e.g., some have objected to the inclusion of drag performers and other non-transsexual gender non-conforming people). Unfortunately, many people in the cis mainstream are unaware of the broad coalition of identities that exist under the transgender umbrella, leading them to mistakenly equate the word “transgender” with transsexuals (even though the latter are merely one subgroup). For this reason, I sometimes use the phrase “transgender-spectrum” in my writings to stress this gender diversity, even though it is arguably redundant. Contemporary activists typically claim that “transgender” should only be used as an adjective (not a noun or a verb), and that individuals should not be referred to as “transgenders” or “transgendered,” even though these variants were routinely used by trans activists up through the mid-’00s (e.g., see Outspoken, pp. 322-323, note 31).
Transgenderism: refers to the phenomenon of transgender people (i.e., our existence and our experiences; see gender variance), or the state of being transgender (e.g., I might talk about my own transgenderism; see transness). Although the word almost certainly originated in transgender communities, and was used by trans activists of the 1990s in a positive or neutral manner, some contemporary activists dislike the word because of the suffix “-ism,” which they believe implies that transgender people are forwarding some kind of oppressive ideology (even though -isms also refer to naturally occurring phenomena, as I explain in my essay Regarding Trans* and Transgenderism).
Transition, Transitioning: generically means moving from one state, position, stage, or condition to another (e.g., life transition, job transition). Within trans discourses, the term generally refers to a time period wherein a trans person socially and/or physically moves from one way of being gendered in the world to another. This process may be accompanied by one or some of the following events: coming to terms with one’s own trans identity; coming out as trans to other people; taking steps to change one’s gender presentation or gendered social status/lived sex; taking steps to physically transition (e.g., via hormone therapy or surgeries) from one sex to another; having one’s initial experiences being perceived in their identified gender and/or as trans on a regular basis. While some trans people may reference a specific “transition period” in their life (e.g., a one or two year time frame in which they experience dramatic social and/or physical changes), other trans people experience their genders as relatively stable throughout their life, or as a continual ongoing process that does not have clear start and end points. Many trans activists (including myself) have expressed frustration about the fact that the cisgender majority tends to be far more interested in (and sometimes even obscenely fascinated by) the transitioning process rather than other aspects of our person or the many serious issues that we face (see Whipping Girl, pp. 53-64, 195-212). This can lead them to view trans people as “perpetually transitioning” -- e.g., they may see “woman,” as a goal that I am always working hard to approach, but never fully achieve (e.g., see Excluded, pp. 102-103).
Transphobia: often literally read as a “fear of” or “aversion to” people who are transgender or gender non-conforming. I typically use the term in a broader manner to describe the belief or assumption that cis people’s gender identities, expressions, experiences, and embodiments are more natural and legitimate than those of trans people. See also cissexism.
Transsexual: a person who identifies and/or lives as a member of the sex other than the one they were assigned at birth. Some people (especially in the psychological/sexological literature) define “transsexual” based on the medical procedures one undergoes (e.g., seeking out sex reassignment surgery), but many trans people find such definitions to be objectifying (as they place undo focus on body parts rather than the person as a whole) and classist (as not all trans people can afford the means to physically transition). For these reasons, I favor definitions based on self-identity (i.e., whether one identifies as female or male) and/or lived sex (i.e., whether one currently navigates their way through the world as a woman or man) -- this conceptualization would be inclusive of pre-transition transsexuals (who are not yet living as a member of the gender they identify as), as well non-binary transsexuals (who navigate their way through the world as members of the sex other than the one they are assigned a birth, even if they do not fully embrace the identity of “woman” or “man”). I have conjectured (based upon countless conversations with other transsexuals) that the decision to transition is sometimes driven primarily by gender affiliation or identity (i.e., understanding oneself socially as a woman or man, and wanting to be recognized as such), and other times more by sex embodiment (i.e., an understanding that our bodies should be physically female or male); of course, many people experience both of these aspects. While I proudly call myself transsexual (and probably will until the day I die), other trans people take issue with the label, either because it originated in medical/psychiatric discourses, or because it has the pesky syllable “sex” in it (even though “sex” in this case clearly refers to physical sex rather than copulation). During the 1990s, the activist group Transexual Menace forwarded the alternative spelling “transexual” (with one S rather than two) as a reclaimed variant of the word.
Transvestic Disorder: a psychiatric diagnosis that appears in the current DSM-5, and which was recently expanded to potentially cover transgender people of all orientations and trajectories (as I explain Outspoken, pp. 156-161). For more on this diagnosis’s predecessor Transvestic Fetishism, see Whipping Girl (pp. 126-139, 262-271) and Outspoken (pp. 126-144, 145-147).
Transvestic Fetishism: a psychiatric diagnosis from the previous DSM (DSM-IV-TR) that targeted male crossdressers and potentially others on the trans female/feminine spectrum. It has since been greatly expanded and renamed Transvestic Disorder in the current DSM. I critique the psychiatric pathologization of crossdressers (via the DSM diagnoses Transvestic Fetishism and Transvestic Disorder) in Whipping Girl (pp. 126-139, 262-271) and Outspoken (pp. 126-144, 145-147, 156-161).
Transvestite: a term that has historically been used in a manner similar to how crossdresser is used today. While some people continue to use the term as a self-identity label (especially in the U.K.), it has fallen out of favor in the U.S., most likely due to its association with the sexualizing and pathologizing DSM diagnoses Transvestic Fetishism and Transvestic Disorder.
Two-Spirit: a contemporary umbrella term for Native American/First Nation gender roles that fall outside of (or are seen as some combination of) woman and man. See third gender.
Umbrella Term: in activism, refers to a label that is meant to encompass a diverse population of people who may differ in their identities or specific circumstances, but who are viewed and treated by society in similar ways, and thus have shared concerns and issues that they may organize around. For instance, while various transgender subgroups may have different understandings of their gender and face somewhat different obstacles, we are all punished by society for our failure to conform to binary gender norms. While umbrella terms are advantageous in building larger coalitions, they are not without drawbacks. For instance, often times the larger or more established subgroups within the umbrella may dominate or erase the views of other constituents (e.g., the way that gay-specific interests tend to dominate in LGBTQ+ organizations). In addition, many umbrella terms (e.g., transgender, queer) are also used by some as identity labels, and thus the initial goal of creating a broad coalition may be undermined by the identity-politics tendency toward infighting over who counts as a legitimate member of the group. I discuss this difference between identity and umbrella labels in Excluded (pp. 11-14), and discuss the usefulness of umbrella-based activism in Outspoken, pp. 179-188 (see also here) and pp. 257-268 (see also here).
Ungendering: a term I introduced in Whipping Girl (pp., 170-172, 195-212) to describe purposeful attempts (by artists, academics, or laypeople) to dwell on any incongruities and discrepancies in a person’s gender identity, appearance, or behaviors. While any person can be subjected to ungendering, in practice such attempts typically target gender-variant people, primarily because our genders are already deemed questionable or illegitimate by society. See also trans-facsimilation.
Unilateral: a term I use to refer to activist strategies that focus solely on one particular population or form of marginalization. Unilateral activism (or what some might call “single-issue activism”) ignores intersectionality and, as a result, can lead to rather warped views of the world. For instance, unilateral feminists will often presume that a poor man of color, or a disabled trans woman, is inherently more privileged and than they are. I discuss the myriad problems inherent in unilateral activism (under the monikers “reverse discourses” and “fixed perspectives,” respectively) in Outspoken (pp. 269-282; see also here) and Excluded (pp. 216-228).
Universalist: in activism, refers to the presumption that all members of a particular group (usually a marginalized one) are similarly situated, or share all the same experiences and obstacles. Therefore, from a universalist perspective, the same activist strategy or approach should benefit all members of the group equally (although in reality, this is never the case; see intersectionality). In Excluded (see pp. 216-228), I refer to such universalist beliefs as fixed perspectives, and detail why (and how) they are inherently exclusionary.
Unmarked Assumption: a term I forwarded in Excluded (pp. 181-182) to refer to the tendency for people to presume that every person they encounter is (or should be) a member of the dominant/majority (unless they are presented with evidence to the contrary). This assumption stems from the fact that dominant/majority groups tend to become the unmarked taken-for-granted norm. Unmarked assumption tends to become even more pervasive and pertinent as the marginalized/minority group gets smaller in numbers and/or when their “marked” status is not readily visible (as is the case with many gender and sexual minorities; see e.g., cis assumption). Concepts such as being “closeted,” “coming out,” “passing,” or being “read” would not exist if it were not for unmarked assumption.
Unmarked vs. Marked: a concept that originated in the fields of linguistics and semiotics, and which (as I argue in Excluded, pp. 169-199) is central to understanding how marginalization and double standards work. To briefly summarize: In our culture, groups who are dominant or the majority are typically viewed as “unmarked” -- i.e., their existence and perspectives are taken for granted, and deemed unquestionable norm. As a result of this, minority and marginalized groups become “marked” in comparison -- they seem remarkable and tend to stand out, garnering undue attention and scrutiny; they are also likely to be viewed as inherently questionable, suspicious, alien, exotic, abnormal, artificial, or deceptive. In other words, it is as if people who are marked are generally viewed as having *something* that unmarked people do not have, and this *something* is subsequently subjected to all sorts of comments, questions, critique, debate, and double-binds that the unmarked person escapes. In the aforementioned Excluded citation (see also here), I discuss how this unmarked/marked distinction plays a role in all -isms, where it provides the unmarked group with countless privileges that they are typically unaware of (due to their unmarked, and therefore seemingly invisible, nature).
Vanilla: slang term for conventional sex, or sexualities that are not kinky.
Womyn: an alternative spelling of “women” preferred by some feminists (because it eliminates the word “men”) -- see e.g., Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Word-Elimination: a term that I use to describe direct attempts by activists to convince others to stop using a particular word or phrase, under the premise that those terms are denigrating to, and/or contribute to the oppression of, some minority/marginalized group. While word-elimination strategies are embarked upon with the best of intentions, they can have unforeseen negative consequences for the minority/marginalized group related to the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round; I discuss such problems in more depth in Outspoken (pp. 244-251; see here). See also word-sabotage.
Word-Sabotage: another manifestation of the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round. I first used the phrase here to describe situations where activists tout a new term as being more righteous/empowering/inclusive than some previously existing synonymous term, thus indirectly implying that the previous term denigrates and/or contributes to the oppression of the minority/marginalized group in question. While such strategies are often embarked upon with the best of intentions, they can have unforeseen negative consequences for the minority/marginalized group, as I discuss in great length in Outspoken, pp. 244-251; see here).
WPATH: an acronym for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. It was formerly known as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA). This association is responsible for publishing the Standards of Care, which establishes guidelines for the treatment of transgender people.
Ze: a gender-neutral pronoun for third person singular subjects (i.e., analogous to “he” or “she”). Alternate variants include “zie,” “sie,” and “xe.” It is most commonly paired with the third person singular object pronoun hir.
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