Lesson Two: Vocabulary

Good afternoon class. Now that you’ve all had a chance to look over the syllabus, I’d like to set down a solid foundation of the non-oppressive language we will be using throughout the semester.

For some of you, these words will be familiar but the definitions may be slightly different. For others, this list will look like a foreign language. It does not matter to me what level of experience you already have in transfeminism discussions, for the purposes of this class we are all going to start from the beginning so there will be no confusion or misunderstanding.

A side note, many of your required reading will use slightly different language or definitions. I ask you to remember that language is an ever-evolving aspect of communication for all groups, not just trans women. If at any point during your reading you become confused or would like clarification, please do not hesitate to ask me for assistance. The last thing I want is for something as petty as word choice to get in the way of fighting transmisogyny.

AFAB/AMAB – Stands for Assigned Female or Male at Birth. Rather than using cissexist terms such as “biologically X” or “physically Y”, we acknowledge sex is a socially constructed binary based almost entirely on the genitalia an infant presents at birth. Other variations include DFAB/DMAB and CAFAB/CAMAB.

Do not use these terms to replace more specific identifiers for individuals (calling a Trans Woman an AMAB person, for example), as it is a Microaggression form of Misgendering.

Androgynous – A style of gender presentation that is a blend of traditionally masculine and feminine presentations. Can be used to describe people of any Gender Identity.

Assigned Gender – The Gender Identity an infant is presumed to have based on their genitalia at birth.

Benevolent Misgendering – When one intentionally Misgenders themselves in order to benefit or gain access to resources that are not designated for their Gender Identity. A common example is Trans Men wanting access to Women-Only Spaces. Even though, by definition, they are not available to Men.

Biological Determinism – The belief that gender roles, gender expression, gender identities, language usage, and many other aspects of who people are can be predicted based entirely on their Assigned Gender. For example, believing AMAB children “naturally” prefer trucks and AFAB children, dolls.

Butch – A style of gender presentation that is traditionally masculine. Can be used to describe people of any gender identity.

Cis/Cisgender/Cissexual – The opposite of Trans/Transgender/Transsexaul. An adjective used to describe someone whose Gender Identity aligns with their Assigned Gender at birth. Cis people are the Ingroup in our Cissexist society, and as such they experience Cis Privilege.

Cissexism/Cissexist – Refers to the widespread belief that Cis people’s Gender Identities are more authentic and natural than Trans people’s Gender Identities. Can also used to refer to the systematic Oppression of Trans people.

Coming Out – The act of disclosing one’s Sexual and/or Gender Minority status to others. Due to Ingroup Assumption, many Queer people are perceived to be Straight and Cis unless they go out of their way to make others aware.

Crossdresser – Someone who enjoys presenting as a different Gender Identity from their own for whatever reason, but does not wish to Transition to that Gender Identity permanently. Can be Cis or Trans.

Discrimination – The act of treating someone differently or as inferior based on genuine or perceived characteristics, regardless of Ingroup or Outgroup membership. While Discrimination is part of Oppression, it should not be confused with Oppression itself.

Drag – Similar to Crossdressers, but generally done as a performance, especially within the Queer Community. Drag Queens are traditionally men or AMAB people who perform as a female persona. Drag Kings are traditionally women or AFAB people who perform as a male persona.

For some Trans people, Drag can be the first step toward recognizing their actual Gender Identity and gaining acceptance in the Queer community, but that does not make their journeys or genders any less authentic than others.

Dyadic – The opposite of Intersex. Used to refer to people whose genitalia at birth present within the typical penis/vulva binary. (Remember, biological sex is just another social construct.)

Dysphoria – Psychological (similar to depression) experienced when one’s Gender Identity is not properly Attributed by either themselves or others, for whatever reason. Although Dysphoria is a common experience among Trans people, it is not a requirement in order to be considered Trans.

Erasure – When a member of an Outgroup is mistaken for a member of the Ingroup due to Ingroup Assumption, or forced to pretend to have Ingroup membership in order to survive Oppression. This is not Privilege, as it is extremely harmful to the person experiencing it.

Trans Women have never experienced Male Privilege because they have never been Male. They have experienced Erasure of their identity as Trans Women.

Female/Girl/Woman – Someone who identifies as a woman, regardless of Assigned Gender or Primary or Secondary Sex Characteristics. Has absolutely nothing to do with being born with a vulva.

Femme – A style of gender presentation that is traditionally feminine. Can be used to describe people of any gender identity.

Gender Attribution – Can also be called Gendering. The act of categorizing people into a gender based on the Physical Sex, Gender Presentation, and other cues we perceive. Although many are not aware of consciously doing so, we “gender” everyone we see almost instantly.

Gender Binary – The socially constructed idea that only Cis/Dyadic Men and Cis/Dyadic Women naturally exist, rather than the wide range of variability that occurs in humans and nearly all other species. This feeds into Cissexism as well as Biological Determinism.

Gender Expression/Gender Presentation – The way someone presents their gender (and sometimes sexuality) to the outside world through clothing, hair style, and other forms of nonverbal communication. Androgynous, Butch, and Femme are three examples of different types of Gender Expressions.

Gender Identity – The gender someone experiences themselves to most closely belong to, regardless of their Assigned Gender or Primary or Secondary Sex Characteristics. The most common Gender Identities are Male and Female.

Gender Minority – For the purposes of this class, anyone whose gender is not Cis and/or Dyadic. Can include Trans Men, Trans Women, Intersex people, Non-Binary people, and others.

Gender-Variant/Gender-Nonconforming – An umbrella term used to describe all people who cross gender boundaries in society in a significant way. Can include Cis and Trans. This will also be the terminology we use to describe very young children or historical figures who cannot give us a more accurate identity.

Ingroup – The opposite of Outgroup. A group of people who experience specific Privileges and do not experience specific Oppressions because of some type of differentiating characteristic. Examples of Ingroups include Cis people, Straight people, Men, White people, etc.

Ingroup Assumption – Refers to the implicit belief of Ingroup members that everyone is an Ingroup member unless evidence to the contrary arises. This can describe Heterosexual Assumption, Cissexual Assumption, and so on.

Intersex – The opposite of Dyadic. Used to refer to people whose genitalia at birth present outside of the typical penis/vulva binary. (Remember, biological sex is just another social construct.) Many Intersex infants have their genitalia altered without their consent in order to align with socially constructed sex binaries.

Male/Boy/Man – Someone who identifies as male, regardless of their Assigned Gender or Primary or Secondary Sex Characteristics. Has absolutely nothing to do with being born with a penis.

Misgender – When someone’s Gender Attribution of another person is not the same as that person’s Gender Identity. This can come in the form of using incorrect pronouns, making assumptions about them based on an incorrect Gender Identity, and so on.

Microaggression – A seemingly minor type of discrimination that is so frequently experienced by members of an Outgroup that the sum of many become another type of Oppression over time. Microaggressions do not even need to be directed at someone in order to be Oppressive to them.

Examples for Trans Women can include implying that being AMAB makes her “more aggressive”, using gender-neutral pronouns when female pronouns are preferred, making Biological Determinant statements about what “real” Women are, etc.

Non-Binary – An adjective used to describe someone who does not identify as male or female. For some, this can mean they do not experience a Gender Identity at all. For others, they may have a Gender Identity somewhere outside of the Gender Binary.

Oppression – A widespread, systematically enforced method of providing Privileges only to an Ingroup, and intentionally or unintentionally placing an Outgroup at a significant disadvantage. Oppression is not the same thing as Discrimination, as only Outgroup members can experience Oppression.

Outgroup – The opposite of Ingroup. A group of people who experience specific Oppression and do not experience specific Privileges because of some type of differentiating characteristic. Examples of Outgroups include Trans people, Queer people, Women and Non-Binary People, People of Color , etc.

Outing – Disclosing someone’s Sexuality or Gender Minority status to others without their consent. This will not be tolerated in our class, as being outed can be incredibly dangerous for Trans Women and other Queer people.

Primary Sex Characteristics – Physical characteristics of one’s body that are not typically used in Gender Attribution, because they are often not visible in social interactions with others. They tend to be difficult or impossible to change without significant intervention.

Examples can include genitalia shape, internal or external gonads, and sex chromosomes that are socially associated with a specific gender.

Privilege – Widespread, systematically enforced advantages based on Ingroup membership. Many of these “advantages” are simply the absence of Oppression due to not belonging to an Outgroup. Examples include Cis Privilege, Male Privilege, White Privilege, and so on.

Queer – An all-inclusive umbrella term used to refer to the entire community of people who are Sexual and/or Gender minorities. Can also be used as a identity for those who do not wish to limit their sexuality and/or gender. It is not to be used in a derogatory or hateful way, especially by Straight and Cis people.

Sapphic – A collective adjective used to refer to all Women who are sexually or romantically attracted to Women. Includes Lesbians, Bisexual Women, Pansexual Women, and so on. Comes from Sapphos, who wrote erotic poetry about herself and other women.

Secondary Sex Characteristics – Physical characteristics of ones body that are frequently used in Gender Attribution, as they are easily visible in social interactions with others. These can change through our lifetime, often due to the sex hormones most prevalent in our bodies and the way they interact with genes.

Some examples include facial hair, fat distribution, hair length and style, muscle size, and facial structures that are socially associated with a specific gender.

Sexual Minority – For the purposes of this class, anyone whose sexuality is not heterosexual. Can include gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and many others.

Socialization – The act of interpreting, internalizing, and learning the expectations for someone of your particular identities while growing up. This involves both the message sent by society based on Assigned Sex, as well as the way that message is interpreted by the individual based on their Gender Identity.

This is why Trans Women are not “Socialized as Male”. Although society may try to target Trans Girls with messages intended for Cis Boys; Trans Girls interpret, internalize, and learn those messages in entirely different ways than Cis Boys do.

Trans/Transgender/Transsexual – The opposite of Cis/Cisgender/Cissexaul. An adjective used to describe someone whose Gender Identity does not align with their Assigned Gender at birth. Trans people are the Outgroup in our Cissexist society and may experience Transantagonism and/or Transmisogyny.

Transantagonism – A form systematic Oppression that specifically targets Trans people.

Transfeminine – An adjective used to describe AMAB people who transition to a more feminine Gender Identities. Can include Trans Women, Non-Binary AMAB people, and others.

Transfeminism – A political movement and method of academic study aimed at liberating Transfeminine people from the Oppression of Transmisogyny.

Transition – Refers to any significant steps (not just medical procedures) taken in order to have one’s Gender Identity more easily Attributed by others in society as well as themselves.

Transmasculine – An adjective used to describe AFAB people who transition to more masculine gender identities. Can include Trans Men, Non-Binary AFAB people, and others.

Transmisogyny – A form of systematic Oppression that specifically targets Trans Women and Transfeminine People. The majority of Transantagonism is, when examined more closely, actually Transmisogyny, as we will learn throughout this class.

Uranian – A collective adjective used to describe all Men who are sexually or romantically attracted to other Men. Includes Gay Men, Bisexual Men, Pansexual Men, and so on. Comes from the Uranians, a group of male poets who wrote erotic poetry about themselves and other men.


Terms We Will Not Be Using, and Why

Ally – Ally has become too commonly used as though it were an identity, rather than a recognition of assistance from the Oppressed community. This can be seen as an attempt to erase their own Privileges as well as invade safe spaces and take valuable resources for oppressed people.

For this reason, we will refer to Ingroup supporters as “[Ingroup] people working in solidarity with [the Outgroup]“.

Biological Sex – There is no such thing. While many believe sex is an immutable biologically-determined characteristic set at birth, it is actually just another socially constructed binary based entirely on infants’ genitalia. There are frequent and naturally occurring variability of all aspects of what we socially lump together as someone’s “biological sex”.

Primary and Secondary Sex Characteristics all play a factor in how someone experiences their body in comparison with their Gender Identity.

AMABs/AFABs/Enbies/NBs – Pluralizing adjectives rather than acknowledging the people they are describing can lead to the dehumanization of Trans and Non-Binary people. For this reason, always use Non-Binary People or AMAB/AFAB Person, or whatever most specific terms they ask you to use.

Yes, this does include Enby, but only if they prefer that term.

Cisphobia – There is no such thing as systematic oppression against Cis people. Trans people do not have the power or ability to oppress Cis people as an entire group, even if some Trans people may be able to Discriminate against some Cis individuals. See also Heterophobia, Reverse Racism, and Misandry.

Female/Male Bodied – There is no such thing as one type of Female or Male body, so this description is useless at best and Cissexist at worst.

FTM/MTF or Female-To-Male/Male-to-Female – Trans women have never been Male. Trans Men have never been Female. This is simply outdated, Cissexist language that limits Trans narratives and is a form of Microaggressive Misgendering.

Gender – Because gender can refer to many different things with many different implications, I will expect you to be more specific in your language by using the vocabulary listed above.

Hermaphrodite – This is a slur used against Intersex people and thus should not be used by anyone who is Dyadic for any reason.

He-She/Shemale/Tranny – These are Transmisogynist slurs directed at transfeminine people and thus should not be used by anyone who is not transfeminine for any reason.

LGBT – Because LGBT has become exclusionary to many other Sexual and Gender Minorities, Queer will be the preferred umbrella term used in our class.

Passing – This term intends to communicate a Trans person’s Gender Identity and the Gender Attribution of others are matched. However, all people want their Gender Identities and Gender Attribution of others to match, so Trans people should not have this desire or success characterized as deceptive.

For the purposes of our discussions in class, we will use the terms “Correctly Gendered” or “Misgendered”, as this shows the onus is on the person who is engaging in Gender Attribution and not the other way around.

People with Penises/Vulvas – This phrase is frequently used to Microaggressively Misgender Transfeminine people. Also, reducing people to their genitals can be very dysphoric for some Trans people. So please be specific about the issue you believe to be exclusive. “People who give birth,” for example.

Pre-Op/Post-Op/Non-Op – The status of what surgeries a Trans person has had or wishes to have is no one’s business but theirs. If they wish to use these words to communicate their own process of Transition, that is their own decision, but not something we will normalize in this class.

Sex – As a noun, this term is too broad and too often used interchangeably with gender to be effectively used in our discussions. As a verb, it’s still pretty useful, but not really for this class.

Stealth – The decision of whether to disclose one’s Gender Minority status is a very personal one and should not be described in terms of dishonesty or deception for any reason. Such a belief results in the death of hundreds of Trans Women every year.

Trans* – Trans without an asterisk is already inclusive of all people whose Assigned Gender does not match their Gender Identity, including people who do not identify within the Gender Binary. Please don’t make me look for a footnote when there isn’t one.

Transgendered – Being transgender is not something that happens to someone, it is simply one way of being. So there is no need to make transgender into a verb when it is actually an adjective.

Transgenders/Transsexuals – Pluralizing adjectives rather than acknowledging the people they are describing can lead to the dehumanization of Trans people. For this reason, always be specific about what kind of Trans person is being described in a way that acknowledges their Gender Identity.

Trans Man, Transgender Woman, and Transsexual People are all acceptable examples.

Transphobia – Cissexism, Transantagonism, and Transmisogyny are all more accurate words that can be used. Not only that, but most people bigoted toward Trans people do not actually experience fear of them. This will be true of all “phobia” words used to describe Oppression.

Transwoman/Transman – As you would not write the word Lesbianwoman to describe a Lesbian Woman, please do not do the same to Trans Men or Trans Women. Doing so can be seen as a way of placing binary Trans people into a “third-sex” category rather than acknowledging their actual Gender Identities.


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Dori Mooneyham

Dori Mooneyham is a psychology student at Texas Woman's University specializing in queer youth and their families. As a feminist, trans woman, and lesbian, she offers many unique insights and perspectives not often seen in the academic world.

2 thoughts on “Lesson Two: Vocabulary”

  1. The best glossary I have encountered. I consider myself well informed, yet I learned new concepts that will be very helpful for myself, and to be respectful of others during discussion.
    Erasure is a new term for me, and yet is descriptive of my own experience, and a great counter to terf statements. Thank you!!!

    Like

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