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Introduction to Language

Terminology around gender identity and diversity changes at a phenomenally fast pace and so whilst this guidance can introduce the terminology that will be used and referred to throughout, it does not purport that this is everything out there. The use of these terms also depends on individual preference and how a person feels best to refer to their own identity. It is good to continuously keep yourself updated and if you do not understand a term then the best thing to do is ask the person politely.

[…]phobia 

If a term ends in -phobia then it denotes a fear or disliking directed at people of a particular identity (i.e. transphobia relating to trans people). Also refers to action (and inaction) that harms, insults or erases people of a particular identity. 

AMAB/AFAB 

AMAB = assigned male at birth and AFAB = assigned female at birth. Variants include MAAB/FAAB and CAMAB/CAFAB (coercively assigned male/female at birth). 

Cis/Cisgender 

Cis means “on the same side as” and refers to someone whose gender identity is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth. The reason this prefix is used is to prevent the terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’ from being used to exclude trans women and men. ‘Cisgenderedalso names the unstated assumption of non-transgender status in the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’. 

Cisnormativity 

Related to cis/cisgender. This term refers to society’s assumption that being cis and identifying as the same gender you were assigned at birth is the norm or ‘default’. 

Coming out 

Refers to sexuality and/or gender identity. The process by which one accepts and/or comes to identify one’s sexuality or gender identity. Also refers to the process of sharing one’s sexuality or gender identity with others. 

Drag king/queen 

Someone who performs a male or female gender (can be non-binary as well) theatrically. Usually this is not the gender identity they take on in their day to day life. 

Fluid(ity) 

Generally used with another term attached i.e. genderfluid. This term describes an identity that may change or shift over time. This does not mean the person is ‘confused’.

Sex reassignment 

Process undertaken under medical supervision to reassign a person’s gender by changing their physical sexual characteristics. Also referred to as ‘gender reassignment’ but this is considered to be inaccurate terminology. 

Gender assigned at birth 

This refers to the gender that is recorded on an individual's first birth certificate. This terminology should only be used if you have to refer to a how a trans person was perceived before their transition. Phrases such as ‘born a man’, ‘became a woman’ etc. should be avoided as these imply a change in gender rather than a change in others' perception of their gender. 

Gender dysphoria and gender identity disorder  

Medical language used to refer to a medical condition in which a person has been assigned a gender (usually at birth on the basis of their physical sexual characteristics) but identifies as belonging to another gender. People who have severe gender dysphoria are diagnosed with gender identity disorder. A person with gender dysphoria might experience anxiety, uncertainty or persistently uncomfortable feelings about their birth gender.  

Gender expression 

An external display of gender, through a combination of dress, demeanour, social behaviour and other factors. This can determine how a person’s gender is perceived by others.  

Gender/gender identity

A sense of fit within a gender category e.g. female, non-binary, male. Usually there is a sense of congruence between the gender assigned at birth and gender identity but this is not always the case. Gender identity is determined by the individual and should not be determined by another person. 

Genderqueer 

‘Queer’ is a term that was reclaimed from its derogatory usage in the 1990s (more on this in the Introduction to Queer Pedagogy). This term is usually associated with sexuality but since then the term has branched out and can be used in a number of ways. Genderqueer can refer to individuals who resist gender norms without seeking to change their physical sexual characteristics but this is not always the case. 

Heteronormativity 

The result of society’s assumption that heterosexuality and relationships between opposite binary-gender individuals are the norm or ‘default’.  

Intersex 

Someone whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals differs from the two most common patterns of ‘male’ and ‘female’. Previously, parents would have been asked to pick a sex so that surgery could take place as soon as possible after birth; this is no longer the case and parents are now advised to wait till puberty. Not all intersex individuals opt for surgery and some consider themselves to be intersex rather than male or female. Intersex issues are different from trans issues but some intersex individuals may wish to transition later in life if they feel they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Hermaphrodite or hermaphroditic are considered outdated and derogatory. 

LGBTUA+ 

LGBTUA+ = lesbian, gay, bi, trans, undefined, asexual or aromantic, and others who experience similar forms of prejudice and/or discrimination (+). Whilst this iteration is used by Warwick, there are many different acronyms used. This is sometimes referred to as alphabet soup due to the limitless number of iterations. 

Non-Binary 

An individual who defines their gender outside of the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’ genders. There are many identities that fall under the umbrella of ‘non-binary’, including agender/genderless (no gender), bigender (some combinations of the binary genders of ‘male’ and ‘female’), genderfluid and so on. A similar, but less commonly used, umbrella term is ‘genderqueer’.  

Passing 

Refers to trans people and is sometimes used to state that society is correctly inferring their gender. It is inappropriate for anyone else to pass comment on how well a trans person is passing.  

Questioning 

An individual who is unsure about or is exploring their own sexual or romantic orientation or gender identity.  

Real-life experience or test 

A phase during transition in which an individual must live, work and study in the gender which they identify with before they can start hormone therapy and/or undergo surgery. There must be 3 months of real-life experience or 3 months of psychotherapy before hormone therapy is prescribed or chest surgery performed. Genital surgery requires 1 year of real-life experience and usually hormone therapy.  

Stealth 

A trans person who has not or has not widely disclosed to others that they are trans might refer to themselves as ‘stealth’.  

Trans 

Someone whose gender identity or expression differs from the gender they were assigned at birth, and who self-defines using this term. This includes non-binary people. This term should only be used as an adjective, and not a noun. 

Trans* 

An older form of ‘trans’ that has been abandoned for the perception that it ‘others’ non-binary trans people.  

Trans man (& FtM) 

Someone who was assigned female at birth, but who identifies as male. Their gender identity/gender is male. FtM is sometimes used within the community but should not be used by others to refer to a trans man. Similarly, avoid transman (without the space).

Trans woman (& MtF) 

Someone who was assigned female at birth, but who identifies as a woman. Their gender identity/gender is female. MtF is sometimes used within the community but should not be used by others to refer to a trans woman. Similarly, avoid transwoman (without the space). 

Transgender 

The term denotes a movement from an assigned gender position and mainly refers to binary (male or female) trans people. It can also imply variation from gender norms and expectations. What counts as transgender varies and depends on context, however, it has recently been used to only refer to those who identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. It is not commonly used now but if necessary then should only be used as an adjective. 

Transition(ing) 

The process a trans person undergoes when changing their social role, forms of address (e.g. names, pronouns), appearance, and legal information to be more congruent with their gender identity. A transition can be done with or without medical intervention and some people may transition full-time whilst others live in their preferred gender identity part-time. This may be due to outside factors such as age, financial autonomy, family, job etc. The process of transitioning can take years and whilst some can transition with ease, others may not.  

Transsexual 

An outdated term that can be traced to Magnus Hirschfeld. Was created to establish a difference between individuals that wished to change their gendered clothing and those that wished to change their bodies. Should not be used except when quoting legislature.  

Transvestite 

An old word that was created in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. It tends not to be used now as it is associated with those that wear gender-atypical clothing for a variety of reasons. Should not be confused with trans people in general.   

Undefined 

An individual who does not label an aspect of their sexual or romantic orientation, or gender identity. This might be because they resist the use of labels, or cannot find one which adequately represents them.