An evolving list of terms FYI.
Note: These terms are defined to the best of our understanding. Everyone has a right to identify with the terms they find most fitting, and define them in a way that suits them. Taking back language can be an important part of liberation for oppressed groups. However, we need to be careful with our language. For instance, someone may identify with the term “dyke,” and use it lovingly to describe other queer women, but find it horribly offensive when coming from the mouth of a straight person. If we want to be allies to each other, we need to endeavor to use language that makes us all comfortable. So listen, and be careful.
Transgender: Someone who identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Cisgender: Not-trans. Someone who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth.
Binary-Identified: The gender binary is the one that says there are two genders: man and woman. A person who is binary-identified is content to identify as one of these two categories, be they straight or trans. Thus, a transwoman and a ciswoman are both binary-identified. This does not necessarily mean they think everyone should fit into the gender binary, it only means that they do. Genderqueer people, for instance, are not binary-identified.
Trans*: Does it mean you’re a star? Well sure, but specifically, the * is used as a stand-in for words like man or woman, for those who choose not to disclose such information, or for whom it doesn’t exist.
Transfeminine/transmasculine: Someone who identifies as possessing gender qualities that are unexpected, given their assigned and/or identified gender. For instance, a masculine woman or a feminine man. Trans* people may also identify as one (or both) of these.
Drag (king/queen/prince/princess): Drag is a gender performance, most often done as part of a show. It can be fun, campy, sexy, hilarious, radical, fabulous, and much more. Many argue (*cough* Butler) that it is the ultimate act of denaturalizing gender, and it exposes the way that we all perform gender. Drag performers are not necessarily of any particular gender in relation to their personas; a drag king may be a man, a woman, or something else, and same with any combination of persona and personal genders.
Genderfuck: Someone whose gender is a big, glorious, screw-you to gender norms.
Genderqueer: Someone who identifies as a gender outside the gender binary.
Gender non-conforming: A blanket term for all those who fall outside of the gender binary.
Gender neutral: May describe someone who feels that they are gender-less, or may describe a thing, like a bathroom, which is intended for any and all genders.
Gender fluid: Someone whose gender is ever-changing. They might have a different gender every day, oscillate between two, or have their gender evolve slowly throughout their life.
Butch: Sometimes described as “female masculinity,” butch originated as a term to describe masculine lesbians, often those who were interested in butch/femme coupling. However, butches are not necessarily attracted to femmes, or only to femmes. Butch may refer to any masculine women, trans or cis, or a masculine genderqueer person, and also may be a descriptor of masculinity for a person of any identity.
Femme: Femme usually refers to a queer woman with a feminine presentation. It could be, and often is, considered cisgender, but some women describe themselves as FTF–female to femme, and since queer women are expected to be masculine, it could even be considered transfeminine. Femme denaturalizes femininity from the female body, specifically the straight female body. It is as much a challenge to cissexism as butch. As stated above, femmes might be interested in a butch/femme dynamic, and they might not.
Boi: Usually refers to a certain boyish type of butch queer woman, transmasculine, quenderqueer, or trans* individual.
Grrl: A snarling misspelling of “girl.” It may refer to any person who identifies as badass-of-center, or who wants to denote a feminine/female identity without using traditional terms.
Ally: Someone who supports those with less privilege and different identities than them. See the Etiquette section for the do’s and don’ts of allyship.
Queer: An all-inclusive, yet highly debated term. Some people use it as a blanket term for LGBT, others as a politicized gay identity. Some people use it in order to identify as not-straight while not having to identify their own gender. Note: not all trans people necessarily identify as queer.
FTM/MTF: Stands for female-to-male and male-to-female; refers to a trans person’s assigned sex and the one they have transitioned/are transitioning to.
FAAB/MAAB: Female Assigned At Birth/ Male Assigned At Birth. See above.
Sex: “Biological” sex (as opposed to gender) is not simply the form of a person’s genitals. There are many facets to sex, including hormones, external genitalia, gonads, and chromosomes. People are born with a configuration of these traits that is labeled male, female, or intersex. Also note that a trans person may or may not identify with their sex as assigned at birth. For instance, a transman may describe himself as female-bodied, or as male, because his body belongs to him and he knows himself to be male.
Sex is also a legal term, which refers to birth assignment or the M or F on a passport or I.D. In this sense, it doesn’t describe anything at all about one’s body, but rather one’s legal status.
Intersex: Any sex that is not male or female. Basically when the facets listed above do not all correspond to the two sexes that the medical establishment has chosen to recognize as “normal.” For instance, a person with one X chromosome, or an XXY configuration, would be considered intersex. For more on intersex, visit here.
Gender: Now this one is tough. The phrase most people who have taken a gender studies class would put here is, gender is a social construct. But it’s so much more than that, or maybe so much less. It’s not the same as biological sex, we know that much. It’s not necessarily the way we were raised or the clothes that we wear. It’s not just our pronouns and haircuts and hormones. What is it then? We encourage you to think for yourself on this definition.
Transition: A whole slew of changes a trans person may or may not go through to live and feel comfortable in their gender identity. May include any or none of the following: pronoun change, name change, physical presentation, hormones, surgery, legal changes, coming out of the closet…the list goes on.
Top/bottom surgery: Refers to medical procedures that trans people may or may not undergo in order to have their bodies match their self-image. The high cost is often prohibitive, but just because someone hasn’t undergone surgery doesn’t mean they aren’t fully transitioned.
Hormones: Many trans people take hormones as part of their transition. Hormones cause various visceral changes that may help trans people feel more comfortable in their bodies. Not all trans people take hormones.
Estrogen/testosterone-based body: Describes a person who, either with the hormones they were born with or the ones they take, has a body in which either estrogen or testosterone is the primarily expressed hormone. These are not the only two options; see Intersex.
Transphobia: The direction of hatred towards the trans community, as well as willful ignorance, unexamined privilege, and cissexism.
Transmisogyny: The mistreatment of transwomen and transfeminine people, as well as the general antifeminist use of transphobic sentiment.
Homophobia: The direction of hatred towards the queer community, as well as willful ignorance, unexamined privilege, and heterosexism.
Cissexism: The assumption that all people are cisgender; that cisgender is “natural” while transgender is not.
Safe space: As defined by EAAH: “A safe space for LGBTQ students and their allies is one that embraces all expressions of sexual and gender identity, uses inclusive language, works to combat heternormativity, and does not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or aggression.”
Preferred gender pronouns: Just what it sounds like. Many people clarify their gender by taking pronouns like “he” or “she.” Others like to make it ambiguous with the use of “they,” “ze,” or “it.”
Gender neutral pronouns: Ze, Hir, Hirs.
Plural pronouns: They, Them, Their, Theirs. Think that seems grammatically incorrect? Read this.
SOFFA: Stands for Significant Others, Friends, Family and Allies.
Problematic section: Here are terms that you might hear but probably shouldn’t use.
Tranny: A derogatory term for trans* people. Some transpeople have reclaimed this word, but if you are an ally, use extreme caution.
Pre-op/Post-op: A shortened version of “pre-operative” and “post-operative,” referring to the surgeries that transpeople may or may not get as part of their transition. It is not appropriate to call someone these terms unless they use them themselves, because not all trans people desire surgery, and it is offensive to assume that they do. Some trans people may refer to themselves as “no-op,” but many do not think of themselves in these terms at all.
Shemale: A term referring to MTF folks, which is generally considered highly offensive.
Ladyboy: Same as above.
Transgendered: Described in more detail in the grammar section, transgendered (as opposed to transgender) can really rub some people the wrong way, specifically because it makes one out to be the object of a verb, rather than the subject that an adjective describes. Some compare this to “person of color” vs. “colored person,” although, as one can see here, it is hotly debated.