Trans 101

May 5, 2008

This was posted in the ‘features’ section at TFW and produced no comments whatsoever. The linking post in the ‘blog’ section generated four comments. Then one of my co-bloggers, Laura, was inspired to write her own blog post around the definition of cissexual and some 29 comments were made… Okay, so I was responsible for quite a few of those, but the fangirl in me was also happy to see comments from Lisa (Questioning Transphobia) and Dw3t-Hthr (Letters from Gehenna), two bloggers whose sites are firm favourites of mine.

In addition, the post itself was later quoted in the 57th Carnival of Feminists, in the ‘feminism’ section. There were three TFW posts cited in that Carnival, which I gather was actually quite an achievement.

The highlight, if that’s the word I want, was finding that the post and I were both referenced in a tiny footnote on the Wikipedia page for Cisgender (Redirected from Cissexual).

And the low point was being sideswiped by a toxic radfem in a spiteful little post which really served only to further inflame the anti-trans blog war that was raging. Apparently I am an essentialist because I dared to suggest that there may be more to gender than just social conditioning. Oh, *and* I’m also a trans activist – and not in a good way. Lisa gave the post a thorough rebuttal here, and Belle’s post is also right on the money. For me, though, the whole anti-trans vitriol and hate speech that certain radfems seem to think is acceptable has served only to leave me feeling very uneasy about aligning myself with the feminist movement.

But anyway…


Why a guide to trans* issues at The F Word? This list of common and useful terms was conceived of in response to comments and discussion over on the blog. However, in putting this glossary together, it was hard not to notice how many of the entries aren’t only about trans people, they’re also about feminism, essentialism, binarism and, by implication, how we think about patriarchal oppression.

This is not the first trans 101 to appear online – although there is a degree of overlap, a central core of terms and definitions has evolved, and continues to do so. So I offer that information here in a condensed form in the hope that this will provide a ‘quick reference’ for readers of The F Word. I am not trying to present a trans studies course, but perhaps it may provide a useful starting point for further reading for those who wish to find out more.

For those readers seeking my sources, I have drawn on the following sites (listed here alphabetically) and recommend following the links as required:

All these books can be purchased from Amazon, and the links will take you straight to the relevant page on the Amazon website. See also this explanatory page at The F Word.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find any bookshops with a good selection of books about gender issues, thankfully the web and online purchasing can simplify matters. Here are a few links to bookshops with online purchasing facilities:

I’ll add others as I come across them…

Trans 101 compilation

Note: The use of * here is similar to its use in computing, that is, as a ‘wildcard’. In this case, I would intend that you could use ‘trans’ as a prefix. Thus ‘trans*’ could refer to trans woman, trans man, transsexual, transgender, and so on.

Androgynous/androgyne: A person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

Asexual: A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone, or does not have a sexual orientation.

Assigned sex: The sex you were assigned at birth and raised as, synonymous with the term ‘biological sex’, but it may also refer to what sex intersex people were assigned and raised as.

Biocentrism: The belief that a person who is assigned male or female is somehow more ‘real’ and more valid than someone who has become man or woman through hormonal, surgical, and/or cosmetic means.

Biological sex: As ‘assigned sex’. Depends on chromosomes, primary sex characteristics, hormone levels and other characteristics. Based on the physical anatomy of your genitalia.

Bisexual: See ‘pansexual/omnisexual’.

Cisgender: A gender identity formed by a match between your biological sex and your subconscious sex. May also be used as a synonym for non-transgender (‘trans’ means across; ‘cis’ means on the same side).

Cissexism: The belief that transsexual genders are less valid than cissexual genders.

Cissexual: “[…] people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned” (Julia Serano)

Cissexual privilege: Experienced by cissexuals as a result of having their fe/maleness deemed authentic, natural and unquestionable by society at large. It allows cissexuals to take their sex embodiment for granted in ways that transsexuals cannot.

Cross-dresser: Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.

Essentialism: Essentialist positions on gender and sexuality consider these to be fixed traits, while not allowing for variations among individuals or over time.

FTM (Female-to-Male): A transsexual man. Someone assigned female at birth (biological sex) who transitions to live and identify full time as male/man.

Gender: Refers to how you identify yourself, which for trans people is different from their biological bodies. If sex is between your legs, then gender is between your ears.

Gender binary: The culturally defined idea that there are only two genders, male/female or man/woman, and that a person must be strictly gendered as either one or the other, with nothing in between.

Gender cues: What human beings use to try to tell the gender/sex of other human beings; eg. hairstyle, clothing, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues may vary from culture to culture.

Gender dissonance and gender dysphoria: what’s the difference?
Julia Serano describes it succinctly: “[Gender dissonance is a] form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term ‘gender dysphoria,’ which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding one’s sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.”

Gender diverse: A person who, for whatever reason, does not conform to the gender-based expectations of society; eg. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc. Preferable to ‘gender variant’ because it does not imply a standard normativity.

Gender expression: How you express gendered behaviour, how you use gender cues; generally how masculine/feminine you are but may or may not be congruent with or influenced by your assigned/biological sex.

Gender identity: Self-identification. Your inner sense of being male or female or other gendered. Includes the sense of self and one’s image as presented to the world. May or may not have anything to do with masculinity/femininity.

Gender/sex roles: How society expects you to act and behave, based on your gender/sex.

Genderqueer: A gender diverse person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.

Heteronormative: Marginalising, ignoring or persecuting variations from heterosexual orientation.

Intersex: An umbrella term for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

MTF (Male-to-Female): A transsexual woman. Someone assigned male at birth (biological sex) who transitions to live and identify full time as female/woman.

Pansexual/omnisexual: Attracted to “people, not parts”. Used instead of ‘bisexual’ (because ‘bi’ means ‘two’, and there aren‘t two sexes/genders. Indicates the potential to be attracted to anyone regardless of their sex, gender identity, or gender expression.

Passing: In an FTM context, being seen or read as male by others. Some trans people find the term objectionable as it implies that one is somehow engaging in deception.

Perceived sex/gender: What sex/gender others generally see you as.

Standards of care: Formerly known as the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (HBSOC), the snappily renamed World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH SOC) are the most widespread set of standards and guidelines used by professionals for the medical and mental health treatment of transsexuals.

Stealth: Living as your gender without telling people you are trans*.

Subconscious sex: What physical sex you instinctively feel your body should be.

Trans*: An umbrella term for transgender, transsexual, transfeminine, etc, people.

Trans*ism: An umbrella term for all types of the things that make people trans*: transsexuality, transgenderism, genderqueer, etc.

Transgender: See trans*. ‘Transgender’ is about gender identity and gender expression, not sexual orientation (which may be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual).

Transition: The act(s) of changing from one sex to the other, and/or the act(s) of changing one’s physical body and/or appearance as part of a sex/gender change. For many trans people, transition is not a single discrete event, but a gradual set of changes over a period of time. What constitutes “transitioning” differs among trans people: it may be medical, cosmetic, social and/or legal.

Transsexual: A person whose subconscious sex and assigned/biological sex are incongruent (not aligned). Not all transsexuals have the same level of gender dissonance or need the same things (eg. hormones, surgery) to cope with it.

Trans-misogyny: Sexism that specifically targets those on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums. It arises from an interaction between oppositional sexism and traditional sexism. Trans-misogyny is why trans women are more regularly demonised and ridiculed than trans men, and why trans women face certain forms of sexualisation and misogyny that are rarely, if ever, applied to non-trans women.

Transphobia: The irrational fear and consequent hatred of trans* people.

Transvestite: See cross-dresser.

Ungendering: An attempt to invalidate a trans person’s gender by using cissexual privilege to identify incongruities and discrepancies in their gendered appearance that would normally be overlooked or dismissed if they were presumed to be cissexual.

Woman-born-woman: A cis* woman. This term may or may not imply that the person identifying as ‘WBW’ holds certain biocentrist essentialist views.


Posted at The F Word on 17 March 2008

©2008 Helen G

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