Starting a Dialogue
Gender can be difficult to talk about because many people never critically think about it. A doctor assigned you a sex at birth based on your genitalia, cultural expectations are placed upon you based on this assigned sex, and since then people have treated you accordingly. Some people (cisgender people) identify and express their gender in a way that matches their assigned sex. People who transgress socially defined gender norms can label themselves trans*, which is an umbrella term including transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Note: Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation! Gender identity is the gender (or genders) you feel you are. Sexual orientation labels you based on the people you are sexually attracted to. Trans* people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or queer just like everyone else.
The Genderbread Person is a great image that breaks this all down into one easily digestible person 🙂
Download a PDF version here: Genderbread Person
So what do these words mean?
A medical term used to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male or intersex. Often abbreviated to simply “sex”.
The type of sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to. Trans* people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or queer just like everyone else.
The internal perception of an one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Common identity terms include man, woman, and genderqueer. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is invisible to other people.
The external display of one’s gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on scales of masculinity and femininity. Many trans* people work to make their gender expression match their gender identity instead of their biological sex.
Click here if you would like a more thorough explanation of these terms. Sam Killermann (the creator of the above Genderbread Person) wrote an extensive post on the subject along with the first version of his Genderbread Person.
Trans* / Transgender:
Trans* and transgender are often used as umbrella terms to describe all people whose biological sex and gender identity are not aligned. This means that there are a lot of people who use a wide variety of terms to identify themselves. Be aware that every individual will have different descriptions and labels that they prefer. Please respect them.
Transitioning is the process of making one’s gender identity apparent to others. Every single persons’ transition is different and transitioning means something different to different people. A transition may the following steps: coming out to friends and family, changing one’s gender expression (i.e. wearing different clothes, etc.), legally changing ones name and sex on documents, taking hormone therapy, or undergoing surgeries. Note that not all trans* people take hormones and undergo surgery to change their bodies. This is may be because they do not want to or because they are unable to gain access to gender affirming surgery or drugs (often because of lack of financial support, insurance coverage, or knowledgable medical providers).
Coming out is used to describe the process of telling others about ones sexual orientation or gender identity. Coming out is also the processing of being honest with ones self about ones gender identity (coming out to oneself). This is not a one time thing. Coming out occurs each time a person reveals their identity to someone (i.e. upon meeting a new person). Never come out for someone else. This is called ‘outing’ someone and is not polite! Coming out to each person is a choice and should not be up to anyone else.
You may hear the following labels that people use to identify themselves: woman, trans woman, male assigned at birth, MAAB, assigned male at birth, AMAB, male to female, MTF, M2F, transfeminine, trans, or transgender. Labels are very personal and it is not appropriate to ever assume a person prefers a particular label.
You may hear the following labels that people use to identify themselves: man, trans man, trans guy, female assigned at birth (FAAB), assigned female at birth (AFAB), female to male, FTM, F2M, transmasculine, trans, or transgender. Labels are very personal and it is not appropriate to ever assume a person prefers a particular label.
Gender non-conforming people:
There are a large number of ways that someone can be gender non-conforming. This means that a person does not fully conform to societal gender expectations. You may hear the following labels that people use to identify themselves: gender non-conforming, genderqueer, genderfuck, genderfluid, non-binary, neutrois, agender, androgyne, genderless, bigender, pangender, third gender, two spirit, trans, or transgender. Labels are very personal and it is not appropriate to ever assume a person prefers a particular label.
Always use a trans* person’s chosen name and pronouns. In the case where you do not know a person’s chosen name or pronouns it is ok to ask! If you are unable to ask, use pronouns consistent with a person’s gender expression. If a person corrects your use of pronouns, apologize and use their chosen pronouns. Common pronoun choices are her, she, ze, hir, or they. Some people may not be comfortable or do not embrace “she/her” or “he/him”. Instead they may prefer “they/their/them”, “ze”, or “hir”. Once again, respect people’s choice of pronouns and use them correctly.
Trans* people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or queer just like everyone else. Sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity. People are not trans* because they are afraid to be gay! Sexual orientation is related to gender in that it is often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to. In this way trans* peoples’ relationships and orientations are no different than anyone else. For example, a person who was assigned the biological sex male at birth, has the gender identity woman, and is exclusively romantically and sexually attracted to men may identify as straight.
For a vocabulary list with definitions see our Vocab List page.