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Gender Language: Pronouns & Terms

Published  1 April 2014

Gender‑Specific & Gender‑Neutral Pronouns

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Pronoms Neutres et Pronoms Genrés

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Pronombres Neutros y Pronombres Específicos a un Género

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Gender‑Related Language & Terms

Language shapes our perceptions of others, and precise use of gender terms can help demystify misperceptions about gender. The vocabulary of gender continues to evolve with no universal agreement about the definitions of many terms. These terms can be a starting point for dialogue with someone about how they experience gender and their meanings for the terms they use to describe themselves.

Assigned Female at Birth (AFaB): assigned or designated female based on outside genitalia (or karyotyping) at birth. Terms to avoid: female bodied and biologically/genetically/born/natal female.

Assigned Male at Birth (AMaB): assigned or designated male based on outside genitalia (or karyotyping) at birth. Terms to avoid: male bodied and biologically/genetically/born/natal male.

Intersex: an umbrella term for a number of naturally-occurring conditions characterized by physical anatomy that does not match completely with typical female or male anatomy (e.g., Klinefelter Syndrome, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia).

Gender & Sexual Minorities (GSM), Queer, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGGBBTTQQIAAPP: people who are minorities because they are not cisgender or not heterosexual (or both). GSM and queer are preferred by some because acronyms are ever expanding as people come to identify more precisely—LGGBBTTQQIAAPP stands for lesbian, gay, genderqueer, bisexual, bigender, transgender, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, agender, pansexual and polyamorous.

Sexual Orientation: defined by who you’re physically, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to. Although sexual orientation and gender identity are related parts of identity, they are separate. Gender is personal (how you see yourself), and sexual orientation is interpersonal (who you’re attracted to).

Gender Identity: the internal, deeply-held sense of being a girl/woman, a boy/man, or a gender that does not fit neatly with one of those. Everyone has a gender identity. How someone describes their gender can evolve, shift, and develop over time, especially as their verbal ability grows over the course of childhood and adolescence, and when they acquire broader gender vocabulary.

  • Cisgender, Cis (Non-Transgender): someone who identifies exclusively with their assigned sex at birth (i.e., a girl/woman who was assigned female at birth or a boy/man who was assigned male at birth).
  • Trans, Transgender: umbrella terms that encompass people who, in one way or another, do not identify with their assigned sex at birth.
    • Transgirl, Transwoman, Affirmed Female: a girl/woman who was assigned male at birth (and identifies as a girl/woman).
    • Transboy, Transman, Affirmed Male: a boy/man who was assigned female at birth (and identifies as a boy/man).
    • Gender-Expansive, Gender Non-Conforming (Gender-Diverse, Gender-Creative): umbrella terms that encompass people who identify in ways that do not conform neatly with girl/woman or boy/man (e.g., feminine boy/man, masculine girl/woman, androgynous person).
    • Gender Fluid: people who move fluidly between genders, experiencing gender as dynamic and ever-changing (rather than static).
    • Agender: people who identify as gender-neutral, genderless or not having a gender.
    • Transsexual: a deprecated term to avoid, unless asked to use it by a person who identifies as transsexual. Originating in medical and psychiatric communities, transsexual was usually used to refers to people who had gender affirming surgery or hormone treatment.
  • Two Spirit: a term for indigenous (Native American/First Nations) people of North American who blend the masculine and feminine roles and/or clothing. Most tribes have a long history of accepting, if not honoring, two spirit people.

Gender Binary: a construct in which gender is defined according to only two discrete and opposite categories: girls/women and boys/men.

Gender Expression: the outward expression of gender through clothing, hairstyles, mannerism, speech, social interactions, etc.

Gender Dysphoria: a diagnosis defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and commonly used to bill insurance companies for services. Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.

Transition: steps a trans person takes to make their life more congruent with their gender identity. Although many of the changes listed below are commonly chosen, not all of these changes are for all trans people (e.g., someone might not choose to change their name, and many trans people elect not to take the health risks associated with hormones and surgery).

  • Social Congruence
    • Clothing, hairstyles, mannerism, speech, social interactions, etc.
    • Binding: flattening the chest to make breasts less prominent. Care must be taken if using chest binders because of the health risks of improper or excessive chest binding; consult a reputable source for proper fitting and use instructions.
    • Pronouns
    • Name (especially if the birth name is gender specific)
    • Gender on driver’s license, passport, etc.
    • Blending in or Passing (in Stealth): some trans people choose to blend in among cisgender people, or pass as not visibly trans (too often because being visibly trans is unsafe). Some trans people live in stealth, keeping their trans identity private, in all or almost all social situations.
    • Coming out: sharing your gender identity (and pronouns, etc.) with others.
  • Hormonal Congruence
    • Puberty Blockers/Pubertal Suppression: medicine used to delay the physical changes of puberty.
    • Hormone Therapy: estrogen- or testosterone-related hormones used to feminize or masculinize the body, respectively.
  • Anatomical Congruence
    • Gender Affirming/Confirming Surgery: a broad range of surgeries trans people might have to make their body more congruent with their gender identity.

Transphobia: fear or hatred of trans people.

  • Clocking/Reading: recognizing a person as trans, when they don’t intend to be visibly trans.
  • Dead Naming: using a trans person’s birth name after they have changed their name.
  • Misgendering: to talk about a person using the wrong pronouns or gendered terms (e.g., Mr. or Ms., handsome or pretty, either by accident or on purpose.