Helen G sets out a glossary of common terms and definitions
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:
For further reading, I can recommend the following:
- My Husband Betty and She’s Not The Man I Married, by Helen Boyd.
- Nobody Passes, edited by Mattilda.
- The Transgender Studies Reader, jointly edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle.
- Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano.
All these books can be purchased from Amazon, and the links will take you straight to the relevant page on the Amazon website.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find any bookshops with a good selection of books about gender issues, thankfully the internet can simplify matters. You can find some of these titles at The F Word shop, and at these bookshops:
- Borders and Books Etc: Will offer online purchases from Spring 2008.
- Gay’s The Word
- Modern Times
- The F Word
I’ll add others as I come across them.
Note: The use of * here is similar to its use in computing, that is, as a ‘wildcard’. Trans* could refer to trans woman, trans man, transsexual, transgender and so on.
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).
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.
Gender cues: What human beings use to try to tell the gender/sex of other human beings, such as hairstyle, clothing, vocal inflection, body shape and facial hair. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.