Last night I went to a pre-wedding celebration at a friend’s house. This part was filled mainly with co-workers, because at the wildly popular grocery store that I work, it is common for large swaths of us to socialize outside of work. Many of us date co-workers, and in fact this pre-wedding party was for two folks who met at this store.
While enjoying some fondue, a co-worker, who I am friends with on Facebook, mentioned my blog. We chatted about it for a bit, and in passing she mentioned it could serve not only as a resource for trans folks, but also for allies who want to learn more. That community, the cis-gendered folks who follow this blog, is one that I don’t give very much thought to–mainly because before I published my blog’s existence on Facebook, I don’t believe there were many straight, cis-gendered* folks reading My Life Without Tits. I believed my audience to be mostly queer of some nature or other, and in that way I also believed them to have some passing familiarity with trans terminology and culture. We might be last, but we are in the lgbT acronym, after all.
So, in an effort to further welcome any new readers, I would like to post some trans terminology, give a run-down of some trans etiquette, and end with some ally resources, should a person be further inclined to learn more. And for my readers well-versed in trans culture, please, feel free to add any terms or etiquette or resources in the comments section!
Trans Terminology 101**
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals, cross- dressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.”
Transgender Man: A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man (see also “FTM”). Transgender Woman: A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman (see also “MTF”).
Gender Identity: An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
Gender Expression: How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.
Transsexual: A term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. Often transsexual people alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones or surgery in order to make it match their gender identity.
Cross-dresser: A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender.
Transvestite: A term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory by many.
Queer: A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender, people. Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a sense of gender. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.
Genderqueer: A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.
Gender Non-conforming: A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.
Bi-gendered: One who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female. Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.
Two-Spirit*: A contemporary term that references historical multiple-gender traditions in many First Nations cultures. Many Native/First Nations people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming identify as Two-Spirit; in many Nations, being Two-Spirit carries both great respect and additional commitments and responsibilities to one’s community.
FTM: A person who transitions from “female-to-male,” meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a male. Also known as a “transgender man.”
MTF: A person who transitions from “male-to-female,” meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and lives as a female. Also known as a “transgender woman.” Passing: A term used by transgender people to mean that they are seen as the gender with which they self- identify. For example, a transgender man (born female) who most people see as a man.
Sex Reassignment Surgery: Surgical procedures that change one’s body to make it conform to a person’s gender identity. This may include “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.
Sexual Orientation: A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same sex or different sex. Usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. Transition: The period during which a person begins to live as their new gender. Transitioning may include changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, or changing legal documents (e.g. driver’s license, Social Security record, birth certificate) to reflect their new gender. Intersex: A term used for people who are born with external genitalia, chromosomes, or internal reproductive systems that are not traditionally associated with either a “standard” male or female.
Drag Queen: generally used to accurately refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.
Drag King: used to refer to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.
This list of course, is not exhaustive, but I think it hits on most major terms. To use some of these terms in an example sentence, one might say, “Eli is trans. He had top surgery and prefers male pronouns.”
Trans Etiquette 101
Matt Kailey is a trans writer and activist and writes a really comprehensive blog concerning all matter of trans issues, Tranifesto. His post, “Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People,” does a great job of outlining some common faux pas. Equally helpful is his post, “Ten Things Not to Say to a Trans Person.” Go forth and learn, fellow traveller.
The following are some links I find to be both useful for cis- allies and respectful of the trans community.
-Southern Oregon University has a nice page with tips for trans allies and makes the important point: “Be honest about things you don’t understand—don’t try to fake it!”
-The website Transwhat? is another great resource for trans terminology and ways to keep your cis-foot out of your mouth. This site is more comprehensive than SOU, and so starts to move beyond the basics.
-WikiHow has a helpful article, How to Respect a Transgendered Person. Unfortunately, WkiHow has a pretty hilarious advertisement directly under the first step on how to be respectful. They love you long time.
If you would like to read other blogs written by people in the trans community, check out my blogroll in the right sidebar of the page on which you are reading this. Some highlights: The Adventures of Transman, Trans*forming Family, One HuMan’s Journey, and Neutrois Nonsense. Of course there are many more, but these I have found to be compelling and compassionate. These are the ones that deal predominately with trans and gender issues, and the ones I find to be the most informative. Of course all the blogs I’ve linked in my sidebar are important to me for one reason or another (Shout out to J.C.–long time no type buddy!), but not all of them are relevant, specifically, for informing cis-allies about trans issues.
Confused? Excited? Overwhelmed? Drop me a note in the comments section–let me know what’s going on!
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
*The cis- prefix, according to Wikipedia, is “where an individual’s self-perception and presentation of their gender matches the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex. There are a number of derivatives of [this] term[…] in use, including cis male for a male with a masculine gender identity, [and] cis female for a female with a feminine gender identity…” Basically, most folks are cis-gendered: you were born with boy junk in your pants and you feel like a boy in your head. It’s when the genitals between your legs matches the gender between your ears.
**This list was taken from The National Center for Transgender Equality, and can be found here: http://transequality.org/Resources/NCTE_TransTerminology.pdf.