To be an ally to the T in LGBTQ, all queer, cisgender or straight allied individuals need to be aware of the ever-evolving lexicon used to define gender identity and expression. Though no one can define a transgender person’s identity as well as they can, remember, the responsibility to be aware lies on everyone else. This guide, brought together for Transgender Awareness Week being observed from Nov. 14-20, is a resource to ensure all are conscientious allies.
(Note: This glossary intends to be wide-ranging, but does not promise to be fully encompassing. If there are any identities not included here that readers would like to tell qnotes about, be sure to email the staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Agender: An identity that typically involves a person who does not identify with any gender at all. Additionally, “agender” people may use the identity “genderless.”
Androgynous: A form of gender expression that does not fit into typical or expected norms for masculine or feminine presentation.
Bigender: An identity that typically involves someone identifying with two distinct genders at once. These genders may be man and woman, or woman and genderqueer, or any combination of genders.
Cisgender: A term to define a person whose current gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
Dead Name: A phrase that many transgender and gender non-conforming people use to refer to their names given at birth which they no longer recognize or use. Never use someone’s dead name or mention it without their explicit permission.
Gender: Gender is the social construct tied to someone’s sex. At birth, many are labeled as “male,” “female,” or “intersex.” Gender is the personal, internal relationship with how one identifies with the terms used to describe identity. Gender is not necessarily related to the sex assigned at birth.
Gender Binary: An outdated idea that there are only two genders: male and female.
Gender Expression/Presentation: The way someone dresses, speaks, utilizes makeup, acts and interacts with the world around them makes up their gender expression. Gender expression may or may not have anything to do with gender identity.
Gender Identity: An individual’s sense of being a woman, a man, or any other gender. Gender may, but does not have to, coordinate with any physical or physiological aspects of a person’s body. Gender is in the mind, and it is up to an individual to describe how they identify.
Gender Non-conforming: The identity that typically involves someone who identifies as a gender outside of the binary of man or woman. Some individuals take this term to identity how they present their gender in public, regardless of identity. Similar to non-binary.
Gender Spectrum: A current model of gender that is inclusive of all genders in between and outside of the binary of man and woman.
Genderfluid: An identity that typically involves a person who does not identify with a particular, fixed gender at any given time. One may feel more strongly as a particular gender one day, and then differently on the next day.
Genderqueer: An identity that typically does not involve a rigid connection to any particular gender. Related to the widely-encompassing term “queer,” genderqueer is an identity that individuals utilize to encompass a rejection of the rigid binary of male or female.
Intergender: An identity that is expressed through a combination of characteristics of more than one gender.
Intersex: A person who is born with biological or physiological traits of male and female sexes, and thus exist in a space in between or outside of the categories of male and female.
Non-binary: An umbrella term used to express any gender identities that are not male or female.
Pan/Polygender: An identity that typically is expressed through a combination of characteristics of many and/or all genders.
Sex: A person’s assigned sex is related to their body, including biological and physical aspects. Unlike gender, which exists in someone’s mind, sex is a biological component.
Trans: An abbreviation for the word “transgender.”
Transgender: An identity that encompasses anyone whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people exist in a variety of expressions and individualities.
Transsexual: An outdated term to describe someone who has gone through sexual reassignment/gender confirmation surgeries. Important Note: Some people personally still identify with this term, but it should never be used without the expressed permission of an individual. Many transgender individuals view this as similar to the term “transgendered,” which implies being transgender is a condition, not an identity.
Two-spirit: A Native American identity that describes an Indigenous person who fulfills multiple gender roles or expresses their gender in non-conforming ways. For these populations, a two-spirit identity is more spiritual than gender or sexuality-based, and is highly regarded in some indigenous and Native tribes.
Pronouns are the third person way in which we refer to someone else. For example, “That is her water bottle,” “He is my cousin,” or “That is their bouquet for the wedding.”
To ensure comfort and respect in LGBTQ spaces, a good practice is to share pronouns verbally or with nametags to ensure others feel safe expressing their identity. If one is unable to ask someone’s pronouns, use the gender neutral “they, them, and theirs” pronouns until able to ask. A good tip is to offer one’s own pronouns when asking for someone else’s.
Transgender Exclusionary Language
Some commonly used language can be pretty transgender exclusive. Here are a few tips to avoid anti-transgender pitfalls:
“All trans people are cross-dressers or drag queens.”
This is another method by which gender expression and identity are confused. The way someone dresses or presents themselves has nothing to do with their identity.
Asking if someone is transitioning
The assumption that transgender or gender-non-conforming people have to transition implies that their internal identity as a transgender or gender non-conforming person is not enough. Avoid asking questions about someone’s transition unless they talk with others about it.
Do not say “opposite sex” or “opposite gender.”
This implies that there are only two genders. Instead try, “Another gender” or “A different gender.”
“I can’t tell.”/”You don’t look trans.”
Some transgender people are told their appearance does not seem transgender. Frequently, this comment is meant as a compliment, but it is an outdated misconception to imply that gender identity is based solely on how one presents oneself.
Never say “transgendered.”
Adding the “ed” to “transgender” suggests that being transgender is a condition and not an identity. Being transgender is an aspect of someone’s self, not something that happened to them. One should never assume to know everything about all transgender people. Everything is individual.