Do you agree or disagree with the following? “In a perfect world, we would have no use for gender.” I believe that the statement is true. But since we don’t live in a perfect world, we have gender. And, being humans who like to categorize and make things fit into tidy little boxes, we group and put labels on things. Gender is no exception. So we end up applying masculine and feminine genders to a variety of things, most of all, ourselves. But you already know this. But we also label people’s relationships with their sex and gender.
You probably are familiar with the word “transgender”, and probably understand it as meaning someone who’s sex doesn’t match their gender. While this is a commonly understood definition, it’s not quite right. To get to the real definition, let’s go back in time, to the moment you were born. What was the very first thing that was said about you when you were born? For most of us, it was “IT’S A (GIRL / BOY)!”. What did that person mean? Were they talking about your sex, or about your gender? Well, they were talking about both! In our society, we tend to make assumptions about gender – the biggest is that our gender matches our sex. To account for this, I’ll introduce you to the idea that based solely upon your external genitalia, you’re also assigned a gender at birth (by someone with absolutely no ability to know what your gender actually is!). When discussing trans issues, this is called being “Assigned Male at Birth” or AMAB, or, “Assigned Female at Birth” or AFAB (you might also see it as MAAB or FAAM, respectively). So the better definition for transgender would be someone whose gender does not match the gender assigned to them at birth.
Is there a label for people whose gender matches their assigned-at-birth gender?
Yes, we call them cisgender (where cis- is latin for “on the same side”). You might see cisgender shortened to just “cis” or “cis-” on some blogs or discussion boards. Similarly, you’ll likely see transgender shortened to “trans” or “trans-” (or sometimes “trans*”, though this usage has fallen out of favor). Of course, trans- is latin for “on the other side”; it might be easier to consider it as meaning cross/across. So a person who is transgender is “on the other side” of their assigned gender, or better, someone who has crossed the gender line from their assigned gender.
In today’s world, most people are cisgender; anyone who feels any disconnection with their gender falls may consider themselves transgender. Why do I say they “may” consider themselves? Because gender- and gender identity-related labels are for each individual to decide which they want to use for themselves. This is important. I don’t get to decide your identity or labels, and you don’t get to decide mine. So whenever possible, I try to let people tell me theirs. Sometimes we do have to make assumptions about people, and when I do, if I’ve assumed incorrectly, I try to correct myself and move on.
But wait, earlier you said you are genderfluid. You didn’t say anything about transgender.
You’re right. Because I consider myself genderfluid as my primary gender identity. But transgender is an umbrella term, meaning just about any gender identity that isn’t cisgender could be considered transgender. I don’t apply transgender to myself, because I feel that genderfluid more accurately describes my identity. It’s kind of like colors – coral, fuschia, and rose are all shades of pink. But if you were describing the color of a shirt to someone, would you tell them that it’s coral, or pink? Personally, I’d choose the more precise term/color.
What other labels are there?
For a more complete list, check out nonbinary.org’s :List of Nonbinary Identities. But for the quick/casual reader, here’s a few identities that I’ve found useful or interesting.
- Genderfluid (duh!): a gender in which a person feels that their gender changes, intentionally or not, throughout the course of days, weeks, months, etc. This perceived gender may occur one at a time, or multiple genders simultaneously.
- Genderf**k: feeling/expressing different genders simultaneously (such as wearing various articles of clothing strongly associated with opposing genders). This is usually done intentionally, and sometimes with a goal of causing a form of cognitive dissonance when others observe the person.
- Agender: one who feels that they have no gender / are genderless.
- Androgyne: “1. A person whose biological sex is not readily apparent. 2. A person who is intermediate between the two traditional genders. 3. A person who rejects gender roles entirely.”
- Trans man: a person who was assigned female at birth, who feels that their gender is masculine.
- Trans woman: a person who was assigned male at birth, who feels that their gender is feminine.
In my last post, I challenged you to pay attention to forms you might be filling out. Did you come across any forms with the M/F binary? Did it make you think this time when you saw it? Was that information really necessary for whatever you were filling out? What modifications did you come up with for the form?
At it’s simplest, the question doesn’t need to be asked for many forms (so either remove it, or give an option for “decline to answer”), but when it is needed, inclusion of either a free-form answer or of an “other” option might suffice (to spark the conversation needed to adequately share needed info). Also, specifying whether the pertinent info relates to gender or sex is useful (and if it is sex, some explanation might be useful as to why – it is stressful for a gender non-conforming or trans person to be asked to “out” themselves).
Here’s your homework for next time: What do you do that displays your gender? How do you dress? How do you behave? What do you do to your body?
Until then, I’m