Any attempt to create strict definitions for the characteristics of human beings, such as gender, will be inherently fraught. Human beings exist not in a binary world (black/white, male/female etc), as was once assiduously thought by many, but in a fantastically complicated, multi-dimensional spectrum. Gender, or sex as it was misleadingly called when I was growing up, is not generally experienced or expressed as either strictly male or female. Most people have a mixture of physical traits, desires and emotions, however slight, however noticeable, however acknowledged. Often though, their community and/or society may overtly or covertly encourage them to suppress these traits, desires and emotions. Examples include waxing what may be considered by some to be excess body hair, using or not using certain words and suppressing certain emotions to the point of functional detriment.
It is impossible, for example, to simply glance at someone and without a shadow of a doubt declare that they are, using the word in the old-fashioned way, a woman. They may be a cisgender woman, though they may also be a trans or non-binary woman, or they may be intersex, for example. Most people believe that they are able to glance at a person, notice for example, a majority of feminine characteristics, and sub-consciously assign them a female gender. Some of these characteristics may be biological (eg larger breasts, wider hips etc), but many may be cultural (eg longer fingernails, longer hair, cosmetics etc).
This approach may have worked in most instances in the past, but not all, and as more people feel less inclined to follow historical societal gender standards, and as more people affirm their gender identity, this approach is becoming less and less successful.
Current scientific and social research is constantly redefining what gender means by helping us to understand the wonderfully diverse spectrum of gender and sexuality. There are many excellent resources to be found on the internet that illuminate the areas of sex and gender, but you can watch my favourites here and here if you like.
Genes, the timing of the release of hormones to developing foetuses in utero at various stages of development, culture and societal upbringing all contribute to the way gender is felt, experienced and expressed.
Instead of the crude blue and pink binary rectangle above representing the two sexes as have been historically taught in the West, maybe representing gender as a collection of personality traits, physical attributes, genetic makeup is more appropriate, though my rainbow gender image below is still an incredibly blunt tool. Think of the colour spectrum in three dimensions, perhaps, or even four … incredibly complex and changing over time.
Like fractals, the more you attempt to define, or zoom in on nature, the more fine detail appears where you weren’t expecting it. In this light, please treat the following “definitions” more as rough guidelines … guidelines with fairly fuzzy edges. People are complicated … far too complicated for a formula.
With LGBTIQ communities increasingly, though far from always, able to openly present their gender expression in public without fear of violent reprisal, and being able to describe who they are and how they feel in public, words that in the past were only spoken amongst friends are now entering the vernacular. Remember though, one word may be acceptable to, or amongst, some folk, yet offensive to, or when used by, others. It is always polite to ask a person what personal pronouns they use, or what words they describe themselves, before you use those words about them.
The LGBTIQ nomenclature is developing at an incredible rate, clarifying and splintering at the same time. Who gets to create the language though? The definers or the definees? I am rhetorical of course … the definees must always be allowed to create language to describe themselves and their worlds.
In the small town that I grew up in back in the 1970s and 1980s, everybody was assumed to be sexually straight, so there was allegedly no need yet for the word ‘sexuality’ to define who you were attracted to. The word ‘gender’ was yet to make it’s way into colloquialism, as ‘sex’ had been performing that role thus far, however misleadingly. Growing up in this environment, I have found that having the words in front me helps me to picture and understand the width and breadth of humanity that surrounds us all.
Sexuality and gender diverse people being able to be themselves has led to a proliferation of new words in an attempt to better describe them. Unfortunately many of these words were created by heterosexual, cisgender people people and have been variously misleading, overly general or insulting. Sexuality and gender diverse people more and more are taking control over their language and are creating new words continuously. Sometimes this means that more words are available. Sometimes this results in older words being retired.
Having said all of that, here is my first crude attempt at creating a collection of words that you might find in my blog at some point. Hyperlinks will take you to a relevant external page for further reading, often, but not always, Wikipedia. As this collection will change over time, I have also included a list of words at the end that I personally prefer to avoid, unless a person wishes to use them to describe themselves, then I will use them comfortably.
The Big Picture
|Biological Sex||The sex assigned at birth by a medical professional taking into account visible gonadal and anatomical, and possibly, but less likely, chromosomal, characteristics. Individuals may have a range of physical attributes or undergo a variety of treatments that make it difficult to define a true biological sex at any one time. Historically, biological sex has been assigned at birth as either male or female. In the case of intersex or transgender babies this initial assignment may be difficult, possibly erroneous and possibly lead to gender dysphoria.|
|Gender||The range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e., the state of being male, female, or an intersex variation), sex-based social structures (i.e., gender roles), or gender identity. People who do not identify as men or women or with masculine or feminine gender pronouns are often grouped under the umbrella terms non-binary or genderqueer. Some cultures have specific gender roles that are distinct from “man” and “woman,” such as the hijras of South Asia. They are often referred to as third genders.|
|Gender Expression||The aspects of a person’s behaviour, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender in a particular cultural context. Gender expressions include, but are not limited to, manly, effeminate, tomboyish, gender neutral, butch, femme and androgynous.|
|Gender Identity||Gender identity is the internal personal experience of one’s own gender. It may correlate with the sex assigned at birth, or it may differ from it. Gender identities include, but are not limited to, man, woman, genderless and genderqueer.|
|Sexual Orientation||An enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination of these) to persons of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexuality), the same sex or gender (homosexuality), to both sexes or genders (bisexuality) or to more than one sex or gender (pansexuality). Asexuality (the lack of sexual attraction to others) is sometimes identified as the fourth category.|
The Finer Detail
|Agender||Someone who identifies as having no gender or being without a gender identity.|
|Ally||An ally, straight ally, or heterosexual ally is typically a heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ+ social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.|
|Androgynosexuality||Attracted to androgynous people|
|Androgynous||An absence of explicit masculinity or femininity giving an impression of either a mixed, neutral or no specific gender.|
|Androsexuality||Attraction to the male gender or sex.|
|Aromatic||Individuals who do not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic individuals may or may not identify as asexual.|
|Asexual||The lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. Asexual individuals may or may not identify as aromantic.|
|Bear||A bear is a larger and often hairier gay man who projects an image of rugged masculinity.|
|Bi-curious||When a person normally identifies as either heterosexual or homosexual while showing some curiosity for sexual activity with a person of the gender they do not usually favour.|
|Bi-gender||Identifying as bi-gender is typically understood to mean that one identifies as both male and female or moves between a masculine gender expression and feminine gender expression with little middle ground, or both.|
|Binary gender||A person whose gender experience and expression has them identifying as either male or female.|
|Bisexual||Romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both men/males and women/females.|
|Bottom surgery||Surgery performed on a transgender person with the intention of assigning genitals with those of the gender the person is transitioning to. For trans women this usually involves a orchi and a vaginoplasty. For trans men this involves a phalloplasty. Many trans folk are not able to undertake the surgery due to it’s extreme cost.|
|Brotherboy||Brotherboy is a term used by Aboriginal and. Torres Strait Islander people to describe. gender diverse people who have a male spirit. and take on male roles within the community. Not to be confused with Brothaboy which is a word to describe a cisgender person.|
|Cisgender||A person that has a gender identity or gender expression that matches their assigned sex. It is often abbreviated to cis. It’s antonym is transgender.|
|Cisnormativity||An expression that describes how society makes life extra difficult for transgender folk. One example is the stupid public toilet debate.|
|Cross-dresser||A person, typically heterosexual, who occasionally wears clothes, makeup, and accessories generally associated with women. This activity is a form of gender expression and is not done for entertainment purposes. Crossdressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women, though it may be a pre-cursor to self-identification as being transgender.|
|Dead-Name||The birth name of someone who has transitioned, or is in the process of transitioning, and has changed their name, either legally or socially. Persistent or deliberate dead-naming is likely to cause offence.|
|Demi-sexual||Someone that only experiences sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed. It is considered to lie on a spectrum midway between asexual and sexual.|
|Drag king||A woman, typically a gay woman, who dresses as a man for the purpose of entertainment.|
|Drag queen||A man, typically a gay man, who dresses as a woman for the purpose of entertainment.|
|Female||A person that was assigned female at birth, or who identifies as female.|
|Feminine||Femininity is a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles generally associated with girls and women. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition of the female biological sex. Standards of femininity vary across different cultures and historical periods. This makes it distinct from the definition of the biological female sex. Both males and females can exhibit feminine traits and behaviours.|
|Full-time||Often referred to as “going full time”. As trans folk get more and more comfortable with the gender expression that they are transitioning to, there will come a time when they leave their old gender presentation and/or sex characteristics behind, and take on their new persona full time.|
|Gay||A gay person is an individual who identifies as a man and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other people who identify as men. The term gay can also be used in relation to women who are sexually and romantically attracted to other women.|
|Gender Affirmation Surgery||Surgical procedures to align your body closer to that of your gender identity. Examples include removal of breasts and chest reconstruction, breast augmentation, vaginoplasty, metoidioplasty, phalloplasty, hysterectomy and facial feminization surgery. Also known as Gender Confirmation Surgery.|
|Gender dysphoria||The clinically significant distress a person experiences as a result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. Significantly, it is no longer classified as a mental disorder. Gender Dysphoria replaced Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)|
|Gender fluid||A person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender.|
|Gender non-conforming||Exhibiting behavioural, cultural, or psychological traits that do not correspond with the traits typically associated with one’s sex. Having a gender expression that does not conform to gender norms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.|
|Genderqueer||A catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are outside the gender binary and cisnormativity. Also called non-binary. Genderqueer people may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their gender expression.|
|Gynosexuality||Attraction to the female gender or sex.|
|Heteronormativity||The view that heterosexual relationships are the only natural, normal and
legitimate expressions of sexuality and relationships, and that other sexualities or gender identities are unnatural and a threat to society. Also known as cisnormativity.
|Heterosexual||An enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex. Someone who is heterosexual is usually referred to as straight.|
|Homosexual||An enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions” to people of the same sex. Someone that is homosexual is usually referred to as being gay or lesbian.|
|Intersex||A person with a variation, or variations, to their chromosomal, gonadal, sex hormonal, or genital characteristics that do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.|
|Lesbian||Lesbian is an individual who identifies as a woman and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other people who identify as women.|
|LGBTIQ||An initialism comprised of non-binary terms representing sexuality (lesbian, gay & bisexual), gender (transsexual & intersex), queer and questioning.|
|Male||A male human being is a person with a masculine gender identity who identifies as a man.|
|Man||A man is a male human being with a masculine gender identity who identifies as a man.|
|Masculine||Masculinity is a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles generally associated with boys and men. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition of the male biological sex. Standards of manliness or masculinity vary across different cultures and historical periods. This makes it dissect from the definition of the biological male sex. Both males and females can exhibit masculine traits and behaviour.|
|Misgender||To refer to a person using terms that express the wrong gender, either accidentally or deliberately; for example by calling a woman “son”, a boy “she”, or an agender individual “he” or “she” instead of “they”.|
|Non-binary||A catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are outside the gender binary and cisnormativity. It is also called genderqueer. Non-binary people may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their gender expression.|
|Pansexual||Where potential romantic or sexual attraction to a particular person is not limited by any gender or gender identity.|
|Personal pronouns||A word used in place of a noun, in this case a person’s name. Pronouns can be gendered or gender neutral. Some languages and cultures don’t have gendered pronouns, or approach pronouns in markedly different ways. A transgender person will usually be offended if an incorrect gendered pronoun is used in relation to them.|
|Queer||A term used to describe a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Although once used as a derogatory term, the term queer now encapsulates political ideas of resistance to heteronormativity and homonormativity and is often used as an umbrella term to describe the full range of LGBTIQA+ identities.|
|Sistergirl||Sistergirl is a term used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to describe gender diverse people that have a female spirit and take on female roles within the community. Not to be confused with Sistagirl which is a word to describe a cisgender person.|
|Top surgery||Surgery performed on a transgender person with the intent of altering the appearance of their trunk. In the case of a trans woman, this involves breast augmentation. In the case of a trans woman, this involves breast removal and other reconstructive surgery.|
|Transgender||A person that has a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. It is often abbreviated to trans. Its antonym is cisgender. Transgender is an adjective, not a noun.|
|Transition||The (often) arduous process of aligning ones gender expression with their gender identity through a combination of social, hormonal and/or surgical transitional stages. The steps of transition that trans folk may undertake will depend on the cost of those steps and their preferences. Some trans folk may not undertake any transitional steps and some may undertake all steps available to them. Not all trans people undergo surgical transition due to the prohibitive cost and/or their preferences.
|Transphobia||A range of negative attitudes, feelings or actions toward transgender people. Transphobia can be emotional disgust, fear, violence, anger, or discomfort felt or expressed towards trans folk.|
|Woman||A woman is a female human being with a feminine gender identity who identifies as a woman.|
Deprecated and/or Mean Spirited Words*
* UNLESS a sexuality or gender diverse person clearly indicates that they wish to use the word to describe themselves. Which is completely fine.
|Sex reassignment surgery|