The Imprecise Lexicon

The Disclaimer

I am relatively new to the queer space, having only come to terms with being trans in a, figuratively speaking, brain explosion in July 2016 so I am still learning the lexicon. Gender non-conforming people have always existed.  Examples. Sex. Then gender. The same but not really. Then divergence. Society has well and truly moved on from having a binary definition for sex, but, in pockets, are having conniptions coping with a gender spectrum and what that means for our society, still primarily anchored to a binary sex system. People’s gender mostly fit their sex. Sex isn’t an exact definition though … no two women are the same and no two men are the same. Sex is more dividing people into two halves … women and men. But what is a woman? A person with protruding breasts? Not all women have breasts. A person that can bear children? Not all women are able to bear children? People with a uterus? Not all women are born with a uterus. A person with XX sex chromosomes? Not all women have XX chromosomes. Without delving into the detail, it may seem easy to define people as male or female, but that simply isn’t true. I know that most people think that they know how to define men and women, but the more you try to define it, he binary sex system is a shortcut. to make life easier. As humans we like to categorise things … our brains consume much less energy when we don’t need to revisit every single facet of every single thing and event every single time.

What is a woman? An adult human female? Who is female? You know … women! Circular questions and answers.

Scientific American pic

I suspect that most people subconsciously assume that a particular word uttered will always have the same meaning heard, but this may not necessarily be the case … intonation of speech, lived experiences, existing prejudices, any use of irony or sarcasm, context, body language, perceptions, emotions and other factors may all come into play to ascribe multiple meanings to the string of letters and/or syllables we call words.

Any attempt to use words as strict definitions for any characteristic of human beings, such as gender, will be inherently fraught. Human beings exist not in a binary sex and/or gender world as was once (religiously) thought (and taught) by many, but in a wonderfully complicated, multi-dimensional spectrum. Humans tend to summarise things they experience into binary categories for ease. Day vs night is one such example, but isn’t there also dusk and dawn … two of the most beautiful times of the day? Gender, or sex as it was obfuscating called when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, is not generally experienced or expressed as either strictly male or female. Most people have a mixture of physiological and emotional traits, however slight, however noticeable, however acknowledged. Often though, their community and/or society may overtly or covertly encourage them to suppress these traits to “fit in”. Examples include waxing what may be considered by some to be excess or out-of-place body hair, using (or not using) certain words and avoiding certain activities to the point of functional detriment. At birth, surgical intervention has been used to “tidy up” any genitals that did not sit within an expected range of appearance.

It is impossible to consciously glance at every single human being, and without a shadow of a doubt declare with complete accuracy the sex that they were assigned at birth.. Most maybe … but not all. Ask time goes by, the likelihood of being correct diminishes as more trans people are able to commence affirming hormones prior to their natural puberty and non-binary people are able to openly dress and groom themselves in a more affirming way. Most people assume that it is an innate ability to glance at a person and know their sex assigned at birth. In fact, what unfolds is their brain averages out all of the characteristics that they are able to observe and sub-consciously assigns the most likely binary gender. Some of these characteristics may be biological (eg larger breasts, wider hips etc), but many may be cultural (eg longer fingernails, feminine clothing, longer hair, cosmetics etc). In other words, they assume that they can guess a person’s gender as simply as in the diagram below.

This approach may have worked in most instances in the past, but certainly not all, and as more people feel less pressured or inclined to follow historical societal gender norms, and as more people affirm their gender identity, this approach is becoming less and less reliable, and more prone to cause offence.

Scientific and social research is constantly redefining what gender is, confusing some, but assisting others to understand themselves in a way that was not previously possible. There are many excellent resources to be found on the internet that illuminate the incredible diversity 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, both in a single moment, and how it may change over time.

Instead of the crude blue and pink binary rectangle above representing the two sexes as have been historically taught to many, maybe representing gender as a collection of personality traits, physical attributes, genetic makeup, and yes, genitals, is more appropriate, though I believe 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. I see personality as an expression of one’s gender. Humanity demonstrates countless personalities … I see countless genders … almost a different gender for every person. A kaleidoscope of genders.

Like fractals, the more you attempt to define, or zoom in on nature, the more fine detail appears where you weren’t expecting it. If you examine fungal hyphae attached to a tree root, the hyphae and the root are apparently discrete. If you zoom in using a powerful microscope, however, it is no longer clear where one finishes and the other begins … the two become one. In this light, please remember to treat the following “definitions” more as rough guidelines … guidelines with fairly fuzzy edges. More of a ‘vibe’. People are complicated … far too complicated to define as one thing or another. Is a person either entirely good or entirely bad? No … it is much more complicated than that.

With LGBTIQ communities increasingly, though far from always, able to openly present their gender expression in public without assured violent reprisal, depending on where you are though, 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 use to describe themselves, before you use those words about them or to them.

The LGBTIQ nomenclature is evolving at an incredible rate, clarifying and splintering, often 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. Most words that LGBTIQ people have used until now to describe themselves were given by cisgender heterosexual people. I believe that most words that LGBTIQ people use to describe themselves in 5 to 10 years do not exist yet.

Sexuality and gender diverse people being able to be themselves has led to a proliferation of new words in an attempt to better describe their minds, their bodies and their lives. Unfortunately many of these words were created by heterosexual, cisgender 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.

In the small town that I grew up in way back in the 1970s and 1980s, everybody at that time was assumed to be sexually straight, so in that community there was allegedly no need for even the word ‘sexuality’ to define who you were sexually attracted to. The word ‘gender’ was yet to make it’s way into colloquialism, as ‘sex’ had been performing that role thus far, however obfuscatingly. 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.

Having said all of that, here is my first crude attempt at creating a collection of words that you might find in my blog, or other writing, at some point … as I understand and use them. Remember others may use these words differently, so it is always better to check first before you use them. 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.

Now that I have finally published this page after working on it off and on over 4 years, I will probably tinker with it regularly as the meaning that the words carry change for me.

The Big Picture

Sex The sex assigned/assumed/presumed 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, 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 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 or masculine 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 Western society is often built around cisgender assumptions. This often makes life difficult for transgender folk. One pertinent, and seemingly perennial, example is the nonsensical 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. It may be simpler to define who they aren’t rather than who they are and say “not a woman”.
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.
Orchiectomy An orchiectomy, or bilateral orchiectomy, is a procedure that surgically removes the testes. Orchiectomies are typically sought by trans people who were presumed male at birth (PMAB), including women and non-binary people to stop the production of testosterone and sperm, or to affirm their gender.
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.
PFAB Presumed female at birth
PMAB Presumed male at birth
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 A term used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to describe gender diverse people that have a female or feminine spirit and take on female roles within their 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.

  • 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.
  • Social transition – may include some but not necessarily all of coming out to your friends and family as trans, asking people to use personal pronouns that match your gender identity, going by a different name & dressing/grooming in ways that matches your gender identity.
  • Hormonal transition – aka HRT – using hormonal therapy for the purpose of more closely aligning their secondary sexual characteristics with their gender identity.
  • Legal transition – may include some but not necessarily all of legally changing your name, updating your legal gender and/or birth certificate sex to more closely match your gender identity.
  • Surgical transition – 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.
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 female gender identity who identifies as a woman. It may be simpler to define who they aren’t rather than who they are and say “not a man”.

The Annals of History*

* UNLESS a sexuality or gender diverse person clearly tells you that they use the word to describe themselves and they freely encourage you to use that word, in conversation with, or to describe them. If not, you should avoid the following words as they are commonly considered to be outdated, inaccurate, misleading and/or offensive.

The language of gender and sexuality diverse communities is evolving at speed. As mentioned above, many words that we use to describe ourselves were given to us by cisgender heterosexual people.

a Transgender Transgender is not a noun. It is an adjective. This is equivalent to saying a tall or a handsome.
AFAB Assigned Female at Birth. It is irrelevant what a person was assigned at birth … trans man will suffice.
AMAB Assigned Male at Birth. It is irrelevant what a person was assigned at birth … trans woman will suffice.
Biological male The suggestion that a person is male because they have male genitals. It is supposition only because who even checks?
Biological female The suggestion that a person is female because they have female genitals. It is supposition only because who even checks?
Cisgendered Cissgender is already an adjective so there is no need to add ‘ed’ to the end. It is equivalent to saying a person is blacked or talled.
FtM Acronym short for female to male. This is not a great acronym because it suggests that the person was not male to begin with.
MtF Acronym short for male to female. This is not a great acronym because it suggests that the person was not female to begin with.
Non-operative A transgender person that for whichever reason will not be undergoing any of a range of gender affirmation surgeries.

Whether a trans person has, will or will not have gender affirmation surgery has no bearing on their gender.

Genetically female The suggestion that a person is female because they have 2 x X chromosomes. It is supposition only because who even checks?
Genetically male The suggestion that a person is male because they have 1 x X chromosome and 1 x Y chromosome. It is supposition only because who even checks?
Hermaphrodite A deprecated word that was often misused. It has been replaced by Intersex.
Post-operative (or post-op) A transgender person that for whichever reason will not be undergoing any of a range of gender affirmation surgeries.

Whether a trans person has, will or will not have gender affirmation surgery has no bearing on their gender.

Pre-operative (or pre-op) A transgender person that for whichever reason will not be undergoing any of a range of gender affirmation surgeries.

Whether a trans person has, will or will not have gender affirmation surgery has no bearing on their gender.

Sex change surgery One or more of a range of surgeries that should instead be referred to as gender affirmation or gender confirmation surgery.
Sex reassignment surgery One or more of a range of surgeries that should instead be referred to as gender affirmation or gender confirmation surgery.
Trans* An umbrella term that was coined in the 1990s, as a way to “cover a wide range of identities” that do not conform to “traditional notions” about gender.

The * (the wildcard used in search lingo) adds an extra layer by capturing a wider range of identities.

Tranny Tranny is an abbreviation for transvestite and/or transgender. Some people like to consider it reclaimed, but for me it carries too much hate so I recoil every time I hear it.
Transgendered Transgender is already an adjective so there is no need to add ‘ed’ to the end. It is equivalent to saying a person is blacked or talled.
Transgenders Transgender is an adjective so it cannot be converted to a plural. It is more correct to say trans people.
Transexual Transsexuals are people who experience a gender identity that is inconsistent with their assigned sex and desire to permanently transition to the sex with which they identify, usually seeking medical assistance to help them align their body with their identified sex. The word is now generally considered to be outdated.
Transvestite Someone who dresses in a manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex. The term is generally considered outdated, especially when used to describe a transgender or gender-fluid person.