No Designation

The Politics of Identity on the Edge

Definitions

IMPORTANT NOTE

This page is out of date.  I had thought it was deleted when I moved my blog to blog.handbasketproductions.com, but seeing as how often it is cited I am going to leave it up with this note.
I originally wrote this particular definition of trans and cis as a thought experiment to highlight the cissexism in how trans people’s genders are seen.  By looking at how a person’s gender is * perceived* as one of the primary ways of defining trans or cis status, it highlights the experience of having other people tell you that your gender is invalid.  There can be a significant difference between having someone misread your gender and than acknowledge their mistake when corrected as opposed to giving someone all the facts about who you are and they still will tell you in all seriousness that they don’t believe your gender is real or valid.  This is an experience that virtually all trans people have and very few cis people have.  But if you are giving a trans 101 somewhere, it may be better to keep to the shorter definition for cis / trans people as “a person who does / doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.”  Ultimately, though, I worry that definitions and the drive to define and make distinctions in basic level education around trans people all too often distracts from the lived realities and experiences of actual trans people.  If you have a classroom / workshop audience / friend who is bogged down in linguistic semantics rather than how to be an ally, just saddle them with the only definition that really counts.  A trans person is someone who identifies their experience as trans, a cis person is someone who doesn’t.

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Here are a few definitions that might be particularly useful for folks new to some of these issues. Even if you know this stuff, there are a few concepts I talk about that really haven’t had terms for them in general use or terms that vary in how their used.

Gender Terms

  • Transgender or Trans – Traditionally defined as a person who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, I prefer to shift the focus away from assigned gender and define transgender as a person who’s gender is not universally considered valid. That means that someone, somewhere, will tell a transperson that they are not the gender they say they are. (ex: a transman is someone who identifies as a man and that there would be someone out there who would tell him that he isn’t a man)
  • Cisgender/Cissexual – “Trans” is a prefix that means “the other side of” in Latin. “Cis-” means “the same side of”. So a cisgender person is someone who is not transgender, i.e. a person who’s gender is considered universally valid. (ex: a ciswoman is a someone who identifies as a woman and no one would think to contradict her). A distinction is sometimes made for the term cissexual, which emphasizes that someone is not dealing with the medical and legal aspects of a gender transition. In this case, someone who has a non-binary gender and not dealing with the medical and legal aspects of a gender transition might call themselves a cissexual genderqueer.
  • Non-Binary Gender – Binary gender is gender within a male/female binary limitation. When people discuss non-binary gender they are talking about gender identifications that do not fit within or cannot be represented by male/female gender. Plenty of transpeople conform to binary gender and are happy to do so, and conversely, there are plenty of cissexuals who reject binary gender.
  • Genderqueer – Often used as a catch-all for people who do not wholly fit into a gender binary. This can include people present or identify as a binary gender but otherwise see ways in which their gender doesn’t fit into a male/female binary. That may be described as being a (wo)man plus something else, or not quite being (wo)man, or bi-gender, or non-gender, or just none of the above.
  • Transfeminine – A person who’s femininity or female identity is not universally considered valid. Often used to talk about a wider range of how a person might identify their gender and would cover a spectrum of transwomen, as well as genderqueers, and people with non-binary genders who’s femininity or female-ness is being denied.
  • Transmasculine – A person who’s masculinity or male identity is not universally considered valid.
    Often used to talk about a wider range of how a person might identify their gender and would cover a spectrum of transmen, as well as genderqueers, and people with non-binary genders who’s masculinity or male-ness is being denied.
  • Transphobia – Describes the fear or hatred of transpeople leading to discrimination, oppression, and devaluing of transpeople in systematic, institutional, and individual ways.
  • Misogyny – Describes the fear or hatred of women leading to the discrimination, oppression, and devaluing of women in systematic, institutional, and individual ways.
  • Trans-Misogyny – The unique intersection of transphobia and misogyny that transfeminine spectrum people encounter. Includes transphobia that is applied to transwomen and not transmen as well as misogyny that is applied to transwomen and not ciswomen

Terms to describe Sexuality

  • Queer – Often used as a catch all to describe people who’s sexual practices are not heteronormative. Many people will specifically identify as queer and not as gay, lesbian, or bisexual due to the binary gender restrictions those terms have. Some people will say that a person who is straight but has non-heteronormative sexual practices is queer. This is debated, but usually I agree.
  • Culturally Queer Erotically Straight – A phrase used to describe one’s cultural connection and association with queer community as well as a straight sexual orientation. Used predominantly by straight queerspawn who grew up in queer environments and consider queer culture to be a part of their heritage.
  • Pansexual - Someone who is attracted to people of all genders. Pansexual is used as an alternative to bisexual with restricts gender to a binary. It is sometimes truncated and added as a prefix to other terms, such as Pandyke. Another meaning of pansexual is to describe an event that is open to people of all genders and sexual orientations.

Terms to describe Family

  • Queerspawn – People with LGBTQ parent(s), i.e. the spawn of queers. Sometimes transpawn and polyspawn are used to specify the identities a person’s parent(s) have.
  • Polyamory – ‘Poly’ means many and ‘amory’ means love.Polyamory is the practice of consensual non-monogamy and includes a wide variety of family structures.

Terms to describe Oppression and Power Dynamics

  • Postmodernism – A critical questioing of the notion that there is one valid perspective, i.e. what is ‘real.’ Postmodernism asserts that multipleperspectives can be real and valid at the same time. When a person holds a perspective as a part of their lived experience, it becomes real to their experience and can be just as valid as the perspective of others, even if that person’s perspective is not supported by the mainstream.
  • Exoticism – Seeing a person as special, beautiful, or intriguing due to their status as ‘other.’ This process can be rather dehumanizing and emphasizes a person’s status as a novelty or object for the intrigue of others. This can bring on a feeling of being a specimen in a zoo.
  • Ableism – The systematic oppression and devaluing of people based on dis/abilities.
  • Fat-Phobia - The systematic oppression and devaluing of people based on weight, body size, and fatness.

This is always a work in progress. Sometimes I can know exactly what I want to describe but not be able to come up with the right explanation for it. Think something is missing or needs to be re-worked? Let me know.

16 Comments »

  1. […] for “trans” that works for me. you can find it on the blog no designation on their definition page. it reads: Transgender or Trans – Traditionally defined as a person who doesn’t identify with the […]

    Pingback by » trans defined | June 27, 2007 | Reply

  2. Thanks a lot for this page. It helps me understand a lot of new concepts.

    Comment by clare c | October 28, 2007 | Reply

  3. I was pointed here from “Alas”, where I was discussing why I felt that “transgender” had become a sort of pointless / meaningless / offensive word. I see that your definition of “transgender” makes the mistakes that I was discussing.

    I provided two examples in my discussion — “Bob”, a heterosexual male-to-female cross-dresser who is very clear in his mind that he is a man. “Jo”, a stone butch woman who frequently passes for male, without even trying. She is very clear that she is a woman.

    In that discussion with both seem to agree that “Bob” and “Jo” are both transgender individuals. And given the self-identification that I’ve presented, we’d have to agree that “Bob” is a transgender man, and “Jo” is a “transgender woman”. If you disagree, please explain.

    See the problem here? Bob says he is a man, who is going to disagree with him or invalidate his gender? Jo says she is a woman. People might complain that she is “mannish”, but who is going to say she isn’t actually a woman?

    Comment by FurryCatHerder | June 20, 2009 | Reply

  4. I looked but can’t find the discussion on “Alas,” that you reference. But let me give you my perspective on the examples you provide. I think you’re getting into a more advanced dilineation than this definition sheet was created for. First we have to acknowledge that there are multiple interpretations of trans that are simultaneously being used by different and sometimes the same people.

    In some cases, it’s a broad umbrella term that includes a wide variety of folks who’s genders are questioned (thus my definition above), such as crossdressers, butch women, transsexuals, etc. While most folks define it as such, you might find more usage which focuses specifically on those who identify and present as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth, often but not always with the aid of hormones, legal documentation change, etc.

    So we have a category of people who are often included in definitions of transgender and often excluded from discusions of transgender folks. It’s awkward, I don’t advocate it.

    This new take on defining the term is an experiment to try to draw a new line. If there’s anyone out there who might doubt someone’s gender, then they could see themselves as trans. “Jo” certainly fits that, as you say that she frequently passes for male, there are lots of people who see her as not a woman. “Bob” might only be at risk if people discover he’s crossdressing, but I’ve definitely seen folks who would say he’s “not a real man” because of it — not to mention folks who assume he’s on the first step toward transitioning. But just because someone can call themselves transgender doesn’t mean they have to. That’s where self-definiion comes in. And if there’s literally only one person in the world who invalidates a person’s gender, they might decide that the term transgender communicates more misinformation that information about themselves.

    As for Bob being a “transgender man” and Jo a “transgender woman”, I disagree, but only but only becuase those terms have taken on more of a meaning than the words mean individaully. Bob may be “transgender” and may be a “man”, but if he calls himself a “transgender man” then most folks are going to assume that he was assigned female at birth, which your example implies is not the case. So while he could fit the definition and press the issue if he wanted, our current usage of terminology is not as flexible. (Note that the information in the definitions about “trans men” and “cis woman” are given as examples, not as definitions, so they shouldn’t be taken as applicable in all cases).

    In any such case, reality perpetually defies definition and strives to move beyond any constraints we try to place on it using logic. I think no matter what definitions are used, there will always be folks who fall outside of it — again why I rely on self-definition.

    Comment by nodesignation | June 23, 2009 | Reply

  5. Howdy! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the good information you could have right here on this post. I might be coming back to your blog for extra soon.

    Comment by jigsaw | February 9, 2011 | Reply

  6. this is very interesting information. A Lot of word ‘definitions we are not aware of in our community. thank you

    Comment by Moka King | June 10, 2011 | Reply

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    Comment by autoversicherungen | October 5, 2011 | Reply

  8. Thank you for this post, after searching google for definition site I found this useful site ” http://nicedefinition.com ” it free online site for English definitions,
    they try to collect all definitions and meanings from all world dictionaries and open sources,
    and everyday they try to add and update more and more, they planning to be the world largest free online definitions site.
    Thank you again for this post.

    Comment by Tarek El-Mallah | October 7, 2011 | Reply

  9. You really think it’s ok for people to claim to be trans just because they have had their gender questioned? Anyone who feels like calling themselves trans will have their claim respected by you? Even if they never called themselves that before, but now that they’ve had their cis privilege pointed out they suddenly decide they’re trans?

    Comment by Lila | November 20, 2011 | Reply

  10. I think you miss the point. This is a thought experiment to shift the focus of the definition. In that perspective it is more of an acknowledgement that universal acceptance of one’s gender is a central part of cis privilege, rather than the opportunity for someone to claim trans status because someone told them they “throws like a girl,” or “look like a guy.”

    But even so, I would argue that most instances of “having your gender questioned” does not mean your gender is being considered invalid. There is a difference between being harassed for gender non-conforming behavior and having someone truly disbelieve your gender is valid after being given all the information. The cis guy who’s told he throws like a girl is still universally considered a guy — that’s why the insult has traction. Even a cis person who is momentarily thought to be the other gender still has the privilege to stand up and say, “No, really I am _____.” And once everyone knows that they are cis, they tend to be believed. The only instances I’ve heard of with that not happening is when their antagonists believed the person to be trans.

    Yes, it does eventually get to a grey area, but that’s because there’s a grey area between trans and cis in general. But by this definition, a cis person who wants to deny their cis privilege can’t just call themselves trans because they want to. They have to point to the lack of this central characteristic of cis privilege. And honestly, if someone was actually doing what you say, I think it would be pretty obvious.

    P.S. This is a four or five year old blog. I don’t necessarily believe everything on here as firmly as I did when it was written. Also, check out what I’m currently writing at blog.handbasketproductions.com

    Comment by Tobi | November 20, 2011 | Reply

  11. Just thought I’d say, if still relevent, that pansexuals might not be attracted to all gender’s, but is capable of being attracted to many genders, both binary or non-binary.

    And I’m a Pandyke!!! hooray!!! :DDD

    Comment by Posifemme | February 24, 2012 | Reply

  12. I like this blog layout . How do you make it!? Its rather cool.

    Comment by site | May 30, 2012 | Reply

  13. […] Transgender or trans – [adj] … a person whose gender is not universally considered valid… […]

    Pingback by Grace’s Trans 101: An Introduction to Transsexuality and Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions | Alas, a Blog | January 4, 2013 | Reply

  14. I have some issues with your definitions of trans* and cisgender.
    I don’t think it’s right to use the word “valid” in those definitions in regard to how society views trans and cis individuals. Saying that being cis is “universally valid” and that being trans is not is a cisnormative comment. Although we do live in a cisnormative/heteronormative society, there are no gender identities that are less valid than others and although I understand what you’re trying to say about being accepted, the reason I came here and am making this point is that a misinformed friend defined being cisgendered as having a “valid” gender identity today before citing this article as where she learned it from. There are definitely better ways to define both trangender and cisgender that are accurate and that do not cause misconceptions in our uninformed society.
    Other than those issues, I think the rest of the article is fine an the definitions work for the most part. I know this is older but I’d still like to make this point so that if anyone comes on here in the future and reads the comments they’ll know how it’s inaccurate. Thank you!

    Comment by Vincent | February 3, 2013 | Reply

  15. I do want to be clear that I did not say that a cis person’s gender is “universally valid” I said that it is “considered universally valid.” There is a big difference between making a cissexist declaration about who is valid or not and acknowledging that others do make such declarations. The point I was saying that was to point out the cissexism. I’m sorry your friend misread this article. I’ve added a note at the top of this page further clarifying how that is meant to be used. I would have added that note earlier, but I had deleted every post on this blog and thought this would have been deleted as well. Apparently it wasn’t because it’s a “page” rather than a “post.” But since folks keep coming back here, I’m going to keep it up, at least for now.

    Comment by nodesignation | February 3, 2013 | Reply

  16. […] is biologically female, that makes Hanji nonbinary? I’m pretty sure that’s not how it […]

    Pingback by Hanji Zoe | Tiara Walker | March 20, 2014 | Reply


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