This page is out of date.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.
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.
- 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.