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What You Need To Know About (Trans)Gender Language

Transgender rights have been popping up in the headlines more and more in the past few months. But transphobia still exists -- on the internet, in schools, in families, and in the media. We've come a long way and still have a long way to go.

Read this. Then go impress everyone.

Please note: The Path is in no way trying to appropriate, minimize, or objectify the experience of anyone in the trans community. We believe that eliminating ignorance is the first step towards tolerance and we want to be a part of that process.

What You Already Know:

Transgender rights have been popping up in the headlines more and more in the past few months. From Laverne Cox's role in Orange is the New Black to Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover, it seems like the trans community has a growing voice in the media and is being increasingly accepted by the world. But transphobia still exists -- on the internet, in schools, in families, and in the media. We've come a long way and still have a long way to go.

What You Probably Don't Remember (Or Maybe Never Knew):

We've compiled a short and quick (and nonexhaustive!) guide so that you can avoid accidentally saying something offensive.

The Gender Binary: The common system of thought that presumes that everyone is either male or female, depending on their physical sex. Even though this is a widely accepted way of thinking, it is incorrect! It implies that trans individuals don't exist, which clearly isn't the case.

Gender: The social construct that defines people as being feminine, masculine, or something else. Looking at a person and determining that he is a boy based on how he looks and acts is judging their gender.

Gender Identity: A person's internal (which is not necessarily visible to others) sense of being male, female, or something else.

Sex: The qualities of the human body that, medically speaking, define a person as male, female, or intersex. IMPORTANT: Sex ≠ Gender.

Sexual Orientation: Who a person is sexually attracted to (women, men, any gender, or no one at all). Again: Sexual Orientation ≠ Sex ≠ Gender.

Intersex: A person who is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the typical definitions of male or female.

Queer: An umbrella term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. It can be used as an alternative to "gay." The term can be either offensive or affirming -- since it is a term that used to be negative and that many people have tried to reclaim, it depends on who uses it and how it is used.

Transgender: An umbrella term that refers to anyone whose gender identity is different from the gender that is typically associated with their sex at birth. "Trans" is commonly used as a shorthand. (The phrase "Johnny's a transgender person" is appropriate, but "Johnny's a transgender" or "Johnny's transgendered" are often considered disrespectful).

Trans Woman/Trans Man: A trans woman is a person who was assigned the male gender at birth and who identifies as female. A trans man is the opposite.

Transsexual: A person who wishes to transition (or already has) from male to female, or female to male. This is an older term, and many people prefer not to use it because it sounds too clinical.

Cisgender: If you are not transgender, you are cisgender. (It refers to a person who identifies with the gender that was assigned to them at birth based on their sex).

Genderqueer or Genderfluid: Anyone who doesn't identify with the male/female binary, and instead identifies somewhere in between or outside of it. Some people who are genderqueer might prefer gender-neutral pronouns (i.e. "they/them" instead of "he/him" or "she/her").

Gender Dysphoria: The negative feelings and stress a transgender individual can experience that are related to their gender or sex. (Transgender individuals can experience feelings of discomfort with certain aspects of their body, or various forms of distress if they are called by the incorrect pronoun or the name that was used for them before coming out).

Transition: The time when a person begins living as their gender identity instead of their assigned gender at birth. This process can include changing their name, changing their appearance, undergoing medical treatments or surgery, changing their legal identity documents, and more.

Cross-dressing: When a person dresses in clothing that is traditionally worn by the "opposite" gender, but doesn't want to live full-time as the other gender. Some people who cross-dress would also call themselves trans.

Drag Queen/King: Drag is a performance that features cross-dress people. Women performers are called Drag Kings, and men Drag Queens. Some drag performers would also call themselves trans.

Now that we've covered some useful terms, here are some words and phrases you might want to avoid.

  • Don't say "hermaphrodite." It's considered inaccurate and offensive. Say intersex instead.
  • Don't say "transvestite." Some find it offensive. Say cross dresser instead.
  • Don't say "She was born a man" or "He was born a woman." People are born babies. Say "She (or he) is transgender."
  • Don't say "She (or he) is trapped in the wrong body." It over-simplifies a very nuanced experience. Say "She (or he) is transgender."

Why You Should Care:

It's easy to be offensive and claim ignorance as an excuse. Some of the things that you say without giving it a second thought might actually be deeply upsetting the person you're talking to or about.

Is there a solution? Yep. Educate yourself on the right terminology to make sure you're not being offensive. Focus on the human being, not on their physicality. Don't objectify another person for the sake of your own curiosity. Don't put words in someone else's mouth; let them tell their own story.

And remember to be open and kind. We're all just trying to get through life.

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