Terms, concepts, and acronyms used by our authors in their expressions of transgender discourse.
2nd Wave: Feminism from around 1945 – 1980. This wave of feminism was focused on Women’s Liberation. To the dismay of intersectional 2nd Wave feminists, privilege-blind optics became a problem within 2nd wave feminist discourse. At this time, Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male gained some measure of favor.
3rd Wave: Feminism from around 1980 – 2010. Focused on addressing the exclusionary practices of previous feminist waves. Sandy Stone, a trans woman, and victim of Janice Raymond’s harassment published The Empire Strikes Back and was well received. In the name of liberation, some within 3rd wave feminism participated in promoting “raunch culture“, giving rise to the so-called “Female Chauvinist Pig.”
4th Wave: (AKA Intersectional Feminism) Feminism from around 2010 – current. Focused on inclusivity (explicitly trans-inclusive) and embraces significant (especially online) discourse. Websites like Autostraddle (4th wave lesbian culture) and Feministing (4th wave youth culture) exemplify 4th wave discourse.1 Unfortunately, sex essentialist activists have begun using “4th Wave Feminism” as a euphemism for their brand of anti-trans feminism.
Bathroom Meme: A meme that is historically used against oppressed classes which argues that should an oppressed group gain equality, immoral or unethical behavior will ensue inside bathrooms. This meme was used against the end of racial segregation within the American South, successfully used against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), against the civil rights of people with HIV2, against gay people, against the end of DADT3 and is used against trans people.
Biological sex: genotype and phenotype. This term is often used by cisgender media in order to support ad naturam arguments, implying that a post-transition trans or intersex person’s body is no longer biological.
Cisgender (Cis): Short for cisgender. Cis is Latin for “on the same side [as].” In other words, it’s a term describing non-transgender people. In the same way, one might say transwomen one can say ciswomen. Cisgender means “denoting or relating to someone whose sense of personal identity corresponds with the gender assigned to them at birth.” 4 Note: The “sense of personal identity” in the definition of cisgender does not refer to gender roles. Identity and role are two different things. For instance, just because LGB people’s sexuality violates assigned heteronormative gender roles, that does not mean that lesbians, therefore, don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth: female.
Cisgender Media: Media controlled by cisgender people that purports to explain transgender experiences, concerns, and history, oftentimes using a “both sides” trope. The hallmark of cisgender media is a preoccupation with platforming hate-groups, concern-trolling, sensationalism, and the promotion of non-fact-checked assertions based on equivocation and lies.
Cisnormative: The standard of normalcy in a culture that tends to privilege cis cultural archetypes over all others.
Cisprivilege: Refers to a set of unearned advantages that individuals who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth accrue solely due to having a cisgender identity.
Cotton Ceiling: A discourse among trans people concerning itself with the way physical cisnormative beauty standards impact notions of desirability, how these biases relate to the fetishization of trans people, how it impacts the perception of trans people in queer spaces and how these cisnormative standards affect the body image of trans people. In other words, it is a conversation about the way cisnormative beauty standards affect the way trans people see themselves as well as the way in which it biases the way others view trans people. The “cotton” in the name of the term refers to the clothing covering the (fetishized, reviled, etc) bodies of trans people. Sex essentialist anti-trans activists often assert that the Cotton Ceiling is actually a conspiracy on the part of trans people and/or Planned Parenthood to rape lesbians.
Deadnaming: a term that refers to the unethical use of a trans or intersex person’s pre-transition name. The “dead” in this term references the unethical practice by police who refer to a murdered trans person as their pre-transition name within media. Outside of a trans context, this term was used in folklore to refer to a persona one wished to kill.5
Desistance: Prior to the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013, most who were given a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) under the DSM-IV were not individuals with phenotype dysphoria; rather, they were individuals who were gender nonconforming. Under the now-defunct GID rubric, desistance referred to individuals who desisted with their gender nonconformity and asserted a gender conforming social persona. While “desistance” is exceedingly rare in those with phenotype dysphoria6, it is relatively commonplace for those who do not have phenotype dysphoria and who were pathologized for their gender non-conformity.7
Within cisgender media, it is common to cite DSM-IV desistance rates to support arguments against treatment for those who experience phenotype dysphoria. Moreover, cisgender media frequently conflates desistance with detransition, especially post-transition detransition.
Detransition: An umbrella term that refers to the following three types of detransition: pre-transition, in-transition, and post-transition detransition. In all cases, the “detransition” refers to the process of a trans-identified individual becoming a cis-identified individual. Within cisgender media, “detransition” almost always refers to pre- or in-transition detransition, though often gives readers the misimpression that the author is referencing post-transition transition.
See also: Desistance.
FAAB: Female Assigned At Birth
Female: One whose genotype, phenotype, and/or legal persona is regarded by society as being typical of the political class “woman”.
Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. 8
Gender: is a generic term we use to refer to any/all aspects of gender orientation, expression, and identity (see image below); gender role, stereotype and hierarchy; and/or, any mental contextualization of the material reality of genotyped and phenotyped sex.
Gender Critical Feminism: A label sex essentialists use to distance themselves from the “TERF” label. Gender Critical Feminists (GCF) generally present a sex essentialist ideology outside of an asserted “radical feminist” perspective.
Gender Binary: The view of patriarchy that there are only two genders, “man” and “woman,” with gender stereotypes seen as inherent or “natural.” People who identify as some other or nonbinary gender category, or who are gender nonconformist or gender variant by defying the stereotypes, are said to “break the binary.”
Gender Dysphoria: Phenotype dysphoria. The experience of extreme and long-lasting (oftentimes stretching back to one’s earliest memories) of a mismatch between one’s gender orientation and phenotype. Gender Dysphoria may also refer to the DSM-5 diagnosis.
Gender Expression: The complex and nuanced ways humans communicate gender identity and orientation. This includes written, oral/body language, fashion, etc.
Gender Identity: When most trans people speak of gender identity, they mean gender orientation (see below). Gender identity can also mean the contextual labels we use when we socially construct sexed personas. Therefore, “gender identity” within trans discourse may refer to gender orientation, one’s sexed persona, or both. NOTE: Within cis discourse, “gender identity” tends to refer to one’s sexed persona, as defined by their phenotype.
Gender Identity Disorder: A now-defunct diagnosis that refers to a mixed group comprised of mostly gender-nonconforming people, with a minority of gender dysphoric people.
Gender Hierarchy: In sexism, gender hierarchies are the product of gender roles. Part of the male gender role is to accept, protect and promote one’s status as an oppressor class while part of the female gender role is to accept, protect and promote one’s status as an oppressed class.
Gender Orientation: One’s experience of one’s body, including its sexed attributes. In other words, everyone who possesses consciousness will have a private experience of having a body. Part of that private experience will include that body’s primary and secondary sexed attributes. One’s primary experience of that material reality is gender orientation.
Gender Role: In sexism, gender roles function to promote a culturally perceived sex-segregated society. Being placed into a role is something that culture forcibly does to people and in this way, nobody may choose to live in a gender role. Should society deem that one is a male, that person will be placed into a male role by culture; should society deem that one is female, that person will be placed into a female role by culture.
Gender Stereotype: In sexism, sex-segregated culturally constructed norms and taboos are propagated throughout society by culture and are applied to those who are perceived by culture to be either male or female. These norms and taboos produce a culturally prescriptive form which helps culture identify people within its binary system.
Genderqueer: (noun) the political position of rejecting gender roles, stereotypes, hierarchies and existing outside the male/female binary; or, (adjective) referring to a person who, having rejected gender roles, stereotypes, hierarchies and existing outside the male/female binary, self-identifies their gender identity as being genderqueer. As a gender identity, genderqueer is distinct from either “man” or “woman” and also known as a “nonbinary” identity. Genderqueer people may identify as both binary genders, or some distinct third category, or as “genderfluid” (alternating between two or more categories), or as having no gender at all (“agender” or “neutrois”). The rise of the genderqueer concept in the early and middle 1990s was linked to the advent of queer theory.
Genotype: The genetic constitution of an individual organism. Often contrasted with phenotype.9
Hate: The feeling of intense or passionate dislike for someone or something.
Heteronormativity: The opposite of queerness; a social state of privileging heterosexual norms over queer norms.
Intersectionality: The awareness that different types of oppression intersects and cannot be artificially disentangled from the experience of oppression. In other words, one might be differently-abled, a rape survivor, economically disadvantaged and an intersex woman of color (WOC). To assert that her problem in life is merely the patriarchy is to willfully turn a blind eye to the complexity of the systematic oppression she faces.
Intersex: Someone whose genotype is not typical of male/female body binary sex designations. One’s intersex genotype might – but will not always – affect one’s phenotype.
In-transition Detransition: The process a trans-identified individual undertakes to reassert a cisgender status, usually occurring during their “Real Life Test” period. One who is in-transition has disclosed their gendered experience to others and may or may not have taken early steps toward a phenotype transition. In-transition detransition is the second-most common detransition experience.
See also: Real Life Test.
Lateral Violence: Displaced aggression; the tendency of oppressed people to oppress others within their constituent grouping.
Klan Fallacy: since the Ku Klux Klan was the one group that enjoyed the most success at politicizing and weaponizing the Oppressed-As-Rapist meme, activists refer to this meme as the Klan Fallacy. In the 1915 Klan movie The Birth of a Nation, a “Black” man (played by a white man) was stereotyped as a rapist. The Oppressed-As-Rapist meme was subsequently used to make all Black men look like potential rapists which meant (in white supremacist culture) that, their racial segregation wasn’t irrational. This Fallacy is used against trans people when people and organizations cite (oftentimes debunked cases) of purported criminality by one trans person to then argue that therefore, all trans people may be likewise criminally inclined.
Kyriarchy: A system of domination built though intersecting forms of oppression. It is “a theory about the nature of structural power developed in feminist biblical hermeneutics by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (1992), and describes multiple, interacting structures of power and domination.”10
MAAB: Male Assigned At Birth.
Male: one whose genotype, phenotype, and/or legal persona is regarded by society as being typical of the political class “man”.
Man: A political class that is pressured by culture to subjugate women.
MRA: Men’s Rights Activist.
Ontology: Category along with its embedded notions of how a category is situated in relationship to other categories, constructing a conception of categorical nature or being.
Ontological Dependence: Adjacent categories that rely upon a specific category for its categorical nature.
Patriarchy: A social system, sustained by sexism, that privileges men and subjugates women.
Phenotype: An aspect of biological sex, it is observable sexed characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of their genotype with the environment.11
POMO: Postmodern. Some sex essentialist activists deride those who distinguish between the perception, attitudes, regard, awareness, and languaging of sex and the material reality of body attributes as being “POMO.” Oftentimes this assertion is made within the context of a metanarrative, (unintentionally ironically) situating their derision of postmodernism within the context of a postmodernist analysis.
Post-transition Detransition: The process a trans-identified individual undertakes to reassert a cisgender status after having transitioned several years prior. One who is post-transition will have disclosed their gendered experience to close friends and family members, have undergone extensive therapeutic support, and may or may not have accessed legal or medical support (name change, hormones, and/or surgical intervention) in order to transition to the point the individual asserted comfort with their transitioned status. Post-transition detransition is exceedingly rare and is oftentimes precipitated by social oppression or changes in religious, familial, or ideological positions which implicitly/explicitly demand detransition12 13 14 15
Pre-transition Detransition: The process a newly trans-identified individual undertakes to reassert a cisgender status. One who is pre-transition may or may not have disclosed their gendered experience to anyone and has not taken any steps toward transition. Pre-transition detransition is the most common detransition experience.
Radical: Within social justice movements, “radical” means that the movement seeks to get at the root of oppression.
RadFem: (#RadFem) A social media term used to identify internet trolls who usually claim a “radical feminist” identity, but have little understanding of radical feminist theory. Generally, so-called RadFems compensate for this lack of theoretical understanding with sometimes obsessive ad hominem attacks and appeals to biologism and sex essentialism in the name of a “radical feminism”. While this term is contemporarily used in this way on social media platforms such as Twitter, “RadFem” was traditionally used as a shortened form of “radical feminist” and therefore referred to one whose goal was the end of sexism.
Radical Feminism (RadFem): closely tied to 2nd wave feminism, it represents the identity many (though certainly not all) sex essentialist activists utilize when engaging in anti-trans activism. Radical Feminism itself exists to do away with sexism through the abolition of gender roles, stereotypes, and hierarchies.16
“I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be […] Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” – bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, p viii
Real Life Test (RLT): The in-transition phase of transition, prior to receiving surgical interventions. The intent of the RLT is to support a space within transition to allow an individual to explore one’s transitioned social status prior to undergoing permanent phenotype transition. The RLT’s purpose is to cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of the degree to which one needs to transition and an informed-readiness to move forward in their transition or to reassert a cisgender social status.
The terminology of “RLT” is in the process of falling out of common usage due to its implicit assertion of a pass/fail metric that can center a therapeutic process upon self-proving rather than self-assessment. The hallmark of a therapeutic process centered on a pass/fail metric is a preoccupation with promoting sexist gender stereotypes, hierarchies, and roles.
The terminology of “Real Life Experience” (RLE) is becoming a more favored term.
Save Our Children (SOC): The political argument that supporting the discrimination of a minority group equates to saving children from harm.
SET: Sex Essentialist Theory. An umbrella term that can be inclusive of all types of (oftentimes intersecting forms of) sex essentialist ideologies.
Sex: A social identifier assigned to babies at birth. In a narrow scientific connotation, “sex” is taken to connote the spectrum of genotypical aspects/attributes of human development as it relates to the ability to produce size-differentiated gametes; however, on a colloquial, day-to-day level, “sex” isn’t gamete form, it’s the cultural function of founding a social persona based upon phenotypical aspects of bodies, not fecundity.
Sexism: In simple terms, sexism refers to social systems in which Gender Stereotypes + Gender Roles = Gender Hierarchies.
Sex Binary: The view of patriarchy that there are only two types of sexed bodies, male and female, and that these genotypic and phenotypic body attributes are an immutable natural reality. The sex binary erases or marginalizes both intersex people (whose physical sex at birth is not seen as fitting into either binary category) and transsexual or transgender people who transition to a different sexed phenotype (binary or nonbinary) than that associated with their assigned sex at birth.
Sex essentialism: the uncritical belief that “sex” is one discrete attribute that, once identified, causes the entirety of the body to conform to the binary category of either male or female.
Sex Essentialist Theorists: Groups ranging from right-wing religious movements to TERFs who use sex essentialism as their central organizing belief, view, moral, and/or ethic. SETs will generally reject the notion that while bodies and reproduction are material realities, what we think about those realities is gender. Instead, SETs tend to assert that sexed ontologies are the creation of a God(s) or Nature.
Sex Essentialist Feminism: A set of beliefs, views, morals, and ethics, asserted to be “feminist” in nature, built upon sex essentialist theories.
Sex Essentialist Theorists: Groups ranging from right-wing religious movements to TERFs who use sex essentialism as part of a central organizing belief, view, moral and/or ethic.
Sex Reassignment: The constellation of surgical and medical therapies intended to physically change a person from one sexual phenotype to the other. 17
Straight: Someone who, in a political, social and/or personal context, embraces heteronormativity.
TERF: Trans Exclusionary RadFem. A term used to identify those individuals who sympathize with and support a brand of “radical feminism” that is so rooted in sex essentialism and its resulting biologism, it actively campaigns against the existence, equality, and/or inclusion of trans people. The term appears to have been popularized in 2008 by a cisgender feminist on a blog called FinallyFeminism101. TERFs generally claim that gender identity is the same thing as gender role, that gender is the same thing as sexism, and that sexed ontologies are produced by nature, not culture.
Transition: The constellation of processes a trans person undertakes to physically, legally, and socially move from one sexed identification to another.
Transgender (trans, trans*, TG): an umbrella term that may encompass a variety of people including transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, as well as bigender and androgynous individuals. Transgender, came into common usage during the 1970s, but the earliest known use was in 1965 to refer to transsexuals who wanted genital reconstructive surgery. Today, the term is used to refer to individuals who are not cisgender and is denoted by writing trans (with no asterisk). Trans with an asterisk (trans*) connotes that one is speaking in terms of an encompassing umbrella.
Transsexual: A person whose phenotype aligns with or is in the process of aligning with males if FAAB or females if MAAB.
Transman/trans man: Geographically, the term is often written as one word in the south and central parts of the US and as two words – trans man – on the east and west coast, though the linguistic trend is towards using two words. This term refers to a person who was sexed female at birth and who, through the process of transition, has a male phenotype. Sex essentialists generally use “transman” (without a space) as a way to conceptualize trans men as being different than “real men”.
Transmisogyny: The intersection of the hate of women and the hate of trans people.
Transphobia: Within trans discourse, the “phobia” in transphobia usually refers to the strong behavioral tendency to reject (eg, a “hydrophobic” substance) non-cisgender people, issues, causes and/or concerns. However, the term, in very specific instances, may be utilized to indicate a presumed fear-based cause to observed anti-trans behaviors.
“Male dominant society has defined women as a discrete biological group forever. If this was going to produce liberation, we’d be free.… To me, women is a political group. I never had much occasion to say that, or work with it, until the last few years when there has been a lot of discussion about whether transwomen are women.” – Catharine MacKinnon, Radical Feminist Opinion Leader
Transwoman/trans woman: Geographically, the term is often written as one word in the south and central parts of the US and as two words – trans woman – on the east and west coast, though the linguistic trend is towards using two words. This term refers to a person who was sexed male at birth and who, through the process of transition, has a female phenotype. Some sex essentialists use “transwoman” (without space) as a way to conceptualize trans women as being different than “real women”.
Trigger: An event that brings on symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress.
Queer: Someone who, in a political, social and/or personal context, rejects heteronormativity.
Queer Theory: An outgrowth of feminist theory beginning around 1990 focusing on the socially constructed nature of both the sex and gender binaries; the changing concepts and categories of human sexuality in different times, places, and cultures; and the connection between feminism and sex/gender minority groups. Such groups include intersex people, transsexual and other transgender people, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual cultures at various intersections such as race and nationality, etc. Queer theorists such as Judith Butler, Leslie Feinberg, Anne Fausto-Sterling, and Jack Halberstam raise challenging questions for radical feminist theory and practice.
WBW: Womyn-born womyn. A concept that is strongly associated with trans-exclusionary Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival culture. It posits an ad naturam claim to what is constructed to be essentially “woman” within the context of WBW culture.
Woman: A political class that is pressured by culture to be subordinate to men.
Women’s Liberation: The end of sexism.
Xenophobia: Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries and/or cultures.
- Munro, Ealasaid. “Feminism: A Fourth Wave?” Political Insight, 2013, 22-25.
- “Coming from [Houston,] Texas, the city of Houston January 19, 1985, anti-gay rights referendum which went 4 to 1 against gay right, I live in a city of intolerance where political groups spread misinformation about AIDS — information that gay men get AIDS because they have sewer sex and deserve it and heterosexuals get AIDS because gay men rape children in the park. AIDS is spread by towels in public restrooms, by flushing toilets, and by hairdressers.” – Ostrow, David G. “Practical Issues in Guideline Development and Risk Reduction Education.” In Biobehavioral Control of AIDS, 119. New York: Irvington, 1987.
- “Most concerns we heard about showers and bathrooms were based on stereotype— that gay men and lesbians will behave as predators in these situations, or that permitting homosexual and heterosexual people of the same sex to shower together is tantamount to allowing men and women to shower together.” – The United States. Department of Defense. In Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 13. 2010.
- “Definition of Cisgender in English.” Cisgender. Accessed September 15, 2015.
- “But it shows certain unique narrative features, and a prosodic pattern, that have no counterparts in this country; a murderer, for example, has been substituted for dead-naming as cause of the lover’s death, and the telling is cast in couplets.” – Western Folklore, 1958; “Beside the darkly mumbling stream stood Kapukapu, his ragged hair fluttering in the quickening breeze, his long arms extended towards the terrified Lukapehu, while he muttered his diabolical dead-naming, ‘Lukapehu shall die! Lukapehu shall die!’ The poor fisherman sank exhausted before the door of his hut saying over and over, ‘I am dying; Kapukapu has called me! I am dying! I am dying!'” – The Best of Weird Tales, 1923
- Steensma, T. D., Biemond, R., de Boer, F., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2011). Desisting and persisting gender dysphoria after childhood: A qualitative follow-up study. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 499–516. doi:10.1177/1359104510378303
- Zinck, S., & Pignatiello, A. (2015). External Review of the Gender Identity Clinic of the Child, Youth and Family Services in the Underserved Populations Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Toronto: CAMH. p.11
- “Definition of Feminism in English.” Feminism. Accessed November 14, 2015.
- “Definition of Genotype in English:.” Genotype. Accessed September 15, 2015.
- Osborne, N. “Intersectionality and Kyriarchy: A Framework for Approaching Power and Social Justice in Planning and Climate Change Adaptation.” Planning Theory, 2013, 130-51.
- “Definition of Phenotype in English.” Phenotype. Accessed September 15, 2015.
- Landén, M., Wålinder, J., Hambert, G., & Lundström, B. (1998). Factors predictive of regret in sex reassignment. Acta Psychiatr Scand, 284‐289. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.1998.tb10001.x
- Michel, A., Ansseau, M., Legros, J., Pitchot, W., & Mormont, C. (2002). The transsexual: what about the future? European Psychiatry, 353-362. doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(02)00703-4
- Danker, S., Narayan, S. K., Bluebond-Langner, R., Schechter, L. S., & Berli, J. U. (2018). A Survey Study of Surgeons’ Experience with Regret and/or Reversal of Gender-Confirmation Surgeries. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Global Open, 189.
- Davies, S., McIntyre, S., & Rypma, C. (2019). Detransition rates in a national UK Gender Identity Clinic. 3rd biennal EPATH Conference Inside Matters. On Law, Ethics and Religion (p. 118). Rome: EPATH. Retrieved from https://epath.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Boof-of-abstracts-EPATH2019.pdf
- Anne Koedt. “Lesbianism and Feminism“. 1971
- Segen’s Medical Dictionary. S.V. “Sex reassignment therapy.” Retrieved September 15, 2015.