Queering the Narrative: Gender-Related Queer Terminology

Gender-Related Queer Terminology

Welcome to Queering the Narrative! This week I’m going to do something just a little different — I realized while getting some things in line for another discussion I plan to post that I put a lot of queer terminology in my posts. I stand by that; it’s important to use and know these terms if you’re going to write queer characters!

However, this blog is meant to help enable folks to write outside their own identities — and that means they might not know these terms. I know a lot of cis folks — even queer ones — might not know how to use these words properly. That’s a massive barrier to entry for writing these sorts of characters, so let’s bridge that knowledge gap! So, this post is going to focus on a glossary of queer terminology related to trans and nonbinary folks.

Note that many of these definitions are abridged from the wonderful website Gender Spectrums. If you are trying to do some real in-depth research about writing non-cis characters, I highly recommend checking them out!

The trans pride symbol atop the trans pride flag.

  • AFAB/AMAB: “Assigned Female At Birth” and “Assigned Male At Birth,” respectively. Terms used to describe the gender that a person was assigned when they were born.
    • For example, as a trans woman, I was assigned male at birth (AMAB).
    • NOTE: It’s largely considered impolite to describe a trans person this way without their express permission.
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  • Agender: A term to describe individuals that either have no gender identity or identify as gender neutral.
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  • Cis/Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.
    • NOTE: This is an adjective. They are “cisgender folks,” not “cisgenders.”
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  • FTM/MTF: “Female to Male” and “Male to Female,” respectively. Terms used to describe people who were assigned one sex at birth but whose gender identity is the opposite. Illustrates the “movement” of transition to help people unfamiliar with terms like “trans woman” understand the terminology.
    • For example, I am an amab ftm trans person, otherwise known as a trans woman.
    • NOTE: It’s largely considered impolite to describe a trans person this way without their express permission.
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  • Gender: The set of behaviors, customs, roles, and expressions in a given culture. Usually perceived as being tied to biological sex, and often reduced to a simple “man/woman” binary, though neither of these things are inherently true — not everyone’s gender aligns with their biological sex the way their society might expect it to, and there are far more than only two genders.
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  • Gender Binary: A gender system which assumes only two “opposite” genders (man and woman). Those who identify as strictly a man or a woman, whether they’re cis or trans, have a “binary” gender identity.
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  • Gender Dysphoria: The feeling of distress that many (but not all) transgender people experience in relation to the dissonance they feel between the gender they’ve been assigned and their own identity.
    • Note: You can read more in-depth about how to write dysphoria here. 
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  • Gender Expansive: An umbrella term for people who broaden their culture’s definitions of gender. This can include such aspects as identity, expression, roles, and/or norms.
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  • Gender Expression: The way that we show our gender to the world, and how the world perceives our gender.
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  • Genderfluid: A person whose gender or genders change over time, rather than experiencing a static gender.
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  • Gender Identity: The deeply held, internal understanding of our own gender as masculine, feminine, a mix of both, neither, or flowing between all those options.
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an image of an option in the color-picker tool from GIMP
It’s more accurate to envision the gender spectrum as something akin to this than as a straight line between male and female!
  • Gender Spectrum: The full range of identities which is not bounded by a simple “male/female” dichotomy.
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  • Genderqueer: An umbrella term to describe someone who doesn’t identify with conventional gender identities, roles, expression and/or expectations.
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  • Intersex: A term for an individual whose configuration of chromosomes, reproductive organs, and/or endocrine systems do not fit the medical definitions of either male or female in our society.
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  • Neopronouns: Other, less widely-accepted nonbinary pronouns. The most common example is “ze/zir.” Other examples include “ae/aer,” “xe/xem,” and “ey/em.”
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  • Nonbinary: A person whose identity exists wholly or partially outside the gender binary.
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  • Sex: The biological configuration of genetics, reproductive organs, and endocrine systems which commonly is used as a basis for assigning gender. Like gender biological sex exists along a spectrum (as with intersex people), but is often reduced to two “opposite” categories (male and female). 
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  • They/them: The most widely accepted nonbinary pronouns, which can be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. These are singular pronouns.
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  • Transgender: An umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity does not align with the gender they were assigned at birth.
    • NOTE: This is an adjective. We are transgender people, not “transgenders.”
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  • Trans: A shortening of transgender, most commonly used as a shorthand for the transgender community.
    • NOTE: This is an adjective. I am a trans woman, not “a trans.”
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  • Transsexual: A largely outdated term with roots in the medial community for a transgender person that seeks or has undergone a medical transition. Not interchangeable with transgender — many transgender folks do NOT identify as transsexual.
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  • Transvestite: A person who enjoys dressing in clothing generally associated with the opposite sex. Not synonymous with transgender, and largely considered out-dated and derogatory. 
    • Cross-dresser is a more appropriate term, but is still not synonymous with the trans community.
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It can be difficult, if you aren’t inside the trans community, to gain an understanding of queer terminology related to trans folks. In fact, even within the trans community some of these things can be hard to learn — it took me quite a while to become well-versed in the true meaning of nonbinary identites, the gender binary, and gender as a spectrum! I hope this post can help to empower you to feel more comfortable including trans, nonbinary, and otehrwise gender expansive characters in your fiction!

Please note, however, that these are somewhat paltry definitions meant to help facilitate your research into writing trans characters. For some more in-depth explanations of these terms, I highly recommend checking out Gender Spectrum’s website. They’re an incredible resource. In the future I also plan to write queer terminology glossaries for other queer identities, and possibly come back and add to this list as needed.

That’s all for this week! I’ll be back next Friday with another post. Until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!

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