Using this lesson plan created by Katelyn Burns, trans journalist, you can get a basic understanding of key terms and information about Gender Diversity. Art by Sarah Epperson.



Terms & Definitions

Language to describe gender can be very personal and important for gender diverse people. It’s also key to understand that trans specific language is constantly changing within the trans community and the best policy is to trust us to define the language that describes our lives and experiences with gender.

genderA broad term used to define elements of the human experience. There are many gender identities and expressions beyond the binary notions of man and woman or masculinity and femininity. Gender is not defined by a person’s biology or body. The idea that gender is limited to a binary emerged from European colonization. In many pre-colonial African societies, for example, gender was not a constructed form of social categorization. Washington is the first state in the United States to allow for the birth identification of Gender X, which encompasses a gender that is not exclusively male or female. (Definition from Modern HERstory)
transgenderAlways an adjective used to describe people whose gender identity doesn’t align with their assigned sex at birth. Never use as a noun, for example “the transgenders were banned from the military” should read “transgender people were banned from the military”.
cisgenderAn adjective used to describe people whose gender identities match their assigned sex at birth. The term is Latin and derives from modern chemistry as the opposite of “trans”, meaning “on the same side”. Cisgender or cis is not a slur and is often confused with straight or heterosexual. Cisgender as a term has no relation to sexuality as straight trans people also exist.
transsexualA term which has fallen out of favor within the trans community, though some trans people still use it an identifier to signal that their relation to gender is heavily based on sex or genital physical dysphoria.
non-binary or nonbinaryAn adjective to describe the gender identity of people who fall somewhere in between the masculine and feminine ends of the gender identity spectrum or are completely outside of the gender binary or identify as neither man nor woman.
genderqueerA term some trans people use to describe themselves. Generally genderqueer people strive to incorporate elements of masculinity and femininity together within their gender expression.
gender dysphoriaA clinical term representing the distress felt by someone whose internal sense of their own gender is in conflict with their outwardly visible gender markers
transphobiaAn intense dislike or revulsion towards the existence of trans people. It mainly manifests as a denial of trans autonomy to define our own genders.
transmisiaA more recent term similar to “transphobia” that seeks to destigmatize people with clinically diagnosed phobias.
transmisogynyA term to describe the unique way that society discriminates against trans women for being women with sexism, while also fundamentally denying their womanhood by branding them “really men”.
transitionThe term used to describe the process in which trans people seek to change their gender or gender expression. Often but not necessarily involving medical treatment, a name change, and/or pronoun changes.
trans womanA term to describe someone who was assigned male at birth who has transitioned to female. Rule of thumb: Always attach the trans modifier to a trans person’s destination gender.
trans manA term to describe someone who was assigned female at birth who transitioned to male.
assigned [sex] at birthRather than saying “born male/female” trans people refer to their sex as having been assigned to them by people other than themselves. Birth sex assignments aren’t simply the doctor’s observation at birth but can also refer to the way trans people are systemically forced into socialization based on their birth assigned sex. Often expressed with “AMAB” or “AFAB”.
pronounsIncluding this to note that “preferred pronouns” indicates that trans people’s pronouns are optional, they are not. Trans people’s pronouns are just as valid as cisgender people’s pronouns. They’re not preferred or optional, they are mandatory.
drag queenA person who dons a cross-gender costume for performance purposes. Some drag queens are also trans, but the two terms should not be conflated.
transvestite / crossdresserGenerally used to describe people who have male gender identities who dress in traditionally female clothes, sometimes for sexual gratification. Some trans people may start their gender exploration with crossdressing, but the two concepts should not be conflated
transfeminine / transmasculineAn adjective to describe a broader spectrum of trans identities.
Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS) or Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) or Bottom Surgery or Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS).This term describes surgeries designed to change the genitals of a trans person. Formerly referred to as “sex change surgery”, this procedure has gone through several terms and is constantly in flux.
T.E.R.F. or TERFAn acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. TERFs believe that gender is completely socially induced and that trans women specifically are men who appropriate the female body for themselves. The term TERF is an accurate, neutral representation of this ideology and is not a slur.

An important note
 Important to note that there should always be a space between trans and man/woman. Trans is short for transgender and you wouldn’t write “transgenderwoman” so “transwoman” wouldn’t make sense either. The “transwoman” moniker was invented by transphobic feminists to force trans women into a third sex category separate from womanhood.


Historical Overview

Gender diverse people have existed throughout history. Anthropologists have uncovered cultures who have created space for gender diverse people on every inhabitable continent, including two spirit people in various Native American cultures as well as the Hijra on the Indian subcontinent. The modern interpretation that “there are only two genders” is a relatively recent historical gender philosophy stemming from western biblical notions of sex and gender from the major Abrahamic religions. As such the marginalization of gender diverse people cannot be separated from the history of western colonization.

The origins of more modern trans existence can be traced to Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a German doctor who pioneered the technique for modern Genital Reassignment Surgery for trans women still in use today. Hirschfield also recorded extensive notes on transgender and LGBTQ health care and advocacy at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sexual Research), which he founded in 1919. His entire Berlin work library was destroyed by a Nazi-aligned mob, infamously recorded in photographs of a massive Nazi book burning.

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In the US, crossdressing was illegal until the early 1970’s in many places. The law stated that you must wear a certain number of articles of clothing that corresponded to your birth sex and it was these laws that police would use as cover to raid queer bars and arrest LGBTQ people. The Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco in 1967 were an early stand against these raids that were brought full circle at Stonewall. There a group of trans women of color, drag queens, and lesbians finally took a stand and fought back, forcing police to barricade themselves inside the bar. Every year since the queer community commemorates Stonewall with Pride parades in cities around the world.

Since the 1960’s progress for trans people within western society has been slow but steady and Time Magazine declared a transgender tipping point in 2014, featuring actress and trans woman Laverne Cox on their cover. However, along with increased media attention has come an intense backlash from religious conservatives and radical feminists. Suddenly legislative bills controlling where trans people could use the restroom were introduced across the United States. Additionally, transantagonistic activists have sought to cut off access to transition health care and legal support as well as to remove autonomy from transgender children to access puberty-delaying treatments.

Gender Diversity Today

Gender diverse people currently face many challenges on many fronts. In many countries, it’s still punishable by death to openly defy social gender expectations, while in others trans people are forced into conversion therapy designed to change their innate gender identity. Additionally, there is a global epidemic of violence directed at trans women, who often need to resort to sex work in order to survive.

The most basic change that would help trans women globally is the ability to quickly and seamlessly change the gender and name on their official government ID documents. Without updated IDs, finding regular employment becomes impossible, since the ID itself outs their trans status to employers who might be transphobic. As a result, trans women are forced to either find a boyfriend or partner who will financially support them, or turn to sex work, it’s just simple economics. Another policy change that would help trans women globally would be open borders. With the ability to move to a country that will recognize their transitions and allow document changes, trans women would then be able to pursue careers other than sex work, should they so choose. Though trans rights in western Europe and the United States have made significant progress since the days when crossdressing was illegal, issues are currently in a state of flux as well.

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In the UK, trans people are fighting for an updated Gender Recognition Act, which would allow easier access to changing genders on official government IDs. Debate on the act, however, has kicked off a national moral panic, spearheaded by transphobic radical feminists and their allies in the media.

In the US, trans people face a multitude of issues. Currently, 4 states forbid gender changes on birth certificates entirely, while many others require expensive and invasive surgeries like GRS to be able to change IDs. This dynamic, coupled with a lack of legal housing and employment protections, can leave trans people’s fortunes in the hands of a systemically transphobic housing and employment sector.

As a result, trans people are three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population and are especially at risk for homelessness. Adding in even more intersecting marginalizations makes this situation even worse, with trans women of color suffering worse systemic outcomes, generally.

Historically, transition health care has been mostly inaccessible to many trans people. In 1981, radical feminists partnered with religious conservatives to remove transition coverage from Medicare, and private insurance followed suit. It wasn’t until Obamacare Rule 1557 banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity that private insurance companies and Medicare began offering coverage for procedures like GRS again, a gap of over 25 years. As a result, trans people were forced into funding procedures with their own funds, which again funneled trans women into sex work in order to access the care they needed. Access to transgender health care is absolutely critical for the trans community.

Regardless of the specific issues facing specific trans people, the overarching problem is cisgender society simply doesn’t believe trans people when we define our own gender for ourselves. Just as it was then, forcing trans people into their birth assigned gender in order to access normalcy within society is an act of colonialism. The urge to coerce or define the gender of another person should be resisted at all costs, for gender is an individual matter for everyone and isn’t up for debate.

Additional Resources

The following list of resources and discussion questions on the subject of Gender Diversity:

Whipping Girl – Julia Serano – A book which helped establish the basic concepts of transfeminism.

When examining transmisogynistic discourse, how is femininity itself degraded and scapegoated in the process?

How does oppositional sexism contribute to transmisogyny and transphobia?

The Left’s Long History of Transphobia – The Establishment

Sometimes it’s easy to imagine each side of the political spectrum as completely righteous or completely evil, depending upon your own political views. However, with larger systemic bigotries, it’s rarely clear cut. How can those on the political left start countering transphobic arguments from within.

A Map of Gender Diverse Cultures – PBS

Looking at this map, what was your initial reaction to seeing that historically there has been at least one gender diverse culture on every inhabitable continent?

After seeing the map, how can you incorporate gender diversity into your own efforts to deconstruct colonialism?

Sex redefined – Nature – A breakdown of the science supporting the fact that gender is a spectrum

What are a few ways in which people’s gender can end up outside of the sexed, genetic binary of male and female?

Why is it so important for scientists to explore the murky edges of the defining line between male and female and what does that uncertainty say about commonly held notions of differences between male and female behavior?

I Am Genderqueer (And What the #@%! That Means) – Contrapoints – A very accessible and humorous YouTube video that does a great job explaining a lot of the basic concepts for nonbinary and genderqueer identities.

Contrapoints brings up the fact that in the past she has often invoked femme men as objects of ridicule and disgust, and brings up Rocky Horror and Silence of the Lambs. This depiction is a common popular culture trope, name 3 other movies or TV shows that sought to create a disgusted reaction to transfeminine bodies from the viewing audience.

Contrapoints goes to great lengths to try to counter the commonly held social notions that marginalize genderqueer identities. Why are people generally so resistant to the idea that someone could be neither male or female, or both, or somewhere in between?


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