Trans-Parenting Podcast Episode 1: Gender Terminology 101

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 | 0 comments

Welcome to the very first episode of the new Trans-Parenting Podcast. On the first episode, we cover a lot of the gender definitions that we will be using in future episodes. It’s Trans Terminology 101!

The Show Notes are here as a helpful quick-glance guide. I cover much more about each item in the show. Be sure to listen.


Episode 1 Show Notes:

Biological or Anatomical Sex. This is the physical structure of one’s reproductive organs that is used to assign sex at birth. Biological sex is determined by chromosomes, gonads, and hormones. Most of the time, these combinations will result in someone in typically male or female configurations. Standard practice is for a doctor to glance at a newborn’s genitals and declare the biological sex, which is then recorded on identity documents and becomes what we call their “sex assigned at birth.”

I’d like to note here that chromosomes denote sex, not gender. And because a lot of people will get hung up on chromosomes, I’ll also point out that there are dozens of variations of chromosomes and not just the XX and XY combos we normally think about. This includes people with only a single sex chromosome (the X or the Y), men who are XX, women who are XY, people who are XXY, XYY, XXXY, XYYY, and more. Some of these variations create intersex conditions with genital or physical differences that can be seen, but not all do. Unless you have your karyotype tested, you actually don’t know what your chromosomes, or anyone else’s, are.

Core Gender Identity is one’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither — how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years.

Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex. Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity.

Gender Expression refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation. Gender expression also works the other way as people assign gender to others based on their appearance, mannerisms, and other gendered characteristics. This is where dress codes can end up being problematic. Not everyone conforms to our expected social norms of gender expression.

Gender Roles further complicate things. This is the set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: Masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). An example of gender roles, and how they can change over time, is that it used to be standard for men to become doctors and women to become nurses, but now those roles aren’t so limited.

It’s important to note that Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Gender Roles are all independent of each other and none have to line up. A person can have a female gender identity, wear masculine clothes, and be interested in both make-up artistry and car engine mechanics. Everywhere you look, you can find examples of people who don’t fit our stereotypes of identity, expression, and roles.

Now we get to Transgender. Transgender is sometimes used as an umbrella to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex. One way people differentiate themselves from the umbrella term is to shorten it and call themselves trans.  A transgender woman or trans woman is a person who identifies as a a woman but who was assigned male at birth. A transgender man or trans man is a person who identifies as a man but who was assigned female at birth. “Cisgender” is not a very commonly used phrase but it’s one you may hear. “Trans” means across in Latin, so a transgender person has a gender that is across the binary from their biological sex. “Cis” means “same” in Latin, so a cisgender person has a gender that is the same, or is congruent, with his or her biological sex.

Transition refers to the process of changing over to the other gender. It starts with a ‘Social Transition’ which involves changing one’s outward appearance to better align with the internal Gender Identity; Clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms, name, pronouns, etc. If the person is old enough, there can be a ‘Medical Transition’ which may involve hormones and surgeries. Not all trans people get surgery due to financial issues, health problems, dissatisfaction with options available, or other personal decisions.

Gender Non-Conformity. People who are gender non-conforming break some of our social rules about expression and roles, and they may even say they “wish” they were the opposite gender. But there is a huge difference between not conforming to certain gender rules and having an internal identity that is not in alignment with one’s biological sex.

Passing refers to being seen as one’s affirmed gender with no one else being able to tell it is different from one’s anatomical sex. Stealth means hiding, or simply not announcing, one’s trans status after having transitioned.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we also need to talk about people who don’t neatly fit into the gender binary. The Gender Binary is exactly what it sounds like: two sides, male and female. But just as people can break binary gender expression rules and break binary gender roles, some people don’t fit into one of two gender identity boxes.

There are many variations of this. Gender fluid, gender queer, and agender identities also exist.

Gender queer is a term that refers to people who don’t fit the binary, who combine masculine and feminine traits. Boy George is an old-school example. Gender queer people are often gay males who have a feminine gender expression. Agender refers to someone who doesn’t relate to gender much at all. A more familiar and related term would be androgynous, where a person’s gender expression doesn’t offer many clues to what gender they are.

Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid children do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of girls or boys. In other words, a child may feel they are a girl some days and a boy on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately.

Gender Dysphoria is a medical diagnosis. It is not the same as gender non-conformity. A person whose gender assigned at birth (in other words, their biological sex as determined by a quick peek at their genitals) is contrary to the one they identify with will be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition. For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between his or her expressed gender and the gender assigned at birth for at least six months. Not every trans person experiences this level of distress, especially if they are younger and have accepting families. The distress is often caused by their mistreatment by others over their gender identity.


Be sure to listen to the entire show, because we cover all of these definitions in more detail!


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