HeatherN offers Part 2 of the “Queer Dictionary” to help understand the terminology surrounding sexuality and gender.
Yesterday we covered the basics of sexual orientation and identity. Today we will delve into the not-so-mysterious world of gender identity and biological sex. Really, it’s a lot simpler than you might think. So climb into your comfy clothes, put up your feet, and let’s get started.
Again in dictionary form, and again totally not in alphabetical order:
Biological Sex: A medical diagnosis made at birth based on anatomical features and chromosomes.
Intersex: From ISNA: Something of an umbrella term used for people born with reproductive anatomy and/or chromosomes that do not fit into typical definitions of ‘male’ and ‘female.’ Exactly where ‘female’ ends and ‘intersex’ begins, and where ‘male’ ends and ‘intersex’ begins is somewhat debatable, particularly because humans decide where the boundaries of these categories start and end. The term ‘hermaphrodite’ used to be used to describe intersex people. However, that is a problematic term. For one thing, ‘hermaphrodite’ implies that someone is both fully male and fully female, and that is inaccurate. For another thing, it’s a highly stigmatized term. So don’t use it. There’s a reason it’s ‘I’ in LGBTIQ, not ‘H.’
Male: The biological sex that is capable of producing sperm, although the ability of an individual to produce sperm is not necessary to be considered male. This is also determined by having certain anatomical features, such as male reproductive organs. However, a male who has had his reproductive organs removed is still considered male. This is also determined by having an XY sex chromosome (instead of an XX chromosome). However, sometimes an individual will have an XY chromosome and also have anatomical features that do not conform completely into the definition of ‘male.’
Female: The biological sex that is capable of producing ova, although the ability of an individual to produce ova is not necessary to be considered female. This is also determined by having certain anatomical features, such as female reproductive organs. However, a female who has had her reproductive organs removed is still considered female. This is also determined by having an XX sex chromosome (instead of an XY chromosome). However, sometimes an individual will have an XX chromosome and also have anatomical features that do not conform completely into the definition of ‘female.’
Gender Identity/Expression: This is an individual’s personal, private, and subjective sense of, and experience of their gender. (Gender: The physical and behavioural characteristics that a society associates with biological sex).
Transgender: An umbrella term used to describe anyone who identifies with a gender other than the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans* is another term used to describe this. Yes, that asterisk is there on purpose. It’s meant to be an all-encompassing symbol that includes transsexual and transvestite, genderqueer, etc.
Transvestite: Someone who wears clothing usually associated with a different gender than the one they self-identify as. That’s it, really. If you’re into British stand-up I can provide you with a great example: Eddie Izzard. He’s a cis-man; he just likes wearing a frock every once in a while.
Drag Queen: Now you might be wondering, what’s the difference between a transvestite and a drag queen? (No, this isn’t the setup for some inappropriate joke). Firstly, drag queens are often men who perform as women. Secondly, drag queens often identify as gay men, though not always. (Side note: Drag Kings are women who dress as men for the purposes of entertainment). If you’ve seen Priscilla, Queen of the Desert then you saw drag queens. Guy Pierce and Hugo Weaving play drag queens, and damn good ones. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it; right now. I’ll wait.
Faux Queen/King: If you’re back from the awesomeness that is Priscilla, I’ve got something that’ll really take a minute to wrap your head around. Faux queens are cis-women who dress like drag queens and faux kings are cis-men who dress like drag kings. So back to Priscilla, if Guy Pierce and Hugo Weaving’s characters were actually cis-women, they’d be faux queens. (Incidentally, don’t worry about my use of cis-men and cis-women. I’ll totally explain that at the end).
Transsexual: An individual who identifies with the opposite gender they were assigned at birth. These are people who have either gone through the process of transitioning or want to go through the process of transitioning but have not yet started. (Don’t freak out, I explain transitioning below). To go back to Priscilla, Terence Stamp’s character is transsexual.
Transitioning: This is the process of changing a person’s gender presentation with their internal gender identity. This can include sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy, though neither of these is necessary to be considered transitioning.
Transman/Transwoman: A transman is a female-to-male transgender person and a transwoman is a male-to-female transgender person. So a transsexual person who is transitioning or has transitioned from female to male is a transman. The key is to remember that whether you use “man” or “woman” at the end of the word is determined by the gender that the individual identifies with, not the gender they were assigned at birth. And really, that makes sense. I mean, how would you like it if someone insisted on identifying you as the wrong gender? Not too much, I bet.
Genderqueer: Aka Queergender (depending on whether you’re a noun-first or adjective-first. I’m a noun-first type of person, myself). This is something of an umbrella term for people who toss the entire gender binary out the window. Sometimes people identify as genderqueer as a way to basically say they do not put a label on their gender. Other genderqueer people identify with a specific gender, such as third gender or bigender, but are still genderqueer in that they reject the gender binary (i.e. the system that says men and women are the opposites and the only genders available).
Third Gender: Now if you’re from the west, you’re probably wondering what the heck this even means. If you’re from any number of other cultures, you’ll recognize this really quickly. Basically, a lot of other cultures have created gender systems which have three genders (whereas the west mostly has two, men and women). So there are people who identify with one of these gender identities. Often these people are referred to in western culture as Two-Spirit, after the Native American third gender.
Bigender/Pangender: A bigender person is someone who identifies as both a man and a woman, and a pangender person is someone who identifies as a man and a woman and also third gender. Whereas someone who identifies as queergender identifies as existing totally outside the gender binary, someone who identifies as bigender encompasses the entirety of the gender binary.
Questioning: I bet you’re glad to see a term that is pretty self-explanatory and straightforward. This refers to someone who is questioning their gender identity.
Cis-gender: And now we’re back to the proper terminology. Cis-gender refers to someone whose individual gender identity matches up with their assigned gender identity at birth. If society perceives you as a woman (from birth) and you identify as a woman, then you are a cis-woman. Similarly, if everyone perceives you as a man (from birth) and you identify as a man, then you are a cis-man. I’m including this for the same reason I included “straight” and “monogamy” in part one. Also, though, I think it’s good for people to understand that even if you fit in the norm, your gender identity is still socially constructed, and it has a label.
And thus, with the explanation of cis-gender, concludes our brief discussion of human gender identity and biological sex. Now this one, I really could just go on and on explaining the nuance of different identities and the history of different terms that have been used to describe these identities. However, as this is an article and not some academic paper, I’ll save you the trouble of reading all of that. These are some good basics to introduce you to just how diverse human gender identity and biological sex really is. Well I’m off to go watch Priscilla, and you should too. Catch you on the flip side.
Tomorrow concludes this series, and I’ll have a doozey for you, I’m sure. I’ll be explaining all the different miscellaneous terms used in queer theory, including a term near and dear to my heart: “heteronormativity.”
Image of brightly colored people courtesy of Shutterstock