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Media Savvy: Don’t Insult Me!: A Glossary of terms

May 29th, 2012     by Sandra Jeppesen     Comments

Note: This is a glossary of terms used in the Media Savvy column “Don’t Insult Me!”, published in our Spring 2012 issue. You can read the full column in the print version of our Spring 2012 issue—purchase an individual copy or subscribe to receive future issues in the mail!

For people who might find these terms to be confusing, here is a quick summary:

  • Sex is about a person’s physical body (genitalia, hormones, etc.), e.g. male, female, intersex, etc.
  • Gender is socially constructed, in other words, the way we present ourselves to the world, be it masculine or feminine, transgender, cisgender, genderqueer, etc. Some people think that sex is socially constructed, and that we shouldn’t separate sex from gender; others think they are two distinct things—sex is between your legs, and gender is in your head.
  • Sexuality is about a person’s object of desire when hooking up e.g. homosexuality, bisexuality or heterosexuality—though these terms are not always useful for trans people. What does it mean to say a trans man is homosexual, for example? Does that mean they have sex only with other trans men? And do they have to be ‘the same’ in terms of exactly where they are in transitioning? When genders and sexes are multiple, then bi-homo-hetero-sexuality are not helpful terms.
  • Transgender means that you identify with a gender that does not correspond to the sex you were assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender means that you identify with a gender that corresponds with the sex you were assigned at birth.
  • Cissex means that you are the bodily sex you were assigned at birth.
  • Transsexual means that you are somewhere in the process of transitioning by physically changing your body, e.g. breast reductions, sex reassignment surgery (SRS), etc.
  • Genderqueer means that you reject the gender binary, and might use the pronoun ‘they’.
  • Trans people may be FTM (female to male), MTF (male to female) or gender queer (among others), and often the first step is to change names and pronouns.


p>These terms, while in use today, are in a constant state of flux, as they are inadequate to describe the real complexities of sex and gender. For example, ten years ago or so, people would say bio-boy, but there was an implicit privileging of the biological—biological determinism—so people stopped using this term and invented the more specific terms cissex and cisgender to replace it. Another example is that some people use the term transphobic but it has been critiqued for implying there is a valid psychological reason to have a phobia or fear of trans people. Some people now use the term cissexist, meaning there is a problematic assumed privileging of cisgendered or cissexed people. I have also noticed that people use the term ‘trans’ rather than ‘trans person’ increasingly.


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