Gender glossary

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Ryan T. Anderson claimed in February 2018 that transgender rights activists have failed "to offer a plausible definition of gender and gender identity that is independent of bodily sex," instead relying on vague "metaphysics."[1] This mirrors my experience with some opponents of the term "GNU/Linux." So I'll try to clear the air the same way I did for GNU/Linux: by defining the terms as I understand them, as rigorously as I can.


Humans and other vertebrates have two sexes. In theory, half the population are specialized for producing offspring and the other for gathering and defending resources.

Anatomical sex characteristics
Those physical characteristics that ordinarily form a bimodal distribution[2] strongly correlated with the sex chromosome karyotype, which is XX or XY in mammals.
Anatomical sex
How the anatomical sex characteristics manifest in a person's body.
  1. Someone's anatomical sex, especially when contrasted with gender.[3]
  2. Genetic software exchange or other genital contact.
Having anatomy well between the male and female modes.
Sex assigned at birth
Birth sex
A medical professional's assessment of to which mode the person's anatomy was closest as a newborn.


"Gender" originally meant only agreement classes of nouns and pronouns in grammar, which in many languages are correlated with the referent's sex. As feminist theory developed, writers extended the term to describe what society considers masculine or feminine. (Some other writers misunderstood it as a euphemism for "sex" to avoid the "software exchange" meaning.)

Gender stereotype
A culture's association of particular aspects of personality and expression with a particular sex assigned at birth.
Gender identity
A person's self-assessment of how their personality aligns with the culture's stereotypes.
Gender expression
The sex that an observer would assign based on comparing a person's name, voice, clothing, and other aspects expression alone, as opposed to anatomy, to the culture's stereotypes.
Cisgender (cis)
Having gender identity matching birth sex.
Transgender (trans)
Having gender identity opposing birth sex.
Transition care
Health care intended to align a person's gender expression with their gender identity.
Gender binary
A culture's expectation that a person ought not to mix aspects of personality and expression that belong to the two genders.
Having gender identity or expression between the masculine and feminine norms.
Having gender identity or expression that varies from matching one gender stereotype to the other over time.
A person, usually cis, whose clothes and other outward appearance align with the opposite gender stereotype. This can be a slightly genderfluid person or a person challenging trouser tyranny or other aspects of the gender binary.
Not identifying as a man or a woman
Gender questioning
Someone trying different gender expressions in order to become more certain of their gender identity.
The most common English-language pronoun used to refer to a person of unknown gender or to a nonbinary person. Its verb agreement is identical to that of the plural pronoun they: the plain form (not -s form) in the present, and were (not was) in the past tense of be.
To refer to a person in a way that clashes with the person's gender expression, such as by using the wrong pronoun.

One harmful stereotype in many cultures is that those who appear capable of bearing children ought to be passive and submissive in order to allow males to exploit their reproductive and domestic labor. Society punishes those who do not conform to gender stereotypes, but females who conform are also punished for conforming by the fact that what they conform to often amounts to an inability to assert human rights.[4] Thus stereotypes imply a hierarchy: those in the privileged category on top, those in the marginalized category on the bottom,[5] and those not conforming to their society-ordained station below even that.

Some older terms are no longer used often:

Transgender and seeking or receiving transition care.
  1. FamiTracker module, a file format for chiptunes.
  2. A trans man, that is, someone with masculine identity and expression who was assigned female at birth.


Separate from gender identity is sexual orientation ("whom you love").

The anatomy, gender identity, or gender expression that a person prefers in a romantic or sexual partner.
Preferring a romantic or sexual partner of the same sex or gender as oneself.
Heterosexual (het)
Preferring a romantic or sexual partner of the opposite sex or gender to oneself.
The combination of cisgender and heterosexuality, which have represented a privileged group for over the past millennium of Western history.

One popular illustration summarizing the difference among anatomy, birth sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation is "The Genderbread Person" by Sam Killermann.


Near the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the medical community took notice of gender.

Gender dysphoria (GD)
Distress based on mismatch between birth sex and gender identity that seriously interferes with a person's life.
Real-life experience (RLE)
A trial of consistent public expression of a different presentation for several months to determine whether a permanent transition would be effective in treating dysphoria. Said of a transition to the opposite gender.
Gender transition
A treatment for gender dysphoria by allowing a trans person to consistently live in accordance with their gender identity, not their birth sex.
Conversion therapy
An attempt to treat gender dysphoria by changing a trans person's personality to match the stereotype associated with their birth sex, or to treat homosexuality by changing a gay person's orientation to het. This is often done by instilling shame in a person over their personality.
Gender-affirming surgery
Sex reassignment surgery (SRS)
A procedure to treat gender dysphoria by modifying the person's anatomy. Generally the last stage of transition.
A child raised by their parents in a gender-neutral manner in order to make the child's transition from nonbinary to another gender identity less jarring. For example, parents buy both technology toys and parenting toys for their theybies. (Blend of singular "they" and "baby")

Over the years, transition has produced better mental health outcomes than shoehorning them into the opposite expression. If this is metaphysical, then perhaps metaphysics is the most effective model of the effects of gender stereotypes on mental health.

Having a mismatch between a person's limbs and senses and their sensorimotor map.
Body integrity dysphoria (BID)
Body integrity identity disorder (BIID)
Distress based on being transabled that seriously interferes with a person's life.
Synonym for RLE in a transabled person, such as full-time use of crutches or a wheelchair.

Anderson's article also compares transgender people to transabled people. These people want to lose a limb or a sense in order to feel whole. For the few transabled people who have undergone an affirming amputation, the procedure has proven effective in treating their BID. Incidentally, The Bible records in Mark 9:43-48 that Jesus of Nazareth recommended affirming surgery.

TERF wars

Bigotry against trans people.
Bigotry against trans people rooted in anxiety.
Bigotry against gay people rooted in anxiety.

Some writers prefer not to use the terms "homophobia" and "transphobia" because they see bigotry as separate from anxiety disorders.[6] I have, however, identified three fears that may underlie bigotry against trans people:

Opportunity cost
Fear that the government will take money away from programs that benefit you to fund transition-related health care for transgender citizens, such as real life experience counseling, hormones, and top and bottom surgery.
Fear that a man will falsely claim to be a trans woman in order to gain access to the women's shelter where your daughter is staying and assault the women there. This has happened in a small number of cases, such as that of Jessica (née Christopher) Hambrook in Toronto, but most of these cases involve people who were already convicted sex offenders in the first place.[7]
Slippery slope
Fear that once the culture enforces equal protection of transgender people, it'll be easier to begin to enforce tolerance of transitions in other aspects of identity, such as transabled, otherkin, or trans-age.

Thus some people continue to classify trans people by their birth sex, not their overall gender expression, and don't feel obligated to play along with what they see as "roleplaying." But one can make a utilitarian argument to tolerate gender transition: Allowing trans people to consistently "roleplay" as their gender identity produces better mental health outcomes than forcing them into a gender expression inconsistent with their personality.

Given the demonstrated ineffectiveness of conversion therapy, this leaves two ways to treat gender dysphoria. Trans rights advocates prefer expanding availability of transition, which has proven effective over the years. The other, less proven way is to erase gender stereotypes from the culture, so that expectations of personality and expression are no longer coupled to a birth sex. Some opponents of trans rights, who call themselves gender-critical feminists but are more widely known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), believe that eradicating the patriarchy that supports gender stereotypes is a better idea in the long run. They claim that abolishing gender saves the cost associated with transition, it better accommodates nonbinary people, and it removes an excuse that a very small number of men have used to assault women and girls. However, as Max Planck observed, culture advances one funeral at a time. It takes several generations to erode a stereotype, and TERFs have offered few if any viable options for the present generation of transgender people.

Transition... Eroding stereotypes... Why not both?


  1. Ryan T. Anderson. "Transgender Ideology Is Riddled With Contradictions. Here Are the Big Ones." The Heritage Foundation, 2018-02-09. Accessed 2019-12-26.
  2. Jesse Singal. "Why So Many Progressives Are Arguing That Biological Sex Doesn't Exist". Singal-Minded, 2019-04-03. Accessed 2019-12-26.
  3. Kasandra Brabaw. "54 Gender Identity Terms Every Ally Should Know". Refinery29, 2019-05-31. Accessed 2019-12-28.
  4. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. "Gender". Sex and Gender: A Beginner's Guide, 2015. Accessed 2019-12-26.
  5. Marina S. "What gender is and what gender isn't". It's Not a Zero Sum Game, 2014-02-17. Accessed 2019-12-26.
  6. Richard Stallman. "Anti-Glossary". Accessed 2019-12-28.
  7. Callie Wright. "An Exhaustive Ally’s Guide to the Bathroom Debate: Part 1". Queersplaining, 2018-01-17. Accessed 2019-12-29.