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." 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
- Physical characteristics that form a bimodal distribution 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.
- 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 outward expression, such as name, voice, and dress, to the culture's stereotypes.
- An adult human who consistently seeks to express herself the way her culture perceives a woman.
- An adult human who consistently seeks to express himself the way his culture perceives a man.
- 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 discouragement of mixing 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. Thus stereotypes imply a hierarchy: those in the privileged category on top, those in the marginalized category on the bottom, 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.
- FamiTracker module, a file format for chiptunes.
- 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.
- Preferring a romantic or sexual partner of any gender.
- Preferring a romantic or sexual partner who is a man or woman. (Older term predating awareness of nonbinary people.)
- 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.
- Gender transition
- A treatment for gender dysphoria or subdysphoric gender discomfort by allowing a trans person to consistently live in accordance with their gender identity, not their birth sex.
- 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. Considered the first stage of a transition to the opposite gender.
- 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.
- Bigotry against trans people.
- Bigotry against trans people rooted in anxiety.
- Bigotry against gay people rooted in anxiety.
- The claim that brain structures form enough of an anatomical sex characteristic to contribute more to personality than culture does.
- The claim that a person who has undergone RLE and HRT but does not desire surgery is not truly trans but instead has hypochondria, when used to gatekeep transition. (After Dr. Harry Benjamin, a pioneer in transgender sexology and gerontology. Benjamin contributed much to the understanding of transgender during his life, but some of his conclusions have been debunked since his death in 1986 and have since become used to gatekeep transition.)
- Cis scum
- One or more cissexist people.
- One who claims that a person cannot be truly trans without it causing dysphoria (clinically significant distress).
Some writers prefer not to use the terms "homophobia" and "transphobia" because they see bigotry as separate from anxiety disorders. 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.
- 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?
- Ryan T. Anderson. "Transgender Ideology Is Riddled With Contradictions. Here Are the Big Ones." The Heritage Foundation, 2018-02-09. Accessed 2019-12-26.
- Jesse Singal. "Why So Many Progressives Are Arguing That Biological Sex Doesn't Exist". Singal-Minded, 2019-04-03. Accessed 2019-12-26.
- Kasandra Brabaw. "54 Gender Identity Terms Every Ally Should Know". Refinery29, 2019-05-31. Accessed 2019-12-28.
- Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. "Gender". Sex and Gender: A Beginner's Guide, 2015. Accessed 2019-12-26.
- Marina S. "What gender is and what gender isn't". It's Not a Zero Sum Game, 2014-02-17. Accessed 2019-12-26.
- Richard Stallman. "Anti-Glossary". Accessed 2019-12-28.
- Callie Wright. "An Exhaustive Ally’s Guide to the Bathroom Debate: Part 1". Queersplaining, 2018-01-17. Accessed 2019-12-29.