New Terms in Our Community
Crossdresser (CD), Transvestite, Transsexual, Transgender (T).
Some of these words have only been brought into general use over the last 30-40 years; first by our communities, then by the media, then by the public in everyday speech or general reference.
And just when you thought you were getting used to them, new words have started coming into more common use. These words strive to provide vocabulary to communicate more of the varied, different shades of people who live together under the LGBTQA banner.
Some people do not want to be labelled or prefer not to use labels. Yet, for other people, new adjectives and terminology help them to more accurately express their experiences and identities.
Now, language always evolves and it’s not just our community that’s full of newer words being brought into every day speech. The general vocabulary of day-to-day life is continually expanding as well—with “selfie” or “faxed” or “googled.” Of course, at the same time, some words are being discarded or dropped, due to changing cultural preferences.
Yet with the advent of increased communication, thanks to the ways we are all hooked up to each other via the internet and social media—able to find out in a microsecond what’s happening in northern California or southern China or almost wherever we choose—a multitude of different people are finding each other and forming communities that we may never have heard about before.
With the confidence and connectivity of such people to find others like themselves, we suddenly have new groups. These new groups of people need names and labels and words to describe their experiences. Although there seems to be a bit of overlap between some of the terms to describe different people, this allows many people to find a vocabulary that before had been more limited.
The list of newer words used in our LGBTQA community can be long, but here are a few examples:
Non-binary: This is used as an umbrella term to describe people who don’t identify within the binary category of “man” or “woman.” A person described as non-binary does not fit neatly into either a typical male or female compartment. Just like binary numbers refer to 1 and 0, our culture often divides things into either/or concepts. Non-binary people fit somewhere outside the usual gender binary constraints.
Genderfluid: This refers to someone who may one day (or sometimes) present as a woman and one day present as a man depending upon their mood or feelings. In short, they can comfortably move between gender presentation without necessarily feeling that they are one particular gender (or one gender more than the other). Accordingly, they may not fully present as either male or female, but enjoy the ability to present partly as either.
Gender Nonconforming: Quite simply, this is someone who does not conform to the stereotypical view of how a man or woman should present. A person who is gender nonconforming may not necessarily be trans or non-binary and may identify with the gender assigned at birth, but their gender presentation does not fit cultural stereotypes. For example, a woman wearing a three-piece suit or a man in a dress.
Genderqueer: This is an example of a non-binary identity. Genderqueer people do not identify as either a man or a woman. There is no attempt to present as a member of the “opposite” gender as a trans man or trans woman might, as genderqueer people do not identify as either men or women. The word genderqueer was first coined and used in 1995, in the sense of “queering” gender by defying gender expectations, gender stereotypes, and the gender binary itself.
Two spirit: Historically, some native populations believed certain people who displayed both male and female characteristics were special or gifted. In fact, some cultures still do. However, with the advent of western influences, some negativity had been brought to bear about two/dual spirit people. Many non-Western cultures do not have the same conceptualization of gender, and two spirit is an example of this. However, this term is an identity belonging to a specific culture. Though many trans and non-binary people possess characteristics of more than one gender, non-native and non-indigenous people should not identify as two spirit out of respect to their culture.
Agender: This is another identity that falls under the non-binary umbrella. An agender person identifies with no gender or is genderless. There are many non-binary people do identify strongly with their gender—it’s just that their gender isn’t “man” or “woman.” Agender people, on the other hand, do not identify strongly with any gender. Someone who is agender may feel genderless, gender neutral, or without gender.
Cisgender: This is the opposite of transgender; it refers to someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. A majority of the people we meet in our day-to-day lives are cisgender. When we’re born, they say “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.” But, as we all know, there are many of us who grow up to feel differently. We may feel that we’re a girl rather than a boy, or that we’re sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl, or that we’re something different than those two categories entirely. For cisgender people, however, this isn’t the case. Their gender identity exactly matches how they were born.
The evolution of words in our language will continue. In a few years, we’ll almost certainly have more new words alongside the vocabulary we already have, while some terms may lessen in use.
As our culture continues to expand in its understanding of gender and gender presentation, our vocabulary will also continue to expand to reflect and describe these many experiences of gender.
Naturally, we all have our own favorites, preferences, or terms that most strongly resonate with us. New terms can be confusing to some, but gender itself is often confusing. As many of us know, it can be hard to understand ourselves! Are we CD or TS, TV or TG? Maybe you’ve found the perfect “fit,” maybe you waver between terms, or maybe you feel that none of them fit just right.
All of these terms—and many more of them—are here to help us understand ourselves and connect to others. I’m sure many of you can remember the excitement of finding a word that meant you weren’t the only one. These terms—both old and new—exist to give us voice, to validate our experiences and existence, and to challenge the idea that everyone fits neatly into just “man” or “woman.”