Greetings! Once again, I’m Cal (he, they, ze/hir), and this time around I’m going to talk about gender terminology and pronouns.
Gender vs. Sex: In case you didn’t remember, a person’s sex is the genitalia they have — this can be penis and testes, vagina and ovaries, or a combination of those. A person is described as intersex if they do not fit into one of two categories: penises and related anatomy/chromosomes/hormones, or vaginas and related anatomy/chromosomes/hormones. Intersex individuals can have many combinations of genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, and chromosomes.
A person’s gender, on the other hand, is how someone feels. If sex is someone’s body, then gender is their brain. Although most people have the same birth sex as their gender — meaning, if they were born with a penis they probably identify as male — sex and gender do not need to be the same. The people whose birth sex and gender are the same, which, statistically, is most people, are what’s called cisgender or cis, for short. People whose birth sex and gender are not the same are transgender or trans, for short.
Many transgender individuals are in the binary, meaning they identify specifically with the labels male or female. FtM and MtF refer to, respectively, female to male and male to female transgender individuals. I personally discourage the use of the terms “FtM” or “MtF” because they acknowledge the birth sex of a transgender individual, which is not necessary. Terms like FtM and MtF were made for the comfort and convenience of cisgender people, who sometimes cannot imagine the existence of a transgender person without knowing what sex they were assigned at birth. Instead, if you for some reason need to clarify that a person is trans, you can say transmasculine or transfeminine, which includes binary genders.
It’s also important to use terminology to describe body parts rather than gender, especially when you’re talking about a demographic or group of people. If you want to refer to a non-binary person, rather than calling them a “man” or a “woman,” you could call them an enby, which means a non-binary individual. Enby is the spelled-out version of the letters “NB,” which is short for non-binary. Additionally, many non-binary people use the title Mx., which is an alternative to Mr. or Ms. Though a lot of non-binary people do like the terminology enby or Mx., it’s always best to ask an individual how they want to be referred to in order to make them as comfortable as possible.
Other people who are transgender may identify as a combination of male and female, somewhere in between, completely out of the binary, or something else entirely! Gender is not set in stone, and there are an infinite number of genders because people can each feel their gender differently — or feel as though they don’t have a gender at all (like agender or gendervoid individuals). Trans individuals who don’t identify specifically as male or female often identify as non-binary.
Pronouns: And now for gender pronouns! Almost everyone uses them, though I do know an individual who has no pronouns, and just goes by that person’s name. The common pronouns you’ve heard of are he/him, they/them, and she/her, but there are many gender-neutral pronouns that people have come up with, called neopronouns. An example of neopronouns is one of the sets that I use, ze/hir/hirs pronouns.
There are also individuals who use “nounself” pronouns, which involves taking nouns and turning them into gender-expansive pronouns. This often goes with concepts that are unrelated to gender but could pertain to nature, technology, or anything else. An example is if a person who liked fairies/faeries wanted to use fae/faer pronouns, and wanted people to refer to fae like that. This could also be if fae felt faer gender similarly to how fae pictures fairies. Many neopronouns or nounself pronouns, as well as many terms for gender and sexual identities in general, were coined on tumblr, so if you’re ever looking for inspirations for a descriptor that fits you, tumblr is a good place to check out.
Coming out: There are several important things to keep in mind, no matter if you’re the person coming out to someone else or if someone is coming out to you. The most important thing is that safety should always be your top priority. If you want to come out to a parent or a friend whom you know is very conservative or not accepting of queer individuals, you have to weigh the pros and cons. Maybe you decide to come out to some people and not everyone.
The second thing is that it is never, under any circumstances, all right to ‘out’ somebody. This goes for gender and sexuality. Outing someone means telling other people that someone is trans or queer if that person told you. Just because they’re out to you, doesn’t mean they’re out to everyone, so if somebody confides in you, keep the information private. You can also ask the person if they are out to everybody else, or about any specific people they don’t want to be out to (possibly for safety reasons). And even if you don’t like somebody, it is never okay to misgender them on purpose, or to not correct yourself if you make a mistake with pronouns.
One last thing to keep in mind is that if you accidentally mess up someone’s pronouns, the very best thing to do is quickly correct yourself, move on, and not bring it up again. If you apologize over and over again, or even bring it up at a later time to apologize, it puts the emphasis on the person whose pronouns you got wrong, which can be uncomfortable and upsetting for them. If you apologize, the standard is that the other person has to say, “It’s okay,” which they should never have to say when someone gets their pronouns wrong.
And that’s all for now! I hope you learned a little something, and feel free to share this with your friends and family. Best wishes to all of you!
By Cal (he/him, they/them, ze/hir)
Tags: gender, pronouns, transgender, gender-expansive
This post was reviewed and approved by a medical professional, Catherine S. Lee, MD.