The Body Agency and The Body Agency Collective
Developed by Amherst College Queer Resource Center, shared with TBA and TBAC (2021)
Terminology is important. The words we use, and how we use them, can be very powerful. Knowing and understanding the meaning of the words we use improves communication and helps prevent misunderstandings. The following terms are not absolutely-defined. Rather, they provide a starting point for conversations. New language and terms emerge as our understanding of these topics changes and evolves. As always, listening is the key to understanding.
Accomplice: A term coined by Indigenous Action Network to critique the ways in which “ally” as an identity term has been deployed absent of action, accountability, or risk-taking. There has been some critique of this term because of its association with criminality when many marginalized communities are viewed as already, always criminal.
AFAB: An abbreviation for “assigned-female-at-birth,” a term frequently used, often by the transmasculine community, as a self-descriptor. “Assigned-at-birth” serves to imply that sex is without the agency of the individual.
AMAB: An abbreviation for “assigned-male-at-birth,” a term frequently used, often by the transfeminine community, as a self-descriptor. “Assigned-at-birth” serves to imply that sex is without the agency of the individual.
Ally: See Allyship.
Allyship: the lifelong process of building relationships with marginalized communities to which one does not belong. This is a practice of showing up, working in solidarity with, and centering the needs and voices of marginalized groups. This work should be done as directed by those communities. These efforts can only be named as allyship by the marginalized group. To be acting in allyship means that you are actively working to dismantle structures of oppression. See Accomplice for more information.
Androgyny: Displaying physical and social characteristics identified in this culture as both feminine and masculine.
Aromantic: A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction. Aromantic people may or may not experience sexual attraction, which is unrelated to their aromantic identity. There is considerable diversity among the aromantic community; each aromantic person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Some identities that fall under the “aro” umbrella do experience varying amounts of romantic attraction, such as demi-romantics and grey-romantics.
Asexual: A person who experiences little or no sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, an action that people choose, asexuality is a sexual identity. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Some identities that fall under the “ace” umbrella do experience varying amounts of sexual attraction, such as demisexuals and grey-asexuals.
Assigned Sex: The sex recorded on a person’s birth certificate. A person’s assigned sex is generally determined by a cursory visual inspection of an infant’s external genitalia and may or may not be congruent with the person’s gender identity or with other biological markers of sex such as chromosomes and internal reproductive structures.
Biphobia/Binegativity: a myriad of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes ranging from hatred, discomfort, fear, erasure, violence against/towards people who identify or are perceived as bisexual, non-monosexual, etc., that manifest interpersonally, institutionally, and systemically. The spectra of this particular form of violence impact folks across various identities within the LGBTQ+ community due to perceive proximity by outside aggressor, and by those within the community. E.g. assuming someone who identifies as bisexual is just in a phase and will eventually choose the kind of gender they’re attracted to.
Bisexual/Bi: a identity term that most often refers to a person who is attracted to people of multiple genders. Many folk often denote men and women, but not always. Some folks may define Bisexulity as being sexually attracted to those of similar or different gender. Some may also understand Bisexuality as an umbrella term representing a number of sexual identity that represent experiences of being sexually attracted to more than one gender. Also commonly shortened to Bi. Those who use this term to describe their experience may or may not also use it to denote their romantic attraction.
Boi: A term first coined to describe masculine presenting queer black women whose gender presentation can be more fluid and/or androgynous than completely masculine. Purposely coined to be different than stud/ag because of the rigid conformity to masculinity in those communities. (Definition courtesy of Babyface Card)
Butch: An identity term often used to by queer women, particularly by lesbians, who express themselves in masculine ways. Some consider butch to be its own gender identity. While an identity term to some, it can be used as a pejorative.
Camp: In queer and trans circles, people (especially gay men) may be described as “camp” or “campy” if they behave in a manner that exaggerates gay mannerisms or stereotypes. Such exaggeration is often powerful in its ability to reveal the absurdity of gender expectations.
Chosen name: a first and/or second name someone chooses to represent themselves, often tied to their gender identity and/or is in line with their personal desired presentation of self.
Cisgender: Having a gender identity that aligns with the sex one was assigned at birth. Often shortened to “cis,” which is pronounced “sis.” The use of "cisgender" rather than "normal," or even "not transgender" draws attention to the system that marks transgender people as "other."
Cis-heteronormativity: pervasive system of belief (on an individual, systemic, and ideological level) that being cisgender and hetersexual (straight), and associated ways of being in the world (life-path, material desires, family/kinship structures, political/social goals, etc.) are the default, and “normal.”
Cissexism/Cisnormativity: The system of oppression that values and privileges cisgender people, upholds the gender binary, and marginalizes, oppresses, and makes invisible the lives and experiences of transgender and nonbinary people.
Closeted/In the Closet: The confining state of being secretive about one’s true gender identity and/or sexual identity. A person may feel compelled to be closeted in order to keep a job, housing situation, family/friends, or to stay safe. Many queer and trans individuals are “out” in some situations and “closeted” in others.
Coming Out (Of the Closet)/Being Out: The process by which queer and trans folks recognize, accept, typically appreciate, and often celebrate their sexual orientation, sexuality, or gender identity/expression. Coming out is different across communities and cultures. There is no right or wrong way to be a queer or trans person and coming out is not a possibility for everyone.
Cross-dressing: Wearing clothing not usually associated with the gender one identifies as.
Demisexual / demiromantic: A person who does not experience sexual or romantic attraction until a close bond has been formed. Sexual or romantic attraction does not occur every time a close bond is formed.
Down Low (“DL”): A term used to refer to men who may or may not explicitly identify as heterosexul, who engage in relationships with women, but who engage in sex with men. Typically, these men do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual. The term originated in the Black community but the behavior is not unique to any race, ethnicity, or culture.
Drag: Wearing the clothing of another gender, often with exaggerated cultural/stereotypical gender characteristics. Individuals may identify as drag kings, queens, or performers. Drag often refers to cross-dressing for purposes such as entertainment, performance, or self-expression.
Dyke: Originally a derogatory term for a lesbian, with lesbians beginning to reclaim the word in the 1970s. Today, many lesbians affirmatively refer to themselves as dykes, but it is still commonly used as an insult and should be avoided by those outside of the lesbian community.
Faggot/Fag: A derogatory word used to denote a gay man. Occasionally used as an self-identifying affirming term by some members of the queer and trans community, but should be avoided by those outside of the community.
Family: A term widely used by queer and trans people to identify other queer and trans people.
Family of Orientation: Persons forming an individual’s social, emotional, and practical support network. Many queer and trans people are rejected when their families learn of their sexual and/or gender identities, or are forced to remain “closeted” to their biological relatives. In such cases, it is their partner and/or close friends who will be called on in times of illness or personal crisis.
Family of Origin: The biological family, or the family in which one was raised. These individuals may or may not be part of a person’s support system.
Femme: An identity term often used to by queer women, who express themselves in feminine ways. Some consider “femme” to be its own gender identity. While an identity term to some, it can be used as a pejorative, specifically in gay/queer men’s community.
FTM/F2M: Abbreviation for Female-to-Male. A term referring to people who identify as men who were assigned female-at-birth. Some trans men reject this term because they have always been male, regardless of sex assignment. (See transmasculine and transgender).
Gay: Used to describe a man who is romantically, sexually, and/or affectionally attracted to men, although not all men who engage in sexual relations with other men identify themselves as “gay.” The term is sometimes used to refer to the queer community as a whole, although many women prefer to be identified as “lesbian” instead of “gay.”
Gender: A socially constructed concept that designates people (based on their appearance, perceived sex, learned behaviors, traits, and actions) as masculine or feminine. A person’s assigned sex does not always align with their gender (see transgender), and many people display traits associated with more than one gender. Gender is different from sexuality.
Gender Affirmation Surgery: Surgical procedures that some trans folks pursue that create congruence between one’s body and one’s gender identity. These procedures may include “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) and “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). For female-to-male transsexuals, GAS involves a bilateral mastectomy (chest reconstruction), panhysterectomy (removal of the ovaries and uterus), and sometimes a phalloplasty (construction of a penis) and scrotoplasty (formation of a scrotum) or a metoidioplasty (restructuring the clitoris). For male-to-female transsexuals, GAS consists of optional surgical breast implants and vaginoplasty (construction of a vagina). Additional surgeries might include a trachea shave (reducing the size of the Adam’s apple), bone restructuring to feminize facial features, and hair transplants. Sometimes GAS is referred to as “gender confirming surgery” to recognize that one’s gender does not change—it is only being made visible to others. Historically, gender affirmation surgery has been referred to as sex reassignment surgery. Please do not use the term “sex change.” It is important to note that not all transgender people pursue gender affirmation surgeries, this can be due to cost, safety, or the fact that surgery is not a part of their gender journey.
Gender Bending: Blurring the binary gender roles.
Gender Binary: Recognizes only two genders and regulates behavior within narrowly defined male or female expectations. Enforces the idea that all people assigned male at birth should be man-identified and masculine, and that all people assigned female at birth should be woman-identified and feminine. This system excluded non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.
Gender Dysphoria: Discomfort and/or distress that varies in intensity, duration, and interval for an individual extending from the disjuncture between one’s conceptualization of their gender and the way their body is. Serves as a medical term and diagnosis in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which contributes to the stigmatization of transgender identities as a mental disorder. Clinically speaking, gender dysphoria is present when a person experiences significant distress related to their gender. The concept of dysphoria, rather than the diagnosis, is employed frequently by the trans/non-binary community to name their experience. No everyone views gender dysphoria as a mental health diagnosis.
Gender Expression: The way that someone expresses their gender, either consciously or unconsciously. This encompasses everything that communicates our gender to others: clothing, hairstyles, body language, mannerisms, how we speak, how we play, and our social interactions and roles. Most people have some blend of masculine and feminine qualities that comprise their gender expression, and this expression can also vary depending on the social context. There is not always a direct translation between gender identity and gender expression.
Gender Fluid: An identity or umbrella term for people whose gender expression is variable across time and space.
Gender Identity: Language a person claims based on their internal understanding of their gender. Also, one’s innate and personal experience of gender. This may or may not align with one’s gender expression or gender attribution.
Gender-neutral/Gender-free Pronouns: Pronouns which do not associate a gender with the person being discussed. The dichotomy of “he and she” in English does not leave room for other gender identities, a source of frustration for the transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming community. People who are limited by languages which do not include gender-neutral pronouns have worked to create them. Some English examples are “they” or “hir” for “him/her” and “they” or “ze” for “he/she.” The use of “they/them” pronouns as singular pronouns is accepted by experts as grammatically correct.
Gender Non-Conforming: An identity term for a person who does not conform to cisheteronormative constructs of gender and binary gender roles. This can also be used as an umbrella term to represent gender identity and expression.
Gender Normative/Gender Conforming: A person who conforms to gender-based societal expectations.
Genderqueer: Identity adopted by some trans people who blur the lines of the gender binary or embrace gender fluidity. They may identify as a man, woman, both, neither, or anywhere else on the spectrum.
Gender Roles: A set of social and behavioral norms that are considered appropriate for particular genders. They almost always adhere to the gender binary when viewed in Western culture.
Gray-asexual / gray-aromantic: A person on the asexual or aromantic spectrum. They may have a mild or fluctuating attraction, or demisexual or demiromantic.
Hegemonic Masculinity: Describes the ways in which masculinity is pervasive, ever-present, systematic, and inextricably tied to power and control. Proposes how and why men maintain social dominance over women, girls, femmes, and any folks whose gender identities are deemed to be outside of the enterprise of masculinity.
Heteronormativity: The belief (on an individual, systemic, and ideological level) that straightness and straight relationships are the default, and are more “normal” than queerness.
Heterosexism: A pervasive system of beliefs and practices that manifest across societal/cultural, institutional, and individual domains that centers and normalizes heterosexuality. Enacts violence against all other sexualities through their erasure, pathologization, and invalidation. Provides various advantages to heterosexul/straight folks
Heterosexual Privilege: The structure of cisheternormative society provides advantages to heterosexual people that are not accorded to members of the LGBTQ+ community. These advantages are so embedded into all dimensions of society that they are taken for granted and practically unrecognizable to heterosexual folks. They manifest through political and legal protections (e.g. the absence of political attack and regulation), cultural and social hegemony (e.g.- diverse narratives in media, or lack of familial alienation), and various ensuing economic rewards (e.g.- access to stable employment without fear of employer aggression if outed).
Homophobia: A myriad of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes ranging from hatred, discomfort, fear, erasure, violence against/towards people who identify or are perceived as gay, lesbian, or queer that manifest interpersonally, institutionally, and systemically. The spectra of this particular form of violence impact folks across various identities within the LGBTQ+ community due to perceive proximity by outside aggressor, and by those within the community (see internalized homophobia, bipobia, transphobia etc.) e.g. referring to gayness as a substitute for less than, inferior, or dysfunction, as represented by “That’s so gay.” See also: Heterosexism.
Hormone Blockers: A group of medications used most frequently with the intention of inhibiting puberty and blocking the development of secondary sex characteristics. These are often used by young trans people if they have access and support.
Hormone Replacement Therapy- Also known as HRT, a hormone therapy taken by some trans folks to alter the hormonal composition of the body. Some people will choose to undergo a gender-affirmation surgery in conjunction to HRT and some will not. Some transmasculine people choose to take testosterone, while some transfeminine people choose to use estrogen.
Internalized Queer and Trans Oppression: The fear and self-hate of one’s own queer or transgender identity in individuals who have learned negative ideas about these groups through childhood/adulthood socialization. One form of internalized oppression is the acceptance of the myths and stereotypes applied to the oppressed group. This can result in depression, alienation, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Intersex: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a individual’s reproductive or sexual anatomy (re: genitals, secondary sex characteristics, chromosomes, and/or hormone levels) do not fit into the medical/societal definition of male or female. Some members of the intersex community prefer to use person first language to describe themselves (e.g., a person with intersex condition) and conceptualize their condition as one of medical diagnosis. Others (re)claim intersex as identity.
Legal Transition: The process of changing how one’s gender is represented on legal documents, inclusive of one’s birth certificate, driver’s license, social security, insurance, and/or passport. Many countries and US states have legal barriers that make it expensive and difficult for trans people to legally transition.
Lesbian: An identity term that most often refers to a person who identifies as a woman who is sexually attracted to other women. Those who use this term to describe their experience may or may not also use it to denote their romantic attraction.
MTF/M2F: Abbreviation for Male-to-Female. A term referring to people who identify as women who were assigned-male-at-birth. Some trans women reject this term because they have always been female, regardless of sex assignment. (See transfeminine and transgender).
Medical Transition: A medical transition includes hormones and/or surgeries. Please see Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gender Affirmation Surgery.
Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM): This term is often used when discussing sexual health. It is inclusive of all men who participate in this behavior regardless of what their sexual identity is.
Misogyny: A type of gender-based oppression founded in the belief that women are inferior to and must remain subordinate to men. "Misogyny" literally means "hatred of women." It is predicated upon the binary gender system (see gender binary). Misogyny, and societal acceptance of it, can be blamed for men's violence against women and girls (including trans women); discrimination against women in employment, education, and politics; lack of appropriate health care for women; and continuing unequal divisions of labor in the home, among many other social inequities. White supremacy and cisheteropatriachy, along with other forms of oppression, intersect with misogyny to impact the lived experience of women of color and queer and trans women.
Misogynoir: A term coined by queer Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey to describe the particular racialized sexism that Black women face. Misogynoir is oppression against Black women where anti-blackness and misogyny converge and compound one another. This term is not applicable to non-Black women of color (or white women).
Non-Binary: A person whose gender identity does not fit within the gender binary, or whose gender identity is an act of resistance against the binary. Non-binary people often do not identify as men or women, although some non-binary people also identify with binary genders to some degree, and some use binary pronouns. Many non-binary people identify as trans, and/or as genderqueer.
Outing: The act of disclosing, intentionally or unintentionally, one’s identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious consequences on their safety, employment, family situation, etc.
Pangender: A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many genders.
Pansexual: An identity term that most often refers to a person who experiences sexual attraction to people of all and/or many gender identities/expressions. Also commonly shortened to “Pan.”
Partner or Significant Other: Examples of gender neutral terminology to describe a person one is romantically and/or sexually involved with. Other examples include “my datemate” and “my person.”
Passing: Being taken for a member of the dominant group—white, straight, cisgender, for example. Queer and trans people who have the ability to pass can choose to conceal the stigma associated with being a member of a sexual minority, and often must do so to avoid discriminatory behaviors.
Polyamory: relationship structure that centers on the practice of having or being open to consensually having more than one or many partners/significant others. Sometimes used as an umbrella term for all forms of ethical, consensual, and loving non-monogamy.
Post-Op (Post-Operative): Individuals who have undergone gender affirmation surgery, and/or other surgeries to alter their expression of secondary-sex characteristics (such as breasts, chest, and facial contours).
Pre-Op (Pre-Operative): Individuals who have not undergone gender affirmation surgery, but who desire to and are seeking that as an option. They may or may not be on hormone therapy, and they may or may not also seek surgeries meant to alter secondary sex characteristics.
Pronouns: Linguistic tools we use to refer to proper nouns. In the context of gender, pronouns are used to refer people, and are often gendered. Some examples of pronouns include: they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his, and ze/hir/hirs. Most pronouns are gendered and binary, although there are personal pronouns in many languages that are not gender specific. We use pronouns to attribute gender (see gender attribution). Using incorrect pronouns or assuming them based on appearance, is a way to misgender someone (see misgender).
Queer: Reclaimed* derogatory term that is used in a few different ways: a catchall term for the LGBTQ community; an sexual identity term that is often characterized by the incorporation of fluidity and anti-normativity; academic nomenclature to represent prolific postmodern feminist theoretical project centered on sexuality and gender. Simultaneously appears in the academic and organizing circles, in the late 1980s, early 1990s. *Not reclaimed by everyone.
Queer-Platonic Relationship (QPR): A Queer-Platonic Relationship (or Quasi-Platonic Relationship) is a platonic relationship that has similar levels of commitment to a romantic relationship. Ultimately, it’s a relationship that transcends a normal friendship’s boundaries. Those in a QPR may choose to live together, have a sexual relationship, or even raise kids together. Every QPR is different: they can include from one person to many. Those in a QPR often call each other “zucchini” as an endearing term, but the term is criticized for being infantilizing.
Questioning: An identity term for a person who is exploring their sexuality and/or gender. People may be questioning at different times in their lives, because gender and sexuality can be experienced as fluid and/or ever-changing. It does not have to be a linear experience or progression.
Same Gender Loving (SGL): A term used often by black queer and trans people as a less stigmatized description for one's sexual orientation. It helps to provide an identity not marginalized by racism within the gay community or by heterosexism in society.
Sex: A construct encompassing the biological (anatomical, hormonal, or genetic) traits used to categorize someone as either male, female, or intersex.
Sexism: The individual, institutional, and societal/cultural beliefs and practices that privilege men, subordinate women, and denigrate values categorized as feminine.
Sex Reassignment Surgery: See Gender Affirmation Surgery.
Sexuality: socially constructed concept that captures the relationships between a person's experience, practice, and conceptualizations of their physical, emotional, and psychic attraction (or absence thereof) to other people and/or self.
Sexual identity: The language someone uses to name their own concept of their sexual being that can be, but is not universally, defined in terms of the gender that someone is physically attracted to. Examples: asexual, graysexual, demisexual, non-monosexual, bisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, straight, lesbian, and gay. Also, known as sexual orientation*.
Social Transition: a social transition includes transition from one gender to another by changing mannerisms, dress, hair, pronouns, name, and a variety of other means. A social transition involves elements of a transition that are not necessarily medical or legal.
Straight: The non-scientific term used to describe heterosexuals; the colloquial term used to designate someone as “not queer.” First used in gay communities as slang to go straight, was to stop engaging in any form of queer sex and romantic behavior.
Trans Exclusive Radical Feminism (TERF): a term for feminists who define and celebrate womanhood through the medically defined "female" body. TERFs believe that trans woman are not women because they were socialized as boys. This is a biological essentialist argument. By and large, TERF ideology is rejected by mainstream feminism, as well as most queer and trans communities. However, TERF ideology does still infiltrate many women’s spaces.
Transitioning: the process in which a trans or nonbinary person begins to live as their gender identity. It may include changing one’s name, taking hormones, having surgery, and/or altering legal documents. Transitioning means very different things to different people. There are different types of transition: Legal Transition, Medical Transition, and Social Transition.
Transgender/Trans: A term describing when one’s gender identity does not align with their assigned sex. Trans people challenge society’s view of gender as fixed, unmoving, dichotomous, and inextricably linked to one’s biological sex. The sexual orientation of transgender people varies just as it does among cisgender people.
Trans Man/Transmasculine: someone who identifies as a man, but was assigned as female or intersex at birth.
Transmisogyny: The marginalization of trans women and trans feminine people that falls at the intersection of transphobia and misogyny. Transmisogyny exists within the assumption that womanhood and femininity are inferior to manhood and masculinity.
Transmisogynoir: The marginalization of black trans women and trans feminine people that is inclusive of transphobia, racism, and misogyny, and how all of these intersect. Takes into account that black women face a different, racialized form of misogyny that is compounded with transphobia.
Transphobia: Fear, hatred, and intolerance of people who identify as transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming, or those who break, blur of transgress assigned gender roles and the gender binary.
Transsexual: Individuals whose assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity and who, through gender affirmation surgery and/or hormone treatments, seek to change their physical body to better align with their gender identity. The term “transsexual” is not interchangeable with the term “transgender.” This term is considered by many to be outdated, but remains an important and salient identity term for some.
Trans Woman/Transfeminine: Identity label preferred by some transgender people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Genderqueer and gender non-conforming people who were assigned male at birth and now adopt a more feminine gender expression may also identify as transfeminine.
Tucking: the practice of concealing the penis and testes so that the person’s front is flat, or without a bulge, especially in tight clothing. Tucking usually involves pushing the penis* between one’s legs and then putting underwear or tape on to keep it in place. It can also involve tucking the testes back up inside the person.
Two-Spirit/Twin Spirit: Native American concept present in some indigenous cultures across North America and parts of Central and South America. It is a term of reverence, traditionally referring to people who display both masculine and feminine sex or gender characteristics, as well as manly hearted women who have lived a heterosexual life and produced children and after the death of her husband take female-lovers and are accepted by the community in that role. Named “berdache” by European colonists, those who are Two-Spirited are and were traditionally respected and may be healers or leaders thought to possess a high spiritual development.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of terms and definitions! New language emerges as our understandings of these topics change and evolve.
Used with permission from Amherst College Queer Resource Center, accessed on 12/1/21 from https://www.amherst.edu/campuslife/our-community/queer-resource-center/terms-definitions