On terms, soup, and gettin yerself an education, and why it all matters

Authors note: if you don’t really care about my blah blah and just want some links on terms / some basics, they are at the bottom. Word. – Cha-Cha

Hey y’all, gender. And sex. And sexuality.

What are they? What’s the difference? Where do any of us fit?

What’s a cis person? What’s a trans person? What am I? How do I be respectful of people and not be a total ass? What are the words I should use and why? OMG am I gonna look like a total fool at this LGBTQI event Cha-Cha convinced me to go to?

And where do “bisexual/pansexual/not-straight-not-gay/+” identities fit into the scheme of things?

Guess what? Not all of us got a queer/gender theory course in college, and, not all of us went to college, or even got to graduate from high school. Not all of us had awesome knowledgable friends around to teach us. Some of us struggled to survive in a sea of ignorance, some in a sea of hate. Some of us copped attitudes to get through the days, others of us went silent. Some of us starred out windows or at the ground or into the sky and thought “anywhere but here”.

So many of us were very much alone. So many of us still are.

Sometimes, in my own life, I’ve experienced feeling left out when other queers around me were using all this terminology I didn’t understand, and, while I wanted to be sensitive, I also wound up feeling… dumb. And then, there are some queer spaces where folks who don’t understand certain terms, or say the wrong thing not out of malice but of ignorance, get treated like complete shit. In those spaces, it can be easy to feel… outclassed, not educated enough… dumb. And then there were queer spaces where people would jump on you for using the wrong term re: gender – and then make one of those cute little “ironically racist” jokes, or adorable jokes about “the great unwashed” dirty poor, or something like that. So. Cute. Right.**

Yeah. And when you combine that with not feeling like a “real” queer, due to the whole bi/pan thing… it can be pretty intimidating.

But here’s the thing: the often maligned “alphabet soup” of terms and descriptions for different identities exists for a reason, and the reason is not “semantics” or “being clever”. The reason is that such terms reflect actual human beings who actually exist, who are all (frequently unrecognized) parts of the human community, and many of whom are part of the bi/pan/+ community. And such terms also reflect the long, hard fights that some people have spent our whole lives fighting, in order to be who we are. And many of us occupy multiple labels at once, and there are reasons for that too. And many people are sick of being boxed in, ignored, or treated like “magical imaginary creatures” who don’t reeealllly exist or matter.

Goddamn right that sh*t gets old

We should honor all of our stories, in their multiplicity and complexity, not just on principle but because that way, we get more awesome people to hang out with and be community with and care for and be cared for by. And part of that means educating ourselves, especially in situations where such education was not provided for us by any institution (ie, most of us). Self-educating is part of fighting for our own liberation – when you didn’t get the opportunity to be taught, don’t just take that, teach yourself! Don’t wait for charity. As MIA said – “Get yourself an eduCAtion!”

                                               Oh my GOD she’s so amazing. Do what she says.

Maybe some other folks remember when everything that was about queerness was “gay”? And then everything was “gay and lesbian” and then it was “lesbian and gay?” And now things are “LGBT” even tho the “B” and the “T” frequently seem to be silent letters, except when “T” stands for “Token”?

We shouldn’t erase identities that are not yet usually included in the gay-stream media, organizations, etc. We should learn about them. The people they reflect are real people, many of whom are us.


This is especially true when it comes to cis queers. Cis privilege is something cis people usually aren’t aware that they have… that’s kinda how privilege works, you aren’t aware when you have it, and hurt other people through your ignorance (or malice – hopefully not, but the malicious use of cis privilege as a weapon is definitely out there, including in queer / bi/pan/+ spaces). So I’m gonna say this real clear now: if you aren’t trans, recognize that you’re not “normal” – you’re cis. Recognize that you get a lot of unearned privilege, ie not having to deal with the bullshit society throws at people for being trans, just by being cis. I’m gonna cop to it: as a cis woman, I have been guilty of using the term “queer issues” as though that encompasses “trans issues” – it does not, and some trans people don’t feel comfortable in queer spaces, and people like me need to learn that. If we are going to build a true bi/pan/+ community around here, we’ve got to address this. Plenty of bi/pan people are also trans. All of us deserve one another’s solidarity.

I bitch all day long about not being included as a “real” queer girl. I definitely want to make sure that, as much as possible, ALL people of bi/pan/no-labels/all-labels/not-straight-not-gay/+ orientation can be heard here.

And so! I have attempted a link round up, which folks should DEFINITELY add to in the comments. Not complete AT ALL, nor does it claim to be, but the idea is to provide a start.

For those readers who may be unclear about what “sex” versus “gender” versus “sexual orientation” means, this is a chart that can provide a basic 101:http://www.ftmtransition.com/transition/faq/spectrum.gif (thanks and apologies to http://www.ftmtransition.com)

While that chart is useful in some ways, I’d like to remind folks that the “male/female” gender binary is a social construction, and doesn’t really work as a starting place for everyone. To that end, please see:http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lzkt4eUSk71qgleipo1_500.jpg(thanks and apologies to http://tracyvanity.tumblr.com)

A really wonderful, easy to understand glossary by Natalie at http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed can be found here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/glossary-and-guide-to-terminology (thanks Stentor!)

Here are some more basic terms from the Gender Equity Resource Center:http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms

Also lots of people question the “sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears” idea found in many “Trans 101” or “Gender 101” texts. To wit, Asher’s post on www.tranarchism.com. Here it is: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/

Here is a Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms from Fenway Community Health in Boston:http://www.fenwayhealth.org/site/DocServer/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf

Happy reading. And, have fun adding to this list in the comments, as I will probably be doing!

** This paragraph is NOT a defense of people who were not educated or didn’t know something, and were corrected / given the opportunity to learn, and then chose not to and kept doing the same hurtful shit. That’s not “making a mistake” or “innocent” – it’s trolling, being mean, and being hurtful.


2 responses to “On terms, soup, and gettin yerself an education, and why it all matters

  1. hey cha-cha! I recently came across this great “trans 101” from the amazing Sylvia Rivera Law Project (founded by Dean Spade — *swoon*!) http://srlp.org/trans-101 …. here’s a quote:

    “And, a quick note on sex vs. gender: In our society, sex is usually seen as the more objective, natural backdrop to a more socially constructed gender. In the transgender communities, there are many different views about sex and gender, their definition and their interrelation. Some transgender people see themselves as having one sex and a different gender. Some transgender people do not see themselves in this way. I do not want to offer a definition here. But, I do want to remind us that BOTH sex and gender are socially constructed and that BOTH sex and gender are socially real.”

  2. Cool Ian – thanks! Check it out folks!

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