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An Open Letter, Part 0.5: An Introduction to Trans+ Identities and Language

Content Warning: This article discusses transphobia and arguments used by transphobic people to invalidate the existence of folks with trans and gender expansive identities. If you are affected by this type of content, please feel free to click away. Additionally, The Trevor Project is an organization aimed toward LGBTQ+ folks aged 25 and under and has support hotlines in the form of calling, texting or online chatting. Please look through their resources and consider their hotlines if you are LGBTQ+ and need support.


Claire McCulloch/Her Campus

This past weekend, we at Geneseo had the unfortunate experience of hearing that a fellow student has extremely negative and damaging views towards the trans and gender expansive community and has used their social media platform to spread these views. I personally was affected heavily by this person’s anti-trans rhetoric and wanted to use my own platform to address the existence of transphobia and counter many arguments used in anti-trans rhetoric.

This is the first in a series of open letters to educate folks about transgender issues and topics, each of which will tackle one argument that is common in anti-trans rhetoric. My intended audience is not necessarily for intentionally hateful individuals, but more towards folks who are interested in learning. However, all are welcome to read.

To start, I want to say that I wish no ill will on any person. If someone holds transphobic opinions and views, I hope that they can change and grow into a more accepting person through education. This is the purpose of my open letter series, after all. I also want to say that trans and gender expansive people don’t owe anyone the emotional labor of going through and arguing every point as to why our identities are valid. I have been avoiding this emotional labor for a bit and am choosing to expend such labor in writing this and having it be published. Don’t expect anyone from the trans and gender expansive community to educate you, but do be willing to listen to our experiences. 

I also want to define any terms before I go further into my open letters, because many people don’t know terms that are commonly used in LGBTQ+ and, specifically, in trans spaces.

 

Cisgender (or cis for short) is the gender identity of someone who identifies with the gender that is associated with their assigned sex at birth. Essentially, a cisgender person is the opposite of a transgender person.  

Transgender (or trans for short) can be both an umbrella term of non-cis gender identities and a specific identity most commonly associated (but not exclusive to) folks who identify themselves as the ‘opposite’ gender of the binary system. For example, trans women are women who were assigned male at birth.

Gender expansive is an umbrella term for non-cis gender identities, including binary trans identities. Similar terms are trans+ and gender nonconforming, but I personally prefer to use the term gender expansive.

Intersex is a “general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definition of male or female” (Intersex Society of North America). 

Gender dysphoria is “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics” (Mayo Clinic). Not every trans or gender expansive person experiences gender dysphoria, and it is not what makes someone trans. 

Assigned Sex at Birth is the biological sex that a child is designated at birth, typically either male or female. In trans+ language, this can be expressed by describing oneself as AFAB (assigned female at birth) or AMAB (assigned male at birth). These phrases tend to be preferred over more outdated terms like MTF (male to female) or FTM (female to male). This Tumblr post describes it well!

Now that we have a shared vocabulary for reading this open letter, I will lay out some rebuttals to some commonly used arguments in anti-trans rhetoric in my next few articles, and will indeed be citing my sources. I encourage you to look further into these topics by exploring my sources! 

Hopefully, this series of open letters will serve to educate folks on trans+ issues, open a few minds and smash a few preconceptions along the way. 

 

Read more of the Open Letter Series

An Open Letter, Part 0.5: An Introduction to Trans+ Identities and Language (this article)

An Open Letter, Part 1: Gender is Not the Same as Sex (now published)

An Open Letter, Part 2: Expansive Gender Identities Across History and Culture (now published)

An Open Letter, Part 3: Myths about Trans+ Medical Care (now published)

An Open Letter Part 4: Transphobia’s Impact on Trans+ People (now published)

Margaux (they/them) is a senior Women and Gender Studies major at SUNY Geneseo. Outside of Her Campus, they work at Geneseo's Office of Diversity and Equity, is on the executive board of Pride Alliance, and is an active Safe Zone trainer. They love to write about diversity, mental health, and environmentalism, with the occasional goofy topic or two (or five). Margaux hopes to someday be the coolest gender studies professor you will ever have.
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