By: Donna Lynn Matthews, May 1999

Lord Polonius:What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet:Words, words, words.
Hamlet - Act: II, Scene: II

We use a lot of different words (labels, terms, descriptors, etc.) to describe ourselves. Some seem self evident while others take on different meanings depending upon to whom you speak. Below are some of the terms used by the transgendered community and my take on what they mean.

Note: All dictionary definitions are taken from The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary located at


Definition 4 is the most common interpretation. When we talk about our sex, we almost always are talking about our genitalia. In common daily usage, sex is about parts: penises and vaginas.


All the group 1 definitions place gender as a relational construct, used to show group membership and the like. Definition 2a is there as a result of the cisgender ideal that gender and sex are one in the same. In colloquial use, however, the definition that is being applied is usually 2b: "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex." The key here being typically associated. While a gender may be typically associated with a specific sex, it is not a hard and fast rule.

For most of society, these two words, sex and gender, are interchangeable. One's gender and sex are expected to match, meaning that the males are boys and the females are girls. These people for whom sex and gender align are known as cisgendered.


The term Cisgender was coined in 1995 by Carl Buijs, a female-to-male transsexual from the Netherlands.

As we are not talking about chemistry, it is definition 1 that we want.

As we defined gender above to mean "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex", Cisgendered literally means: on this side of the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.

Stated simply, it means that one's identity and presentation matches their physical morphology.


The term Transgender was coined in 1987 by Virginia Prince, a transvestite (crossdresser) from the USA.

For a society that equates gender and sex, this is a pretty accurate definition. But, as most of us within the transgendered community know, sex and gender are not the same thing; ergo, the dictionary definition of transgender is not an accurate one. Many transgendered people have no issues with their sex. It is the disparity between the gender assigned and attributed to them and that with which they identify which is at the heart of the matter.

Taking the word transgender apart allows us to come at a more accurate definition. As we already defined gender, lets look at Trans-.

Again, as we are not discussing chemistry, it is definition 1 that we want.

Combining the definitions of trans and gender yields the following: "on the other side of (or opposite) of the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex." This is much more in line with the way that most transgendered individuals feel.


Let's see... Definitions 1a, 1c, 2a & 3 all are to some extent valid in this case, but the closest is 2a: "twice : doubly : on both sides". People who identify as bigendered see themselves as posessing both genders: man and woman. Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.


While I have adopted the term and established the newsgroup, I have others who use it to describe themselves. Alas, I can not take credit for 'coining' the term.

Definitions 1, 7 & 8 all are equally valid, but definition 1: "between : among : in the midst" is probably the most accurate. An intergender identity is one which falls somewhere between the endpoints of man and woman. It assumes an acceptance of the construct of a 'Gender Continuum'. Given such a continuum, man and woman become bounding constructs with an infinite number of gendered states in between. One identifies as neither a man nor a woman but as something separate and unique from either extreme.

Note: While I identify as intergendered, it is more of a working identification than an actual one. I do not subscribe to the construct of a 'Gender Continuum', finding the idea of man and woman as bounding constructs to be too restrictive. As such, I place myself outside the 'Gender Continuum' (so to speak). For practical purposes, however, it is easier for people to grasp the notion of being between the constructs of man and woman than to be outside of them. For me, the net effect is about the same.

See my article What Is Intergendered? for more details on my feelings on this.

Cisgender Ideal

The expression Cisgender Ideal was coined in 1996 by Laura Blake, a transgenderist from Canada.

The Cisgender Ideal is that notion that gender is a binary system and that sex and gender must align themselves. The Cisgender Ideal states that all males are men and all females are women, implying that a transgender identity is not a real identification. It supports and enforces the notion that the transgendered are mentally ill. By categorizing them as sick, the transgendered are accounted for in a way which doesn't challenge the binary gender system. The transgendered really are men and women as the Cisgender Ideal defines them, they're just sick or confused (or some other marginalizing label.)

The Cisgender Ideal amounts to a philosophy. It is a belief system and because of that it is dangerous. It is the unwavering belief that there only are two ways to be: a male-man or a female-woman. That there is anything else is besides these two rigid categories is unthinkable. The Cisgender Ideal is at the root of all the oppression that we (the transgendered) face on a daily basis. We are abused and killed because of who we are. We are excluded from many public spaces because of who we are. We are treated as if we have no right to be alive because of who we are.

Quite often, transgendered people will use the term gendertrash to discribe themselves. This is because to most of society, we are trash. We have no value and there is no need to worry about us. We are disposable, and there are those who take great pride in disposing of our type of trash.

Binary Gender

Gender Continuum

Also called the 'Gender Spectrum'. The construct that gender is not a binary system where there are only men and women, but a continuum or spectrum spanning from man to woman with an infinite number of gendered states in between. It is an attempt to account for the obvious variety and endless differences there are in how people gender themselves.

While it seems much more inclusive a construct than the Binary Gender system, I have my doubts. Heike Bödeker, in footnote #1 to her biography, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Herm sums it up quite well:

The politically correct strategy of simply replacing the reactionary b/w view by pleasant shades of gray or Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors is an unoriginal avoidance strategy. How shallow must one be to think that there was a simple continuum w/ some middle ground commonly occupied by sissy boys and tomboys, or femmy gays and stone butch lesbians!?
Nonetheless, it remains a popular construct within the LGBT community.

Note: Heike Bödeker has an excellent glossary of terms on her site, EZKU, both of which you might want to have a look at.

Please Note:

Unless otherwise noted, the information contained herein is copyright protected and is the exclusive property of Donna Matthews.

Opinions presented here are entirely my own and do not represent the opinions or policy of any other corporate entity.

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