Writing in Your Major

Tips From Tutors

Important Terminology

Asexual: a term pertaining to sexuality that is used to describe a person who does not experience sexual attraction. Note: be careful not to conflate sexual attraction with romantic attraction when thinking about asexuality; a person who identifies as asexual might have any number of romantic relationships, just relationships absent of sexual intimacy.

Biphobia:denial of or failure to fully recognize bisexuality. This occurs both outside and within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Biological determinism: a wide-encompassing term that is used to describe a belief that human activity, preferences, and behavior are determined by one’s genes or some kind of element of biology. Challenging biological determinism is an important political strategy for feminists.

Cisgender: the term for a person whose biological sex "matches" the gender that society associates with that sex (i.e. being biologically female and also identifying as a women, as opposed to being born biologically female and identifying as a male).

FTM: Female-to-Male; someone who was assigned female at birth, but who identifies as a male.

Gender: 1) A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. 2) One's sense of self as masculine or feminine or anywhere in between regardless of genitalia or other sex characteristics.

Gender binary: The opposition system of gender that has been constructed that is comprised of femaleness and maleness in opposition to one another.

Gender expression: The way a person's gender is expressed to the world.

Gender identity: The way a person experiences and identifies their gender.

Gender-nonconformity: Any number of practices that reject participation in the gender binary. Most genderqueer folks are gender-nonconforming, but not all gender-nonconforming folks identify as genderqueer. Similarly the trans* umbrella is inclusive of any gender-nonconforming person, but that does not mean all gender-nonconforming people identify as transgender, trans, or trans*.

Gender queer/genderfuck: An identifying label for someone who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses gender altogether. A label for people who bend/break the rules of gender and/or blur the boundaries.

Heteronormativity: creates a world where heterosexuality is the natural or normal sexuality. Knowing how heteronomativity is constructed by society allows for better recognition of how heteronormativity works in everyday life and that it essentially neglects a large portion of people and ultimately leads to and enforces inequality for those who don’t fit in with the category.

Heterosexism: The personal practice or systematic/institutionalized oppression of assuming that everyone is heterosexual, therefore marginalizing people who do not identify or live their lives that way. Heterosexism can also describe and incorporate the prejudicial belief that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.

Heterosexual: The dictionary definition of this would be "a sexual orientation in which a person is romantically and sexually attracted to a person of the opposite gender." This definition should be problematized because there are not only two genders. Perhaps a better, more accurate definition of this descriptor would be "a person who is attracted to primarily people of other genders, as opposed to their same gender."

Homonationalism: LGBTQIA+ people are essentially co-opted by Western government officials/others in an attempt to create a ‘the West vs. the Rest’ narrative where the ‘undeveloped others’ are ‘backwards’ when it comes to gender and sexuality. This in turn provides some sort of allowance for the West in terms of racism, nationalism, and militarism.

Homonormativity: this essentially places the queer community in a limited dominant culture. Homonormativity implies that gay people are only worthy of rights if they fit within a certain cultural narrative (white, middle-class, cisgender, vanilla etc.) EX: Marriage was produced as a heterosexual institution and same-sex marriage continues to place same-sex couples into preexisting heterosexual structures.

Institutional oppression: A specific arrangement of society that benefits one group at the expense of another through cultural and social institutions such as language, media, religion, economics, education system, etc.

Internalized oppression: The process through which a marginalized person or group comes to believe, accept, or live out inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group because of the pervasive degree to which they have been steeped in prejudice and discrimination against their identity group.

Intersectionality: despite a history of advancements made for universal human equality, even in the 21st century, institutionalized oppression can be seen in ongoing cases, acts, and systems of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia. Intersectionality is the concept that explains the interconnection between these injustices and need to examine them as one issue rather than separate ones. The idea of intersectionality can be easily identified with the example of black feminism. The experience and oppression that a black female faces can not be simply understood in terms of being black or being a female, the two are not independent from each other.

Intersex: A set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with "sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered "standard" for either male or female. The existence of intersex people shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed. About 1 in 2000 infants born are at risk for intersex genital mutilation (meaning a decision is made at birth by either parents, a doctor, or both, to alter the infant's genitalia to be either fully male or female). An even higher proportion of the population is intersex in some way. This word replaces "hermaphrodite," which is generally considered rude, not politically correct and/or derogatory.

MTF: Male-to-Female; Someone assigned male at birth who identifies as female.

Marginalized group: Any group of people who does not hold power and privilege in a particular social category and are therefore disadvantaged and/or excluded.

Masculinity: involves qualities that are stereotypically associated with men. Boys are taught from an early age to act tough and not show their feelings. Masculinity blurs a line between being a man and what some feel is necessary to prove you’re a man. It is important to recognize the social construction of these behaviors to attempt to avoid sometimes negative and violent outcomes.

Misogyny: A cultural attitude of hatred or dislike of women that manifests itself in a myriad of ways, usually some form of social disadvantage, oppression, and/or violence.

Passing: An arguably problematic term that refers to a trans*, homosexual, etc. person being read by the world as part of the dominant group. In other words, a homosexual man being read by the world as heterosexual, or a trans* person being read as cisgender, specifically the gender they identify with. The idea of "passing" is fairly innocuous when in reference to some things, but when in reference to transgender people the definition betrays the transphobic and transmisogynistic belief that the gender identity of a trans person is not their real gender, and that they are somehow deceiving people in being perceived the way they identify. Click here to hear transgender activist and author Janet Mock explain the complexities around "passing."

Queer: 1) An umbrella term for the LGBTQIA+ community, as in “the queer community”. Includes those who identify as any sort of deviation from what society has considered normal in terms of gender or sexuality. 2) A personal identifier that one may use to define their gender or sexuality. May be used in conjunction with gender (i.e. genderqueer) or sexuality (i.e. “I identify as queer”). 3) (outdated) a slur against gay/lesbian/transgender people. This term may offend those of an older generation, so be careful who you define as queer unless they've told you they define themselves that way.

Sex: Identifier related to a person's biological sex organs. A person's sex may or may not match their gender identity and/or expression.

Sexuality/sexual orientation: The direction of one's sexual attraction. It exists on a continuum and not a set of absolute categories; sometimes referred to as affection orientation or sexuality.

Sexual reassignment surgery (sexual/gender confirmation surgery): Any number of physical surgeries a transgender individual might undergo so as to match their physical appearance with the gender they identify with.

Social constructivism: a term that opposes biological determinism. Social constructivism is a theory where social settings essentially construct or shape our actions and development. Socially constructed concepts incorporate a body of knowledge, beliefs, standards, and customs that have been constructed over economic, political and social history.

Stereotype: An exaggerated, oversimplified belief about an entire group of people, without regard for individual differences.

TERF: stands for Trans-Exclusionary Racial Feminism. TERFs believe trans-women’s experiences are less valid than cis-women’s experiences.

Transculturation: In an ideal effort to establish a collective cultural shell of substance and comprehension, transculturation embraces globalization through new elements of a dominant culture and the end or modification of existing ones. Subordinate groups, are ‘expendable products’ and secondary in a world that is shifting and changing and while transculturation optimistically encourages progressive global change, it can lead to harsh realities.

Transgender: Transgender people are those whose gender identity differs from the social gender expectations connected to the biological sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the separation between biological sex (genitals, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, etc.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity ascribed by society or perceived in the self. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing; they are not the same thing, and one does not inherently determine the other. It is also important to recognize that like gender in general, transgender identities operate on a spectrum. Similar to many identities, the way gender operates is exceptionally complex, and every person's experience with their particular gender identity will be specific and unique; there is no one way to necessarily describe someone's experience of being transgender.

Transition: A complicated, multi-step process that can take years as a transgender person aligns their physical body and/or outward social perception with how they experience their gender identity. This process could include anything from making preferred pronouns known, to hormone replacement therapy, to surgical gender confirmation procedures. Transitioning looks different for every individual; there is no single or correct way to do it. Additionally, the steps one chooses to take or not take does not determine the legitimacy of their gender identity.

Transphobia: 1)Discrimination, fear, or hatred of people who blur traditional gender lines that result from the gender/sex binary system. 2) Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia can manifest in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, discrimination, or erasure.
**Although transphobia is a widely used term to describe individual or cultural mistreatment of trans* and-or gender-nonconforming individuals, it is argued by some to be ableist (marginalizing those who experience or are impacted by disability, and expressing the privilege that comes with being able-bodied) because it is using "phobia," a serious and recognized mental health condition, carelessly, incorrectly, and insensitively. People who say and do transphobic things are not doing so out of the presence of a real medical condition, but because they are socialized to hate and fear trans* identities.

Transsexual: (outdated) A transgender person who has undergone sexual reassignment surgery and done all the “medical things” (surgery, hormones, etc.), to align their body fully with the gender they identify as. Outdated because it disregards and delegitimizes the identities and experiences of those who choose to identify as transgender and outside the gender binary, and enforces the binary gender options (male and female, man and woman) as the only options.

Transvestite: (outdated): A derogatory and outdated term for a cross dresser or drag queen. See also: pre-op transsexual. May be seen in older literature discussing trans* identities, and should not be used unless you are directly referencing something that uses the term.

Womyn/Womxn: both terms remove the suffix “-men” from “women.” This also symbolically distances womyn/womxn’s reliance on men. “Womyn" is also often used in an attempt to exclude trans women while “womxn” strives to include trans, nonbinary, and POC women.

White feminism: a type of feminism that prioritizes white women. White feminism fails to be intersectional and essentializes the struggles of women which often alienates POC and LGBTQIA+ individuals.