Let’s say you go to the pub and start talking to someone who clearly isn’t a cisgender person (that is, someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth). You think they’re very attractive but you start freaking out: ‘Are they gay? Straight? What do I call them?’ You think back to that article you read recently that said there are hundreds of gender identities and an offensive slur could be detrimental to your chirpse, even if unintended. Here’s a quick crash course:

Firstly, gender identity has nothing to do with sexuality!!!

Your gender identity is the degree to which you feel masculine, feminine, neither, or both and whether that identity marries up with the sex assigned to you at birth. So that smokin’ somebody you’re now buying drinks for may look a certain way but hold on! You still don’t know what they’re into!

Gender Jargon Demystified: do's & dont's

Secondly, if you’re not talking to a cisgender person, you are talking to a (drumroll please) transgender person! See, not that complicated.

A transgender person does not identify with the sex they have been assigned to at birth. In simple terms, they may be agender if they identify as neither masculine or feminine, bigender if they identify with both, or pangender if they identify with the other gender from what they were given at birth. Alternatively, a person may identify themselves somewhere between any of these points on the spectrum.

Transsexual is a bit of a no-no term these days as it makes an unwarranted link to sexuality (which we know from point one is problematic). People would usually use it these days to describe someone who has taken medical steps to match their sex to their gender identity through surgery or hormonal treatment.

While we’re at it, here are a few other slurs you should definitely avoid:

DON’T use their deadname if they have changed their name to match their new gender expression. Some transgendered people will want to be referred to by specific pronouns be it they/them or even ‘ze’. Get over it and give it a go.

DON’T ask any stupid question you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person in a normal conversation, such as: how do you have sex? Or, can I see a picture of you from before? I don’t need to teach you how to converse. Just. Be. Normal. Ok?

DO NOT make references to ‘the op’ especially if you’re going to call it that. If a transgender person must take medical steps in order to express their gender identity to make themselves content, that’s their business! It’s usually a lengthy, painful, complicated, and expensive process so honestly I wouldn’t bring it up if you want a little somethin’ somethin’ other than a buzz kill.

Gender Jargon Demystified: do's & dont'sImage

Interestingly, at the heart of this movement away from social conformity lie significant references to societal schemas. Gender fluidity is presented as a spectrum between feeling masculine, feminine, or whatever beautiful and complicated combination of the two applies. But what does it actually mean to be masculine? Or feminine?

The assumption here is that masculine or feminine are our two ways of being. But if you fall somewhere in the middle, the words masculine and feminine mean very little. And if the go-between for non-binary gendered people is based on these two extremes, aren’t we still conforming to these set ways of being and giving them meaning?

Taking this one step further, what does it mean to be male and female as opposed to man and woman? TIME magazine’s suggestion of the word ‘female’ as a dirty word highlights further problems with using sex and gender interchangeably. Being a human woman is an identity while being a female refers to the type of sexual organs an animal has.

Gender Jargon Demystified: do's & dont's

People are highly protective of their identities. And rightly so. It is one of the few things we should actually have complete control over. This is why these terms are important and should be applauded when used correctly.

Equally important, however, is an ability to keep these steps in perspective. At the end of the day people just want to be who they want to be and as long as others can respect that, it’s vital that we don’t get too caught up in labels. Otherwise, we risk excluding swaths of people from entering the conversation for lack of correct lingo.

Moving forward with a clear central aim (promoting acceptance), we must be willing to accept any steps in that direction, as imperfect or small as they may be. Perhaps that’s the only way real progress can emerge.

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