Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clavicula Mortonis – Being an Alphabetickal Compendium of Arcane Gender Lore

Agender – a person who feels neither male nor female, because neither masculinity nor femininity seem to apply to them. Especially if “none” seems closer than “a mix of both” or “in-between.” Seems fairly synonymous with nongendered, genderless, and null-gendered. Close to neutrois, but see it for more.  check here for more

Androgyne – an old Greek term for someone who combines male and female within themselves, that has been used for centuries. Sounds old fashioned these days, but still in use. It's my preferred label, although I like lots of others too. Androgynos was also one of the six gender categories in Jewish law.

Arenotelicon - A creature that alternates between male and female. This word is so obscure it is not even in the O.E.D.; as far as I know it occurs only in the Physiologus, an anonymous book of the early Renaissance. The Physiologus uses it to describe hyenas, which were commonly believed to change their sex every year. These days we'd probably say bigender or genderfluid.

'Aylonit – one of the six gender categories in Jewish law, for people who seem female at birth, but later seem pretty non-female. Literally means barren, but often used as a far more specific and extreme case of non-femaleness than what we would call barrenness in English.  For a modern trans rabbi's perspective check here, for more detail check here, or if you can access academic papers here

Baeddel – see scrat, also some folks on tumblr seem to be reviving this very old term, and I can't follow the 21st century issues well enough to comment.

Bigender – a gender identity where one has both a “male-mode” and a “female-mode” and shifts between them, and typically self-identifies as male in male-mode and female in female-mode. A crossdresser might behave similarly, but think of themselves as the same gender whether presenting male or female, a bigender person typically feels their identity switching as well. I was one for a while, but I'm pretty androgyne-all-the-time these days. Bigender is pretty close to genderfluid, but you tend to have two fairly discrete states, like a switch, rather than a whole flowing spectrum. Brin Convenient is a good example. I've seen the term trigender, but never met someone who described themselves to me that way.  For more info or community check bigender.net

Bisexual - when Charles Gilbert Chaddock translated Kraft-Ebbing's German book Psychopathia Sexualis into English in 1892 he picked the word "bisexual" to mean something like "sexually attracted to both genders."  The term has evolved since then, and you can find plenty of other discussions of it.  But BEFORE 1892ish it was a common English term meaning something like androgyne or hermaphrodite or having characteristics of each sex.  So you'll find it applied to people that don't fit nicely into the gender binary regardless of their attractions in lots of pre-20th century contexts.

Chaser, Admirer, or Transfan – slang terms for someone who is particularly attracted to trans people. Sometimes they are ppejorative terms, sometimes they aren't. It can be hard to tell if they're being used affectionately or insultingly.

Chian - Chios is the island in the Aegean right next to the island of Lesbos, which lesbians are named after (by analogy to the famous Greek Poet Sappho of Lesbos, who was probably bi, but oh well).  So a chian would be someone who isn't exactly a lesbian, but definitely in the vicinity ...

Cisgender, often shortened Cis – someone who thinks the gender assigned to them at birth fits them relatively well. It is never a slur or insult when I or most trans people say it. My lovely wife is cis, and I won't hear cisfolk badmouthed, OK?

Clavis – a fancy old word for a “glossary,” literally a “key.” I think it gives an elegant occultist feel to the standard old run down of terms that every discussion of non-standard gender or sexuality issues seems to be required to have, kinda like the Clavicula Salomonis. See also Gender Occultist.


The Clue Fairy – a well meaning spirit that repeatedly attempts to hit trans people living in denial over the head with a giant hammer, representing the repressed truth about themselves, until they finally start getting some of the clues through their thick skulls and coming out to themselves. Why do you take the extra time to peeing sitting down? Wham! Why do you insist on calling yourself a housewife? Wham! Is that gender dysphoria you feel when you look in a mirror? Wham! Why do you always pick female characters when playing video games? Wham! Your examples may vary.


Crossdreamer – Someone who regularly dreams or fantasizes about being another gender, or dressing, presenting or living as someone of another gender, but doesn't actually do much of any of that in real life. Yet.

Crossdressing – dressing in the clothes associated with the opposite gender regardless of motives. Very old practice, done in many cultures for many reasons.

Crossdresser / Transvestite – May mean someone who crossdresses even briefly for whatever reason, but may also mean someone who has regularly crossdressing as a part of their self-identity. In some cases we call someone a “crossdresser” because we don't know much about how they thought about themselves, we only know about their behaviour. Consider Marina the Monk (d. 508) or Ulrika Eleanore Stalhammar (1688-1733) who lived successful male lives for many years. In other cases, people self-identify as crossdressers or transvestites because it seems to fit their gender identity better than other terms, such as Eddie Izzard, who self-describes as a transvestite. The word transvestite is no longer polite in the US, where it was used for psychiatric conditions for so long that it now implies that you think someone's crossdressing is a psychological disorder, rather than a healthy lifestyle, but the word transvestite doesn't usually have these implications in British or Australian English. Someone who regularly crossdresses as part of a public performance will often identify and be called a Drag King/Queen instead, especially if they take an exaggerated gender role while performing. There are a lot of cultural differences between Drag folk and other crossdressers. The term “drag” dates to the 1870s, “transvestite” was coined in 1910, and the word crossdresser seems to appear in English first as a translation of the German transvestit in 1911.

Drag – see crossdresser

Epicene - partaking of the characteristics of both sexes; or common to both sexes; worn or inhabited by both sexes. Unisex. It's an old word that has been used for gender-non-conforming folks for centuries. Ben Jonson used it to mean something like 'effeminate'. Its Greek root means 'common,' and it shows up in descriptions of garments that either sex can wear, or places both sexes dwell ('Epicene...Convents, wherein Monks and Nuns lived together.' -- Fuller, c.1661). It's a good term for folks that think of themselves less as a combination of male and female, than as the greatest common denominator of male and female. I'll take this although I'm more mixed than common denominators only.

Eunuch – a term that either means a castrated servant in a royal household; or any servant, castrated or not, that you can trust your women with; or any castrated person; or any infertile male; or any impotent male; or any male who is impotent with women; or any male who has chosen to live celibately; or anyone of regardless of gender who has chosen to live celibately; or anyone born with ambiguous genitalia; or anyone assigned male at birth who then feminizes to the point of no longer being entirely male; or some combination of these categories depending on the century and culture it's being used in, and often the background of the speaker. The term has been in use for thousands of years, and I may or may not be one.  see my blog post, or wikipedia, or if you have access, dozens of scholarly articles ...

Furries - I'm not really qualified to speak here, but the furries I've known have been decent folk, and furries get made fun of, shit on, or have their conventions bombed a lot more than they should, so I feel obligated to say something.  My understanding is that there is a spectrum of identification from just being a fan of anthropomorphic animal art of various kinds (furry fandom), all the way up to feeling that one's "fursona" is a more authentic expression of themselves than their (what's the opposite furlessona?).  My understanding is that as with gender issues, there are analogs of crossdreamer, crossdresser, and transgender here (furdreamer, furdresser, and otherkin), with someone who regularly dresses in a fursuit often being called a furry lifestyler.  Sometimes there is a sexual component to furry fandom, often called yiff, (and things like pony play and puppy play are both historically older than furry fandom within alt-sex communities), but often there is only a minor sexual component, or none at all.  So it isn't necessarily about sex, or gender, but the analogs to the not-feeling-right-in-your-apparent-gender experience are strong enough that I've always felt furries were siblings to transfolk in an odd way.  

Galli – a priest/ess of the religion of the Cybele and Attis in the ancient world. They originated in Phyrigia, but were common throughout the Roman world for centuries. They castrated themselves and adopted many feminine mannerisms and dress habits publicly, and were commonly take to be a middle gender or third gender by their contemporaries, (medium genum, tertium sexus, etc.) although we don't have any self-descriptions of being a gallus/galla that I know of.

Gender Dysphoria – Dysphoria is an unpleasant feeling sorta between pain and sadness, kinda like discomfort but more or less intense. It can be as mild as a barely detectable niggling, or so intense you lay in a fetal position in your bed all day. If it's gender dysphoria, it will be tied to gender experience, presentation, and treatment in various ways. You might find that wearing a particular kind of clothing makes it worse, or alleviates it, or being called ma'am, or using particular mannerisms, or changing your appearance. Not all trans folks have it, and it isn't part of the definition or anything, but it is extremely common, and often a major clue that you are trans, and noticing carefully what seems to make it worse and better can be a big clue as to what kind of trans person you are.  It is also the APA's term for a new mental health diagnostic category, (here's the APA's official blurb on it). Here's a blog post about indirect ways it may manifest, 


Gender Identity Disorder – a US mental health diagnosis discontinued in 2013 on the grounds that having a gender identity other than what your birth certificate says you should have isn't a fucking disorder. Compare with homosexuality, which the US mental health system decided wasn't really a disorder in 1973, or habitual crossdressing AKA -Transvestic Fetish Disorder which was also discontinued in 2013.

Gender Occultist – One who is knowledgeable about the occult, hidden, secret, clandestine world of gender identities beyond the binary model of standard male and standard female, that we keep trying to tell anyone who will listen about so it won't seem so damn arcane and daunting to folks.

Gender Oracle - a person whom others approach to ask about another person's sex. It is well if the oracle can be persuaded to relish their role as an ongoing joke; more often, they dread it as a sticky social situation, and may transfer this discomfort to their client of not-entirely-obvious sex. In such cases the client is well advised to commiserate, pointing out that it is poor manners are on the part of the querant, to ask an oracle instead of the person themselves.  Coined by Raphael Carter, 1996

Gender Refusenik - a term for people denied SRS, whether due to lack of funds or psychological paternalism. All gender refuseniks are non-ops, but not all non-ops are refuseniks. Also 'gender otkaznik' for the Slav-savvy. Coined byRaphael Carter 1996, on the model of the Soviets who were “refused” permission of emigrate during the cold war (it didn't originally mean people who refuse to do something, but people who are refused permission to do something critical).

Genderfluid – someone whose feeling of their own gender shifts over time fluidly. They may feel quite male one day, and quite female the next, and may experience plenty of in-between (as opposed to bigender folk who tend to experience fairly discrete states of gender). Its not unusual for their preferred pronouns to shift along with their state. Genderfluid folks are genderqueer and transgender. Ruby Rose is a famous example.

Genderqueer - a catch-all category for gender identities other than man and woman, thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity. Non-offensive. A close synonym of non-binary. The word queer was associated with a certain political style in the late 80s and 90s, and aimed at reclaiming what had previously been an insulting term, so sometimes the term genderqueer inherits these political associations or sounds too close to an old insult. I identify as queer and genderqueer, but I'm actually pretty moderate on a lot of gender and sexuality issues, so I like the term non-binary a little better.

Hermaphrodite /Hermaphroditus – an old Greek term for a combination of male and female, that has come to mean many different things over the centuries. Sometime a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Sometimes linked to statues of Aphrodite with male genitalia in the shape of a herm (pictured to the side). In some centuries it's a common term for what we'd now call non-binary or intersex people. Sometimes a technical medical term for conditions that very few humans fit, involving have both kinds of gonadal tissue. The term is still used in non-human biology a lot, (it's common in plants and snails, for instance), but it's usually avoided when talking about humans these days because it is taken to be loaded with specious or stigmatizing associations from various past uses.

Hijra – a category of third gender persons common in India. Often now called "transgenders" in Indian English (which is non-offensive in Indian English, although "transgender people" is more correct in US or British English).  See wikipedia, or say this article on recent legal victories for hijras



Homovestite - A person who obsessively, compulsively and neurotically wears the clothing of their own sex. Coined by Raphael Carter 1996

Intersex – I have yet to see a definition of this that really works. Roughly though, if your biology has a mix of male and female traits, other than just in your brain/identity, and the doctors notice it, and they don't think you are trans instead, they will label you as intersex. Only now it is often called DSD (Disorders of Sexual Development). Because you know, being a mix of male and female can't possibly be a healthy state, it has to always be medicalized as a disorder, and if it happens in the “body” it is a totally different thing that if it happens in the “brain.” Sigh. Many people with intersex biology are binary and cisgender in their own self-identity. And many people (like me) fit some of the formal definitions of intersex, but are not considered intersex because we are trans instead. Maybe this is it – if YOU decide your sex assigned at birth is wrong or oversimplified then you are trans, regardless of what the doctors think - if A DOCTOR decides that your sex assigned at birth is wrong or oversimplified or is “ambiguous” already at birth, then you are intersex, regardless of what you think about it. There are a lot of different kinds of intersex conditions and some of them really do have serious medical complications, like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, so it's inevitable and even desirable to medicalize gender biology issues in some cases. But 20th century America proved to be very bad at being ethical about when and how to medicalize unusual biologies of gender.  (OK I've got whole books on this, but I'm having trouble finding a good overview, I guess this news report is a start). Intersex people have very much been given a raw deal over the last several decades, so I hope I don't sound dismissive and my venom is not for them. Being trans, intersex, or coming from a culture that assigns people non-binary genders at birth are the three ways to wind up non-binary, although plenty of intersex or trans people are binary too.

M. - the goal of a gender neutral honorific substitute for Mr. /Ms./ Mrs./Miss, is a natural one. Some use Mx. (pronounced mix or mux), but I think M. is an elegant solution too, maybe it will even catch on some day.

Macaroni – an 18th century British identity, where a male wore over-the-top fashions. Often they were ridiculed and accused of androgyny. Indeed, some seemed to aim for as much androgyny as they could get away with. Descendant of 15th-18th century terms like fop, beau, gallant, popinjay, coxcomb, fribble, fashion-monger, and ninny. Precursors of the 18th-20th century Dandies.

Mahu – a native Hawaiian non-binary gender category, a “third gender.” Often associated with hula dancing, or in general keeping old ways alive. Also sometimes other kinds of trans folk are called mahu now in Hawaiian slang by extension.

Molly – an 18th century British identity that doesn't exactly map to modern notions of homosexuality, crossdressing or transgender, but is partly all three. Mollies congregated together in molly houses, which were usually also taverns and/or houses of prostitution. Mollies had a ritual called “lying-in” or “mock birth” in which they ritually imitated giving birth.

Neutrois – a person who identifies as neither male nor female. Especially if metaphors like “neutral” or “null” or “none” are closer than “both” or “mixed” or “none of the above.” It falls under the umbrellas of trans and non-binary and genderqueer. Many neutrois are happy to identify as agender too, others say they have a gender but it is somehow neutral, or neutered. Appears to have been coined in 1995 by H. A. Burnham.  See more here.

Non-Binary – not fitting into a two-fold system. In logics, it usually means you have more that 2 truth values. In gender, it means someone who identifies as something other than male or female. Genderqueers, Genderfluid folk, tumtums, third-gender folk, androgynes, neutrois, many two-spirits, and many more are examples. Transmen and transwomen are NOT non-binary though, and typically resent it if you treat them as not-a-real-man, or not-a-real-woman, or somewhere-in-between. Similarly some intersex people self-identify as non-binary, but many do not.

Otherkin - Folks who believe that they are non-human in identity, even if they are human in body. Sometimes they identify as elves or faeries.  Sometimes as animals, or anthropomorphic animals, in which case they may also be furries.  I've known a person or two who thought of themselves as dragons-in-human-form.  Angels, demons, shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, aliens, cartoon characters, there are a lot of possibilities.  It may sound like a mental health problem, and it probably is sometimes, but I've known folks that were pretty non-delusional, and far closer to something like a religious or spiritual or self-discovery understanding of the sense in which this is true.  Oh and someone's non-human self-identity is likely to interact with their gender and sexual identities.

Pansexual – Some one who is attracted to people of “all” genders. A bisexual person who wishes to emphasize that gender identities other than male and female are attractive to them too.  Older dictionary definitions of bisexual often assume there are only two genders, but more recent definitions by self-identified bisexuals often allow attraction to many gender-identities and try not to assume there are only “two” genders, so usually if someone says pansexual instead of bisexual they are trying to emphasize non-binary possibilities.

Pronouns – It is polite to ask someone's preferred pronouns, and rude not to try your best to use them once you know them. They used in the singular is correct grammar, and the next most polite option if you don't know someone's preferred pronouns. Many non-binary people prefer he/him/his or she/her/hers or they/them/theirs. Some people prefer it, and if, so it is correct to use it. However, it is always inappropriate to call a person it, unless you are confident that it is its preferred pronoun. Non-binary folk often use ze/hir/hirs, and odder pronouns like zir, co, ey, xe, etc. are sometimes preferred. Do your best. Except zie, that's just wrong, see the entry on zie.

Radar -v. the stuttering of pronouns or honorifics owing to gender confusion. Named for Radar O'Reilly's invariable "sir, ma'am, sir" when addressing Major Hoolihan in the TV show M*A*S*H. Also suggests the scanning motion of the eyes that often accompanies the stutter. Coined by Raphael Carter 1996

Saris – one of the six gender categories in Jewish law, for people who seem male at birth, but later seem seriously non-male. Used largely for eunuchs in the Old Testament, but comes to seem closer to our modern notion of a transwoman later on.

Sib – a informal affectionate term for a non-binary person. Shortened form of sibling. Use it the way you would use bro, sis, dude, lady, mate, buddy, girl (for an adult), honey, sugar, etc. Homie and comrade are also gender neutral if either fit your style.  I wrote more here.

Scrat - Old English term for 'hermaphrodite' - “Hermafroditus, waepenwifestre, uel scratta, uel baeddel.” --AElfric, c.1000 (Waepenwifestre and baeddel have meanings similar to scrat, but seem not to have made it into Modern English in any recognizable form.) “Somtyme one of mankynde is both man & woman & suche..in englyssh is called a scrette.”--Caxton, Trevisa's Higden (1482) - The origins of the word 'scrat' are murky, but they seem to be somehow bound up with the Old Norse skratte, meaning wizard, goblin, monster. 'Old Scratch,' a nickname for the devil, is an alteration of 'scrat.'

Shemale – a terribly impolite term. From the mid 19th to mid 20th century it was used to refer to women who were considered too masculine in a pejorative way. By the 1970s it started shifting to being used to make fun of effeminate males and trans-folk. These days it is usually a rude term or a porn term for pre-operative MtF transsexuals, often fetishizing them for others' gratification. If you are tempted to use this term in psychology or reptile biology (as some people do), then don't.

They – a pronoun that has been used in the singular regularly since frickin' Chaucer. It fell out of favor in the 19th century because prudes and chauvanists argued that using he for everybody regardless of gender was preferrable. They singular is a common pronoun of choice for non-binary folks, and it is not a new or edgy or incorrect use of this very old word, so get over that worry. I like ze though.

Third Gender – a phrase used to describe specific kinds of non-binary people who think of themselves as something other than male or female, like hijras, or fa'afafine, or the sworn virgins of the Balkans. A lot of times it's not necessarily how the people with the supposed third gender identity see themselves (like with the Kathoey), and a lot of times the local gender schema have more than three gender categories available (as in many Native American cases). There is a big danger of projecting our anthropological categories onto other people. Still, often it is an OK way to think about non-binary people. Richard O'Brien describes himself as being in a third gender between male and female. I'm happy to be called third gender, that seems like a decent way to cash out my in-between or mixed gender state.

Tranny – This was actually a polite term once. Long ago.  There are queerfolk who have been around a while that still use it affectionately.  But most transfolk in my experience find it offensive and impolite, here's a careful argument. Unless you are TRYING to degrade someone or sell degrading porn, or provoke a fight within the trans* community, don't use it. Oh and don't try to do any of those things either.

Transgender – 1) someone who thinks the gender assigned to them at birth doesn't fit very well how they think of themselves.
2) a broad term for many many kinds of “transgressive” gender identities.

Trans or Trans* - like transgender, but especially emphasizing inclusiveness and the second definition, and definitely trying to include trans-vestites, and crossdressers, and drag queens/kings, and intersex people, who might not feel they fall under the first definition of transgender above.

Transsexual – every definition I've seen of this is either identical to def#1 of transgender or has medical BS I don't like in it. I think it tends to be used especially for people striving to live and be accepted as the “opposite” sex of their sex-assigned-at-birth, and thus for binary trans-folk - transmen, transboys, transwomen and transgirls. It also tends to be used more for folk that use medical interventions like hormone or surgery. My sense has always been that as a non-binary person I don't count.

Transvestite – see crossdresser

Tumtum or timtum – a Hebrew category of gender from the Mishnas on (first few centuries CE). A person whose gender is not readily apparent, but might wind up being either male or female. Sometimes used as a slur against feminine males, or masculine females, but also used as a neutral category of Jewish legal thought, or even as a self-description. A baby can be tumtum. One who is questioning their own gender identity can be tumtum even to themselves. Someone who is trying to live with a gender presentation that leaves their biological sex in doubt to others might self-identify as tumtum.  Here's the awesome article.

Two-Spirit – a term for grouping a bunch of different Native American identities together (winjke, nadleehe, etc). Often they involve gender variance of some kind, but the lines between bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender, crossdressing, “third gender” and gender-non-conforming can get tricky and vary from tribe to tribe and be not natural concepts in the original languages. Instead of a gender binary for instance it is pretty common for Native American cultures to divide people into 4 types – masculine men, masculine women, feminine men, and feminine women. There is also a lot of evidence that contemporary two-spirit communities and self-understanding differ quite a bit from pre-contact or early-contact two-spirit communities and self-understandings. Its not unusual for a two-spirit person to think of themselves as non-binary in gender even if they seem fairly binary in gender to others.

Waepenwifestre – see scrat

Ze / hir / hirs – Another common pronoun set for genderqueer folk, especially in the Internet age. Hir is pronounced like “hear” or “here” not like “her.” Actually, the vowel in “hir” is just a little different than “here,” but like pin/pen or tin/ten, or bin/Ben, I can't hear the difference with my Midwestern ear and accent. I take this.


Zie / hir / hirs– the WRONG pronoun set, for all right thinking non-binary people. Those who use zie with an i, will be roasted over the flaming remains of their own genitalia of undisclosed shape, for all eternity in the afterlife. Don't let this tragic fate befall you, return to the path of righteousness and use ze without the i.

maybe I should include terms like demisexual, hyposexual, asexual, aromantic, panromantic, MSM, etc. etc. but my inclination is not to include sexuality identities that don't really have a gender component on my list.  Look terms like that up elsewhere.  Also, I've tried and failed to find a decent term for my own sexuality so I don't relish trying to explain the nuances of others.  Currently I joke, say I'm chian, and them give them the definition above when I get the blank look..

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