AMAB Terminology

So as you may have noticed, I refer to myself frequently on this blog as AMAB which means Assigned Male At Birth. So I want to elaborate on what that means to me (aka, not an expert) and why it’s not a good idea to assume that someone else is OK with that descriptor.

The language to describe transgender and nonbinary experiences and identities has evolved A LOT recently. For example, unless someone self identifies as transsexual, it’s not social acceptable anymore to call someone that. There are definitely people who still use the term for a variety of personal and historical reasons such as Julia Serano. But similar to how many other marginalized communities have either rejected or reclaimed words, the trans community is currently in a linguistic revolution.

Which brings me to my point. For a while recently there seemed to be general consensus that the terms AMAB or DMAB (Designated Male At Birth) were the best terms to use to describe people born with a penis who no longer identify as cisgender men in relevant contexts. But part of why that term was used is because it refers to how society, medical staff, and often our families, chose to gender us against our will. Another term that was used similarly was CAMAB (Coercively Assigned Male At Birth) to indicate the non-consensual nature of it. The term MAAB (Male Assigned at Birth) was also used but mostly by TERFs (Trans Exclusionary “Radical Feminists”) in my experience.

But these days, many kids are lucky enough to not have to go through as much of the denial of their gender. Kids are smart and a lot of people know as early as 2-5 that they like thinks such as dresses and dolls or other rejections of masculinity. And more and more, progressive parents and communities are supporting that and either raising their kids as gender neutrally as possible or looking for the signs the kid is displaying and supporting their identity and social “transition” (if you can even call it such at that age). We also now have much better healthcare options such as gender clinics at Children’s Hospitals which allow kids to medically transition younger or use hormone blockers to prevent or delay puberty.

As a result, not all kids are assigned a gender in the same way that those of us who transitioned as adults were. They probably get assigned a letter on their birth certificate but they don’t always have to fight for their identity against constant coercion to be masculine. So I don’t think it is right anymore to simply call someone AMAB because of your assumption about the body parts or chromosomes they had at birth.

As some of my friends have pointed out, when cisgender people use AMAB terminology in conversation, it can often be a politically correct way of misgendering someone or even outing them non-consensually. Whether someone “passes” or not, it isn’t really a stranger’s business what they got assigned in the hospital and definitely not what body parts or assumed chromosomes they have. Don’t try to earn yourself ally cookies by using our identity to brag about your acceptance. For example, unless that person has said it is OK, don’t say things like “my AMAB daughter” or “my AMAB partner.” It often feels like we are being treated as less than real when those terms are used. Saying that a trans woman “was something else” by referring to her dead name or assigned gender is incredibly hurtful and offensive and is far too often used as a weapon against us by TERFs and other bigots.

The reason I use the term here in my blog is because I personally do claim the term AMAB as an important part of my identity. My path to discovering myself is long and complicated but I do think it is useful in understanding ME to know that I thought I was just a weird boy for a long time. I know that if my parents ever described me as their AMAB kid it would feel very affirming because it means that they understand me and have adopted my chosen language as well as my current frame of reference. I very much was assigned male in every sense of the word and it shaped me (though not always in the ways you think), especially in a very unique part of my gender presentation – my beard.

I know I have probably used the term AMAB too broadly when referring to my slice of community here. But I’m not going to go back and edit those right now because the reason for me starting this blog still stands. I want to create online representation for people like me who have beards and who were assigned masculinity and have adopted femininity instead.

So please, keep referring to me as AMAB. But practice removing it from your assumptions about other people.

Can I use “guys” “dude” or “man” as gender neutral?

I would say this is the number one question I get in contexts where I am out as nonbinary. People will often say things like “you guys,” “dude, it would be…”, or “thanks man” around me out of habit, quickly realize their potential faux pas, and clarify that they meant it in a gender neutral way. This is also a conversation I see in trans spaces a lot. So here’s my take on it.

Personally, and I must emphasize here that I do not speak for all trans or even AMAB nonbinary people, I have chosen to accept gendered terms like that as gender neutral in a context where they clearly would have said the same thing to a cisgender woman. Context is key though because there are definitely ways of saying them as an intentional form of misgendering or because you don’t see someones gender. So I can’t really give you a clear hard-and-fast rule on whether you should use them around me.

In general, I highly recommend trying to move away from using those words. While you may mean them in a gender neutral way, we all hopefully know by now that intent is not the same as impact. If you use them around many transgender people, they may get angry or upset, even if they don’t tell you. And that is a completely legitimate reaction to have. They are not being “overly sensitive” or “looking to get angry;” using traditionally gendered language around trans people can be a form of microaggression.

Microaggressions are like mosquito bites – individually they aren’t that bad, merely annoying. But if you get a bunch of them, the effect adds up quickly and can make you irritable, mad, or even dangerously ill. The same is often true for trans people and gendered language. They may have what seems to you to be a disproportionate reaction to something you unintentionally said. But what they are probably reacting to is the cumulative effect of the constant misgendering they get on a daily, if not hourly, basis. So many of us have to fight so hard to be seen for who we are and when things happen to remind us that we still aren’t seen as fully a woman or legitimately not a man (or the reverse), it can be very triggering.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been fighting for public recognition of my gender for a couple years or maybe it is because I am trying to ignore my hurt feelings. But just because one nonbinary person says it is ok, doesn’t mean that you should keep doing it. Correcting your language is very very hard; I know that just as well as anyone. I am making an effort right now to be more aware of the ableism in my turns of phrase, not using words like “crazy” and “stupid,” but I am making very slow progress. Most of the time I don’t catch it until I’ve said it, at which point I try to correct without making a big deal about it.

You can do the same thing with traditionally gendered terms. Rather than waste your energy on trying to emphasize the evolution of language to explain why it is now gender neutral, simply correct yourself with a different phrase and move on. “You guys want to play a game? …I mean ya’ll?” Same thing with pronouns. Don’t launch into a huge apology, just correct mid-sentence if possible and keep talking.

Hopefully this PSA has been helpful.

The power of categories

Gender terms cloudTransgender

Genderqueer

Nonbinary

Gender non-conforming

Transfeminine

MtX

These are all terms I use to describe my gender. There are dozens more already being used and more being created every day to describe and categorize the diversity that we experience in real life. I’ve heard many people criticize identity labels and say things like “why do I need more boxes to fit in” or “I don’t like to label myself”. And while I’m not trying to invalidate their experience, I want to share a bit about why I love labels and categories, especially for gender and sexuality.

I think there is a lot of power in words. Words give us access to intellectual concepts and and language can be incredibly freeing when it is allowed to evolve and grow along with a society. For myself, I didn’t grow up with the concept of gender being anything other than what you were told at birth and it existed as an assumed binary. I didn’t know that trans people even existed until well into my teen years and I didn’t learn about terminology outside the basic LGBT acronym until I joined a highly controversial GSA-style group at my conservative Evangelical university.

Even once I had concepts for transgender and genderqueer, I didn’t really understand that there was diversity within those categories. I knew I didn’t want to be a woman (or at least didn’t think that was something I could access in any way that was meaningful to me but that’s another whole post) but I didn’t think I could be genderqueer either because I thought that meant I had to be androgynous in the sense that I couldn’t have any visible genderedness about my body. So for many years I identified as gender non-conforming for lack of a better way of describing my blurriness.

But as I began to add terminology to my gender toolbox I also began to see places where I might fit. It took until another trans person I was dating suggested that maybe I was genderqueer before I felt like it was something I could dare to explore. And even then it took almost a year before I felt comfortable claiming my place within the genderqueer and trans identities.

Sadly, a large part of that was due to my tendency to self-police my own gender and allow the “not trans enough” feelings to guide me. But I also didn’t understand that not everyone of a particular identity label has to look or feel the same. The key to unlocking my gender was grasping that these are merely categories, useful for finding other people like you but also for pushing the boundaries together of what it means to not be a cisgendered person.

Once I accepted that I didn’t need to desire surgical or hormonal transition above all else and that I didn’t need to lose all of my features that people ascribe to a specific gender (like my beard) I was able to accept that being trans just means not identifying with the (binary) gender you are assigned at birth. I was trans because I was not cis. I am genderqueer because I exist in a blurry space outside of the well-explored binary boxes. I am nonbinary because I don’t want to be a man but I know I’m not a woman. I may have been assigned male at birth but I can transition to be “X”. I can be feminine and have a beard.

So don’t let identity police get you down and tell you what you can or can’t be, especially not based on appearance. And don’t listen to those little shoulder devils whispering doubts in your ear about “being enough.” Claim the categories and terms that work for you now and don’t get hung up on how you might feel about your gender next year. It is OK to evolve and grow. It can be a step in your journey or it can be your final destination but either way it isn’t “just a phase.”