While I was “out,” Pt. 1 – trans* related linguistics

I’ve been out of the office (and by office, I mean table in the dining room) quite a bit lately because I’ve been working a series of 12 hour shifts at my real job – filling in for my supervisor plus doing my own work.  But that’s not really what I’m writing about right now…

For a few years, I was very much disconnected from the trans* community, and I’ve been recently back in some big ways (online at least… for now).  Where was I from roughly 2007-2013?  Why was I not involved?  How was I involved before that time period?  Why did I decide to come back?  These questions are basically teasers for right now.  I’ll be elaborating on all of that in the near future, but in this moment, I want to focus on some things that have changed in that short time period, linguistically speaking.

When I started to dip my toes back in the water, I started at LiveJournal, a space I’m familiar with and had been an active contributor in the past.  I joined a group that’s all about non-binary identities but was quickly confused by a bunch of phrases and acronyms I’d never encountered before.  I had no idea what AFAB/AMAB, FAAB/MAAB, DFAB/DMAB, CAFAB/CAMAB* stood for, or why there was an asterisk now attached to the word “trans*.”  The most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns, last I was aware, were “ze/hir/hirs.”  In fact, I hadn’t even heard of any others, not even “they/them/their.”  !!!  I’d never come across the honorific, “Mx.”  I had not heard of the terms “neutrios,” “agender,” or “bigender,” although these were easy enough to figure out.  In fact, in the past, I had identified (and I still identify) as genderqueer, but at the time, I strongly wished there was a better word  (and maybe it was there, all along – I just wasn’t aware of it).  I would have definitely identified as “agender” or “neutrois” if I’d been familiar with those words then.  Now, not quite so much.

(I’m getting bogged down by trying to link everything!  Here is an additional good resource, and I’ll just leave it at that.  Nonbinary.org  The internet is, you know, pretty search friendly anyway.  You can do the work yourself, haha.)

Coincidentally, I came across a book at the library last week, called Uncharted:  Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture.  I’m only 36 pages in, but it’s already one of the most interesting books I’ve EVER read.  Highly recommend!  (If you’re into quantifying things and looking at social trends.)  Basically, the authors teamed up with Google and created this website.  Google has been digitizing over 30 million books over the past 10 years, and they’re just getting started.  What that provides (among many things), is a database for how frequently words and phrases are used within languages and over great spans of time.  And these guys came up with a search engine lens to chart this stuff.  I decided to see what a graph would look like between 1980 and now (it cut me off at 2008, unfortunately) for the phrases “female-bodied” vs. “FAAB” vs. “AFAB.”  It looks like this:



(You can click on it for a clearer image)

What does this all mean?  Well, it means we can look at how words and phrases shift over time.  (We can also see how infrequently these words/phrases are used, but that’s beside the point, a little bit…)  It’s incredibly exciting to me that I could have been out of the loop for roughly 6 years – a very short time, relatively speaking – and when I came back to these dialogues, there was a bunch of new terms I’d never heard of!  The trans* umbrella is an amazingly rich and dynamic area of changing identities, linguistics, politics, health initiatives, etc.  It feels like there are endless things for me to write about and stay up to date with!  Let’s continue discovering…


*What do all these acronyms stand for?!!  Well!  here is the long string:  Assigned female at birth / Assigned male at birth, Female assigned at birth / Male assigned at birth, Designated female at birth / Designated male at birth, Coercively assigned female at birth / Coercively assigned male at birth.  These terms are gaining traction over “Female-bodied, Male-bodied,” which was previously the dominant way to describe someone’s birth sex, I believe…

12 Comments on “While I was “out,” Pt. 1 – trans* related linguistics”

  1. Amy says:

    Huh, I recently read a non-fiction book about trans teens, and non of those acronyms were used…although I did see “their/theirs” used for some of the pronouns. I guess the author didn’t want to overwhelm folks who are new to the trans community? Anyway, it’s awesome that the community is flourishing and there are so many ways for folks to identify. Thanks for posting about it so that I can learn more!


    • janitorqueer says:

      Oh, was the book you read by Cris Beam? I wanna read it! I read a fiction book by that author, “I am J,” and really liked it…
      That’s awesome you’re reading up on trans* stuff!


  2. micah says:

    hmm i will have to get that book now. off to use ngrams…


  3. micah says:

    this one is super interesting

    too bad these go up to 2008, given that’s 6 trans-years of rapidly changing linguistics which is like 60 regular years!


    • rimonim says:

      Very interesting–I like how you can see “transgender” emerging in the late ’80s and overtaking “transsexual” around 2001.


    • janitorqueer says:

      that is super interesting. And I know! I’m not sure why it’s only up till 2008 – maybe they haven’t digitized more recent books yet…? I want to know what has gone on from 2008 till right this minute!


  4. urbanmythcafe says:

    I love the evolution of language. Expressions are emerging, because they are needed to express things that could not easily be expressed before.


  5. rimonim says:

    These terms are proliferating at a dizzying rate! I wonder if we’re in a kind of term heyday right now, and in a decade or two, a consensus will emerge on some terms, while others will fade away. I am really pleased with the switch from male-bodied/female-bodied to MAAB/FAAB (and variations)–much closer to the truth, at least for me.


    • janitorqueer says:

      I bet you’re totally right about a consensus starting to be reached in the near future, and in some ways it’s surprising that we’re not there yet. It feels like there’s potential for new and better terms to emerge still, although I can’t think about what they might be.


  6. tsoihawk says:

    I hadn’t heard of those, either! Thanks for this post.


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