Q: Are trans people just making up silly words for their gender identities?

A: All words are made up, but they’re made up for a reason. Language is constantly changing and evolving in association with culture: Grammatical rules change, the meanings of existing words change (e.g. gay, queer, Democrat, Republican), and new words are made up in order to articulate concepts that exist and have reason to be articulated. It’s not the concepts that are made up. There are lots of gender identity labels because there are lots of gender identities. Trans and nonbinary people aren’t making up identities, just filling in a gap in our language.

Many of the concepts that describe the experiences of trans people are not part of the collective understanding of our society or milieu. As a result, when we try to describe our experiences, we are often written off as unintelligible, irrational, or outright insane. When we acquire the language to accurately articulate our own experiences as pertain to gender, and to communicate them to others, it gives us agency over those experiences.

This is why you’re seeing a lot of new words for gender identities. But if these identities have existed for a long time, then why are the words just now becoming part of our language? Apart from the general cultural taboo, part of the reason we don’t hear about very many trans people historically is that other concepts were used to describe trans identities: At best, transmasculine people were called lesbians or tomboys; transfemmes were called homosexuals or crossdressers; or they were just “different.” (Of course, cis lesbians, gender nonconforming cis women, gay cis men, and crossdressing cis men still exist– We just have more categories now.)

Why should you care about using, or engaging with, this language?

Further reading