Notes on Terminology

Original photograph by Joachim Huber.
Original photograph by Joachim Huber.

All living languages are constantly in flux. So too are identities. Put those things together and you’ve got so many moving targets that it can feel impossible to ever be precise.

That said, particularly when it comes to the way an individual choses to identify at a given time, precise and often hard-won statements are being made when a person claims an identity that runs counter to societal norms, expectations, contemporary medicine, or legislation.

Terms like “lesbian,” “womanist,” “queer,” “trans” “undocumented,” or “mixed-race” can be both personal and political statements that challenge others to see what may not be visible, to acknowledge differences, and to confront assumptions or boundaries. At the same time, someone assigned male at birth who now identifies simply as a “woman,” without “trans” or any other modifier, is also using language to lay claim to a contested identity

But even with specific meanings, language remains playful and porous. Many whose lives are constantly categorized by others are incredibly adept at screwing with, subverting, and sliding across meanings. Not to mention all the multi-lingual people of the world, who navigate the slippage between worlds and words on a daily basis.

With that in mind, the purpose of this page is to serve as a loose reference point for some of the general and specific terms that I’ll be using on this website and in the documentary. I’ll try to note the edits I make to this page over the course of the project as part of the process of negotiating my own use of language and the way it is used in the spaces I visit and participate in. I’ll also try to add a few references here for further reading when I come across them.


Generally I hate acronyms. Their meanings are largely hidden, plus they just feel bureaucratic. That said, the growing and various acronyms meant to include all sexualities and genders are often driven by an intention to be inclusive. Rather than listing these lengthy acronyms, I will often use “queer” as an umbrella term and shorthand for all those who fall anywhere outside of heterosexuality and/or are not cis-gendered. Often when I use LGBTQ my intention is LGBTQ*, where the asterisk on the “Q” implies a broadly inclusive meaning of “queer.”


This one is relatively straightforward, though a recent invention. It refers to a person whose gender identification matches the gender they were assigned at birth, implying that the external genitalia you were born with matches your gender identity. In other words, someone who has been seen as a woman by society all their life and who also self-identifies as a woman.


Alternate spellings of the words “woman” or “women” are common among some lesbian feminist, feminist, and womanist communities, in part as a way of negating centuries-old narratives claiming that women came from or were literally derived from men. I use “woman/women” throughout the website to refer generally to those who self-identify as female, woman, womon, womyn, wimmin, or other variations thereof. When not speaking generally, I will try to abide by the individual’s preferred identifier.


Following the example I’ve seen a lot lately, I will often use the shorthand trans* when speaking more generally about the broad spectrum of identities that fall outside of the cis-male/female gender binary. When referring to specific individuals, I will strive to abide by their preferred gender pronouns and identifiers.


When speaking generally about individuals or groups of people, I will often use “they” rather than “his or her” or preferencing one gender. When referring to specific individuals, I will strive to abide by their preferred gender pronouns and identifiers.

This also reflects the vernacular American English that I have spoken since I was a kid. Today, as then, I rarely if ever stop to say, “Which way did he or she go?” instead of “Which way did they go?”


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