Massachusetts Maritime Academy Safe Harbor Logo

Program Coordinators

Becky Norton
Faculty/Staff Coordinator
Office: 508.830.5000 x2238

Maya Stephani, Cadet 1/C
Student Coordinator

Elizabeth Benway
Dean of Human Resources
Office: 508.830.5086

Michael Ortiz
Associate Director, Office of Intercultural Engagement
Office:  508.830.5133

Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to a person's inner sense of being a man, woman, gender-queer person, bi-gender person, trans person, or another gender identity altogether. When we are born we are assigned a gender based on our perceived sex. Most people grow up and their gender assigned at birth is in line with their sex and their internal sense of gender. We generally grow up to believe there are two dichotomous genders and that everyone's sex and gender match perfectly. In reality gender identity is not always so simple. There are some people who were assigned a gender at birth that is not congruent with their internal sense of gender. Some people assigned the identity of boy at birth are really girls/women and some people assigned the identity of girl at birth are really boys/men. There are some people who feel the identities of boy/man and girl/woman are too restrictive. They may identify as gender-queer, bi-gender or another identity that best fits their own sense of their gender.

As you will see in the definitions below there are many different ways that one can identify gender, and some individuals may use more than one term to describe their gender. Some people seek gender affirmation through sex reassignment surgery and hormones and some do not. There are people who would like to access surgery and hormones but cannot due to a lack of resources including financial constraints and a lack of availability of qualified health care professionals. Most health insurance in the U.S. does not cover these services, making them very inaccessible to many people who need them. It is important to understand the difficulties the lack of resources can create for some transgender people who may not be able to access the resources they need. There is a tremendous amount of prejudice and discrimination transgender people experience within the health care system and the community at large, which is exacerbated by the inaccessibility of resources. Outlined below is some basic information about how to be an ally to transgender people along with additional resources you can access to learn more.

Glossary of Terms

Term Definition
TGI An acronym that can be used as an umbrella term. This adjective refers to people who are transgender, transsexual, Twp Spirit, genderqueer, gender variant, pangender, and/or intersex.
trans (T) an adjective umbrella term describing individuals with transgender and/or transsexual experience or identity. Trans people of any gender identity may have any sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay, bisexual, etc.). Terms like “trans-woman” or “trans-man” should not be used unless preferred by the individual. Many people of transsexual experience do not identify as LGBT or “queer” and may be offended if lumped into the “LGBT” category. It is important not to automatically use this terminology unless the individual prefers it. It can be awkward if you are not sure how someone identifies, but it is much better to ask rather than assume incorrectly. Overwhelmingly people will appreciate it if you take the effort to find out which terms they prefer.
intersex A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Sometimes an intersex condition is evident at birth and other times the condition is not discovered until puberty or adulthood. Children born with atypical reproductive or sexual anatomy have historically been assigned a gender at birth. Adolescents or adults with intersex conditions may change their gender if the one assigned at birth is not the gender with which they identify. The term intersex is preferred over the outdated and offensive term hermaphrodite.
transsexual an adjective that describes people whose body concept differs from their sex designation at birth. Body concept refers to a person’s “hardwiring”, often called “neurological sex” or “kinesthetic sex”. Body concept functions primarily at a physiological, not merely psychological, level and should not be confused with gender role or masculine/feminine behavior. People of transsexual experience may or may not seek medical intervention (sex reassignment surgery and/or hormones) to acquire physical attributes that reflect their body concept. While some individuals self-identify using transsexual as a noun (i.e. the transsexual), many consider this usage offensive. Many people of transsexual experience want to be called “men” or “women”, not “transsexuals”. Many want to be referred to as “male” or “female” based on their body concept rather than their current embodiment or degree of medical transition. 
transgender an adjective used specifically to describe people whose gender identities do not match their sex designation at birth, such as people designated male at birth who identify as women. In the past, “transgender” was used as an umbrella term to describe a broad range of people who experience and express their genders differently from cultural norms. Some people no longer consider “transgender” an inclusive umbrella term. Many trans advocates avoid the adjective “transgendered”, because it encourages usage of “transgender” as a noun (i.e., “a transgender”, “the transgenders”), which many people consider offensive and dehumanizing. As mentioned earlier, if you are in doubt of the terminology preferred by an individual, you should ask.
two spirit (2S) a term popular as both an adjective and a noun among many Native American/First Nations peoples who feel they have two spirits, a male and female spirit, living within a single body. Many consider it offensive when non-Native American/First Nations identify as Two Spirit, as this concept has culturally specific historical roots and meanings.
gender nonconforming This adjective is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identities, expressions, and/or experiences are not limited to a single binary gender identity (i.e., man/woman). This term is not synonymous with “trans” and is often inaccurate to describe people of trans identity or experience, many of whom have binary identities.
genderqueer a term preferred by some individuals whose gender identities do not fit within the man/woman binary. Some people consider themselves neither men nor women, while others consider themselves a combination of both or a third gender. Some GQ people designated female at birth self-identify as “FTX”, meaning female-to-X, with X representing a non-binary gender ID. Some GQ people prefer third gender pronouns “zie” (zee) and “hir” (heer). Example: Alden loves hir job, but zie still finds time for hir friends. Third gender pronouns should never be used for trans people who prefer to be identified with male or female pronouns. When in doubt, ask.
gender fluid a gender identity in which an individual’s gender varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances. Gender fluid people may also identify as multi-gender, non-binary and/or transgender.
neutrois a non-binary gender identity which is considered to be a neutral or null gender. It may also be used to mean genderless, and has considerable overlap with agender. Some people who consider themselves neutrally gendered or genderless may identify as both, while others prefer one term or the other.
bi-gender, pan-gender this term refers to people who have two (bi-) or more (pan-) gender identities. These identities may co-exist or present alternately. Bi-gender (dually gendered) people may describe themselves as “both a man and a woman,” as “third gender”, or as other genders outside the man/woman binary. Bi-gender and pangender people are a natural part of human diversity. Ask for the gender pronoun(s) a bi-gender or pangender person prefers at a given time.
cisgender cis is a prefix meaning “on this side (of)” or “not across.” Cisgender and cissexual is a description of a non-transgender or non-transsexual man or woman when discussing trans issues. Cisgender/Cissexual individuals therefore have a gender identity and body concept that is culturally/socially congruent with their sex and gender designation at birth. These terms are less biased than the popular terms "biomen," "bioguy," or "biowomen."
cis-sexism discrimination and invisibility experienced by TGI people who do not conform to a binary gender, body concept, or anatomy matching their sex designation at birth.
FTM/F2M shortened term for female-to-male trans men. This term is not preferred or used by everyone and should not be used unless a person prefers it.
MTF/M2F shortened term for male-to-female trans women. This term is not preferred or used by everyone and should not be used unless a person prefers it.
trans man used by some people who were designated female at birth, but who identify as men. Trans men often seek or have undergone medical interventions to change their bodies. It is important to understand that trans men are men and should be treated accordingly, whether or not they pass visually as men or have had any medical intervention.
transwoman used by people who were designated male at birth, but who identify as women. Trans women often seek or have undergone medical interventions to change their bodies. It is important to understand that trans women are women and should be treated accordingly, whether or not they pass visually as women or have had any medical intervention.
crossdresser used by people who privately or socially present in clothing, name, and/or pronouns differing from their everyday gender. While some trans and gender variant people begin their self-discovery by crossdressing, many people who self-identify as crossdressers are not transgender and do not seek gender affirmation. Most trans people find it disparaging to be called crossdressers.
butch term often used by people designated female at birth who feel that “woman” does not fit their gender identity. This term is associated with, but not restricted to, lesbian environments. Some butches self-identify as transgender. Some seek male hormones and chest surgery without identifying as men.
gender affirmation refers to the social, legal, and/or medical process of affirming a gender identity and/or body concept different from a person’s birth designation. This term is more clinically accurate and less sensationalist than “sex change;” it is often more culturally sensitive than “transition”. People seeking gender or body concept affirmation are already who they affirm themselves to be inside. A man designated female at birth is not “a woman becoming a man”; his identity as a man motivates him to seek affirmation. 
passing term used to describe individuals and situations where people of trans experience are not publicly identifiable as having a birth-designated sex diverging from their current gender identity and/or body concept. Many trans people are unable to pass. Ability to pass should not be a factor when deciding whether to provide access to medical affirmation services, use of bathrooms matching their gender identity, or use of preferred name and pronouns.
stealth term used to describe people who are not open about their trans history or status in some or all aspects of life. This term is not identical to, or interchangeable with, the concept of “being closeted”. Being “closeted” usually refers to someone who is hiding their sexual orientation for fear of negative repercussions of disclosure of their true identity. Being “stealth” refers to someone who doesn’t reveal their transgender status in order to be their true self and be identified in the correct gender. Often times when a trans person reveals their trans status it causes people to use incorrect gender pronouns and may cause someone to be disrespectful by refusing to acknowledge the trans person’s true identity. 
deep stealth Refers to people who choose not to disclose their trans history or status in all major areas of their lives. Many deep stealth people do not tell their medical providers about their trans history or status. Some even have two separate medical providers, one who knows and whom they see without using insurance, and another from whom they choose to withhold this information.
gender expression how one chooses to express one’s gender identity
sex the biological assignment of “male” or “female” based upon the genitalia an individual possesses at birth. The biological sexes are commonly seen as mutually exclusive, and it is often believed that a person’s sex should dictate their gender identity expression (e.g., those born with “male” genitalia should identify as men and behave in a “masculine” way). However, many individuals are born with sexual characteristics that cannot be categorized as wholly “male” or “female.”
transphobia the fear, hatred, or intolerance of people who identify or are perceived as trans.

Trans Issues

What is Gender Identity Disorder (GID)/Gender Dysphoria?
GID/Gender Dysphoria is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). GID is the mental disorder diagnosis for individuals that identify as the opposite gender that typically corresponds with their birth sex. Transgender and other human rights activists have opposed the existence of GID because it further stigmatizes these individuals. After homosexuality was taken out of the DSM, GID was put in. Homosexuality and GID share many similarities with the reasoning behind why they were put in the DSM. Homosexuality was dismissed as a mental illness because it was the stigma around being gay that caused problems, not being gay by itself. People argue that the same stigma of being transgender exists, and it is not being transgender itself that causes problems. The DSM treats hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery as the "treatment" to GID and many doctors will not allow individuals to receive either without a diagnosis of GID. Being transgender is not a mental illness, but as of right now, the DSM treats it as so. Stating that someone has a gender identity disorder is considered to be offensive and derogatory. There are some TGI people who feel the GID diagnosis is important mainly because they want insurance to cover the huge costs of transition. While in some cases this may be a valid argument, in many cases insurance companies will refuse to cover anything with or without a GID diagnosis.

What is the gender identity of a transgender person?
Some transgender individuals identify as a boy/man or a girl/woman and have no transgender identity. Others may identify as a boy/man or a girl/woman and also have a transgender identity and may identify as a man/woman of trans experience or an affirmed man/woman. Some may identify as a trans boy/man or a rans girl/woman. Some transgender individuals may have a more ambiguous gender identity, such as androgyne, genderqueer, bi-gender, two-spirit, multi-gender, or another self-identified gender.

What are transgender rights?
Transgender individuals do not yet receive the same level of civil rights protections as non-transgender Americans, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause as well as more fundamental principles of human equality. Transgender people deserve to have the same rights as other individuals which may include but are not limited to: a life without discrimination and violence based on their gender identity and expression, access to social services such as homeless shelters, rape crisis shelters, and medical clinics, access to education and employment, equal treatment by law enforcement, housing rights, access to public accommodations such as shops, restaurants, public transportation, and bathrooms, and the right to get married. There is currently no protection on a federal level.

How can I help support transgender rights?
Learn more about transgender rights, support relevant organizations, and talk to family and friends about these important issues. The National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, as well as other local organizations, work to secure transgender rights on a national level. Call your representatives in Congress to see if they support rights for Transgender individuals, including a fully inclusive hate crimes bill and Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Intersex Issues

What does intersex mean?
An intersex individual is born with a variation or ambiguity of external genitalia, internal genitalia, gonads, or sex chromosomes in relation to male and female biology.

What is a hermaphrodite?
The term hermaphrodite literally refers to a creature having both male and female reproductive organs, which only exists in myth for humans. It is an out dated, improper term to refer to intersex individuals and can be seen as derogatory. The term has been used in medical terminology as a condition, however, intersex individuals feel as though it is more appropriate to have a self-identified term, intersex, or Variations of Sexual Development (VSD).

What are Disorders of Sex Development (DSD)?
This term and its guidelines are used by medical doctors to describe and "help" intersex. Many intersex individuals oppose its usage because their bodies are not disorders and it further pathologizes them.

How many people are born intersex?
The number of intersex individuals is difficult to determine. The Intersex Society of North America states that 1 in 100 babies have some sort of variation of the external genitalia from the "standard male and female" but are not labeled as intersex. Also, about 1 in 1,000 babies are born with ambiguous external genitalia. In the U.S., intersex people are forced to be legally male or female. Most of these individuals have genital surgery performed on them following birth to "normalize" their genitals, sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the parents. Many intersex individuals do not have ambiguous external genitalia, but may have ambiguous or differing internal genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonadal sex or hormonal sex. Some of these individuals may not even realize they are intersex until puberty when testes descend or another unexpected physiological phenomenon occurs. It is also possible for some intersex people to never know or to find out in an unrelated situation. For example, a woman track athlete has been tested for steroids and the test came back positive, but not because she was using steroids. Instead, she has a Y chromosome (which females do not have), which she was previously unaware of, and the testosterone caused her test to be read as positive. Another example: A man or woman may have abdominal surgery, but doctors may find ovaries or un-descended testes.

How do intersex individuals define their gender identity?
Some intersex individuals identify as a boy/man or a girl/woman. Some intersex people have a more ambiguous gender identity, such as androgyne, genderqueer, bi-gender, multigender, two-spirit, or another self-identified gender. Although many of these individuals are categorized with medical diagnoses, these are not gender identities. The term intersex can be a self-identified label, like transgender, but may not be a gender identity by itself.