Assigned gender at birth
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Assigned gender at birth is what people usually really mean when they speak of a person's sex. This is because a person's sex is much more difficult to determine than most people believe. When a person is born, a doctor assigns a gender by only looking for one thing: the presence or absence of what they consider to be a penis. That person's assigned gender, and their original legal gender/sex, is based on that quick look. As they grow up, the doctor's guess can turn out to be wrong, either because the person had an undiagnosed intersex condition, or they are transgender and don't identify with their assigned gender.
Other phrasing[edit | edit source]
People writing about gender use several different phrases to refer to assigned gender at birth. Some of them are more accurate and respectful than others. This list gives some of these phrases.
- Assigned Gender At Birth (AGAB). Most people are either Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) or Assigned Male At Birth (AMAB). This is an accurate and respectful phrase.
- Gender Assigned At Birth (GAAB) is a different word order for the above phrase, with the same meaning. This makes Female Assigned At Birth (FAAB), and Male Assigned At Birth (MAAB).
- Designated Gender At Birth (DGAB). Most people are either Designated Female At Birth (DFAB) or Designated Male At Birth (DMAB). This phrase is used interchangeably with AGAB, with much the same meaning.
- Coercively Assigned Gender At Birth (CAGAB). Most people are either Coercively Assigned Female At Birth (CAFAB) or male (CAMAB). Unlike AGAB and GAAB, CAGAB emphasizes that the gender was assigned against the person's will, and implies that the person was abused as a child. People disagree about who gets to say their gender was coercively assigned. Some say only intersex people can call themselves CAGAB, and that the coercion refers to non-consensual practices such as genital surgery given to intersex infants to make their genitals "normal." However, many children who aren't intersex also have a gender role assigned to them by means of coercion and abuse. For example, some parents put gender non-conforming and transgender children through "conversion therapy" to make the children conform to their assigned gender.
The next list of phrases gives those that aren't as accurate or respectful. Please use one of the above phrases instead of them.
- Biological sex (biological girl, biological boy) isn't a good phrase for talking about assigned gender or sex. For example, although a typical transgender woman was assigned male at birth, it would offend her to call her a biological male. She's not a non-biological woman or a robot. Because she is a woman, she might not consider herself to have a "male biology". It would be more tactful to describe her as AMAB. Even more tactful, no direct explicit reference to her assigned gender at birth at all, and simply say that she is a trans woman.
- Genetic girl and genetic boy aren't good things to call someone, for similar reasons as "biological sex". "Genetic" refers to chromosomes, but doctors usually don't check babies' chromosomes at birth. During pregnancy, some OBGYN practices offer fetal genetic testing and use the sex chromosome result to assign a gender, but chromosomes aren't part of how gender is assigned at birth. Even adults only rarely get to find out what their chromosomes are. Doctors only do that test if they think it might answer questions certain kinds of challenges with health and fertility. Intersex conditions prove that there is no guarantee that a person's assigned gender might match their chromosomes.
- Natal sex (as in natal female and natal male). This means the sex that a person supposedly had when they were born. Because of the problems in determining a baby's actual sex, a more accurate phrase is "assigned at birth" or one of its variants.
AFAB[edit | edit source]
Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB), also called Female Assigned At Birth (FAAB), or Designated Female At Birth (DFAB). The term Coercively Assigned Female At Birth (CAFAB) means the same, but with additional nuances. Less accurate or respectful terms for this are biological female, genetic girl, and natal female.
When a person is born, a doctor will say the baby is female based on this one criteria: the absence of a penis, or rather, or a clitoris smaller than a certain size. The doctor doesn't check the baby for the presence of a vagina, so sometimes the absence of this is missed. Some people with intersex conditions who were AFAB only discover they don't have a vagina once they are older. The doctor also doesn't check the baby's chromosomes to assign a female gender, so a person who was AFAB doesn't necessarily have XX chromosomes.
A person who was AFAB usually but doesn't necessarily consider their sex to be female. Being AFAB doesn't mean that a person necessarily has a female gender identity, which is the main criteria for someone being female. Being AFAB doesn't necessarily mean that someone is a person perceived as a woman (PPW).
Transgender people who were AFAB are usually assumed to be transgender men. However, some transgender people who were AFAB are nonbinary, not trans men. Transgender people who were AFAB can be said more broadly to be on the trans masculine spectrum, which can include some AFAB nonbinary people, and AFAB butches. However, the umbrella term of trans masculine doesn't include transgender people who were AFAB who don't think of themselves as masculine.
A few of the physical characteristics of a person who was AFAB often include:
- A uterus, ovaries, and vagina, unless if they were born without one or another of them (agenesis), or had them removed (hysterectomy, oophorectomy, or vaginectomy, respectively) to treat or prevent disease
- The ability to give birth, unless if sterile, or without some of the anatomy listed above, or past childbearing years
- Breasts (a secondary sexual characteristic), unless if they never developed, or they had them removed (mastectomy) to treat or prevent breast cancer
- Has a hormone balance with estrogen higher than testosterone, and the presence of progesterone
- Chromosomes that are XX (textbook example), XY (androgen insensitivity syndrome), XXX (triple X syndrome), XXXX, X (Turner syndrome), or others. People rarely take a test to find out what these are, unless if they think it might explain another physical challenge.
It is possible for an AFAB person to have a body with few of the physical characteristics that are usually used to describe a typical cisgender female body.
AMAB[edit | edit source]
Assigned Male At Birth (AMAB), also called Male Assigned At Birth (MAAB), or Designated Male At Birth (DMAB). The term Coercively Assigned Male At Birth (CAMAB) means the same, but with additional nuances. Less accurate or respectful terms for this are biological male, genetic boy, and natal male.
When a person is born, a doctor will say the baby is male based on this one criteria: the presence of a penis or a clitoris over a certain size. The doctor doesn't check the baby for the absence of a vagina, so sometimes the presence of this is missed. Some people with intersex conditions who were AMAB only discover they have a vagina once they are older. The doctor also doesn't check chromosomes, so a person who was AMAB doesn't necessarily have XY chromosomes.
Transgender people who were AMAB are usually assumed to be transgender women. However, some transgender people who were AMAB are nonbinary, not trans women. Transgender people who were AMAB can be said more broadly to be on the trans feminine spectrum, which can include some AMAB nonbinary people. However, the umbrella term of trans feminine doesn't include transgender people who were AMAB who don't think of themselves as feminine.
A few of the physical characteristics of a person who was AMAB often include:
- No vagina or uterus. However, some people who were AMAB were born with one or another of them (persistent Müllerian duct syndrome). Some only find out they have a uterus if they have scans or surgery on their abdomen for other reasons, or if they menstruate.
- Descended testes and scrotum, although sometimes testes never descend (cryptorchid), or are removed to treat or prevent disease
- Penis or large clitoris. With some intersex conditions, the difference between these can be unclear.
- Chromosomes that are XY (textbook example), XX (de la Chapelle syndrome), XXY (Klinefelter's syndrome), XXYY, or others.
It is possible for a person who was AMAB to have a body with few of the physical characteristics that are usually used to describe a typical cisgender male body.
Intersex conditions[edit | edit source]
See main article: Intersex.