Words Matter

Here’s the problem with AGAB phraseology, according to trans folks

It’s depressing that have to have this conversation again, but it’s hardly surprising. Even though the point of transness, for many folks whose identities fall under the trans umbrella, is that it’s nobody’s business what we had going on genital-wise at birth, people still find ways to insist that we disclose exactly what we were “born as.”

But there are so many reasons why that’s a harmful way to think about transness, and one TikToker recently broke it down clearly and concisely for anyone who might be confused.

@elliejf2

my thoughts on AMAB and AFAB (AGAB terminology) as a trans woman! these are likely some controversial opinions, id love for your thoughts on it trans and intersex ppl! my main take is that i am a trans woman and i WAS assigned male at birth, but i do not claim the label of being AMAB. i just really dont like the casual contexts of the word nowadays, it really bothers me. especially when cisgender people use it, PARTICULARLY cisgender queer people. i fully want cisgender people to NEVER use the word and only use the phrase and id love for your thoughts on that!!! sorry for the long video lol :p

♬ original sound – eleanor farnsworth

“I wish [AGAB terminology] stayed a phrase and never became an acronym,” explains trans TikToker Eleanor Farnsworth in a recent video, “because from the acronym it became a word.”

Farnsworth continues to break it down, explaining that the phrase “assigned female at birth” is a good explanation of “what happened to [her]” as well as a good critique of the way gender is doled out before a baby has even taken their first breath.

But when we get used to using the acronym as shorthand to describe what genitals someone may or may not have been born with, that’s were things can get very troublesome very quickly, Farnsworth explains. Because AMAB “doesn’t describe who I am,” she says, “it describes an event.”

Exactly that: someone being assigned a gender they do not identify with refers to something that happened in the past, not something that has any bearing on who they are now.

In current conversations, it’s become routine for someone who isn’t entirely trans literate to use the phrase “biological male” or “biological female” as a qualifier, and this phrase has recently started getting swapped out for AFAB or AMAB. But that can be harmful: when someone puts a qualifier before a trans person’s gender, it feels like the person speaking doesn’t trust the trans label to do the work itself. It doesn’t matter what happened to use when we were born: the important thing is how we identify now, as adults.

But if we use AMAB or AFAB as it was meant to be used, Farnsworth says—as a critique of the idea of biological gender—there’s no way it should be able to be swapped out indiscriminately. It then becomes “a part of your identity,” she says, instead of an event that happened to you in the past.

Language is forever changing, especially in the queer community, but that’s why we have to pay attention to when words that felt progressive are starting to shift toward essentialist territory. The AMAB/AFAB acronym is “being used as a workaround to misgender me at this point,” one commenter stated.

So as always, choose your words carefully, and make sure you’ve done your research when it comes to trans terminology. Words and phrases have more power than we know.

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