Gender Ideology’s Verbal Engineering

COMMENTARY: Why language matters in the context of the heated debate over ‘transgender’ issues.

When one term can be used to mean eight or nine things, confusion, not clarity, will be the result.
When one term can be used to mean eight or nine things, confusion, not clarity, will be the result. (photo: Clare M / Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a two part series on the issues surrounding gender identity. 


Watch your language... You should not say “transgender.”

I can hear the howls already: You are erasing trans people! 

I’m not trying to “erase” anyone. 

My point is that the words “trans” or “transgender” are used to mean so many different things, that these terms create more confusion than clarity. Let’s make sure we understand each other, that’s all. Let’s get started. 

The American Psychological Association offers the following definition of transgender: 

Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with their biological sex.

Notice that this definition contains other words that need to be defined. The APA defines the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” this way:

Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else.  
Gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics. 

Notice that “gender identity” appears in both definitions. In that sense, “gender identity” is the core concept. And “gender identity” is entirely subjective, by definition. There can be no objective, measurable definition of “gender identity,” since it is based entirely on the individual’s feelings. 

Feelings aren’t static. They can even be volatile. A person’s “internal sense” of self, including the parts relating to gender, can change over time. In fact, peoples’ mature sense of themselves should be different from their younger sense of self. 

More importantly, for public purposes, no one can observe another person’s interior life. I can’t tell if you are telling me the full truth about your authentic self. You may be kidding yourself. You may be indulging in wishful thinking. You may be flat-out lying. We have no public, observable, objective criterion by which to judge another person’s interior life. 

I encourage you to read the entire APA page that I’ve linked to. You will look in vain for any physical symptoms; a blood test, a DNA test, even a persistent pattern of behavior that someone else might be able to verify. 

This is important because it means people can define their “gender identity” any way they want. No one has solid grounds for challenging their “internal sense” of themselves. This in turn, is important because our society is in the process of creating legal rights and protections for a new category called “transgender.” 

Trans Rights Activists (sometimes abbreviated to TRA) wish to impose obligations that other people owe to the “transgender” person. Before we accommodate this demand, it would be prudent to take full notice of the fact that people can define themselves into or out of this new legal category called “transgender” for any reason they want. 

Let me give you some examples of some very different kinds of people who are currently wearing the “transgender” label. 

1. The Pretender: a mediocre male athlete who says he’s a woman so he can win competitions he could not win against other male athletes. He is not the same sort of “transgender” as 

2. The Predator: the convicted rapist who says he’s a woman so he can be housed in women’s prisons, locked into a cell with his preferred victim. He, in turn, has nothing in common with

3. The Autistic Teen Girl: who says she’s a boy because she sees it as a way to fit in with a group of friends who seem to like her better as a trans boy than an ordinary girl. She has something in common, but not much with 

4. The Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoric Teen Girl who has spent too much time in internet chat rooms and becomes convinced that becoming a boy will make her happy. She has literally nothing in common with 

5. The Adult Man who decides, after years of marriage and perhaps siring children, while secretly cross-dressing because it sexually arouses him (known as “autogynephilia”), that he is, and always has been, a woman. He, in turn has nothing in common with 

6. The Victim of Munchausen by Proxy, the boy whose mother has been the center of lots and lots of attention since she decided he was really a girl when he was age 3. This boy most likely has nothing in common with 

7. The Freaked Out Same Sex-Attracted Kid, including the boy who concludes it would be easier to be a transgender girl than a gay boy or the girl who concludes it would be easier to be a transgender boy than a lesbian girl. They in turn have nothing in common with 

8. The Authentically Gender Dysphoric Teen who hates his or her body and has a distorted image of what he or she looks like. These people might have more in common with an anorexic than with some of the other people wearing the “trans” label.  

9. Finally, let’s not forget the people sometimes called Intersexed. The proper term for them is people with Disorders of Sexual Development. These are the people who actually have one of a number of medically diagnosable conditions. Their “internal sense of themselves as male or female or something else” may influence some aspects of their treatment. But the underlying condition itself is not defined by their feelings, but by medically observable criteria. The people with Disorders of Sexual Development quickly disappear from the conversation once the transgender rights activists are finished using them to bolster their claim that “sex is not binary.” 

This is why all thinking people should stop using the term “trans” or “transgender.” When one term can be used to mean eight or nine things, confusion, not clarity, will be the result. Some, perhaps most people who use these terms do so in good faith. Sincerely motivated by compassion, and misled by nonstop propaganda, using the term "trans" doesn’t actually help the people they think they are trying to help. 

On the contrary, the use of these terms enables the continuation of some very deep problems. I also believe that the real movers and shakers who invented these terms know perfectly well that they’re causing weaponized ambiguity.  In my next column, I will give you some pointers about what to say instead. In the meantime, stop saying “trans.”  


Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is founder and president of the Ruth Institute, which helps the victims of the Sexual Revolution recover from their experiences and become advocates for positive change.

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