“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” - Audre Lorde
This identity and definitions page is meant to familiarize you with certain identities, including what they mean and how they can affect your experiences and perspectives. You may choose to identify with all, some, or none of these identities. This page aims to show what some identities are. Ultimately, who you are is up to you and defined by you. A better understanding of yourself and others is integral to engaging with the world around you in critical, reflective, authentic ways.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many terms and identities one can use to define themselves, and they are all valid.
What is an identity?
An individual’s social identity indicates who they are in terms of the groups to which they belong. Social identity groups are usually defined by some physical, social, and mental characteristics of individuals. Examples of social identities are race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religion/religious beliefs.
What does “intersectionality” mean?
A term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality is the acknowledgment that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalize people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.
What is privilege?
"Privilege" refers to certain advantages, benefits, or degrees of respect that an individual has by virtue of belonging to certain social identity groups. Within American and other Western societies, these privileged social identities—of people who have historically occupied positions of dominance and power over others—include white people, men, straight people, cisgender people, and the wealthy, among others.
Privilege is not a bad thing. Privilege does, however, inform our experiences, and how we are positioned and therefore treated in society.
What is oppression?
The relationship between two categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse and exploitation of the other. Because oppression is something that occurs between groups of people, it should not be confused with the oppressive behavior of individuals. When we are individually oppressive, however, this allows oppression on a larger scale to be perpetuated.
Can I be oppressed AND have privilege(s)?
Yes. Everyone has a unique lived experience in this world that will be different from that of the groups and communities we are a part of, or other individuals close to us. As Nadia Payan says, “Some of my identities are 100% accepted in the environment I live in...Others…are under attack by the same environment every day. Acknowledging these complexities also opened up possibilities within me about how I wanted to show up to play in this world and life. Some identities I carry come with a lot of privilege in this world...Some identities I carry come with a lot of marginalization in this world…”
What are pronouns?
A pronoun is a word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in the conversation (e.g., I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the conversation (e.g., she, him, they, this).
Des uses the pronouns he, they, el and elle. When speaking about Des, "He is really cute. They’re wearing a really nice shirt! El es lindo. (Elle) Lleve una camisa muy bonita." When speaking to Des, "Hi Des! How are you? You are really cute. I like your shirt!"
Why is it important to use and respect someone’s pronouns?
Misgendering someone can be traumatic and is an act of violence. Pronouns are not “preferred,” they are the ways we refer to those whose genders may or may not exist within the binary. When you are ‘female,’ you do not ‘prefer’ to be called by she/her pronouns; this is an expectation because you are female. Similarly, those who are trans, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming are not always male or female.
How do you ask about someone’s pronouns?
Introduce yourself with your pronouns always, even if you are cisgender. For example, “Hi, I’m Des, and I use he/they pronouns. What are your pronouns?” If you do not know someone’s pronouns, do not assume. Use they/them pronouns until you know what someone’s pronouns are.
What if I mistake someone's pronouns?
It’s okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun).” If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
A lot of the time it can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. Please don’t! It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job. It is also not about you.
If other students or faculty are consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it! It is important as a cisgender person to speak up when harm occurs. Do not draw attention to or make a big deal, though. This means saying something like “Alex uses the pronoun she,” and then moving on.
It may be appropriate to approach the misgendered individual and say something like “I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronoun earlier, and I know that that can be really hurtful. Would you be okay with me taking them aside and reminding them about your pronouns?” Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the comfort level of the person.
What do you mean by themtor?
No, it's not a typo. We use themtor in replacement of 'mentor' to show inclusion of trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, and all other marginalized genders. Our organization particularly uses this spelling to separate ourselves from exclusionary 'mentorship' programs.
It is not just about replacing the 'men' with 'them,' it’s about what big manifestation this small transformation has. Language, as we all know, is not just about what we read and write. It’s much more. Using 'them' makes it clear, once and for all that we are way beyond the identities and roles that have been “assigned” to us since the day we took our first breath. This swapping of letters thus promotes inclusivity and breaks free from the linguistic and patriarchal norms by removing the prefix “men-”. It indicates the denial to be defined by a man.
As our organization is being increasingly intersectional with the change in times, moderation was done not only to recognize independent gender identities by replacing the ‘men’ with 'them' but to also include non-cisgender persons otherwise shamed by a vast majority. From being called names to being marginalized, the Queer community has faced a lot just because they identify themselves beyond the gender binaries we’ve been living with.
The language and diction of the information above were written and inspired by Saavrti via shethepeople.
What do you mean by theirstory?
We use theirstory in replacement of "history" and "herstory" to show the inclusion of transgender, genderqueer, and nongender conforming people. The stories of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Queer people, Women, and more have been erased from our textbooks and education. We use theirstory to exclude ourselves from exclusionary and oppressive "histories."
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Gender and Sexual
“Queer” has many connotations, and to many is still a word that can be hurtful when used especially by cisgender, straight, and other non-LGBTQIA+ people. On the other hand, many LGBTQIA+ folks use queer to self-identify as not exclusively heterosexual. Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel don’t apply to them. Some people may use queer, or more commonly genderqueer, to describe their gender identity and/or gender expression. “Queer” has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA+ people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to some members of the same gender. Can umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who is not straight.
Typically women who are primarily attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other women. Non-men (non-binary people, femmes) can use the term lesbian to describe their attraction to other non-men.
Bisexuality refers to one’s capacity to form physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to the same, other, or more than one gender, not presuming nonmonogamy. These attractions can be experienced in differing ways and degrees over one’s lifetime, and sexual experiences need not determine if one is bisexual or not. That’s why there is such a broad spectrum of terms and identities available that help us talk about whom we’re attracted to. If you are attracted to the same, other, or more than one gender, you may identify as bisexual or “bi+.”
A gender description for when someone’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in an expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to “cis.”
Experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to some members of a different gender.
Non-binary (also spelled nonbinary, or abbreviated by) or genderqueer is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary.
A gender descriptor that indicates a non-traditional gender expression or identity (e.g., "masculine woman"). Also, a gender identity label that indicates a person who identifies outside of the gender binary. Often abbreviated as “GNC.”
A gender description for someone who has transitioned (or is transitioning) from living as one gender to another. An umbrella term for anyone whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity do not correspond in an expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, but does not identify as a man). FtM / F2M; MtF / M2F abbreviated: female-to-male transgender person; male-to-female transgender person.
The I in LGBTQIA+ stands for “intersex.” Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. Intersex people are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes, compared to the “usual” ways that human bodies develop.
Shorthand or umbrella terms for all folks who have a non-normative (or queer) gender or sexuality, there are many different terms people do and do not prefer. LGBTQ is Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer and/or Questioning (sometimes people at a + at the end in an effort to be more inclusive); TGNC is Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (sometimes you’ll see “NB” added for non-binary).
Queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color
Can be experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. Asexuality exists on a spectrum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions, or otherwise. Many of these different places on the spectrum have their own identity labels (see demisexual). Sometimes abbreviated to “ace.”
A word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in the conversation (e.g., I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the conversation (e.g., she, him, they, this). Often used during introductions, becoming more common as a standard practice. Many suggest removing the “preferred,” because it indicates flexibility and/or the power for the speaker to decide which pronouns to use for someone else.
Race, ethnic, and cultural
Racialization can be used to understand how the history of the idea of "race" is still with us and impacts us all, though differentially. The term emphasizes the ideological and systemic, often unconscious processes at work. It also emphasizes how even though racial categories are socially constructed, including whiteness, they are socially and culturally very real.
Black as a racial designation is a skin color-based classification for specific people with a mid to dark brown complexion; often in socially based systems of racial classification in the Western world, the term Black is used to describe persons who are perceived as dark-skinned compared to other populations. It is mostly used for people of Sub-Saharan African descent and the Indigenous people of Oceania, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Indigenous African societies may not use the term Black as a racial identity outside of influences brought by Western cultures.
See “Not all Black people are African American. Here’s why.” When using African Americans, it is nation-specific. We are typically talking about black people who are born in the United States.
The word "Latinx" originated in the mid-2000s "in activist circles primarily in the U.S...The 'x' does not imply a specific gender—as would the 'o' (masculine) or the 'a' (feminine) for nouns in Spanish—and is meant to disrupt the grammatical binary that is inherent in language."
However, the history of using "x" is lengthier, says David Bowles. "Radical feminists in the 90s (and perhaps as early as the 70s) would sometimes on posters and in graffiti would literally "x" out the "o" at the end of words that were meant to include men, women, and non-binary folk altogether."
The word Latinx is a non-gendered, non-binary, inclusive way of referring to folks who are of Latin descent.
Individuals originating from or with roots in regions that are geographically south of China, east of the Indian subcontinent, and north-west of Australia. In contemporary definition, Southeast Asia consists of two geographic regions:
Mainland Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam
Maritime Southeast Asia, also known as the East Indies: the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India), Ashmore and Cartier Islands (Australia), Brunei, Christmas Island (Australia), the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australia), East Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia (except Western New Guinea, which is considered a part of the Oceania), the Philippines and Singapore.
East Asian people comprise those originating from/with roots in East Asia, which consists of China, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea. The major ethnic groups that form the core of East Asia are the Han, Korean, and Yamato. Other ethnic groups of East Asia include the Ainu, Bai, Hui, Manchus, Mongols, Ryukyuan, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Zhuang.
Pacific Islanders are those with origins or roots in the Pacific Islands. Pacific Islander describes the inhabitants and diaspora of any of the three major subregions of Oceania (Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia). It is not used to describe non-indigenous inhabitants of the Pacific islands (i.e. citizens of Pacific states who are of Asian and European descent are not ethnically Pacific Islanders).
Indigenous peoples, also known in some regions as First peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, or Native peoples, are those who are the original or earliest known inhabitants of an area, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied, or colonized the area.
The term BIPOC stands for 'Black, Indigenous, People of Color,' it is meant to unite all people of color in the work for liberation while intentionally acknowledging that not all people of color face the same levels of injustice.
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Class is relative status according to income, wealth, power, and/or position. Income and wealth are both on spectrums, and most of us move a little up or down the spectrums during our lifetimes. Some people grow up in one class and live as adults in another.
For immigrants, there's another layer of confusion, as their class status in their country of origin is often different from their class status in the U.S. Nevertheless, it can be useful for understanding class dynamics to clump people roughly into these four groups.
Low-income or Poor
A subset of working-class people who chronically can't get income sufficient to cover all their basic needs. Signs that someone might belong to this class can include:
substandard housing or homelessness;
long-time use of public benefits, such as welfare, or charity;
chronic unmet needs for health care, food, or other necessities;
frequent involuntary moves, chaos, and disruption of life.
Low-income people are varied in race, culture, values, and political beliefs — although they are disproportionately people of color, women, and children.
Because some low-income people see "poor" as a negatively loaded term, many activists use "low-income" as a more respectful term.
Working-class people are varied in race, culture, values, and political beliefs. They are majority white but compared with the composition of the whole population, they are disproportionately BIPOC and women. Working-class people are more likely to have strong ethnic and religious identities than middle-class people.
People who have some or all of these class indicators, and their family members:
little or no college education; in particular no BA from a 4-year college;
low or negative net worth (assets minus debts);
rental housing or one non-luxury home long saved for and lived in for decades;
occupations involving physical work and/or little control in the workplace.
Lower-middle-class families are somewhat more prosperous and secure, but they have a lot in common with working-class people, such as less college than a BA, and/or less control over their work, and/or fewer assets than professional middle-class families. If they own a small business, it can only survive by the proprietor's hands-on work.
College-educated, salaried professionals and managers and their family members. Middle-class people are varied in race, culture, values, and political beliefs; they are disproportionately white. Signs that someone might belong to the professional middle class can include:
4-year college, especially at private and/or residential schools, sometimes professional school;
secure homeownership, often with several moves up to bigger houses in a lifetime;
more control over the hours and methods of work than working-class people, and/or control over others' work;
more economic security than working-class people (although that difference is eroding), but no way to pay bills without working.
Upper-middle-class families have more in common with owning class families, such as more luxuries and travel than most middle-class families.
The term upper class refers to a group of individuals who occupy the highest place and status in society. These people are considered the wealthiest, lying above the working and middle class in the social hierarchy (which is socially constructed through racial capitalism).
Ruling (Owning) class
Investors and their family members with enough income from assets that they don't have to work to pay basic bills. A subset has positions of power or vast wealth that put them in the ruling class. However, people who live modestly on investment income are also owning class. Owning class people are disproportionately white; they are varied in culture, values, and political beliefs.
Signs that someone might belong to the owning class can include:
elite private schools and colleges;
luxuries and international travel;
owning multiple homes.
A disability is defined as a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual or group. The term is used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic disease.
Disability is conceptualized as being a multidimensional experience for the person involved.
This term is used to describe someone who does not identify as having a disability. Some members of the disability community oppose its use because it implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. They may prefer “non-disabled” or “enabled” as being more accurate. The term “non-disabled” or the phrase “does not have a disability” or “is not living with a disability” are more neutral choices.
Visible disabilities can be noticed to an individual just looking at the person. They may have facial features that show they have a disability, they may have involuntary shaking throughout their body or they may not be physically able to move as the average individual does.
Invisible or Hidden disability
Invisible disabilities, also known as Hidden Disabilities or Non-visible Disabilities, are disabilities that are not immediately apparent, are typically chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living.
Do not apply the term “invisible disability” to a person without asking what he or she prefers. Many people with chronic illnesses do not consider themselves disabled and thus may be offended by the term. If a preference is unknown, specify the condition rather than referring to it as a “hidden disability,” which is vague and open to interpretation.
The term disability justice was coined out of conversations between disabled queer women of color activists in 2005, including Patty Berne of Sins Invalid (and Mia Mingus & Stacy Milbern, who eventually united with Leroy Moore, Eli Clare, and Sebastian Margaret) seeking to challenge radical and progressive movements to more fully address ableism.
"Disability Justice was built because the Disability Rights Movement and Disability Studies do not inherently centralize the needs and experiences of folks experiencing intersectional oppression, such as disabled people of color, immigrants with disabilities, queers with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming people with disabilities, people with disabilities who are houseless, people with disabilities who are incarcerated, people with disabilities who have had their ancestral lands stolen, amongst others."
Disability justice recognizes the intersecting legacies of white supremacy, colonial capitalism, gendered oppression, and ableism in understanding how people's bodies and minds are labeled ‘deviant’, ‘unproductive’, ‘disposable’ and/or ‘invalid’.
Take a look at this
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classism, and more through
a disability justice framework.