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The amazing Ash Hardell came to visit me in Missoula, Montana and we sat down for a conversation about language. I've been using 'biosex' to describe a person's hormonal/chromosomal/anatomical/reproductive natal 'sex.' Ash likes 'sex assigned at birth'. Even though my intention and the context in which I use 'biosex' make sense and aren't intended to do harm I like that there's a more precise alternative. This video is my transition in language.

Saying 'assigned female at birth' or 'assigned male at birth' is a way to really emphasize that not only is 'sex' not at all binary and that a person can change their biological makeup in some ways, the assignment upon being born is really the reason why a person has a sex descriptor at all.

I love how gently and thoughtfully Ash guides me through rewording things and the opportunity to be more inclusive.

To read Ash's book: The ABC's of LGBT+:
To listen to the Sexplanations Podcast where I interview Ash: 863387665 (up Friday)
To watch Ash's smart and beautiful YouTube channel:
To follow Ash on Twitter: @ashhardell
Please follow me too: @elleteedee
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[whip cracks, throat clearing]

Lindsey: Ash Hardell is in my office.

Ash: Hey everyone!

L: You have a YouTube channel. It's brilliant. I love it. You wrote a book. Can we show them your book?

A: Absolutely!

L: It's beautiful. And you're visiting me in Missoula, which is so kind of you, because then I can ask you to help me with something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I have been using the word "biosex" to preface male, female, intersex, I suppose, as well, to explain what a person might have going on reproductively for medical or clinical purposes. So for example, I would say, "I'm a biosex female. I identify as a cis woman or a female, a cis female, but my biosex might suggest that I have a vulva and a uterus, that I produce eggs and that I release more "female" hormones and maybe have XX chromosomes.

I also don't know that there is anything grossly wrong with it, but when I go to conferences or speak at campuses, some individuals will come up to me afterward with some ideas about how to do this differently. And more and more, I'm getting messages that are like, "Hey, I don't feel comfortable with sharing your content because you say biosex," because there is a movement to this next level.

So it was, don't say male or female at all. Let's get to this next level, of biosex. Do biosex. That worked really well for a while, and now we're... we're at next level communication.

A: Mm hmm.

L: Are we... we're all here? Everybody's good?

A: I'm here. I like it so far.

L: What I would like you to do is help me move toward the highest level that we can get to right now with the language that we have.

A: We know right now, that kind of, the most popular next step would be like the terms "assigned female at birth" and "assigned male at birth." If there's anyone who's unfamiliar with what that means, it means exactly what it sounds like. Talking about what you were labelled when you were born, and usually what that means, simply, is what genitals you have. That's really, usually, what it's based off. The doctor looks at you and they see what they would label either...

L: Hamburger or turtle...

A: Yeah.

L: what I've heard.

A: And then they assign you a sex. Usually it's male or female. Once in a while, they will actually assign somebody intersex at birth, but a lot of times intersex individuals find out that they're intersex later in life. And the reason that AFAB and AMAB are preferred is because it acknowledges how flawed and imprecise biomale and biofemale is, and how you aren't, like, inherently perfectly totally male or female, but in fact you were just assigned into this category.

L: When I had this discussion previously with someone, I explained that that's what biosex male or female, et cetera, mean to me. That it means this is something assigned to you, that we rarely know a person's chromosomes, that we don't know what's going on with their hormones. We are basing it on their genitals and then we're going from there, for that person to then have an identity and express that identity in roles or performance or behavior later. But what you're saying is, like, I'd really like to emphasize the "assigned" part.

A: Mm hmm.

L: And I also think that the "bio" part of saying that this is like my "life sex," for example, is doing harm.

A: Well, because I'm thinking about the way you described it...

L: OK.

A: the beginning. You were talking about what might it mean to be a biofemale, and you were like, "Maybe that means my chromosomes are XX?" I think if everybody was as aware as you that there's all this biological diversity, and what it means to be "male" and "female," then that would be a few steps in a better direction. But I just don't think that's where we are right now. At all. We can still use these categories, with Assigned Male at Birth and Assigned Female at Birth, but we're just acknowledging that they're not great, they're not perfect, and maybe we should figure a different way out.

L: Something even higher than...

A: Yeah!

L: ... AFAB and AMAB?

A: Uh huh. So maybe just not assigning sex at birth could be great.

L: So this child would be born and we would say, "I had a baby!"

A: Yes! And you'd be like, great, what's it's name?

L: So then they go off to school...

A: Mm hmm.

L: ...I think that the school is the first place where we're really organized in a binary way, like boys over here, girls over here, girls use this bathroom, boys use this bathroom.

A: But if we're existing in a world where we don't assign sex to begin with, I don't even know what that would look like.

L: It would look like the bathrooms that we have in our homes.

A: Yup.

L: And then what about medical care?

A: Well, then you would just ask the relevant questions. So for example, like are you wondering if somebody should be considering being screened for breast cancer? Then instead of asking, like, well are you a biofemale, you would ask, do you have breasts? You're trying to find all the right people to give mammograms to, and you only did it to "biofemales," you would miss a lot of trans women who've grown breasts after starting hormones.

A lot of the times when we use biofemale or biomale in reference to trans people, we're trying to understand their bodies rather than their gender. But calling a trans woman a biomale is inaccurate, especially if she's physically moved forward in her transition, 'cause she will have changed her biology. She will have added estrogen, she may have grown certain body parts or had certain surgeries. She isn't biologically male, so it's just inaccurate. That's just another way that, biomale and biofemale are inaccurate. So if she went in for any kind of treatment, just to say biomale wouldn't be telling her whole story or what is going on in her body at all.

When talking about medical treatment, you just ask the relevant question, and you'd ask about the body parts that the treatment would pertain to.

L: So how do you think I should switch over?

A: I think that you should just replace...

L: Done!

A: Yup!

L: This video!

A: I think you should just replace whenever you say biomale or biofemale with either what you mean, like a person with a vagina, if it's relevant to that body part, or AFAB, or AMAB, or intersex.

L: The pros of doing this are that I am communicating in a way that feels good to the people that really value the distinction in language. I am being more accurate about what these terms are being used to describe, because when I say biosex male, we don't know exactly what that means, and when I say assigned male at birth, we know that that probably means that somebody was marked based on their genitals.

A: Correct.

L: And then we have it in the meaning of the word that there's assumptions being made...

A: Yup.

L: ... about the rest of that person's body.

A: Mm hmm.

L: Or their mind. Another pro would be that I like learning and I'm forward-moving, so like...

A: Yeah! And you're not afraid to adapt and make changes...

L: Right.

A: ...and adopt language that makes more people super-comfy.

L: So are there any cons?

A: Some people won't like change because they don't like change.

L: Mm hmm.

A: It's hard for me to think of any cons.

L: (laughing) Then there, then there might not be!

A: Yeah, I think it's more precise. I think it's more inclusive.

L: I'm really glad that you are the one having this conversation with me because I think that you are very smart, and because you're curious, you're constantly engaging with people who this matters to.

A: Mm hmm.

L: Or people who this affects, and saying how can we do it better. What are the words that we should be using? What are the harms that we're doing? Thank you so much!

A: Yeah! I think it's cool that you're making the switch to more precise, inclusive language. That's a big deal. It's hard to make a big change, and you're doing it. I think that's neat.

L: It's about intention and context, often, but also impact, right? Like I want to make sure that what I am saying is being received correctly.

A: 'Cause you have so much good information on your channel, you wouldn't want anyone to, like, be turned away, or not watch just because there was a couple, like, triggering phrases or words. This way you invite those people in as well.

L: Thank you so much!

A: Thank you!

Both: Stay curious!

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