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AFAB meaning: the popular acronym explained

Robyn Exton

Feb 27, 2023

AFAB meaning: the popular acronym explained
  • As part of the LGBTQA+ community(and even you, ally), we’re well familiar with a bunch of letters that people might not understand, and if you’ve spent any time online lately, you may have come across the term AFAB. But what does it mean? Is it some kind of secret code for a new dance trend? A new way to say “fab as f***”?

    Well, not quite. Allow your friendly neighborhood queer experts to explain.

    What is AFAB?

    Before diving into the definition of AFAB, let’s first talk about the concept of gender assigned at birth

    When babies are born, they are typically labelled with a gender based on their physical characteristics. But what happens when a person grows up and their gender identity doesn’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth? This is where the term comes in.

    AFAB stands for “assigned female at birth.” You’ll see AFAB in useprimarily when discussing transgender and nonbinary communities. 

    An individual who is referred to as AFAB  wasassigned female at birth, but they may identify or present differently now. It’s important to note that being AFAB does not define a person’s gender identity (more at that later). The emergence of terms like AFAB is pretty revealing: we’re seeking ways to talk about biological sex  in a more inclusive manner. 

    Even as we establish better language to separate gender from sex, it’s hard to decenter old social norms. Be thoughtful, because some trans folks would think it rude if you asked them “Are you AFAB?” It’s not a question we ask cis people in casual conversation. And by asking about what they were assigned at birth, you might be focusing too much on an outsider’s perception, rather than the trans person’s actual gender identity.  Unless you’re a medical professional, you probably don’t need to know. 

    Hold up. So, is AFAB the same as being transgender?

    AFAB and being transgender are like two peas in a gender identity pod. They’re related, but not exactly the same.

    We explained what AFAB is, so let’s open up a little parentheses to explain some queer theory 101: being transgender is when your gender identity doesn’t match the gender you were assigned at birth.

    So, if you’re AFAB and identify as a man, you would consider yourself to be transgender. But, not everyone who uses the acronym identifies as men and not all transgender individuals are AFAB.

    So if I’m a cis woman, am I AFAB?

    Ding ding ding! You get it. You were assigned female at birth, and your gender identity matches your birth certificate. So can you use AFAB when describing yourself? Yes!

    As cisgender people, we have certain societal privileges over our transgender friends, and using words like AFAB or AMAB opens up spaces for them to be safe, especially in the medical or biological fields.

    Go on, wear the acronym with pride! Know that it is one step closer to inclusivity for all of us.

    There are many others who fall onto the AFABulous umbrella, such as Drag Queens, both transmasculine and cisfemenine, and nonbinary or genderfluid folk.

    Where did AFAB come from?

    Once upon a time, in the olden days, kids now call the early 2000’s, AFAB wasn’t being used in 15-second videos or instagram posts. No, it was tucked away in academic journals, textbooks, and research papers. 

    You see, before AFAB became well-known in and out the community, it was a term used primarily in the field of gender studies, coined by trans and intersex people.

    So, why is it popping up all over social media? Well, it’s likely because more and more people are becoming aware of and comfortable with gender fluidity. 

    The internet has also become a safe space for many in the LGBTQA+ community to express themselves and share their stories. As a result, AFAB is used as a way for individuals to connect with others who may have similar experiences.

    Source: NBC 

    Why is it important to learn its meaning?

    Being in a community is not only about parties and parades, but also about opening our arms and listening to those in it. That means learning about the terms and language that makes them comfortable, as well as making an effort to understand their identity and preferences.

    Using a term like AFAB also helps in the fight for reproductive rights, being a more inclusive way to talk about abortion and periods without making the people affected by these regulations feel invisible. #AFABrights!

    Of course, only some people are familiar with the term AFAB, and that’s okay. The beauty of the internet is that it allows for easy access to information and resources. So, if you’re unsure about the meaning of of any other term related to gender and sexuality, don’t be afraid to do some research. You can start by checking out here at HER, Urban Dictionary, or reaching out to members of the LGBTQA+ community for more information.

    What’s the tea with AFAB then? The term is more and more common to listen to in our everyday lives.

     There were hundreds of headlines using and normalizing a word that many people probably hadn’t heard before.  Learning language like this is just another aspect of the ever-evolving conversation about gender and sexuality.

    So, the next time you come across the acronym AFAB, you’ll know exactly what it means. And who knows, you may even learn something new about yourself in the process.

    On an ending note, I’m writing this piece on behalf of the wonderful HER team from my perspective as a cis AFAB woman. In my experience, using this acronym contributes to more inclusive language in my community, and I will keep doing so so that my queer, trans, and gender non-conforming friends feel safe in every conversation.

    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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