The terms “AMAB” and “AFAB” often come up in LGBTQ discussions and spaces. If you’ve just started exploring your own sexuality or are an ally who wants to do right by your LGBTQ friends, learning the proper terminology can help you gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ experience.
Here, we break down the meaning and importance of the terms AMAB and AFAB.
Sex vs. Gender
Sex and gender are two independent components of our identities. Sex is a label that is assigned to you based on your sex characteristics. In contrast, your gender identity is your innermost conception of your maleness or femaleness – it’s how you feel inside.
AMAB and AFAB are inclusive descriptors that are meant to emphasize that, as children, we are assigned a sex based solely on external characteristics. However, this label is incomplete. Gender identity and expression are parts of your individual self that only you can determine.
Transgender vs. Non-binary
Transgender people have a gender identity that does not align with their sex. Many (but not all) transgender people experience gender dysphoria – a kind of extreme discomfort or distress due to that mismatch between their sex and gender. As such, many trans people opt to undergo gender-affirming procedures, from changing their name and pronouns to taking hormone replacement therapy to surgery.
People who are non-binary do not strictly identify as either men or women. They may also undergo steps to affirm their gender identity, including using gender-neutral pronouns and changing their appearance. While some non-binary people identify as trans, not all do.
Both trans and non-binary people may refer to themselves as AMAB or AFAB when necessary.
AMAB is an acronym that stands for “assigned male at birth”. An AMAB is a person who was designated “male” by their doctor when they were born. This designation is often based on someone’s external anatomy – if you were born with a penis and testes, you’re likely to have been identified as a boy at birth. People who are assigned male at birth may or may not identify with that label later on in life. Transgender women, intersex people, and non-binary people may label themselves or be labeled as AMAB.
Who Identifies As AMAB?
Transgender and non-binary people primarily use the term AMAB when necessary, but it should be noted that AMAB/AFAB are not gender identities. You don’t call another person AMAB (unless they’re absolutely okay with it) nor do you identify yourself as AMAB the same way you would call yourself gay, straight, or pansexual.
Pronouncing AMAB and meaning
AMAB is pronounced as “EY-MAB.” It is an acronym that stands for “assigned female at birth”. Like AMAB, AFAB is a label (not a gender identity) that can help people better understand their own relationships with gender. Transgender men, intersex, and non-binary people may label themselves or be labeled as AFAB.
Who Identifies as AFAB?
Anyone who is labeled “female” at birth – whether based on their external anatomy, internal organs, or chromosomes – is AFAB. You don’t have to be transgender or non-binary to be AFAB.
AFAB is pronounced as “EY-FAB.”
Why Are These Terms Important?
Up until recently, most people used the acronyms MTF (male to female) and FTM (female to male) to describe transgender people. However, the use of these terms is now being reassessed, as they come with some problematic connotations.
For one, the terms imply that transgender people start as one gender and later transition to another. In other words, trans people are born “biologically” male or female, and they identify with these labels once upon a time in their lives.
However, recent studies have found that transgender and non-binary children have a strong conception of their gender identities early on in childhood. Thus, a trans man does not “start as a girl” and transition into a boy – they’ve likely known they are a boy all their lives.
The terms MTF and FTM are also contentious because they seem to ignore the existence of non-binary people who identify as neither men nor women. Thus, the terms “male to female” or “female to male” would make no sense for a non-binary person. AMAB and AFAB, on the other hand, reflect the sex that one was assigned at birth regardless of their gender identity today.
The terms MTF and FTM also overlook intersex people or those who are born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Many intersex people don’t get a say in their sex – there is a long history of medical professionals performing non-consensual procedures to “correct” what are deemed to be anomalous external genitalia. When this happens, doctors and parents decide an intersex person’s sex for themselves and use this to impose upon their gender identity.
The Bottom Line
As we gain a better understanding of sex and gender, we have to be open to the idea of learning new terms and concepts. AMAB and AFAB are just two of those terms that are becoming more and more normalized as we continue discussions about what it means to be LGBTQ.