When I first encountered these terms, Assigned sex" applied more to intersex people, while "assigned gender" applied more to transgender people. Recently I've seen intersex individuals use the term "Coercively assigned _gender/sex_ at birth" to alleviate any confusion between the terms, given that there is a pretty big difference between observing an infant's genitals at birth and marking M or F on a birth certificate and unnecessarily altering an infant's body surgically to adhere to a sex binary.
I think that the conflation of these terms is down to the fact that male and female can refer to both sex characteristics AND gender identity. It's a fairly straightforward matter of common use dictating how language and words evolve. So if I say I was “assigned male at birth” it’s not necessarily saying, “Oh, no, they observed my genitals and I don’t like that!” It’s more saying, “No, they observed my genitals, assigned my gender based on that information alone and then proceeded to beat the shit out of me for not being a guy once I was old enough to for my transness to obviously manifest itself in my mannerisms.”
I, like yourself and most other trans people, am not deluded about what my sex is. I was assigned male at birth. I am a woman. I am, for all intents and purposes, female. My sex is ultimately irrelevant to that statement, which is the entire point of acronyms like “amab/afab.” Yes. My sex is whatever, and it’s also nobody else’s business.
Nobody anywhere is being hurt if I refer to myself as female, given that calling myself “male” doesn’t help me navigate the world in any real way. I am a trans woman - I am a trans female. The second we start defining ourselves based on our birth sex is when we give the TERFs permission to call us things like “male women.” Yeah, no thanks. Everyone on earth knows what I mean if I call myself a trans woman. The desire to pin “male” to that label is not founded in my human rights or a sincere desire for me to access proper trans-affirming healthcare. It’s an attempt to put us in our place based on our parts, period.
Whether we say “Assigned Gender at Birth” or “Assigned Sex” doesn’t matter in any tangible way. Fixing issues of semantics over well-worn labels will not save us from transphobes who want to define us based on a sex binary. They want us to die. The kneejerk reaction against the evolution of language is not the battle - it’s a side effect of bigotry. We cannot correct bigotry by rigidly defining words to match a culture around gender that is increasingly irrelevant.
Whatever these words meant to you, they will not mean to the youngest generation of trans people, and that’s okay. In the same way that some people identify as transsexual and others as transgender - both are okay. These words are born of different moments in time, and it is we as trans / queer people who get to define them for ourselves. In the same way, if you don’t like “amab/afab” you’re free to identify as “mtf/ftm” if that suits you better.
Ultimately, what my genitals used to look like and what they look like now is only the business of myself, my healthcare professionals, and my husband.
I’ll finish with this: simplifying the way our community defines our experiences to fit cisnormative understanding of sex and gender is not a path to equality. Diminishing ourselves to fit into society may seem like a way to meet cis people in the middle, but it’s actually several steps in the wrong direction. Cis people are not presently meeting us in the middle, and forcing us to define ourselves by their logic will continue to see us contexualizing our experiences on their terms, not our own.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece!