Gender Definition & Resources
Discussions on gender identity are taking place on campuses and in communities all over our nation, but many people find it difficult to join the conversation. That’s understandable. After all, when topics feel taboo and the terminology is new, it’s easy to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. This glossary was developed to clarify the words and concepts that surround gender identity, in the hope it will encourage open dialogue in our community.
Glossary of Terms
sex: the classification of a person as male, female, or intersex. At birth, infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. This is what is written on the birth certificate. A person's sex, however, is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics. 2
sex assigned at birth: the assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another sex assigned at birth often based on physical anatomy at birth and/or karyotyping. 1
intersex: describes a person with less common combination of hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy that are used to assign sex at birth. There are many examples such as Klinefelter Syndrome, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Parents and medical professionals usually coercively assign intersex infants a sex and have, in the past, been medically permitted to perform surgical operations to conform the infant's genitalia to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults speak out against the practice. The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for transgender (although some intersex people do identify as transgender). 1
gender: a social combination of identity, expression, and social elements related to masculinity and femininity. Includes gender identity (self-identification), gender expression (self-expression), social gender (social expectations), gender roles (socialized actions), and gender attribution (social perception).
gender identity: one's internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same. 1
gender expression: the physical manifestation of one's gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine, feminine, or androgynous). Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. Someone with a gender nonconforming gender expression may or may not be transgender. 1
cisgender/cis: term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth. The term cisgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. Note that cisgender does not have an "ed" at the end. 1
transgender/trans: encompassing term of my gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. Note that transgender does not have an "ed" at the end. 1
sexual orientation: a person's physical, romantic, emotional, aesthetic, and/or other form of attraction to others. In Western cultures, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is exclusively attracted to other women would often identify as lesbian.
The Gender Unicorn show us that everyone has a gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and physical and emotional attraction (even if it's not to someone). Below, we are going to explore more words we have to describe gender identities.
cisgender man: a person who was assigned male at birth and identifies as a man.
cisgender woman: a person who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman.
genderqueer: an identity commonly used by people who do not identify or express their gender within the gender binary. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither male nor female, may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels. Many genderqueer people are cisgender and identify with it as an aesthetic. Not everyone who identifies as genderqueer identifies as trans or nonbinary. 1
gender fluid: a changing or "fluid" gender identity. 1
hijra: a person assigned male at birth who rejects their masculine identity and identify either as woman, or "not-man," or "in between man and women" or "neither man nor woman." Referred to as a third gender, not transgender. Depending on the region, the terms might be different, such as kinnar in north India or Aravani in Tamil Nadu, for example. 3
man: a person who identifies as a man, may be cisgender or transgender.
nonbinary: (also non-binary) preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man, used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is a nonbinary person). Not all nonbinary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as nonbinary. Sometimes (and increasingly), nonbinary can be used to describe the aesthetic/presentation/expression of a cisgender or transgender person. 1
transgender: encompassing term of my gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. Note that transgender does not have an "ed" at the end. 1
trans man/trans masculine/FtM: Trans man generally describes someone assigned female at birth who identifies as a man. This individual may or may not actively identify as trans. Sometimes trans men identify as female-to-male (also FTM, F2M, or trans masculine). Please ask before identifying someone. Use the term and pronouns preferred by the individual. 1
tran woman/trans feminine/MtF: Trans woman generally describes someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman. This individual may or may not actively identify as trans. Sometimes trans women identify as male-to-female (also MTF, M2F, or trans feminine). Please ask before identifying someone. Use the term and pronouns preferred by the individual. 1
Two Spirit: an umbrella term indexing various indigenous gender identities in North America. 1
woman: a person who identifies as a woman, may be cisgender or transgender.
1 "LGBTQ+ Definitions" from Trans Student Educational Resources
2 "Glossary of Terms- Transgender" from GLAAD Media Reference Guide- Transgender
- OEDI's Guide to Pronoun Use
- UWC's Guidance on Preferred Names
- The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey
- GLSEN's 2015 National School Climate Survey
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project's Trans 101
- Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg
- My New Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein
- The Gender Book
- Campus Pride's Trans Policy Clearinghouse
- The Safe Space Network's Terminology
- Everyday Feminism's Transgender 101: A Guide to Gender and Identity to Help You Keep Up with Conversation