Terms around gender and identity may seem complex on the surface, but they don’t have to be. Even a basic understanding of gender terminology can help you to be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
Whether you’re learning some of these terms for the first time or just need a refresher, we’ve created this brief glossary to help.
Sex is typically assigned at birth. Although many think the only two categories are male and female, some individuals are intersex. This is because they may have chromosomes or genitalia that don’t fit the typical expectation of a male or female body.
While sex is based on biological composition, gender is not. Gender is a socially constructed concept relating to someone’s personal identity. It’s often treated as a spectrum, with many gender identities existing and being expressed in different ways.
Gender identity is a person’s internal concept of their gender and may not be related to their biological sex. For example, someone may be biologically male but identify as non-binary (defined below).
On the other hand, gender expression is how someone shows the world their gender. This can be through behavior, clothing, pronouns, etc. Like gender itself, gender expression exists on a spectrum. Terms you may hear related to gender expression are “masc” (short for masculine) or “fem/femme” (short for feminine).
Someone who is cisgender has a gender that aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth (e.g., a woman with female anatomy or a man with male anatomy). You may hear it shortened to “cis.”
Someone who is transgender does not have a gender that aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. You may hear it shortened to “trans.” It’s important to note that while some individuals who are transgender go through surgeries or hormone replacement therapy to feel more closely aligned with their gender, not everyone has the resources or desire to do so.
While some people identify as either a man or a woman, those who have an identity outside of this binary commonly refer to themselves as non-binary. You may also hear the phrase “enby” (from the initials NB).
This is a broad term for someone who expresses their gender in a way that isn’t just masculine or feminine. They don’t fit neatly into society’s norms or stereotypes about gender.
While gender expression is more likely to change regularly, gender identity can change as well. Someone who is gender fluid has a gender identity that changes over time and may move between different identity categories.
When someone feels as though the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t match their gender, they may experience gender dysphoria. This can be a distressing feeling, but it often improves as the person learns more about their identity and feels welcome and safe expressing who they feel like on the inside.
Remember, these terms are about gender rather than sexuality, which has to do with who someone is attracted to. You can find more information on different types of sexuality here.
While these terms only cover the basics, the most important thing to remember is to respect those around you, even if their identity is new to you. Everyone’s journey with gender is different, and at Valley Oaks Health, we hope this glossary helps you to be a better ally!