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Gender Terminology 101

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

A unicorn with information about gender termsWritten by: Esmé Rodríguez, MA, PhD; School Equity Director, OutFront MN

Click here to download this information in a PDF.

Who We Are

Sex

The classification of people as male or female. Infants are assigned a sex at birth, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. This is what is written on the birth certificate at birth. However, a person’s sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.

Intersex

A general term used for a variety of ways in which a person can be born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Gender Identity

One’s internal, deeply held sense of one’s gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender Expression

External manifestations of gender, expressed through one’s name, pronouns, clothing haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Cisgender

A term used to describe people whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” so a person who is not transgender is cisgender, which can also be shortened to “cis.”

Transgender (adj.)

And umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms. Some transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures.

Transgender man

A person assigned female at birth, but who is a man.

Transgender woman 

A person assigned male at birth, but who is a woman.

Gender Non-Conforming

A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender nonconforming people identify as transgender; nore are all transgender people gender nonconforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional; that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.

*Don’t forget: Although many people feel that their gender identity is fixed and unchanging, for many others, it will grow and evolve throughout their lives. There are no rules about how you must identify. Always be true to yourself.

**Please note: Language is fluid, constantly changing, and open to interpretation, so this list is by no means perfect, exhaustive, or inviolable. Identity terms can be tricky and therefore it would be impossible to make a list that pleases every single person. We’ve done our best and are always welcome to comments and constructive critiques.

OutFront Minnesota’s mission is to create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination. OutFront MN envisions a state where LGBTQ individuals have equal opportunities, protection and rights. OutFront MN is working toward the day when all Minnesotans have the freedom, power and confidence to make the best choices for their own lives.

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