A Word About Words

The power of language to shape our perceptions of other people is immense. Precise use of terms in regards to gender can have a significant impact on demystifying many of the misperceptions associated with gender. However, the vocabulary of gender continues to evolve and there is not universal agreement about the definitions of many terms. Nonetheless, here are some working definitions and examples of frequently used (and misused) terms.

Gender is often mistaken for being the same as sex. In fact, sex refers to the biological characteristics you are given at birth, whereas gender is a conscious part of your identity. Society often refers to only two gender options: male and female. Gender is a spectrum, and there are many more identities than simply male and female.

Gender Identity

Someone’s concept of themself as male or female or both or neither is refered to as their gender identity, this includes how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than that which was assigned at birth.

Transgender (sometimes referred to as ‘trans’)
Transgender is a general term to describe someone whose authentic gender does not match the one they were assigned at birth. Many gender identities exist within the spectrum. The terms listed below are by no means an exhaustive list, and all definitions are fluid and contested.


Cisgender is a term that refers to people whose gender identity is aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth; in other words, people who are not trans.

Genderqueer is a gender identity that does not fit the restrictions of strictly male or female, but is rather a blend of both genders, neither gender, or something in between.

A genderfluid identity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, where a person’s gender is never fixed. Genderfluid people may identitfy as a variety of different genders at different times.

Nonbinary identity means a gender identity that falls outside of the binaries of male or female.

An agender person is somebody who identifies as not having a gender, or as having a neutral gender.

Gender dysphoria
Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress when a person becomes acutely aware of the difference between the gender they were assigned at birth and their gender identity. Not all trans people feel this, and it is not the only indicator of being transgender.

Some transgender people choose to alter themselves to closer fit their true gender – this process is called transitioning. These changes include changes to what they wear, their preferred name and pronoun (he/she/they), and medical adjustments, such as taking hormones or undergoing surgery.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to achieving personal identity, and not everybody sees all options available to them as personally necessary. Everyone is an individual when it comes to transitioning and what measures to take. It can be quite a personal subject matter for people who identify as trans.

Pronouns are how you refer to somebody in the third person. As well as ‘he’ and ‘she’, there is also the singular form of ‘they’, which is sometimes used by a person who feels that the binary choices do not fit their identity. The pronouns used by transgender and gender non-conforming people can vary widely beyond these, and it is better to ask somebody’s pronouns instead of assuming them.

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