The gender glossary


1st Jan 2015 Life

The gender glossary
With the rapidly increased visibility of gender variant communities in British media it can sometimes be hard to know which words to use. This glossary is not comprehensive, but aims to explain the main terms in a simple, clear way. 


When babies are born, they are assigned the sex of male or female based on their external anatomy. Sex is actually made up of a combination of hormones, chromosomes, and internal reproductive organs. The sex of an infant is what is written on the birth certificate.

Gender identity

This refers to people’s deep-seated, internal sense of what their gender is. For transgender people, this does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For most people, their gender is either "man" or "woman", but for others, it does not fit so neatly into these two choices. Gender identity is purely internal and is not visible to other people.

Gender expression

This refers to the physical indications of gender that people express through their clothing, haircut, behaviour, pronouns, names, and more. Society typically categorises these expressions into masculine, androgynous and feminine, although the definition of what fits into these varies between cultures.
Affirmed gender
The gender by which somebody would like to be known and identified. 

This handy graphic explains which part of the person gender identity, expression, sex and orientation affect. Graphic via Landyn Pan. Click image to enlarge

Sexual orientation

A person’s sexual orientation describes the people they find romantically, sexually, and/or physically attractive. Being transgender does not have anything to do with a person’s sexual orientation. A transgender person can be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or any other orientation in the same way as a cisgender person.

Transgender / trans

An umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people will opt to undergo medical treatment including hormones and/or surgical procedures in order to change their bodies, but not all do. A transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures. 


An older term that is still preferred by some people who have sought a permanent physical change to their bodies. This is a specific and not general term and only applies when an individual uses the term themselves.
Intersex / differences of sexual development (DSD)
Intersex people are born with anatomical aspects of both sexes and so do not fit in with what we culturally categorise as male and female. There has been a troubling history of doctors performing surgery on intersex children and making choices of gender expression for them without consent in order to "align" their bodies as male or female. 
Gender-affirming surgery
No longer referred to as "sex change" surgery, which implies an objective truth of gender, gender-affirming surgery refers to any surgical procedure a person undergoes in order to visibly present more obviously as the gender they identify as. Surgery is not a requirement for somebody to identify as a certain gender, however, and a gender journey is not only "complete" once surgery is undergone. 

Language is an important tool in showing your respect for transgender people. Image via Hampton Roads Pride


Transgender people are not cross-dressers. Cross-dressers are usually heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, make-up and accessories that are typically associated with women. They do not wish to change their gender to become women. In the past, they have also been described as transvestites.
Drag is an art form in which, traditionally, cis-gender men perform as women, but today people of any gender expression use the art form of drag to take on a different performance persona, usually for the purpose of entertainment. When somebody is in drag, refer to them by the pronouns of their character. When they are out of drag, use their personal preferred pronouns. RuPaul, for example, is "she" in drag, and "he" out of drag. 


The transition is the journey undertaken by transgender people in which they seek to change their visible gender expression to match their internal gender identity. This can include personal, medical, and legal steps and generally occurs over a prolonged period of time.

Gender dysphoria

The medical term for what is experienced by those who are transgender. Importantly, it is not classified as a mental health condition.

Illustration via Mel Reiff Hill. Click image to enlarge

Cisgender / cis

Somebody whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. "Cis" is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side as", making it an antonym of "Trans", which means "on the other side of".


If someone identifies as non-binary, then they don’t feel that their identity fits with either "man" or "woman". They can feel like they are both, neither, or a mixture of both. This can also be called gender non-conforming or genderqueer. These identities are distinct from being transgender and should only be used if the person identifies themselves in this way.
Gender non-conforming
This broad term refers to people whose expression is not easily categorised under the gender binary. 
gender glossary


People who identify as gender-fluid usually feel that they are a mix of "man" and "woman". While they’re always a mixture of genders, some days they may feel they identify more with one than others. In Native American culture, the term Two-Spirit is used to describe people who possess qualities of both man and woman.


Gender variant 

Somebody who either through choice or nature does not conform to any societal expectation of gender.
Gender-expansive people have a broader range of gender identities or expressions than we typically expect within the gender binary. It's often used as an umbrella term for younger people who are still exploring their gender identity. 
Deadnaming is the harmful practice of intentionally using the name somebody was assigned at birth after they have told you they prefer a different name, usually relating to the transgender experience. 


Pronouns are words like "he", "her's", "their" which refer to the participant in a discourse. Asking somebody what their pronouns are is a good way of navigating a conversation when you aren't sure of somebody's gender expression. If you are concerned about being rude, begin by offering your own pronouns, and then ask for theirs in return. It is an important act of allyship to normalise asking and offering pronouns as a cisgender person, as it creates a safe space for others to be their whole self. 
This glossary was compiled in reference to the comprehensive GLAAD media reference guide
Feature image via Zen Care