When a baby is born, their biological sex (male or female) is assigned to them based on their physical attributes. But gender is more than one’s sex. Traditionally, gender includes socially constructed roles and behaviors typically associated with males and females. One’s gender may match their biological sex, but it may differ — or their gender may not align to either sex at all.
Defining Gender Terms
Understanding the difference between sex vs. gender is the key to understanding gender identity. There may be two sexes, but that doesn’t mean there are only two genders. Learn important gender identity terms to best support those in the LGBTQIA+ community, or to better explore your own gender identity.
When someone identifies as agender, they don’t align with any gender at all. Other words for agender include genderless, genderfree, gender apathetic, and gender neutral.
A person who identifies as bigender either moves between a traditional masculine and feminine identity, or they identify as both at once.
A cisgender (sometimes called cisnormative) person’s assigned sex at birth corresponds with their gender identity and expression. For example, someone who was assigned male at birth and who identifies as male is cisgender.
The term genderqueer describes someone who identifies with a gender, no gender or a combination of the stereotypical male and female characteristics. Similar terms include non-binary or gender fluid.
Someone who identifies as gender expansive may have a broader gender identity than the commonly held definitions of gender and gender expression. They may not identify with being masculine or feminine, they may identify as a combination of both, or they might express their gender in a different way.
When a person identifies as gender fluid, they have a flexible gender identity and expression that can fluctuate over time. Gender fluid individuals may also identify as non-binary or genderqueer.
A person who identifies as gender non-conforming has a gender expression that does not correspond with the appearance or behaviors of a stereotypical male or female. Not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender, and not all transgender people are gender non-conforming.
If a person isn’t sure whether they identify as a particular gender or not, they may be gender questioning. A gender questioning person may experiment with aspects of their gender expression, such as clothing or hairstyles, before deciding on their gender identity.
Often shortened to nb or enby, the term nonbinary refers to someone who doesn’t identify with a masculine or feminine gender. Gender identities that may be considered nonbinary include genderqueer and gender fluid.
Someone who identifies as pangender (also called multigender or omnigender) aligns with multiple parts of multiple genders at once. In many ways, pangender is the opposite gender identity as agender.
Also known as trans, transgender is an umbrella term for when a person's gender identity is different than what society expects based on the person's sex assigned at birth. (Note that the term is transgender, never transgendered.)
Additional Gender Terms To Know
Now that you know several basic gender identity terms, make sure that you understand more nuanced definitions as well.
- AFAB - Assigned Female at Birth
- AMAB - Assigned Male at Birth
- deadname - the name assigned at birth that a person no longer goes by (and may be affiliated with a gender with which they don’t identify)
- gender affirmation surgery (often called sex reassignment surgery) - a treatment for gender dysphoria which changes the physical appearance and function of a person's genitals to bring them into alignment with their gender identity
- gender dysphoria - an emotional and psychological condition experienced when a person's gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth
- gender expression - how a person presents their gender to others through clothing, hairstyle, voice and mannerisms
- gender identity - a person's internal sense of self, which can be male, female, both, neither or something else
- gender inclusive - using gender-neutral language and policies to avoid excluding people who don’t identify as masculine or feminine
- gender norms - traditional male and female roles in society, including clothing, behavior, appearance and attitude
- graygender - someone who isn’t concerned with their gender expression
- intergender - a person whose gender identity falls between masculine and feminine
- intersex - a general term covering a variety of conditions in which a person's sex characteristics — including chromosomes, gonads or genitals — are not distinct to either a male or female
- LGBTQIA+ - community name that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning), Intersex, Asexual (or Allies), and anyone else whose sexual preference and/or gender identity doesn’t align with societal norms
- misgender - to refer to someone by the wrong gender, either by using incorrect pronouns or deadnaming them, by accident or on purpose
- queer - once a derogatory term for anyone other than cisgender or heterosexual people, but now an all-inclusive category and title of pride for those in the LGBTQIA+ community
- they/them - one of many sets of pronouns that people with non-conforming gender identities may prefer to use instead of he/him or she/her
- transgender man - a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and expresses their gender as masculine (sometimes shortened to trans man)
- transgender woman - a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and expresses their gender as feminine (sometimes shortened to trans woman)
- transitioning - the state of transitioning between gender identities or sexes, either socially, personally or surgically
- transphobia - an internalized fear or aversion to those who identify as transgender
Respecting Gender Diversity
You don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all gender terms to support people around you or to find the correct way to express your own gender identity. But understanding the complexities of gender identities is an important first step, no matter what journey you or your loved ones are on.