Glossary of Must-Know Gender Identity Terms

Must Know Gender Identity Terms

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

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Gender identity terms are words that are used to help convey meaning related to how people identify with particular genders regardless of their sex assignment at birth. While it may seem arbitrary to some people, the words that we use are extremely important as they can be used to either exclude or empower. Choosing words carefully when we speak can help to affirm someone’s identity and challenge discrimination against them.

On the other hand, choosing not to use the words someone prefers can be disempowering and demeaning. To help you recognize the words that are best in each situation and be an ally, it helps to familiarize yourself with common terms. Given that terms are also constantly changing, it can be helpful to ask someone how they self-identify to make sure that you are using the language that they prefer and that feels affirming to them.

You may feel awkward or uncomfortable asking someone their pronounces, for example, but rest assured that people are generally happy to educate to ensure they are identified correctly.

In addition, terms may not be standard across cultures, languages, and different groups of people. In particular, if you grew up as part of Gen X or an older generation, chances are that all of these terms feel somewhat new to you. While you may feel that you are at a disadvantage in terms of knowing what to say, there’s no need to worry that you are going to say the wrong thing if you are willing to learn.

While in the past people were accustomed to speaking in binary language (male vs. female gender matching assigned sex only), this terminology ignored people who experience a sense of gender that doesn’t fit into societal norms. This also reflected a limited understanding of gender that doesn’t account for the variations of identities that we know to exist today.

Below is a glossary of terms to help you familiarize yourself with the different words and meanings that you may encounter. Remember that these terms are constantly changing and it's important to stay up-to-date by asking people about their preferred terms.

A Through E

AFAB: Acronym with the meaning “assigned female at birth.”

AMAB: Acronym with the meaning “assigned male at birth.”

Agender: Referring to a person who does not identify with any gender identities, most people who use agender don't feel that they have a gender at all.

Ally: Ally is a term to describe anyone who actively and fully supports the LGBTQIA+ community.

Androgynous: Referring to a person with a gender identity or presentation that is neutral or has both masculine and feminine parts. Synonyms include null-gender, androgyne, genderless, and neutrosis.

Assigned Sex at Birth: A medical assignment given at birth based on physical characteristics of the body. This can refer to male, female, or also intersex.

Bigender: Referring to a person who identifies with two different genders at the same time.

Body Dysphoria: Discomfort about the body that is related to gender identity and misalignment with physical characteristics such as anatomy, secondary sex characteristics, reproductive organs, etc.

Cisgender or Cisnormativity: A person whose gender identity or subconscious sex aligns with the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, a person assigned the sex of a male at birth who identifies as male gender would be considered cisgender. Similarly, a person assigned the sex of female at birth and who identifies as female gender would be cisgender.

Most people are cisgender and so this is considered the “norm,” which can lead to systemic and unintentional prejudice against trans people in society. However, cisgender individuals can also be gender non-conforming. The Latin prefix “cis” means “on the same side.”

Cisgender Privilege: Referring to the experience of never having one’s natural sexual identity be questioned by society. This leads to the behavior of taking for granted that everyone has the same life experience and a lack of struggle with their gender identity.

Coming out: The ongoing process of disclosing one's gender identity to oneself and others (e.g., with friends, at work, with family).

Cross-Dresser: A person who wears clothing that is not typical for their gender. Usually, the term is used for men who prefer to dress in women’s clothing. This may be done for self-expression or other reasons. Synonyms include transvestite or drag queen. Being a cross-dresser does not automatically equal being transgender, some people may just do this to express themselves.

Deadname: Name assigned at birth that the individual does not identify with. Deadnames reflect the idea that the name is no longer how the person identifies, hence the word “dead.” Being deadnamed can cause trans people to experience dysphoria.

Demigender/Demiboy/Demigirl: The prefix “demi” indicates a person who has the experience of partially identifying with a particular gender and includes those who may be nonbinary. Other related terms include demienby and demitrans.

F Through L

Family of choice: The circle of friends, partners, etc. that people who are LGBTQIA+ choose to associate with because they provide validation, support, and a feeling of belonging that they may be missing in their biological family.

Female-to-male (FTM): Referring to people who were assigned female at birth but who identify as male. This may or may not involve changing the body through medical procedures or surgeries.

Feminine-of-center: Referring to a person who identifies with a feminine gender expression regardless of whether they consider themself a woman or were assigned the sex of female at birth.

Feminine-presenting: Referring to a person with an outward gender expression that appears feminine. For example, this could be shown through style, mannerisms, body language, etc.

Femme: Referring to a person with a gender identity or expression that leans toward being feminine in general. A person who is femme does not necessarily identify as a woman and is not necessarily assigned the female sex at birth by a doctor.

Gender Affirmation Surgery: Surgery to affirm an individual’s gender identity that involves changing primary or secondary sex characteristics. This can be necessary to alleviate gender dysphoria.

Gender Apathetic: Referring to a person who does not care about their gender nor how they appear to others in terms of their gender. In other words, they do not identify with any particular gender.

Gender Binary: A binary division of gender into only two types (man or woman) which is expected to match the sex assigned at birth (male, female, or intersex). This system does not allow for people who identify with a gender that does not fit the binary system or people who feel their gender is fluid rather than fixed.

Gender Conforming: Referring to a person who follows the rules of society about how genders should act, behave, and appear to others.

Gender Dysphoria: A medical diagnosis and term to reflect the distress experienced by individuals who have a misalignment between their sex assigned at birth and the gender that they identify with internally. This means that a person doesn’t feel right about their body parts, physical characteristics, or societal interactions in terms of their internal experience of gender.

Gender Expansive: Referring to people who work to make culture more inclusive in terms of gender expression, gender roles, and gender norms in society.

Gender Expression: The way that a person publicly expresses their gender as masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc. For example, gender can be expressed through their clothing, hair and makeup, body language, chosen name, pronouns, mannerisms, interests, etc.

For trans people, they may also physically alter their body through medical interventions to match their internal gender identity such as hormone therapy or surgery. Also known as gender presentation.

Gender Bender: Referring to an attack on stereotypes about gender that questions norms and expectations in society. May also be referred to as a genderf***.

Genderfluid: Referring to a person who shifts between genders or who feels as though their gender changes over time either rapidly or gradually.

Gender Identity: A core sense of the self as being a woman, man, or neither. This does not always align with the sex assigned at birth and can develop and change over time. It also cannot be assumed based on outward physical characteristics.

Gender-Inclusive Pronouns: Pronouns that are neutral and can be used by both transgender and cisgender people. For example, the words they, them, and theirs when used to refer to a single person are gender-neutral pronouns.

Gender Minority: Referring to people who are transgender or gender non-conforming and are in the minority in relation to society as a whole in terms of the binary view of gender.

Gender Non-conforming (gender variant, genderqueer): People whose gender expression does not follow the gender norms or societal expectations for the sex they were given at birth or their perceived sex. This includes people who are androgynous, feminine men, masculine women, etc. This can include trans people but not all people who are gender non-conforming identify as trans. People of any gender can be gender nonconforming (e.g., cis, nonbinary, trans).

Gender Norms: The cultural and social norms assigned to women and men regarding clothing, appearance, roles, and behavior. For example, women are expected to behave more passively than men, while men are expected to be more dominant than women. People who do not fit gender norms may be singled out (e.g., an overly feminine man or a dominant woman).

Gender Queer: Referring to a person who does not align with the gender binary of man vs. woman.

Gender Questioning: Referring to a person who is questioning aspects of their gender such as their gender identity or gender expression.

Gender Roles: Societal norms about what it means to belong to a certain gender. These can change over time and refer to behaviors, interests, etc. They may also differ across cultures.

Gender Outlaw: A person who does not follow the rules of society as far as being defined in a binary way (male vs. female).

Graygender: Referring to a person who does not experience a strong pull toward any particular gender identity or expression.

Intergender: Referring to a person who does not experience one gender, but rather falls between male and female gender identities.

Internalized Transphobia: Feeling uncomfortable with oneself because of having transgender feelings or a gender identity that does not match one’s assigned sex at birth or the gender roles of society.

Intersex: A person born with characteristics that are not easily categorized as male or female (e.g., reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones). For example, a man could be born with ovaries instead of testes or a woman could be born with XY chromosomes. Intersex occurs at a rate of about one in 1500 births but most people are assigned either male or female sex at birth regardless of being intersex. Intersex people may identify with their assigned sex, identify with the opposite sex, or identify as intersex. They do not usually identify as trans (transgender or transsexual).

LGBTTTIQ: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, and queer.

LGBT: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.

LGBTQIA+: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual/ally, etc.

LGBTQ+: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, etc. This acronym is internationally recognized.

LGBTQ2: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and two-spirit.

LGBTI: An acronym representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex.

“Lived” Gender Identity: The combination of an internal gender identity and how it is publicly expressed (gender expression) in daily life such as when shopping, at work, when in the community, etc.

M Through R

Male-to-female (MTF): Referring to people who were assigned male at birth but who identify as female. This may or may not involve changing the body through medical procedures.

Masculine-of-Center: People who identify as masculine. These individuals may or may not identify as a man. Being masculine-of-center does not indicate a person’s assigned sex at birth.

Masculine-presenting: People with a gender expression that they consider to be masculine. This includes outward expression through such things as body language, mannerisms, physical characteristics, and style.  This term does not indicate anything about assigned sex at birth.

Maverique: A person who experiences their gender identity to be separate from current categories and descriptions.

Misgender: Calling someone by the wrong pronoun or using language that is not inclusive to their gender identity.

Multi-gender: People who identify with more than one gender. This includes people who identify as bigender, trigender, pangender, polygender, and in some cases, genderfluid.

Neutrois: People who have a gender that is neither male nor female. This includes nonbinary, genderless, genderfluid, and agender identities.

Nonbinary: Nonbinary (sometimes called enby or nb) is an umbrella term for anyone who falls outside the gender binary of male or female. Some people simply identify as non-binary and some identify as a specific type of nonbinary identity. Examples include genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, bigender, etc.

Novigender: A gender identity used to describe the experience of people who don’t feel that their gender can be described using existing categories due to its complexity.

Out or Out of the Closet: Being open about one’s gender identity with others.

Outing Someone: Outing someone means telling a person about someone else's gender identity or sexuality when they may not be out yet. Ex. My friend Stacy told her parents I'm trans when I didn't want them to know yet. Outing someone can be very harmful as they might not be in a safe environment to come out on their own.

Omnigender: A person who identifies with all gender identities.

Pangender: A gender identity that involves experiencing many different gender identities simultaneously.

Passing: The experience of “passing” for one’s gender identity. For example, a transgender individual may be accepted by strangers as being the gender that they identify with even when this is different from their assigned sex at birth. This typically involves cues originating from physical characteristics, behaviors, and mannerisms.

Polygender and Pangender: The experience of displaying different parts from multiple gender identities.

Queer: Previously used as a derogatory term for transgender and transsexual individuals, which has since been reclaimed by the community to display their identities with pride.

Questioning: People who are in the process of questioning their gender identity and wish to explore different options.

S Through Z

Sex: A classification system assigned at birth based on a person’s physical characteristics, reproductive systems, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. Sex is generally classified at birth as male, female, or intersex based on the appearance of the external genitalia. If these are ambiguous, sex is assigned based on internal genitalia, hormones, and chromosomes. Sex is generally recorded on the birth certificate but can sometimes be changed on this document as well as on other legal documents such as a driver’s license.

Sex Assigned at Birth: The sex assigned to a person at birth based on the existing classification system.

Social Dysphoria: A type of gender dysphoria that arises from distress about how other people label, interact with or perceive an individual. It can also be a result of one’s own behavior that is at odds with their gender identity.

Third Gender: The term third gender comes from native and non-Western cultures. It refers to a gender category that does not divide simply into male or female.

Trans Man/Trans Woman: A trans man is someone who was assigned the sex of “female” at birth but who identifies as a man (also known as female-to-male or FTM). A trans woman is someone who was assigned the sex of “male” at birth but who identifies as a woman (also known as male-to-female or MTF).

Transfeminine: Having a feminine gender identity but being assigned a different sex at birth.

Transgender/Trans: Transgender is as an umbrella term for anyone who identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. This includes trans men or women and non-binary identities such as genderfluid, genderqueer, and agender.

Transitioning: Activities engaged in by trans individuals to affirm their gender identity such as changing their name, clothing, pronouns, sex designation, etc. This can include medical treatments such as hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, etc. This process is different for every person and the time it takes and activities that are engaged in are not universal.

Transmasculine: Having a masculine gender identity but being assigned a different sex at birth.

Transpositive: This term refers to the opposite of transphobia. This type of attitude is validating and accepting of transsexual and transgender individuals and celebrates their rights.

Transsexual: A person whose gender identity is different from the sex that they were assigned at birth. Transsexual generally means the individual has had gender-affirming surgeries and has fully gone through with their transition.

Transphobia: Intolerance, fear, aversion, prejudice, harassment, discrimination, violence, or hatred aimed at trans individuals and trans communities based on stereotypes and misconceptions.

Trigender: The experience of having three gender identities at the same time.

Two-Spirit: Two-Spirit is an important term in many indigenous cultures. It has no set definition but is mainly used to describe a spiritual view of gender or sexuality. It can be used to describe sexual orientation, gender identity, or spiritual identity. It is a term specific to Indigenous cultures and using it as a non-indigenous person would be cultural appropriation.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that terms are constantly changing and that it is important to keep current and ask people what terms they prefer when you are unsure. Although it may feel confusing, using the terms that affirm a person’s gender identity is no different than letting someone know that you care enough to understand things from their perspective.

Those who are cisgender may experience a type of privilege in that they do not understand what it is like to live with a gender identity that is outside the norm. Rather than trying to understand things through your own set of life experiences and views, it’s important to acknowledge that you can’t possibly understand what it might be like to live as a transgender person or someone with a gender identity that goes against the norm.

In these cases, it is best to defer to someone else’s personal experience of what it is like to live their life and what would help them the most. If someone shares their preferred pronouns with you, keep them in mind the same way that you would if they had told you their first name.

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Article Sources
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  1. Government of Canada. Gender and Sexual Diversity Glossary.

  2. Persad I. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Glossary.

  3. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Appendix B. Glossary for Understanding Gender Identity and Expression.

  4. Government of Canada. LGBTQ2 Terminology. Glossary and Common Acronyms.