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Glossary of Gender Identity Terms

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified Therapist 

Over the past decade, our society has become sensitive to the complexities of gender identity. This heightened awareness and advocacy has led to the wider understanding and usage of many different terms pertaining to one’s gender identity. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights provides definitions for the most commonly used gender-identity terms. Here is a summary of their glossary of terms:

Gender: refers to the ways that masculinity and femininity have been socially constructed and reinforced by the dominant culture through norms, social scripts, and stereotypes. 

Gender identity: refers to an internal sense or awareness of one’s own gender (which may, or may not, be aligned with the gender one has been assigned at birth; see definitions of cisgender and transgender identity below). It can be described as a kind of “man-ness” or “woman-ness.” But gender is not binary: “masculinity” and “femininity” designate two ends of a spectrum.

Gender expression: how a person publicly presents their gender.

Gender binary: the system in which a society classifies all peoples into one of two opposed categories (men and women), each defined according to certain stereotypes and norms. 

Gender non-binary: an umbrella term used to describe someone whose gender identity and/or expression does not conform to the socially constructed gender binary. 

Androgynous: a term that describes people whose gender expression and/or identity is between, across, or outside the traditional gender binary and its associated behavioral and aesthetic norms. 

Gender fluid: a term to describe someone who moves between binary constructions of gender and whose gender identity and expressions vary over time. 

Gender-creative/Gender-independent: terms often used to describe children who do not conform to binary constructions of gender. These children may or may not identify as transgender as adults. 

Cisgender: someone whose gender identity and assigned gender are the same. For example,  someone who was assigned female at birth and who identifies as female. 

Female: a category that infants are assigned to at birth based on sex characteristics, such as hormones, chromosomes, and genitalia. 

Cis woman: someone who identifies as cisgender and as a woman. 

Male: a category that infants are assigned to at birth based on sex characteristics such as hormones, chromosomes, and genital.

Cis man: someone who identifies as cisgender and as a man.

Gender pronouns: terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity. Examples are masculine pronouns such as he/him, feminine pronouns such as she/her, and non-binary/gender-neutral pronouns such as xe/xem, ze/zir, they/them.

Transgender: people whose gender identity and assigned sex are different. 

Transman: someone who identifies as transgender and as a man. 

Transwoman: someone who identifies as transgender and as a woman. 

Transphobia: the systematic and individual oppression of people whose gender identity and gender expression do not conform to cisgender identities. This includes a range of negative attitudes and feelings such as prejudice, fear, discrimination, harassment, and bias towards transgender people, as well as the institutional discrimination and disempowerment of transgender people.

Transmisogyny: the intersection of transphobia and misogyny. It is misogyny directed at transwomen, trans people, and gender non-conforming feminine people. 

Why is it important to be aware of these terms? If you know these definitions you will be better able to discuss gender identity with others and use the terms that best describe your own gender identity. In addition, your knowledge of these terms will help you understand, respect, and support marginalized others in your community. If you are not sure which term(s) someone in your life prefers, it’s okay to ask them. You can ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” or “How do you describe your gender?” 

If you need help exploring your gender identity or understanding the gender identities of others, consider participating in individual, family, or couples therapy in Chicago at Symmetry Counseling. Get in touch with us today to get paired with a skilled therapist.  

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. (2022). Gender Galaxy Definitions. [Pamphlet]

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