Agender – A person who does not identify with a particular gender.
Cisgender – Refers to people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were given at birth. For example, a male child who now identifies as a man as an adult.
Congruence – Gender congruence is the feeling of alignment in our gender, including a feeling of harmony in the three dimensions of our gender (body, identity and social).
Dimensions of gender – Our body, identity and social gender (how we present our gender in the world and how individuals, society, culture, and community perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender) are three distinct, but interrelated, aspects of a person’s gender. Each of these dimensions is a spectrum and is related to, but distinct from, the others. A person’s comfort in their gender is related to the degree to which these three dimensions feel in congruence.
Gender dysphoria – Dysphoria is a “state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied.” So, in the broadest sense, gender dysphoria is when someone feels very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied in relation to their gender. This is something many people experience, including feeling a tension between how someone feels about their body compared to how society genders their body. Gender dysphoria, which can occur in relation to any dimension of gender, can encompass a broad range of feelings, from mild discomfort to unbearable distress; the intensity, pervasiveness, frequency, and triggers of gender dysphoria vary widely from person to person. Feelings of gender dysphoria can, and often do, change over time.
Gender expansive – An umbrella term used for individuals who broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms.
Gender expression – This is part of our social gender. How we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.
Genderfluid – People who have a gender or genders that change. Genderfluid people move between genders, experiencing their gender as something dynamic and changing, rather than static.
Gender identity – our deeply held, internal sense of self as masculine, feminine, a blend of both, neither, or something else. Identity also includes the name we use to convey our gender. Gender identity can correspond to, or differ from the sex we are assigned at birth. The language a person uses to communicate their gender identity can evolve and shift over time, especially as someone gains access to a broader gender vocabulary.
Gender literacy – the ability to participate knowledgeably in discussions of gender and gender-related topics. Gender literacy is not about expertise so much as it is about a stance of openness to the complexity of gender and the idea that each person determines for themself their own identity.
Gender role – The set of functions, activities, and behaviors commonly expected of boys/men and girls/women by society.
Genderqueer – An umbrella term to describe someone who doesn’t identify with conventional gender identities, roles, expression and/or expectations.
Intersex – Current estimates are that approximately 1.7% of children are born with an intersex trait: chromosomes, hormones, genitalia and/or other sex characteristics that are not exclusively male or female as defined by the medical establishment in our society.
Non-binary – An umbrella term for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
Sex – An identifier to indicate whether a person is “male” or “female” (some US states and other countries offer a third option for people with intersex traits) at birth, this term refers to a person’s external genitalia and internal reproductive organs. While sex and gender are terms often used interchangeably, they are different aspects of who we are as people. A person’s gender may, or may not, correspond with their sex.
Sexual orientation – Our sexual orientation and our gender are separate, though related, parts of our overall identity. Gender is personal (how we each see ourselves), while sexual orientation is interpersonal (who we are physically, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to).
Transgender – Sometimes this term is used broadly as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex. It can also be used more narrowly as a gender identity that reflects a binary gender identity that is “opposite” or “across from” the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transition – “Transitioning” is a term commonly used to refer to the steps a person takes in order to find congruence in their gender. This term can be misleading as it implies that the person’s gender is changing and that there is a moment in time when this takes place. More typically, it is others’ understanding of the person’s gender that shifts. What people see as a “transition” is actually an alignment in one or more dimensions of the individual’s gender as they seek congruence across those dimensions. A transition is taking place, but it is often other people (parents and other family members, support professionals, employers, etc.) who are transitioning in how they see the individual’s gender, and not the person themselves. For the person, these changes are often less of a transition and more of an evolution. Instead of “transitioning,” a more apt phrase is “pursuing congruence measures.” A person can seek harmony in many ways:
- Social congruence measures: e.g. changes in clothing, hairstyle, and other forms of gender expression;
- Identity congruence measures: e.g. change in gender identity, name and/or pronouns;
- Medical congruence measures: e.g. the use of hormone “blockers” or hormone therapy to enhance or diminish desired physical traits;
- Surgical congruence measures: e.g. the addition, removal, or modification of gender-related physical traits; and
- Legal congruence measures: e.g. changing identification documents such as one’s birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport.
It is important to note, though, that a transition experience can be a very significant event in a person’s life. A public declaration of some kind where an individual communicates to others that aspects of themselves are different than others have assumed, and that they are now living consistently with who they know themselves to be, can be an empowering and liberating experience (and moving to those who get to share that moment with them).
Transphobia – Fear, dislike of, and/or prejudice against transgender people (and often any person who expresses their gender in ways that don’t conform to societal expectations).