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Gender: a few definitions

The language we use when talking about gender is very important, because it can have an effect on people’s wellbeing. Learn about various terms to do with gender. 

Language changes with time and it’s also personal; your meanings or use of words may be different to how other people use them. Not everyone will want to be known by the same terms so the most important thing is to be respectful of someone else’s identity and the labels they choose to use. In turn, you deserve that respect back.

On this page we explore some of the main words to do with gender, however this glossary is not an exhaustive list of all the terms to do with gender. For more LGBT+ terms, you can see this glossary from Stonewall.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J |K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


The acronym for ‘Assigned female at birth’. People are assigned female at birth usually based on the appearance of external genitalia (a vagina and vulva).

The acronym for ‘Assigned male at birth’. People are assigned male at birth usually based on the appearance of external genitalia (a penis and testicles).


The action of tightly wrapping the chest with garments or materials in order to minimise the appearance of breasts. Binding is one of the many actions which trans people, particularly those assigned female at birth, sometimes choose to undertake to feel more comfortable. See our pages on Transitioning and on Breasts and Chests for more information. 


Cis or cisgender
This describes a person whose gender identity is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Cis man
A man who was assigned male at birth.

Cis woman
A woman who was assigned female at birth.

Closeted/In the Closet
A term used to describe someone who identifies as LGBT+ in some way, but has not openly told anyone about this aspect of their identity.

Coming out
When someone tells someone else about their LGBT+ identity. Coming out is rarely a once-in-a-lifetime event, as many LGBT+ people may want or need to come out to each new person they meet, or may realise different aspects of their LGBT+ identity over time which they might then choose to tell people about. Read more about coming out. 


This usually refers to intentionally or maliciously using a trans person’s previous name, e.g. the name they were given at birth, rather than the name they use currently. However it can also be done by accident. See our page on Transitioning.


A set of ideas and behaviours that are associated with women due to a society’s cultural ideas about gender. 


The socially constructed ideas about human behaviour, actions and roles in relation to ideas of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. The word gender is sometimes also used to refer to how a person sees or feels about themselves and their gender. This personal experience of gender is also referred to as gender identity. Find out more about gender identity

Gender affirmation surgery
An umbrella term used to describe various surgical procedures which some trans people may undergo as part of their transition. See our page on Transitioning.

Gender binary
The conventional idea that everyone identifies as one of two genders (i.e. is either a boy or a girl) is what is known as the gender binary. The word ‘binary’ comes from Latin, and means ‘duality’ or ‘a pair’. 

Gender dysphoria
The distress or discomfort someone might feel when their sex assigned at birth doesn’t match their gender. Trans people may experience different levels of dysphoria, and some trans people don’t experience dysphoria at all. 

Gender expression
The outward behaviours and choices that a person makes in relation to their gender identity. This can include choices about their appearance, for example clothing and hairstyles, and their behaviour and mannerisms. 

Gender fluid
Someone whose feelings about the relationship between their body and gender identity changes over time or is fluid.

Gender identity
How a person sees or feels about themselves. It describes the personal sense of feeling or knowing that you are a man or woman or non-binary person. This can be the same or different to the gender they were assigned at birth.

Gender neutral
Lots of things are ‘gendered’, which means they are associated with masculinity or femininity. If something is gender neutral, then it means it is not associated with a gender, which means it has no limitations to use that are based on the gender of the person using it. 

Gender non-conforming
Someone whose gender expression doesn’t align with, or who rejects the social expectations of their gender, or the gender binary. 

Gender roles
This refers to the many behaviours, mannerisms, personality traits and likes/dislikes that society expects men and women to have, be and do. Gender roles have changed over history, and are different in different parts of the world, but can be taken very seriously. Gender roles are often presented as ‘natural’, however they are socially constructed. Strict gender roles are a big problem for everyone, because we are all unique, and the expectation that we should fit into a category because of our gender can be very uncomfortable, but this is especially the case of LGBT+ people. 


Some babies are born with external genitalia that don’t appear to be clearly either male or female. This may mean that the baby has one of a group of conditions called differences or variations in sex development or variations in sex characteristics.  

Many VSD/VSC conditions are not obvious until later in life, such as during puberty when expected changes to the body don’t take place, or later for example when the condition affects someone’s fertility/ability to conceive.  

Some people with VSDs/VSCs use the word intersex to describe themselves and identify as part of the trans community. Other people see themselves as cis men or cis women who happen to live with a VSD/VSC condition. 

Read about the difference between sex and gender.  


The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The ‘+’ is used to be more inclusive of other identities beyond those in the acronym. 


A set of ideas and behaviours that are associated with men due to a society’s cultural ideas about gender. 

The act of referring to someone as the wrong gender or using the wrong pronouns. This usually refers to intentionally or maliciously referring to a trans person incorrectly, but can also be done by accident.

Prejudice and discrimination towards someone who is female or is assumed to be female, or of items and behaviours associated with femininity. 


Some people have a gender identity that isn’t simply ‘man’ or ‘woman’: the word for this is non-binary. This is another umbrella term, meaning there are lots of different ways of being non-binary. Non-binary people can feel that their gender identity involves being both a man and a woman, or that it is neither, it is in between, or is something else entirely.


To ‘out’ someone is to tell someone about someone else’s gender identity or sexual orientation without their consent. 


‘Passing’ refers to whether someone is perceived as the gender they identify with.

Having a positive view of being part of the LGBT+ community. It is also a worldwide event which celebrates LGBT+ cultures, protests against current discrimination, and is a reminder of past discrimination against the community.

These are words that we use instead of names, like ‘he’, ‘her’ or ‘them’. Pronouns are often associated with gender; you are probably used to using words like ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’ when talking about men and ‘she’, ‘her’ and ‘hers’ when talking about women. Pronouns can be very important to trans and non-binary people because they are closely associated with gender.  

The pronouns someone uses may not be obvious to you. If you’re not sure, you could ask the person politely or wait to see how their friends refer to them. You should always use the pronouns that people ask you to use, whether they are there or not.  

If in doubt, you can refer to people as ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘theirs’, since ‘they’ is a gender neutral pronoun (see gender neutral). Other gender neutral pronouns exist, which you may not have heard of; ‘ze’, ‘zem’ and ‘zirs’ and ‘xe, xem and xeir’ are examples of gender neutral pronouns, but there are many others.  

Always be respectful of the way people want to be spoken about.  


Queer is an umbrella term used by some to describe members of the LGBT+ community. It can also be used as an identity in its own right that rejects specific labels of romantic/sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

The term has been reclaimed by members of the community from its historical use as a slur, but some members of the community may not wish to use it due to this history. Read more about the political history of the word ‘queer’. Sometimes there is a Q at the end of ‘LGBT+’ (LGBTQ+), which typically refers to the word ‘queer’. In some contexts, the Q can stand for ‘questioning’, but this is much less common.

A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Our biological sexual characteristics, which are the external genitals, internal reproductive organs, chromosomes and hormones.

Although all these things contribute to someone’s sex, people are defined as male or female as soon as they are born, based on observation of their external genitals. 

Read about the difference between sex and gender.

Sex assigned at birth
The sex that a person is given when they are born, usually because of the appearance of external genitalia. 


When people’s sex assigned to them at birth doesn’t match or sit easily with their gender identity, they may use the term ‘trans’ to describe themselves. Trans is an umbrella term that describes all the different ways of not belonging to the gender that aligns with the sex you were assigned at birth, so it can mean different things to different people.

A broad term to describe trans people whose gender, or gender expression, is mostly feminine.

The word ‘transitioning’ refers to the process of changing your gender expression to match your gender identity, rather than the sex you were assigned at birth. Transitioning can involve many different elements and stages, such as changing their social identity, legal identity and/or gender expression. More about transitioning.

A broad term to describe trans people whose gender, or gender expression, is mostly masculine. 

Prejudice and discrimination towards someone who is trans that is based on their trans identity. Transphobia includes a range of attitudes and behaviours that make it very hard to be trans. People can be transphobic in the things they say, the things they do and the ways in which they behave towards trans people, including denying and refusing to accept someone’s gender identity. This prejudice is a very unpleasant form of bullying or harassment, and it is illegal in the UK.

Trans man
A man who was assigned female at birth.

Trans woman
A woman who was assigned male at birth. 

For more definitions, see the LGBT+ terminology guide from The National LGB&T Partnership, produced in partnership with Brook.

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