Healthy lives for young people

Gender: a few definitions

It’s important to note that the terms used when discussing gender and the trans or non-binary community are many and varied, they also change and shift very quickly.

Most importantly, it is a personal thing; you may have your own definitions of some of these words, or you may come across people using others. Not everyone will want to be known by the same terms so rather than getting into an argument about definitions, the most important thing is to be respectful of someone else’s identity.

You can read more about what gender is and this includes a short guide to being respectful in your communication with someone who is trans.

Brook works hard to keep pace and to reflect all the terms out there, but if you feel we’ve missed something out, or would like to share a term we haven’t mentioned, please email us with the subject ‘gender’.

Describes people who don’t feel as if they have a gender at all, or who have a gender that is not on the gender spectrum. This is different from being asexual, which means that someone does not experience sexual attraction.
Cis or cisgender
Cis is the opposite of trans; it describes a person who stays in the gender category they were given at birth.
Cis man
A man who was expected to be a man when they were born.
Cis woman
A woman who was expected to be a woman when they were born.
The way you think about yourself; the gender you feel you belong to. This may or may not be the same as the one you were given when you were born – which is given to you based on looking at your genitals at birth (your sex).
Genderqueer people feel as if none of the categories on the gender spectrum fit them and that they are something else. The ‘queer’ part of genderqueer is quite a political word, and it means that these people are taking quite an active role in challenging traditional ideas about gender.
Gender binary
The word ‘binary’ means something only has two states. If someone has a binary view of gender, it means they think that the only genders that exist are ‘men’ and ‘women’. Many people believe that this binary view of gender is wrong and that people should be able to express themselves however they feel is right. People who are non-binary don’t identify exclusively as male or female.
Gender expression
The way in which people communicate their gender; including things like hairstyle, clothing, language and mannerisms.
Gender dysphoria
Is a medical term for the feeling that you belong in a gender different from the one you have been assigned at birth. The word ‘dysphoria’ means ‘feeling uncomfortable’ and being put in the wrong gender can be a very stressful situation.
Gender fluid
This describes someone who moves around the gender spectrum. A gender fluid person might identify sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as something else, or as multiple genders at once.
Gender neutral
If a person describes themselves as being gender neutral, they probably mean something like neutrois. Additionally, people may refer to spaces or language as being gender neutral, which means they can be used by, or refer to, any person regardless of their gender.
Gender norms
This refers to all of the things that society expects men and women to be and do. Gender norms have changed over history, and are different in different parts of the world, but can be taken very seriously. People treating gender norms as if they cannot change is a big problem for all LGBTQ+ people, as well as women in general.
Gender variance
See definition above for trans.
This describes a person whose biology doesn’t easily fit into ‘male’ or ‘female’ sexes. There are a variety of ways of being intersex, and it has its own challenges. Intersex people may or may not also identify as trans.
Someone who feels they are exactly in between man and woman, and that their ‘man-ness’ is equal to their ‘woman-ness’. In other words, they are neutral in terms of the gender spectrum. This is sometimes also called gender neutral.
‘Pan’ means ‘all’ and describes people who are all genders at the same time.
‘Poly’ means ‘more than one’ and describes people who have multiple genders at the same time.
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 become very important to trans and non-binary people because they are so closely associated with gender. The pronouns they want to be referred to by may not be obvious to you. You should always ask people what pronouns they want you to use when you talk about them, and 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.
Sex is often used to talk about the difference between male and female things. Often, but not always, the things we call female produce eggs and get pregnant, while the things we call male produce sperm and don’t get pregnant. In humans, people tend to assume that males have penises and testicles, and females have vulvas and ovaries, but it doesn’t always work like that. See the gender definition below.
Third gender
In the UK gender traditionally has two categories; ‘men’ and ‘women’. In other parts of the world, gender has more than two categories. India, Pakistan, Samoa, Albania and various parts of Africa, for example, have three gender categories. Exactly what the three genders are depends on the place and time we’re talking about. This shows us very quickly that gender is more complicated than many people think.
This is an umbrella term that describes all the different ways of not belonging to the gender you were assigned at birth (based on sex). You might sometimes hear this referred to as ‘gender variance’.
This describes a person who has moved or is moving away from the gender they were assigned at birth, towards the gender they actually belong in.
Is an intolerance of trans and non-binary people, and causes 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 way in which they behave towards trans men and trans women. This is a form of prejudice, it is a very unpleasant form of bullying or harassment, which is illegal in the UK.
This is now an old fashioned term for someone who goes through, or wants to go through, gender realignment (see transition). This word isn’t used so much anymore, because it’s considered very medical.
The process a trans person goes through in order to live as the gender they belong in. This can involve changing the way they dress, the way they move or speak; it can involve starting to or stopping wearing make-up; it can involve taking hormones, having surgery (sometimes this is called gender reassignment) or changing their name. Often, it will involve a trans person telling their friends and family about what is happening, and about how they would now like be referred to. Not all trans people think that transition is right for them, so don’t assume that someone is transitioning if they tell you they are trans. Read more about transitioning.
This is now considered to be an outdated term and is replaced by referring to some who cross dresses. A cross-dresser is someone who dresses as the opposite sex because it feels good for them and not because they are unhappy with their gender identity. It’s important to consider this term when discussing gender identity because it’s something people often get confused about. Cross dressers don’t feel that their gender and biological sex are mismatched and they don’t wish to transition or live as the opposite sex. Cross dressing is a lifestyle choice and is often driven by feeling comforted or turned-on by wearing clothes of the opposite sex.
Trans man
A man who was expected to be a woman when they were born.
Trans woman
A woman who was expected to be a man when they were born.

Content reviewed by Kirstie McEwan – Lead tutor in Gender Studies, Cambridge Institute of Clinical Sexology, accredited therapist and trustee of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.


    Other Stuff you might find useful…

    Real Story
    Supporting a trans partner: Emma’s story
    Find trans support near you
    Coming out as trans
    What is gender?
    What is the difference between sex and gender?


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