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Terminology


Biological Sex: Sex refers to our biological and physical anatomy. Biological sex is used to assign gender at birth. For most people, biological sex and gender are aligned. However, many variables can factor into one’s biological sex; for example, a person’s chromosomal or anatomical configurations. These and other factors can combine in such a way as to make biological sex much more complex than two distinct categories.

Gender Identity: Unlike biological sex—which is assigned at birth and based on physical characteristics—gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt sense of being male or female (sometimes even both or neither). While it is most common for a person’s gender identity to align with their biological sex, this is not always the case. A person’s gender identity can be different from their biological sex.

Increased societal understanding and scientific research exploring the origins of gender are serving to expand formerly simplistic societal notions of limited gender categorization. Gender identity and other recently defined terms are ones that are more inclusive of these normal variations of gender. Because gender identity is internal and not always visible to others, it is something determined by the individual alone.

Gender Expression: In contrast to gender identity, gender expression is external and is based on individual and societal conceptions and expectations. It encompasses everything that communicates our gender to others: clothing, hairstyles, body language, mannerisms, how we speak, how we play, and our social interactions and roles. Most people have some blend of masculine and feminine qualities that comprise their gender expression, and this expression can also vary depending on the social context i.e.; attire worn at work rather than play, hobbies or interests, etc.

Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation is a term that refers to being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender. Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are separate, distinct parts of our overall identity. Although a child may not yet be aware of their sexual orientation, they usually have a strong sense of their gender identity from a very early age.

Gender Variance/Gender Non-Conformity: Gender variance refers to behaviors and interests that fit outside of what we consider ‘normal’ for a child or adult’s assigned biological sex. We think of these people as having interests that are more typical of the “opposite” sex; in children, for example, a girl who insists on having short hair and prefers to play football with the boys, or a boy who wears dresses and wishes to be a princess. These are considered gender-variant or gender non-conforming behaviors and interests. It should be noted that gender nonconformity is a term not typically applied to children who have only a brief, passing curiosity in trying out these behaviors or interests.

Transgender: This term refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex. For example, a transgender person may self-identify as a woman but was born biologically male. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific gender). Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In its broadest sense, the term transgender can encompass anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.

Gender Fluidity: Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid people do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of women and men. For some people, gender fluidity extends beyond behavior and interests, and actually serves to specifically define their gender identity. In other words, a person may feel they are more female on some days and more male on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately. Their identity is seen as being gender fluid.

Genderqueer: Genderqueer is a term that is growing in usage, representing a blurring of the lines surrounding society’s rigid views of both gender identity and sexual orientation. Genderqueer people embrace a fluidity of gender expression that is not limiting. They may not identify as male or female, but as both, neither, or as a blend. Similarly, genderqueer is a more inclusive term with respect to sexual orientation. It does not limit a person to identifying strictly as heterosexual or homosexual. (Note: This term is NOT typically used in connection with gender identity in pre-adolescent children).