This is far from an extensive list of gender and sexual orientation definitions; Alvar and I are learning new terms to use all the time. The ones you can find below are the ones that we use most frequently; though, it should be said, definitions are prone to changing, both over time and depending on the cultural context. I have deliberately separated the words connected to gender identity from the ones which describe sexual orientation. A person’s gender identity has nothing to do with their sexuality; non gender people, and people of all genders, can have any type of sexuality.
Gender identity: the gender that a person identifies as, the gender that one feels that one is on the inside.
Assigned sex / gender: The gender that a person is assigned when they are born, based on the set of body parts that they are born with. Some will considered to be female, or male, or intersex. There is a wide discussion about where the line between biological sex and gender goes, and whether or not there actually is a difference. In medical terms, the word ‘sex’ (biological) is still differentiated from the term ‘gender’ (social), although researchers have criticised this division, pointing out that the criteria that is used to determine a person’s sex is not always consistent.
Intersex: a person whose body has female as well as male characteristics in a way which does not fit into society’s categories of female or male. A person who is intersex can identify as female, male, or any other gender/non-gender.
Transgender: an umbrella term often used for people whose gender identity do not match with the social and cultural expectations of the gender that they were assigned at birth.
Cisgender: a person whose gender identity does match with the gender that they were assigned at birth.
Agender / non-gender: a person who does not identify with any gender.
Non-binary: a person who does not identify as either female or male. Some non-binary people identify as transgender, some don’t.
Polygender: a person who identifies as more than one gender.
Gender nonconforming: a person whose gender identity is different from the gender that they were assigned at birth. The term ‘gender nonconforming’ might be used instead of the word ‘transgender’ if a person’s gender identity is not clearly defined, or if it goes beyond existing definitions. Some use gender nonconforming as a word to describe any gender identity that does not match the assigned gender at birth.
Genderfluid / genderqueer: a person whose gender expression and/or identity does not fit into the social expectations of the division between female and male gender. Being genderfluid can also mean that a person’s gender identity varies from one day to another.
Androgyne: a person who has a gender expression and/or gender identity which consists of a mixture of female and male characteristics, or which is neither female or male.
Queer: a term used to express something that does not fit into the frames conventional norms of society, when it comes to gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Questioning: when a person has not yet defined/does not wish to define their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Gender expression: the way in which a person expresses their gender. This can be through their clothes, through the way that they talk, and through their body language. A person’s gender expression does not always translate directly into their gender identity – a person who behaves in a feminine way does not automatically identify as female.
Gender dysphoria: a clinical term for the discomfort that a person feels when there is a gap between their gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth.
Gender affirmation / transition: the changes that a person goes through in order to have their true gender identity recognised by society. The changes that a person makes vary – it is up to the individual to decide what kind of steps they want to take in order to feel comfortable with themselves. For some people, achieving a gender affirmation can mean changing their pronouns, and their way of dressing; for others, hormone replacement treatment and/or surgery are ways of affirming their gender identity.
FTM (female to male) / trans man: a person who was assigned female gender at birth but who is in the process of having, or who has had, gender affirmation in order to be recognised as a man. It is important to remember that just because a person is transitioning/has transitioned, it does not automatically mean that they identify as trans. Some people identify as their gender identity only (in this case ‘man’ instead of ‘trans man’).
MTF (male to female) / trans woman: a person who was assigned male gender at birth but who is in the process of having, or who has had, gender reaffirmation in order to be recognised as a woman.
HRT (hormone replacement therapy): hormone treatment as part of a transition. For many people, HRT is a lifelong treatment, which involves regular injections and monitoring one’s blood levels, liver function, and blood pressure. The type of hormones that are taken depend on the effect that the person taking them wants to achieve. In general, someone who is FTM will take testosterone, while someone who is MTF will take estrogen and androgen blockers instead. A person who identifies as non-binary might take either estrogen or testosterone.
Top surgery: surgery performed on the upper part of the body. For a person who is FTM, this can mean having a masectomy, where both breasts are removed. For a person who is MTF, top surgery can entail putting in breast implants, and having facial surgery.
Bottom surgery: surgery performed on the lower part of the body. For a person who is FTM, this can include a hysterectomy (womb removal), a removal of the ovaries, as well as construction of a penis and testicles. For a person who is MTF, bottom surgery can mean removing the penis and testicles, and constructing a vulva, vagina, and clitoris.
Pronouns: the words that are used when talking about a person’s gender. In a binary system, ‘she’ and her/s’ are used about women, and ‘he’ and ‘his’ about men. Some people prefer to use third gender pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘themself’, or ‘hir’ and ‘hirs’, or ‘ze’, ‘zir’, and ‘zirs’.
Lesbian: a woman who feels emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to other women.
Gay: a person who feels emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to people of the same gender as themselves. ‘Gay’ is also a term used for men who are emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to other men.
Bisexual: a person who is emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to people of two different genders. This can be any two combinations of genders.
Pansexual: a person whose emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction for other people does not depend on their gender.
Asexual: a person who is not sexually attracted to any gender. Like with any other sexual orientation, there is a spectrum of asexuality. Some people never feel sexual attraction to anyone, others might feel that their sexual attraction is connected to one specific person whom they are emotionally and/or romantically involved with.
Straight / heterosexual: a man who is emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted to women, or a woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to men.
Monogamous: a person who has emotional, romantic and sexual relationships with one person at a time.
Polyamorous / non-monogamous: a person who has emotional, romantic and/or sexual relationships with several people at the same time.
LGBTQIA+: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer Intersex Asexual (+ all other non-heterosexual and/or cis identities/sexual orientations). In some instances, only ‘LGBT’ is used, or ‘LGBTI’, or ‘LGBTI+’; the letters, and the order in which they are written, vary between different languages.
Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, University of California, San Francisco, 2017.
Gires – Gender Identity Research and Education Society, UK, 2017.
Glossary of Terms, Human Rights Campaign, 2017.
LGBTQ+ Resources, Division of Equity and Inclusion, Centers for Educational Justice & Community Engagement, UC Berkeley, 2016.
NHS Health A-Z, NHS UK, 2016.
Stonewall’s glossary of terms Stonewall, 2015.
Terminology, Gender Diversity, 2017.
Trans, genderqueer, and queer terms glossary. LGBT Campus Center, University of Wisconsin, 2012.