Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
The more you understand biological sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the more you may understand yourself and other people, and how we relate to each other. Whereas biological sex refers to attributes such as anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones that inform whether a person is assigned at birth as male, female, or intersex, gender identity refers to one's innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither. Gender expression is the external appearance of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine. It is important to understand that each person has the right to decide what to call their gender identity, and that they're the only one who can do that.
There are many terms used to describe gender identity including:
- agender: A person who identifies as having no gender
- androgynous: Having the characteristics or nature of both male and female. Neither specifically feminine nor masculine
- bigender: A person whose gender identity is a combination of two genders.
- cisgender: A person whose gender identity and assigned sex at birth correspond
- gender fluid: A person whose gender identity is not fixed. A person who is gender fluid may feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more one gender some of the time, and another gender at other times.
- genderqueer: A person whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional gender binary structure.
- Non-binary (adj.) – Describes a person whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional gender binary structure
- pangender: A person whose gender identity is comprised of many genders.
- third gender: Individuals who are considered to be neither women nor men, as well as the social category present in those societies who recognize three or more genders.
- transgender: A person whose gender identity and assigned sex at birth do not correspond
Trans man/transgender man/female-to-male (FTM) (noun) – A transgender person whose gender identity is male may use these terms to describe themselves. Some will just use the term man.
Trans woman/transgender woman/male-to-female (MTF) (noun) – A transgender person whose gender identity is female may use these terms to describe themselves. Some will just use the term woman.
- Gender affirming hormone therapy (noun) – The administration of hormones for those who wish to match their physical secondary sex characteristics to their gender identity. Also referred to as cross-sex hormone therapy.
- two-spirit: A person who embodies both a masculine and a feminine spirit. This is a culture-specific term used among some Native American, American Indian, and First Nations people.
One's gender identity does not imply a specific sexual orientation. Sexual orientation describes the type of sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction someone feels toward others.
Terms often used to describe sexual orientation include:
- asexual: A person who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy.
- bisexual: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own gender and people of other genders.
- gay: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own gender. It can be used regardless of gender identity, but is more commonly used to describe men.
- lesbian: A sexual orientation that describes a woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women.
- heterosexual: A sexual orientation that describes women who are emotionally and sexually attracted to men, and men who are emotionally and sexually attracted to women.
- homosexual: A sexual orientation that describes women who are emotionally and sexually attracted to women, and men who are emotionally and sexually attracted to men.
- pansexual: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of all gender identities.
- polysexual: Describes a person who has or is open to having more than one romantic or sexual relationship at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all their partners. Sometimes abbreviated as poly.
- queer: An umbrella term used by some to describe people who think of their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms. Some people view the term queer as more fluid and inclusive than traditional categories for sexual orientation and gender identity. Due to its history as a derogatory term, the term queer is not embraced or used by all members of the LGBT community.
- questioning: Describes an individual who is unsure about or is exploring their own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
- straight: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender.
Other important terms to know:
- Heteronormativity: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.
- Drag: The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically. Those who perform are called Drag Kings and Drag Queens.
- Intersex: Group of rare conditions where the reproductive organs and genitals do not develop as expected.
Terms and definitions change frequently; we will try to update this list to keep up with changing language.