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Confused by Gender Categories?


Miscommunication is one of the barriers to understanding new aspects of the LGBTQ movement. We have put in a vocabulary of sorts to help those who are unfamiliar understand the diversity of sex and gender. This glossary is from LGBTQIA organizations; some terms are used by social scientists, others to understand human sexuality, and others are created by the movement itself. It is hardly a finite list of every cultural tradition that diverges from mainstream western understanding of sexuality, but it will help get things started!

Asexual: An umbrella term which exists on a spectrum. Asexual people may have little interest in having sex, even though most desire emotionally intimate relationships.

Cisgender/Cis: Refers to people whose gender identity and expression matches the sex they were assigned at birth. “Cis” is shorthand for cisgender.

Gender: Scientists refer to gender as a social construction: masculinity or femininity as it aligns with designated sex at birth in a specific culture and time period. Gender may or may not correspond to one’s sexual anatomy.

Gender expression: How a person presents their gender on the outside, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, or body characteristics.

Gender identity: Social scientists use this term to refer to a person’s internal knowledge of their gender—for example, whether you identify yourself as a man, a woman, or other.

Intersex: People who naturally have biological traits which do not match what is typically identified as male or female. Some intersex people have XXY chromosomes, ambiguous genitalia, or internal sex organs. Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans; it is not pathological.

LGBTQIA: this is a recent expansion of the LGBT acronym to include a larger umbrella of non-heterosexual categories and gender diversity. LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. Adding to this, LGBTQIA includes Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual.

Nonbinary/genderqueer: Most people, including most transgender people, are either male or female. But some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don’t identify with any gender. People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary or genderqueer being the most popular terms.

Queer: An umbrella term that can refer to anyone who is not straight and/or not cisgender.

Questioning: This term refers to someone who is not sure how they identify. Someone can be questioning their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity.

Sex: Scientists separate sex and gender. Sex refers to the medical assignment of “male” or “female” based upon the genitalia that an individual possesses at birth.

Sexual Identity/Orientation: A person’s self-description of the romantic, sexual, and/or emotional relationships with others. Examples include but are not limited to: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, and asexual (and many more than are covered in this glossary).

Transgender: A broad term used to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were considered to be when they were born. “Trans” is shorthand for transgender. The term transgender encompasses many different gender identities (see below), and transgender people may have different sexual orientations.

Want to know more? See https://transequality.org/, https://www.glaad.org/, https://hrasantafe.org/, https://www.thetrevorproject.org/, https://eqnm.org/


  • Caroline Yezer

    Dr. Caroline Yezer is a cultural anthropologist (PhD Duke University 2007) who has taught anthropology curriculum at College of the Holy Cross and Clark University in Massachusetts.

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