The following terms will help you navigate terminology used throughout this resource. Please note that these definitions are not exhaustive. The terms defined below are meant as a starting point in understanding.
Ally: Supporter or advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community. Being an ally is about using inclusive language, showing respect and support for your colleagues and in this case, members of the LGBT community through your actions and your words. Typically, allies to lesbian, gay and bisexual people are straight and allies to transgender people are cisgender.
Cisgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior aligns with those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Cis- is the Latin prefix, meaning ‘on the same side’, to Trans- which means ‘across from.’ It is the accepted term for people who are “not transgender.”
Gender: The term “gender,” while often used interchangeably with “sex,” refers specifically to the behavioral, cultural, psychological or social traits typically associated with one sex, rather than biological characteristics.
Gender Expression: A person’s external characteristics and behaviors — such as clothing, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions — that represent or express one’s gender identity to others. Not all trans people have gender expressions that match cultural norms – e.g., not all trans women are conventionally feminine. A person’s gender expression may also be referred to as their “gender presentation.”
Gender Identity: Distinct from the term “sexual orientation,” refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
Gender Non-conforming: An individual whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender. Gender non-conforming, like transgender, is an umbrella term and includes people who may identify as “genderqueer,” “gender fluid,” as neither male nor female, or as non-binary.
Gender Transition: The process through which a person modifies their physical characteristics and/or gender expression to be consistent with their gender identity. It is important to note that gender transition is an individual and personal process, and there is no “one correct way” to transition. Gender transition may, but does not necessarily, include hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgeries and/or other medical or surgical components. The transition process may also include non-medical components such as telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers, and changing one’s name and/or gender on legal documents such as one’s driver’s license, birth certificate and social security card.
Intersex: Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations.
LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer
Non-Binary: Non-binary is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary. Non-binary people may identify as having two or more genders; having no gender; moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity; or being third gender or other-gendered. Gender identity is separate from sexual or romantic orientation, and non-binary people have a variety of sexual orientations, just as transgender and cisgender people do.
Sex: The classification of people as male or female based on a combination of biological characteristics, including: chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.
Sexual orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. For example, a trans woman who is attracted to other women would be identified as a lesbian or a gay woman.
Transgender: People whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad, umbrella term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for transgender.
Terms to Avoid
Transgender is preferred over transvestite or transsexual, older terms which do not accurately describe all transgender people, and which also have a clinical or stigmatizing connotation. Terms such as she-male, he-she, “real” woman, “real” man, transgendered, “a transgender,” male-to-female, and female-to male may also be viewed as stigmatizing or offensive. Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun or verb, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but not “transgenders” and “transgendered.”