As the gender revolution grows, the terms we use to talk about gender identity will continue to grow, evolve, and spread. As you may already know, gender is far more complex than the binary of “man” and “woman” that too many of us grew up with; in fact, there are many more than two genders. (Facebook now lets users choose from over 50 different labels to describe their gender.)
If you’re curious about your own gender identity, it’s okay if you are still searching for the right language to describe yourself. That’s why we created this A-Z list of gender-related terms that can help you find the right label that feels like coming home.
This list is also here to help allies who want to stay up-to-date on inclusive language, which is always a good move. “The LGBTQ+ community has its own language, and not knowing it can be a natural barrier to engagement,” says gender specialist Rebecca Minor, LICSW. “I often find people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and that fear ultimately prevents them from saying anything at all. When people have context and the shared language necessary to engage, we can support folks in having more open communication about important topics.”
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Today, in the U.S., activists are pushing for transgender and gender-nonconforming (GNC) folks to receive the same rights and respect as cisgender people. However, in other cultures throughout history (keep reading to learn about Two-Spirits in indigenous cultures), trans and GNC people are not only accepted, but revered for their knowledge and experience.
“Many of the terms which are ‘new’ reflect gender identities which have been here for many decades or centuries, but their expression was limited to subcultures,” explains sex educator Rebecca E. Blanton, a.k.a. Auntie Vice, Ph.D.
So whether you just want a refresh on what the pronouns zie/zim/zir/zis/zieself mean or have never seen some of the words in this introduction before, keep reading—because once again, the gender revolution will only grow. And remember: this list is still evolving, just like many of us.
AFAB: AFAB is an acronym meaning Assigned Female at Birth (and AMAB refers to Assigned Male at Birth). These are medical terms to help us educate and talk about bodies, but remember, someone’s sex assigned at birth may not match their gender identity, so don’t refer to a person by any of these acronyms; instead, ask about their gender pronouns and identity.
Agender: Agender is one of many identities under the GNC (gender-nonconforming) umbrella and refers to someone who does not have a gender or feels gender-neutral.
Ally: An ally is someone who supports and advocates on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community. While this term often applies to cisgender heteronormative allies, it can also refer to someone within the queer community who actively fights for others’ rights, such as a bisexual woman who is an ally for gender-fluid folks.
Bigender: Bigender people identify as two (or more) genders at once.
Binary: Binary, or the gender binary for our purposes, refers to the normalized societal construct which strictly divides gender into two categories: male and female. Within the gender binary, one is supposed to match their gender identity to whatever sex the doctor assigned at birth.
Cisgender: A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
Deadnaming: Deadnaming is referring to, or calling someone, the name given to them at birth rather than their current name that accurately describes how they feel and matches their gender identity. Deadnaming someone is not only transphobic, but also cruel and can inflict unnecessary and sometimes dangerous emotional pain.
Dysphoria: Dysphoria, or gender dysphoria, refers to the pain, impairment, and stress one experiences, often interfering with everyday life, when their sex assigned at birth does not match their gender. Yet, within the gender binary, society expects them to live by it anyway.
Expansive: Gender expansive refers to someone with a fluid, flexible, and, well, expansive gender identity and expression, whose gender does not fit into societal expectations or gender binary norms. Many gender identities can overlap, so if you’re unsure how someone identifies, just ask. And if you’re not sure how you identify, go with whatever makes you feel most at home, with the understanding that it’s okay if your gender is still evolving and changing.
Expression: One’s gender expression is what someone presents to the world—including clothing, voice, actions, and more—that aligns with their gender (and is not dependent on the biological sex assigned at birth).
Fluid: Someone who is gender fluid does not identify with one singular gender. Instead, a genderfluid person may feel that they contain all genders or may feel different day to day, in a fluid manner, rather than fixed.
Gender identity: Gender identity refers to an individual’s sense of self as a woman, man, both, neither, somewhere in between, or whatever one’s truth is. Gender identity (despite what the gender binary suggests) does not have to match one’s sex assigned at birth, and it can be fluid rather than fixed and change over time.
Heterogenderism: Heterogenderism is a cultural system of beliefs based on the assumption that gender exists on the binary, and as a result, those with gender-non-conforming (GNC) identities are subject to prejudice and neglect. (Heterosexism is a system of beliefs based on the binary assumption that people are straight. Therefore, only a relationship between a man and a woman is “normal.” The term also encompasses the discrimination that comes along with it.)
HRT: HRT stands for hormone replacement therapy, which allows trans and GNC folks to medically transition with the help of hormones. Testosterone is used to help masculinize and can lead to a deeper voice, more hair, and other traits associated with masculinity. Estrogen is taken to feminize and can result in less body hair, bigger breasts, and other feminine traits. HRT is one of many therapies to help trans and GNC people feel at home in their bodies.
Intersectionality: Intersectionality is a term acknowledging various identities, such as race, disability, income level, and other factors contributing to discrimination and even violence towards trans folks.
Intersex: People who are intersex are born with a combination of male and female traits, such as differences in genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and more. Intersex people can be of any gender and should be allowed to make that decision for themselves, rather than whatever the doctor wrote down at the time of birth.
Johnson: Marsha P. Johnson was one of the most important figures of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. In particular, she was an iconic advocate for gay and transgender rights, homeless queer youth, and those affected by the HIV and AIDs epidemic. The “P” in Marsha P. Johnson stands for “Pay It No Mind,” which became her motto when asked about gender. She was also known for her style, particularly her gorgeous flower crowns.
Kink: You’re not alone if you’re surprised to see “kink” on this list. Kink is an umbrella term that refers to sexual interests outside the vanilla hetero norm, and many kinksters advocate for inclusion in the LGBTQIA+ community. While kinksters do face discrimination, many activists insist that being kinky is different from the identities that LGBTQIA+ folks experience.
LGBTQIA+: LGBTQIA+, an acronym often referred to as “the alphabet soup,” is an evolving umbrella definition for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, and asexual folks.
Mx: ‘Mx.’ is a gender-neutral honorific for those who don’t want to be addressed by gendered titles such as “Mr.” or “Ms.”
Non-binary: If one is non-binary, they do not exclusively identify as either male or female on the gender binary but may have a fluid gender, identify with more than one gender, or reject gender labels altogether.
Outing: Outing someone means revealing someone’s gender, without their consent, to others. Outing someone is more than bad manners. Considering a trans person is four times more likely than someone cis to experience a violent assault, outing someone can be deadly (so don’t do it).
Pangender: Pangender people identify with all gender identities (excluding ones from cultural backgrounds they’re not a part of).
Passing: Passing describes a trans or GNC person who “passes” as a cisgender person in society. While passing can offer protection and help someone present on the outside the way they feel on the inside, it can be a privilege (see X for expensive), and one does not need to “pass” to be trans or GNC. Regardless of gender presentation or medical transition, one always deserves respect and acceptance.
Polygender: “Polygender is the descriptive word for someone who experiences multiple gender identities,” licensed social worker and LGBT+ expert Dr. Kryss Shane previously told Men’s Health. Polygender people may experience multiple gender identities at once, or feel that their gender is always in flux.
Pronouns: As you may remember from grade school, pronouns are words that can function as a noun phrase. However, within the gender binary, the only two typically recognized are he/him/his and she/her/hers. This leaves out trans and GNC folks, who in addition to the aforemention pronouns, may use gender-neutral ones such as they/them/theirs. Today, it is simply good manners to use your pronouns in introductions, and even if you’re cis, doing so makes it more natural for others to as well. Don’t assume pronouns!
QTPO: This acronym stands for Queer and Trans People of Color and points out the importance of intersectionality, or how race contributes a role to one’s gender experience, as POC trans folks are at a higher risk of violence than white folks.
Queer: Queer is a sexual orientation that refers to anything that isn’t straight and can be used in place of, or conjunction with, identities such as pansexual and bisexual. However, queer is also an umbrella term that encompasses the LGBTQIA+ community, which includes trans and GNC folks. However, it’s important to remember that gender and sexual orientation are two totally different things. Genderqueer refers to someone who rejects the gender binary, and—like queer—can be an umbrella term of GNC identities, but refers specifically to gender.
Rodriguez: Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is a modern-day trans icon best known for being the first trans woman to win a Golden Globe Award, which she rightfully took home for her role in the television show “Pose,” which depicts the ball culture between the 1980s-1990s in New York City.
Sex assigned at birth: Sex assigned at birth is a binary label (male or female) a doctor gives one at birth based on genitals and chromosomes. Biological sex is different and doesn’t need to match one’s gender.
T.E.R.F.: T.E.R.F. is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which means someone who excludes trans women and non-binary folks from feminism. Please don’t be a T.E.R.F.
Transgender: Transgender is an umbrella term for those whose gender does not conform to the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender is often abbreviated to “trans.”
Umbrella: Umbrella could refer to many umbrella terms listed in this glossary, such as trans, GNC, or queer, but it also refers to the Red Umbrella Fund, which is the first global fund guided by and for sex workers. One should never equate trans folks with sex workers, trans folks succeed in a variety of professions. But it is important to understand that due to discrimination, many trans folks must turn to sex work for money, which can be more dangerous than it is for others, as trans folks (especially Black and POC trans people) are at a higher risk of violence.
Voice surgery: Voice surgery is one of many gender-affirming surgeries that can help one present on the outside the same way they feel on the inside. Other gender-affirming interventions include surgery, hormone therapy, hair removal, non-surgical interventions such as genital tucking, packing, chest binding, and so much more, including clothing. While every GNC person deserves safe and affordable medical care, many financial barriers remain in place, and not all trans or GNC people desire surgery to begin with.
Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance The Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance is a group of researchers, allies, and Tand Elder Wabanaki Two-Spirits with a mission to represent the emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical well-being and interests of Two Spirits and Indigenous LGBTQ+ individuals and groups in Wabanaki Territory (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland/Labrador, Gaspé region of Quebec, and Maine (northern areas in Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribal territories). Two-Spirit (often abbreviated as 2S) is an umbrella term some Indigenous North Americans use to describe Native folks who fulfill a traditional third-gender sacred role in their cultures. While our binary society likes to act like the gender revolution is new, throughout history, from the Two-Spirits from Indigenous North American tribes, the hijras of India, and the Khawaja sira of Pakistan, other cultures have celebrated such people. Modern-day normalized and even sanctioned transphobia is more recent than the existence of those who don’t fit into the gender binary.
Expensive: While one does not need medical procedures such as gender affirmation surgeries to be GNC or trans, it should be an option that is safe and affordable. However, in the U.S., even for those with health insurance, transitioning can cost upwards of six figures. This injustice displays our country’s class divide, the unnecessary hoops that trans folks must go through, and our failing medical system all in one.
You: Remember, if you’re wondering if you’re trans or GNC, only you can make that decision. There is no rush, no right way to come out, and no right way to transition. If you’re a cis person, you may not relate to gender dysphoria or other trans experiences, but it’s important to recognize your privilege and work extra hard to be respectful of others’ identities.
Zie/zim/zir/zis/zieself: Zie/zim/zir/zis/zieself are a set of gender-neutral pronouns, like they/them/their. Other pronouns include he/him/his and she/her/hers. Some people use multiple pronouns, and others may prefer to simply go by their name. If you’re unsure what pronouns someone uses, just introduce yourself using your own pronouns and ask. For example, “Hello, I’m Sophie, and I use she/her pronouns. What about you?”
Sophie Saint Thomas is a sex and cannabis journalist and the author of Finding Your Higher Self: Your Guide to Self-Care, The Intimacy Journal: A Sex & Cannabis Log Book, and The Little CBD Book for Self-Care.