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A-Z of gender identity

A crash course on gender identity

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in life

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Gender identity is the term used to describe how a person feels internally about their own gender. For example, a person’s gender identity might mean whether they identify as a man, a woman, or something else.

While many people are brought up to believe that the only two things that anyone can be are a man or a woman, male or female, the reality for a huge amount of people is much less clear cut than that.

If you feel a bit confused by all this, don’t worry. If you’ve grown up thinking about gender in a certain way, it’s natural to feel confused to learn that it may be more complex than you’d previously thought. Remember, it's ok to question your gender or be unsure about what your gender is. Many people identify as different genders at different stages in their lives and this is totally fine. Here’s our crash course in gender identity.

Sex vs Gender

One of the most important things in understanding the complexities of gender identity is knowing the difference between sex and gender.

Sex is the word for a person’s biological sexual characteristics, such as hormones, chromosomes and genitals. Someone with a male sex is usually recognised by having typically male reproductive organs and hormones, and someone with a female sex is recognised by having typically female reproductive organs and hormones. Whilst many people are born into one of these two categories, there are also a lot of people who are born with both male and female sexual characteristics, organs and hormones.

Gender is the word used for to describe whether someone feels within themselves to be a man, a woman, or something else. A person may express their gender in different ways through things like clothes, appearance, speech and other non-biological characteristics. Someone’s gender does not necessarily match up to their sex. As such, someone may have male sexual characteristics, but identify as a woman, or someone may have female sexual characteristics but identify as man.

A-Z of gender identity


This is the term used to describe people who express their gender with a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. They may be either transgender or cisgender.


A person who does not identify with any gender.


This is someone who identifies as two genders. These genders may be male and female, but may also be, for example, female and agender, or male and agender.

Binary gender

This is the traditional belief that there are only two real genders; “man” and “woman”. This is an outdated belief that doesn’t account for the vast range of ways that people experience gender as somewhere between man and woman, or on a completely different scale altogether.

Binary sex

This is the belief that there are strictly only two sets of sex characteristics; “male” and “female”. While many people may only have either male or female sex characteristics, there are also many people that will have a combination of both male and female sexual characteristics - and this is absolutely fine.


Cisgender is a term used by some to describe people who are not transgender or non-transgender people. Cisgender can also be define as someone who identifies with the gender they were given at birth. 


A person who identifies as a man, has male biological sex characteristics, and was assigned a male sex at birth.


A person who identifies as a woman, has female biological sex characteristics, and was assigned a female sex at birth.


This is the assumption that everybody is naturally cisgender, and that it is somehow unusual, out of the norm, or deviant to identify as anything else.


Cross-dressing is the practice of wearing clothes that aren’t traditionally associated with the gender you identify with. For example, someone who identifies as a man, wearing clothes that are traditionally considered to be female. A male cross-dresser typically identify as heterosexual (straight). Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and not done for entertainment. Cross-dresser replaces the term Transvestite. 

Drag king

Someone who performs hyper-exaggerated masculine traits for the sake of art or entertainment, usually at a show or theatre. Usually, the performer identifies as a woman, but does not necessarily have to.

Drag queen

Someone who performs hyper-exaggerated feminine traits for the sake of art or entertainment, usually at a show or theatre. Usually, the performer identifies as a man, but does not necessarily have to.


A person with a specific set of physical and biological traits, such as a vagina, a womb, breasts and a higher level of oestrogen.


This stands for Female to Male. This term is used to describe a transgender person who were assigned a female gender at birth, and now identifies as male.

Gender dysphoria

This term is used to describe the deep discontent and anxiety someone feels when they are living their lives as a gender they don’t identify with. Not all transgender people experience dysphoria, and it is possible to be transgender without feeling dysphoria. 

Gender expression

How someone presents their gender externally, through things like clothes, appearance and behaviour.

Gender identity

Someone’s internal perception of their gender - how they feel inside about their gender.

Gender reassignment surgery

A medical procedure that transitions a person’s biological sex from one sex to another. It is often incorrectly referred to as a “sex change”.


A term that can be used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary. It might be used to describe a person who identifies as multiple genders, or no genders.


This is the term used to describe someone with both male and female sex characteristics. An intersex person may identify as a man, a woman, or as something else, and it doesn’t necessarily affect their gender identity.


LGBTQIA+ is a commonly used acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex or Asexual. The + sign is to signify other categories of gender and sexual orientation that aren’t accurately described by these terms.


This stands for Male to Female. This term is used to describe a transgender person who were assigned a male gender at birth, and now identifies as female.


An umbrella term for anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is different from the biological sex they were assigned at birth.


Sometimes used shorthand version of transgender, transsexual or used to be inclusive of a variety of identites under the transgender umbrella.


The process of transitioning from one sex or gender to another. This can be done by dressing in different clothes, changing the way you talk, using make up, changing your hair, changing your name, taking hormones, or surgery. Transitioning does not always involve all of these steps and is ultimately up to how an individual feels about it themselves.


This is the prejudice and discrimination that transgender people are faced with.


This is a term that is used to describe someone who has medically or surgically transitioned from one sex to another. Some people find this term offensive, due its medical history. Furthermore, after medically transitioning, many people cease to identify as transexual or transgender, and simply identify as a woman or a man. It’s best to avoid this term, unless you meet someone who uses it to describe themselves.


A person who was assigned a female sex at birth, who now identifies as a man.


A person who was assigned a male sex at birth, who now identifies as a woman.

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Published October 30th, 2014
Last updated March 12th, 2018
Tags gender gender identity transgender
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