(assembled by Willing Observers-updated July 2022)

Have you encountered sex/gender terms with which you are unfamiliar? This terms and definitions list offers a reference.

In most dialects of American English, commonly used sex/gender terminology tends to represent human bodies and experiences as binary, meaning easily separated into two categories of men/male/masculine or women/female/feminine. However, a far less neat and far wider range of terminology and categorization for human experiences and bodies exists, a sampling of which is provided below.

As you look through this list, please keep in mind that this guide is not exhaustive as sex/gender terms and term-uses are community/language specific, variable, and ever-changing.

Sex/Gender Assignment

What category was assigned to you at birth?

Binary sex/gender is the idea that there are only two categories: male and female. The idea of binary categorization is important because it impacts how we study and categorize human bodies and experiences. This also impacts the ways in which we learn and use terms for categorizing human bodies and experiences. One step toward moving away from binary terminology and categorization is to recognize and legitimate the assignment of intersex as a category that can capture existing variation in alignments of chromosomes, hormones, external genitalia, internal genitalia, and secondary characteristics.

Additional Terminology Associated with Sex/Gender Assignment

  • Male
  • Female
  • Intersex

Gender Identity

How do you identify yourself?

Gender identity is one’s internal sense of being. Everyone has a gender identity. This internal identity can be linked to being man, woman, both, neither, or another gender(s).

Additional Terminology Associated with Sex/Gender Assignment

  • Woman/girl
  • Man/boy
  • Nonbinary/Genderqueer/Gender-fluid
  • Transgender
  • Cisgender

Woman, girl, man, and boy are terms used to refer to common gender identities. Terms like nonbinary and genderqueer indicate that a person identifies outside of a binary system, identifying as both existing binary categories or as neither. Gender-fluid means that someone identifies and acknowledges the fluidity of moving between and within existing categories. The term transgender is used to describe individuals whose sex/gender assignment is not the same as their own internal sense of gender identity.

Cisgender is a term that denotes that one’s gender identity, and often gender expression, aligns with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. It is frequently abbreviated as “cis” when used as in self-identification (e.g. “I am a cis woman”) or more broadly as an adjective (e.g. “The cis experience”). The alignment between assignment, identity, and expression persists as an unmarked form and category in most dialects of American English, where a lack of marking indicates something that may be assumed unless otherwise stated. Marking this category by adding “cis” creates more equity because it is a move toward all categories of identity being marked, leaving less room for one category to stand out ‘not needing to be stated because it is assumed’. This creates the conditions for greater inclusivity by acknowledging “cis” as just one possibility in the range of human experience.

Gender Expression

How do you express yourself?

Gender Expression

Gender Expression is the physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Note that the terms used are adjectives, used to describe, rather than nouns, which might indicate a more static state of being.

Additional Terminology Associated with Sex/Gender Assignment

  • Neutral
  • Man/boy
  • Masculine
  • Feminine

Misogyny & Transmisogyny

Forms of discrimination based on sex/gender categorization.

Misogyny can be defined as the systemic mistreatment of women, girls, and feminine peoples through forms of structural (e.g. state and cultural) violence. Transmisogyny focuses on the complex intersections between transphobia and misogyny that are faced by trans women and girls and transfeminine and non-binary peoples, which leads to multiple levels of systemic mistreatment. Misogyny and transmisogyny are clearly related as they both describe gender-based oppression that results from the prioritization of masculinity alongside the degradation of femininity. However, transmisogyny attempts to capture the intersection of multiple layers of gender-based marginalization.

An example of misogyny: the assumption that women’s spaces, bodies, and organizations need to be legally regulated and surveilled, relative to men’s spaces, bodies, and organizations, because women require an increased level of protection and regulation.

An example of transmisogyny: the increasing persistence and intensity of public debates over whether or not trans women and girls and transfeminine peoples are “real women” that belong in “women’s spaces,” including gender-specific bathrooms, women’s sports teams, and locker rooms as these debates, which prioritize misplaced and misunderstood claims of biological authenticity, are dehumanizing to trans women and girls and transfeminine individuals while at the same time advocating for widespread and explicit marginalization and exclusion.