A Gender Foundation

Language of Gender

A Framework



Language used to describe gender diversity in individuals is continually evolving to better capture the wide array of factors and experiences of gender diverse people. 

The following terms are intended to provide a common foundation from which to begin a layered, intersectional conversation. These are some of, but certainly not all of, the terminology commonly in usage today.  Again, this is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather a means to provide a foundation of understanding.  

Biological Sex or Assigned Sex at Birth 

describes the sex / gender a person was given at birth based on their anatomy. Sex is almost exclusively limited to two categories—female and male—and is determined by external genitalia and subsequent assumptions about a person’s internal genitalia (ovaries/testes), hormones (estrogen/testosterone), and chromosomal designations of XX or XY (omitting existing variations like XXY, XO, XYY, X, and others). Given the potential genital, hormonal, and chromosomal variations within humans, it is more accurate to recognize this diversity and to no longer over-simplify the human body based on an outdated, inaccurate oversimplification of male/female.

Gender Expression 

describes the external ways in which a person expresses their gender identity to the world, such as through their behavior, emotions, style of dress, hairstyle, makeup, interests, or choice of toys, colors, or activities. 

Gender Identity 

refers to a person’s innate sense of their own gender.  This can include being female, male, both, genderfluid, or other—regardless of their assigned sex at birth. The most commonly used terms to describe gender identity include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Cisgender is an adjective that is used to describe a person whose assigned sex aligns with their gender identity, e.g., someone who was assigned female at birth and whose gender identity is female. Most people are cisgender. 
  • Transgender is an adjective used to describe a person whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex, e.g., someone who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is male.  
  • Nonbinary is an adjective that can be used to describe a variety of gender identities that do not fall into one of the two traditional (binary) categories—male or female. It can indicate a person’s gender identity that is something other than male or female, that is neither entirely male nor entirely female, or that blends elements of being male or female. 
  • Additional terms in use that describe nonconventional forms of gender identity (and sometimes expressioninclude gender fluid, gender queer, agender, gender expansive and gender nonconforming. 

*Note: An example of correct usage for these adjectives include: a cisgender person, transgender person, a nonbinary person.  

Sexual Orientation 

is a collection of terms used to describe to whom one is emotionally, physically, and/or romantically attracted. Like cisgender people, transgender and nonbinary people will also use any sexual orientation descriptor including straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer, etc. Note: Gender identity terms (e.g. cis, trans, nonbinary) are not sexual orientation labels. 


is a verb describing the process through which a person begins to live in congruence with their gender identity. Each person’s transition is distinct, but possible steps may include any combination of legal, medical, or social changes (e.g., changing their name and pronouns, identification documents, appearance, etc.). 


35% of the nearly 28,000 transgender respondents to the anonymous 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey identified as non-binary.