A Quick Guide to Essential Gender-Related Terms Every Ally Should Know
Just like sexuality, gender identity is a lot broader and more nuanced than we as a society seem to acknowledge. The truth is, in an ideal world, labels shouldn’t be that important. We’d all live in a world where everyone could exist – fully, as themselves, without having to constantly explain or define what side of the “side” of the spectrum they fall.
Unfortunately, this perfect utopia exists in the future, not now. So until we reach it, it’s important to understand that while the world seems to have forged two default gender identifiers of man and woman, outside this binary structure exists a myriad of gender expressions that have helped many individuals find an identity suitable to their body and preferences without yielding to what we have come to know as conventional.
It is also imperative to note that, again, just like sexuality, gender can be fluid. While you might have associated an individual with certain gender identity or expression, this might change. The most important takeaway here is, unless stated otherwise, this person’s decision is not your business (don’t interrogate them in a bid to extract an explanation). But you owe them the barest minimum, which means respecting them enough to call them by the accurate pronouns.
Whether you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community, a person who doesn’t identify with the sex they’ve been assigned at birth or you just want to be a better ally and a respectful human being, here’s a comprehensive list of some gender-related terms you need to know.
An umbrella identifier, non-binary is commonly used by people whose experience of gender identity/ and or expression can’t be exclusively categorized as male or female. Sometimes, they might also define their gender as falling somewhere between male and female, or they might define it as completely different. What does this mean? Individuals who identify as nonbinary can experience gender in a variety of ways, including a combination of male and female, neither male nor female, nor something else altogether. It is an umbrella term because people who identify as non-binary can also be trans, gender fluid, or genderqueer at the same time.
Non-binary people can either use the “he/him” or “she/her” pronouns, depending on which end of the gender spectrum they identify with most closely or they could use gender-neutral pronouns like “they/them” or “ze/hir” (pronounced zee and here).
Trans for short, refers to someone whose current gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Another umbrella term including many gender identities, many trans people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to help them bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity, while some might undergo surgery. It is, however, important to note that not all trans people will take these steps [hormones or surgery]. For the trans community, identity is not fully dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. So if someone tells you they are Trans but they haven’t transitioned [changed their physical appearance], respect it and use the descriptive term preferred by the person.
This is a term describing people born with ambiguous genitalia. What does this mean? Well, according to the Intersex Society of North America, these are individuals whose biological sex varies in some way from our binary understanding of men’s and women’s bodies. This can encompass a person’s anatomy, reproductive system, and/or the pattern of their chromosomes. For example, an intersex individual may have internal anatomy that is more typical to men, but external genitalia that is more typical to women. Kindly avoid the outdated and wildly derogatory term “hermaphrodite”. While doctors have oftentimes made the call on which gender they should use as soon as they are born, it is important to let individuals identify with whatever gender feels right for them.
A person who does not identify with any gender, or intentionally doesn’t follow expectations of gender. Some use the term gender-neutral instead, and both terms fall under the non-binary umbrella (since these individuals can’t be categorized as just male or female).
For someone who is genderfluid, gender identity and presentation is simply a spectrum. A gender-fluid person doesn’t confine themself to one gender, or even a few. Instead, they may fluctuate between presenting as feminine, masculine, neither, or both, over a particular period. For example, from moment to moment, day to day, month to month, year to year, or decade to decade.
According to Courtney D’Allaird, assistant director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at the University of Albany, “They may experience their gender differently from one day to the next or feel masculine in the morning and go out as a high femme in the evening.”
Genderfluid could also fall under the non-binary umbrella.
Cisgender, or cis, describes people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. So if you were born with a penis and you feel and consider yourself to be male, you’d be a cisgender male. The same applies to be having a vagina and identifying as female.
This umbrella term is used to describe people who experience more than one gender identity.
Other gender labels that fall under the multi-gender umbrella include:
This term describes someone who identifies with two distinct genders. Bigender indicates the number of gender identities someone has. However, It doesn’t indicate which genders someone identifies with or the level of identification they have with a particular gender (such as 50% male, 50% female).
This gender identity describes the experience of having three gender identities, simultaneously or over time. This term indicates the number of gender identities someone experiences but doesn’t necessarily indicate which genders are included in a given person’s trigender identity.
A non-binary gender identity, referring to people who experience all gender identities either simultaneously or over time.
Someone who has more than one gender and either experience all of their genders at once or is moving between genders at any given time. This term indicates the number of gender identities someone experiences but doesn’t necessarily indicate which genders are included in the given person’s polygender identity.
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