Definition of Terms

Gender Dysphoria

Refers to the distress someone might feel when the gender they were assigned at birth does not match with the gender they know themselves to be. Some people with gender dysphoria may feel very uncomfortable in their bodies, especially during puberty.

At present, there is no standardized measure that indicates whether or not someone has gender dysphoria, nor is there a standardized measure to assess gender identity. However, there is substantial data showing that children who are supported in their gender expression have more positive health outcomes than children who face rejection or punishment.

As our ideas about gender roles and gender identity continue to evolve, the words we use to describe gender change too. Below are a list of terms we have created to help facilitate discussion about gender roles and gender identity. We are aware, however, that the meaning of terms varies according to context and can change over time. For example, the term transsexual, once a common word describing a person who has medically changed their gender, is less popular with younger generations.


The classification of people as male or female based on biological characteristics such as a person's chromosomes, hormones, secondary sex characteristics, and external and internal reproductive organs. At birth, infants are assigned a sex such as male or female, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. 

Gender Identity

One's internal, innate, deeply held sense of one's maleness, femaleness, neither, or both. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.

For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into male or female.

Gender Binary

A conceptualization of sex and gender that is represented by two distinct, disconnected, and opposing categories: male or female. The existence of the gender binary reinforces commonly held beliefs about what constitutes acceptable male and female expression and behavior, and discourages people from acting outside of their prescribed gender roles.

Gender Expression

The visible manifestations of one's gender identity, as expressed through one's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine and feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression align with their gender identity, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.

Sexual Orientation

Describes an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, or any other sexual orientation.


An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms - including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the individual. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon medical procedures. Please note that transgender is an adjective, not a noun. For example, people who identify as transgender are not called "transgenders."


A term referring to the process of making physical or social changes to align gender identity with gender expression. Transitions do not always involve medical intervention. Some people transition from the gender they were assigned at birth by changing their name, pronoun, style of dress, etc.

Transition might include some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one's family, friends, and co-workers; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person. Avoid the phrase "sex change."

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)

Refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition. Not all transgender people choose to have surgery. Sex reassingment surgery, like any medical intervention, is an intensely personal procedure and privacy around this (and most other medical procedures) should be respected.

The phrase "sex change operation" should be avoided. Not all transgender people choose to receive this type of surgical procedure for a myriad of reasons.


A term used by some to describe people whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth. "Cis-" is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side as," and is therefore an antonym of "trans-." For example, a person designated as female at birth (based on external reproductive organs) who identifies as female is someone who is “cisgender.”

Gender Non-Conforming

A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional -- that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. Simply being transgender does not make someone gender non-conforming. 


A term used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.