Gender Identity: 10 words to use and 5 to avoid [333 words]

For those unfamiliar with gender identity concepts, here’s a quick vocabulary lesson.

Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.

Gender Identity – Basic Terminology

  • Assigned gender – the gender initially proclaimed at an individual’s birth (typically male, female, or intersex)
  • Gender identity – the gender with which an individual identifies (typically male, female, or nonbinary)
  • Gender expression – the way an individual presents their gender identity (typically masculine, feminine, or androgynous)
  • Cisgender – someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth
    Avoid using the terms “normal,” “real man,” or “real woman” to describe cisgender people. The term “privileged” is acceptable, however (wink!).
  • Transgender, or trans – someone whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth
    Avoid using the terms “transsexual” or “cross-dressing” to describe trans people.
  • Gender confirmation – a complicated and lengthy medical process whereby a person’s physicality is altered to match their gender identity
    Avoid using the term “sex change.”
  • Transition – the process of changing one’s gender identity and/or gender expression, regardless of whether one undertakes the gender confirmation process
    Avoid using the term “sex change.”
  • Gender fluidity – the notion that a person’s gender identity or gender expression is not fixed
  • Gender nonconforming –a catch-all term for gender-fluid and nonbinary individuals, and sometimes for individuals who choose a gender expression that violates societal norms
  • Genderqueer – a term more often used by young, gender nonconforming people, and particularly people of color; this term carries an additional connotation of political activism
    Avoid describing someone as “queer” (adjective) unless you know for sure an individual self-describes that way. Never use the word “queer” as a noun.

When you’re unsure of what words to use, just ask! Most people in the LGBTQ+ community are willing to help you get it right.

More information is available in my article Gender Identity: A primer for people who just don’t get it.

See also this quick introductory video by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at

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6 responses to “Gender Identity: 10 words to use and 5 to avoid [333 words]”
  1. […] Cisgender … transgender and nonbinary individuals […]

  2. […] Cisgender … transgender and nonbinary individuals […]

  3. […] Cisgender … transgender and nonbinary individuals […]

  4. […] Cisgender … transgender and nonbinary individuals […]

  5. […] respect means acknowledging and accepting their identities. Even if you don’t understand what terminology to use or how to show support, you can still demonstrate respect. In other words, be polite and […]

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