A Tiny Little Guide to Gender Definitions

Transgender, gender-fluid, and more

A Tiny Little Guide to Gender Definitions

(image source: emaze)

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You know those Instagrammable “gender reveal” parties where the parents-to-be cut a cake and find out it’s pink on the inside? They shriek, “It’s a girl!” and pose for the camera with a set of pink balloons. Yeah, not so fast.

Because Baby Kaylee may indeed be a girl by way of sex, but not by way of gender. Technically, those parties should really just be called “anatomical reveal” parties (partsties?)

Today, many of us — especially if you are a member of Gen Z — know the difference between sex (the way someone is classified based on the biological and physiological characteristics with which they’re born: genitals, chromosomes, all that exciting stuff) and gender (one’s inner and sometimes outer identity: also exciting!)

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But there’s an array of terms out there beyond “male” or “female,” “boy” or “girl.” There’s even a world beyond “trans.”

Now, it’s impossible to describe every potential permutation of gender. But here’s a very brief starter kit with a few gender definitions that may help you better understand strangers, friends, and even yourself.

Transgender: Often shortened to “trans,” a transgender person (not “a transgender”) is someone whose sense of identity does not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. A baby born with female genitals may be named Kaylee, and her sex noted as female. But gender is about how one feels, and what one knows one is within. Gender can’t be identified on an anatomical chart.

Cisgender: Often shortened to “cis,” a cis person is someone whose sense of identity does correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. A cis person born with male sex organs identifies as a man and feels comfortable describing himself as such.

Non-binary or genderqueer: Individuals who identify apart from or beyond male and female, man and woman. The following definitions can all be grouped under the gender umbrella term of “non-binary” or “genderqueer”:

Gender-fluid: A gender-fluid person has a shifting sense of gender identity. The Australian model and actor Ruby Rose came out as gender-fluid. Sometimes it depends on the day, the week, the month, the mood, or really anything else. Sometimes it shifts from moment to moment. Only the gender-fluid person can really tell you more about how it works for them.

Bigender: Someone who may identify as both male and female, or some combination of both. It’s not that every bigender person feels half-male, half-female, although that may be the case for some. It depends on the individual.

Agender: Someone who doesn’t identify as male or female, man or woman, gender-fluid or cisgender or transgender. They may say they’ve rejected the notion of gender entirely on a personal level, or it may never have been a part of their identity at all.

Note the recurring element here? Labels are inherently limited and limiting. And gender, like sexuality, is a spectrum. To know any person’s identity or preferred pronouns, you’d have to ask that particular person.

But while many people seem pretty happy and willing to educate others, don’t make the assumption that a non-binary person exists just to be a brave inspiration, beacon of hope, or lighthouse of truth to curious strangers.

We’re all just people having a human experience on this planet, and getting through the day seems to be everyone’s number one goal. So proceed with kindness, don’t be afraid to apologize if you accidentally misstep, and always be willing to listen. You may make some amazing friends in the process.