Language and terminology

The following are explanations and definitions intended as useful references for this resource and for your work with trans and gender-diverse clients. As language is constantly evolving and seldom universally agreed upon, it is key to mirror back language people use to express their lived experience and understanding of self. In line with the most recent version of WPATH’s Standards of Care, we aim to recognize and support the full spectrum of gender identity and gender expression.

Glossary of terms

Sex (biological)
A label we are given at birth to describe our physical bodies and reproductive capacity. Characteristics of the body used to determine biological sex may include genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes, and secondary sex characteristics.
Gender identity
A person’s internal self-awareness of being a certain gender
Gender role/expression
The social expression of gender. Often described as being on a spectrum between masculine to feminine. Often related to, but sometimes distinct from, gender identity. For example, some trans or cis women may identify butch or have a masculine presentation, and some cis or trans men may be feminine or identity as femme.
Having a non-trans gender identity. You may also sometimes see “cissexual” or “cisgender”. Thus, nontrans men are “cis men” and non-trans women are “cis women”. It is preferable (and more accurate) to use “cis” than to use terms such as “bio”, “genetic” or “real”. It is also preferable to use “cis” rather than only using “woman” or “man” to describe non-trans persons. If cis is not used as a descriptor for non-trans persons, then such persons may be presumed to be the more “normal” or “valid” instantiation of that particular gender, thus contributing to cissexism.
Trans refers to a state of incongruence of one’s gender identity with the gender assigned at birth. It is an umbrella term for people who are not cis, includes persons who are (or identify as) non-binary as well as trans men and trans women.
Umbrella term for anyone who does not identify with static, binary gender identities. Includes persons who may identify as having an intermediary gender (e.g. genderqueer), as being multiple genders (e.g. bigender, polygender, etc.), as having a shifting gender (gender fluid), or as not having a gender altogether (agender).
There are many definitions and understandings that are nation-specific (Ex. Navajo, Cree, Dene, Anishinabe) and each individual person will have their own way of expressing their Two-Spirit-ness. Also, not all Indigenous people identify as Two-Spirit and have other ways and words to express their gender and sexual identity. The term Two-Spirit refers to another gender role believed to be common among most, if not all, first peoples of Turtle Island (North America), one that had a proper and accepted place within indigenous societies. This acceptance was rooted in the spiritual teachings that say all life is sacred and that the Creator must have a reason for making someone different. This gender role was not based in sexual activities or practices, but rather the sacredness that comes from being different. This definition is not meant to replace cultural and traditional teachings, which speak to this role. It is intended to find common ground and to help educate in a contemporary context. (Source: Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Two-Spirit Society of Denver)

Gender diversity

It is important to understand that concepts of gender identity and expression have moved beyond the gender binary paradigm. Binary conceptions of gender (ie., male/female) do not reflect the experiences of many people; for example, genderqueer (aka. gender non-binary) individuals tend to negotiate the world with a much more fluid concept of gender. Thus, they locate themselves on a diverse continuum of gender identification/presentation.

Gender nonconformity
Refers to the extent to which a person’s gender identity, role, or expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex.
Gender dysphoria
Refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics).

Urgency for trans care

Trans clients health care needs