Appendix B: Glossary for understanding gender identity and expression

The words people use to describe themselves and others are very important. The right terms can affirm identities and challenge discriminatory attitudes. The wrong ones can disempower, demean and reinforce exclusion. While these terms and explanations are considered current and appropriate at the publication of this policy, their meaning and use can evolve and change over time. Generally, when in doubt, asking a person how they self-identify is the most respectful approach.

Sex: the classification of people as male, female or intersex. Sex is usually assigned at birth and is based on an assessment of a person’s reproductive systems, hormones, chromosomes and other physical characteristics.

Sex and gender: whereas “sex” is a person’s physical characteristics, “gender” is about what it means to be a man or woman in society.[176] It is the expectations and stereotypes about behaviours, actions and roles linked to being a “man” or “woman.” Social norms related to gender can vary depending on the culture and can change over time.[177]

Gender binary: a social system whereby people are thought to have either one of two genders: man or woman. These genders are expected to correspond to birth sex: male or female. In the gender binary system, there is no room for interpretations, for living between genders, or for crossing the binary. The gender binary system is rigid and restrictive for many people who feel that their natal sex (sex they were labelled with at birth) does not match up with their gender or that their gender is fluid and not fixed.[178]

Gender norms: the gender binary influences what society considers “normal” or acceptable behaviour, dress, appearances and roles for women and men. Gender norms are a prevailing force in everyday lives. Strength, action and dominance are stereotypically seen as “masculine” traits, while vulnerability, passivity and receptiveness are stereotypically seen as “feminine” traits. A woman expressing masculine traits may be stereotyped as overly “aggressive,” while a man expressing “feminine” traits may be labeled as “weak.” Gender norms can contribute to power imbalances and gender inequality in the home, at work and in communities.[179]

Gender identity: each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.

For most people, their sex and gender identity align. For some, it does not. A person may be born male but identify as a woman, or born female but identify as a man. Other people may identify outside the categories of woman/man, or may see their gender identity as fluid and moving between different genders at different times in their life.

Gender expression: how a person publicly presents or expresses their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways people express their gender. Others perceive a person’s gender through these attributes.

All people, regardless of their gender identity, have a gender expression and they may express it in any number of ways. For trans people, their chosen name, preferred pronoun and apparel are common ways they express their gender. People who are trans may also take medically supportive steps to align their body with their gender identity.

Trans or transgender: an umbrella term that describes people with diverse gender identities and gender expressions that do not conform to stereotypical ideas about what it means to be a girl/woman or boy/man in society. “Trans” can mean transcending beyond, existing between, or crossing over the gender spectrum. It includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, transsexual, cross dressers or gender non-conforming (gender variant or gender queer).

“Trans” includes people whose gender identity is different from the gender associated with their birth-assigned sex. Trans people may or may not undergo medically supportive treatments, such as hormone therapy and a range of surgical procedures, to align their bodies with their internally felt gender identity.

People who have transitioned from one gender to another may simply identify as female or male. Others may also identify as trans, as a trans woman or a trans man. Some people may identify as trans and not use the labels “female” or “male.” Others may identify as existing between male and female or in different ways beyond the binary of male/female.

Trans people may identify their gender in many ways. There is no single or universal experience of what it means to be trans. As a result, different trans people face distinct forms of discrimination in society, and this may relate to whether they identify as male, female, a person with a trans history, a person in the process of transitioning, a trans man, trans woman, transsexual, or gender non-conforming.

Gender non-conforming/gender variant/gender queer:[180] individuals who do not follow gender stereotypes based on the sex they were assigned at birth. They may identify and express themselves as “feminine men” or “masculine women” or as androgynous, outside of the categories “boy/man” and “girl/woman.” People who are gender non-conforming may or may not identify as trans.

Trans man and trans woman: A person whose sex assigned at birth is “female” and identifies as a man may also identify as a trans man (female-to-male FTM). A person whose sex assigned at birth is “male” and identifies as a woman may also identify as a trans woman (male-to-female MTF).

Transsexual: a person whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. They may or may not undergo medically supportive treatments to align their bodies with their gender identity, such as hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery or other procedures. They may also undertake other changes to align their external attributes and appearance with their gender identity. 

Transitioning: refers to a host of activities that some trans people may pursue to affirm their gender identity. This may include changes to their name, sex designation, dress, the use of specific pronouns, and possibly medically supportive treatments such as hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery or other procedures. There is no checklist or average time for a transition process, and no universal goal or endpoint. Each person decides what meets their needs.

Intersex: a term used to describe a person born with reproductive systems, chromosomes and/or hormones that are not easily characterized as male or female. This might include a woman with XY chromosomes or a man with ovaries instead of testes. Intersex characteristics occur in one out of every 1,500 births. Typically intersex people are assigned one sex, male or female, at birth. Some intersex people identify with their assigned sex, while others do not. Some choose to identify as intersex. Intersex people do not typically identify as transgender or transsexual.[181]

“Lived” gender identity: the gender a person internally feels (“gender identity” along the gender spectrum) and publicly expresses (“gender expression”) in their daily life including at work, while shopping or accessing other services, in their housing environment or in the broader community.

Cross-dresser: a person who, for various reasons, wears gender atypical clothing. They may or may not self-identify as a cross dresser. “Cross-dresser” is a word that tends to refer to men with sometimes strong preferences for clothing often worn by women.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are different: sexual orientation describes human sexuality, from gay and lesbian to bisexual and heterosexual orientations.[182] A person’s gender identity is fundamentally different from and not related to their sexual orientation. Because a person identifies as trans does not predict or reveal anything about their sexual orientation. A trans person may identify as gay, lesbian, queer, straight or bisexual, just as people who do not identify as trans.

Two-Spirit: a term used by Aboriginal people to describe from a cultural perspective people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or intersex. It is used to capture a concept that exists in many different Indigenous cultures and languages. For some, the term Two-Spirit describes a societal and spiritual role that people played within traditional societies, such as: mediators, keepers of certain ceremonies, transcending accepted roles of men and women, and filling a role as an established middle gender.[183]

Cisgender and cisnormativity: most people are “cisgender” (not trans); that is, their gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth. Cisnormativity (“cis” meaning “the same as”) refers to the commonplace assumption that all people are cisgender and that everyone accepts this as “the norm.” The term is used to describe prejudice against trans people that is less overt or direct and more widespread or systemic in society, organizations and institutions. This form of systemic prejudice may even be unintentional and unrecognized by the people or organizations responsible.

Transphobia: the aversion to, fear or hatred or intolerance of trans people and communities. Like other prejudices, it is based on stereotypes and misconceptions that are used to justify discrimination, harassment and violence toward trans people.

[176] There are various social and medical theories about what constitutes sex and what constitutes gender, and there is no consensus or single definition for these terms. See Australian Human Rights Commission, Sex Files (2009) online: Australian Human Rights Commission

[177] See World Health Organization, Health Topics: Gender online: World Health Organization (retrieved February 19, 2014). See also Anne Enke, Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012).

[178] N. Teich, Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012) at 5.

[179] MenEngage, Engaging Men, Changing Gender Norms: Directions for Gender-Transformative Action (2012) online: MenEngage Alliance

[180] Gender queer: “those who identify their gender outside of traditional gender categories and may not identify as either trans men or trans women. Some gender queer individuals pursue medical transition options and some do not.” Pyne, supra note 34, at 9.

[181] Rainbow Health Ontario, RHO Fact Sheet: Intersex Health, online: Rainbow Health Ontario

[182] Sexual orientation is also a protected ground under the Code

[183] 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Our Relatives Said: A Wise Practices Guide (2008) online: 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations,