(The following is largely excerpted, with edits, from the GLAAD Media Reference Guide. Many additional terms are defined and described there.)


A person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. This male/female category applies to a large portion of society.

  • Social transition – Telling family, friends, and co-workers, using a different name, using different pronouns, dressing differently, starting or stopping wearing make-up and jewelry, etc
  • Legal transition – Changing your name and/or sex marker on documents like a driver’s license, passport, Social Security record, bank accounts, etc.
  • Medical transition – Hormone therapy and/or one or more surgical procedures.

Some transgender people may not feel they need to take any transition steps at all, while others may wish to transition but cannot due to cost, underlying medical conditions, and/or fear of consequences from transphobic family, employers, etc. A person can call themselves transgender the moment they realize that their gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, whether they take transition steps or not.

Gender Dysphoria

Distress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity—their personal sense of their own gender—and their sex assigned at birth. This is not always part of the transgender experience, but puberty may bring this feeling of mismatch to the surface.

Gender Expansive

Describes someone whose gender identity and/or gender expression expands beyond, actively resists, and/or does not conform to the current cultural or social expectations of gender, particularly in relation to male or female (see also Nonbinary).

Gender Expression

How a person publicly expresses or presents their gender. This can include behavior and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender. Others perceive a person’s gender through these attributes.

Gender Fluid

Describes someone whose gender identity is not fixed. Gender-fluid individuals prefer to remain flexible about their gender(s). Some dress in ways that reflect both genders at the same time, while others may express one gender one day and another gender another day.

Gender Identity

This is how someone sees themself. This is an individual’s innate understanding of their own gender.

  • NOTE: The terms sexual orientation and gender identity are often misused, but they are not the same and not interchangeable. A person of any gender identity could be sexually attracted to any type of person.

Gender Questioning

Tentative gender identity label for a person who is in the process of figuring out how to describe and label their gender identity, but has reason to think that they might be transgender or non-binary.


An adjective used by people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the two (i.e. binary) categories of man and woman. Many non-binary people also call themselves transgender and consider themselves part of the transgender community. Others do not.


An adjective used by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves and/or community. Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or requiring them to label themselves. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves. However, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQ community.

Sexual orientation

This is about who a person is attracted to. This is a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person.


Shorthand for transgender.


An umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. It’s an identity. A person can call themself transgender the moment they realize that their gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

People who are transgender may also use other terms, in addition to transgender, to describe their gender more specifically.


The process a person undertakes to bring their gender expression and/or their body into alignment with their gender identity. It is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time and the exact steps involved in transition will vary from person to person. Chapter 3 provides more detail about the variety of transition steps.

“They need your love. Don't turn them away, take your time and try to work through it without judging. Also, if you suspect your child is gay, go ahead and equip yourself with information regarding LGBTQ so you'll be better prepared when they're ready to share with you.”

Mother of a Gay Son


“He was 24 or 25 when he came out. And I am just thinking he had this secret all these years and when I first asked him, 'When do you think you really knew you were gay?' And he said, 'I knew from a little boy, I knew I was different.' I feel bad that that poor kid was alone with this secret all by himself. Struggling, probably wondering what’s wrong with him or why he was different.”

Mother of a Gay Son