The Social Perception, Attitudes, Mental Simulation Lab

Complete List of Gender-Related Terms


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Glossary of Gender-Related Terms and Definitions

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Note: This glossary of terms was compiled by Charlotte Tate, Ph.D. (who publishes under "Charlotte Chuck Tate" to have female, trans, and butch lesbian visibility simultaneously), and Jay Ledbetter, M.A., in an attempt to provide quick, concise definitions of gender-related concepts to a general audience. Most of the definitions are paraphrased and expanded from manuscripts and published articles by these two authors. All of the definitions were inspired by and summarize existing work on gender identity in gender studies. Accordingly, the point of the glossary is not to provide definitive definitions of the terms listed; instead, the point of the glossary is to help people understand the various experiences of gender that people have and how these experiences are related to psychological science.

On a practical level, this means that some scholars and activists may disagree with some the definitions within the glossary (esp. concerning the meaning of “genderqueer”). Nonetheless, we offer the glossary as a starting point, and, an admittedly incomplete, compendium so that readers of Dr. Tate’s websites can have some understanding of the terms used. This is a living document and will change over time with additional research, findings, and feedback.

For those interested in further discussions (both academic and popular) of the gender categories and concepts presented in this glossary, we may find this bibliography helpful.

Terms and Definitions:


Birth-assigned gender category (or birth-assigned sex): The assignment of children to categories at birth is based on the appearance of the external genitalia. Thus, while medical professionals are making medical category claims regarding the labels given to anatomical structures, the rest of society is using the terms "female" (girl) and "male" (boy) to infer something about social expectations. Accordingly, we use the term "birth-assigned gender category" to indicate that the assignment is not simply medical; it is social as well.

In medical practice, the visual appearance of the genitalia is compared to prototypic images on a Prader scale. Genital structures are homologous, meaning they are developed from the same material. As a result, vaginas and vulvas as well as penises and scrotums come from exactly the material in the genital region of the human body. The differentiation of these structures into what we term “penis” and “vagina” is based on the body’s sensitivity to chemical signals. The Prader scale is used to sex-type genitals based on their appearance (which is further based on how sensitive these structures were to certain chemical signals in utero). On one extreme of the Prader scale is a prototypical vagina and vulva arrangement of genital structures. At the other extreme of the Prader scale is a prototypical penis and scrotum arrangement of genital structures. (There are also arrangements on a continuum between the two extremes.)

Birth-assignment to a female or male category is based on how closely the genitals appear to match the prototype (in the mind of the physician). In the cases in the middle of the continuum, the physician (in consultation with others, sometimes including parents) makes a determination of whether it would be surgically easier to create a penis structure or vagina structure.  Sometimes, there is no easy or inexpensive surgical manner to alter the genital structures, and the resulting medical determination is “intersex.” Nonetheless, for the purposes of listing gender on birth certificates, a “male” or “female” designation is made—even for people who are medically determined to be “intersex.” In any event, birth-assigned gender is always decided by other people with authority status within the society. Birth-assigned gender is not decision of the person himself, herself, or hirself* who is only minutes outside the womb at this time.

[*Hirself is a gender neutral or gender combination pronoun form derived from combining “her+him”]

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Butch-presenting:
Refers to the behavioral characteristics associated with “masculine” visual presentation in U.S. culture. The masculine visual presentation is usually associated with those who are male-identified in the society, such as “men’s clothing styles,” “men’s haircuts,” and other characteristics that one can see that are associated with the gender concept of “male” in most of the society. The use of “butch” indicates that the person using these visual cues does not necessarily identify with being male; instead, this person may identify as female, post-gender, two-spirit, or any gender identity. (It is also possible for those whose gender is male to be butch-presenting. This situation may appear redundant, but highlights that fact that all men do not visually present themselves in the same way.)

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Cisgender experience (or cisgender identity): Refers to the combination of a birth-assigned category and current gender identity that are the same. (Cis- is the Latin prefix for “on the same side.”) Thus, a cisgender person is on the same side of his or her birth-assigned gender label. Cisgender identity appears to be the most numerically common profile of gender experience (see Tate, Lebdetter, & Youssef, 2013, Table 1, p. 771). Further, cisgender identities always mark in language the gender identity that the person currently has. For instance, if a person was assigned to the female gender at birth (based on external genitalia) and also identifies as female now, then this person is considered a cisgender woman (or, cis woman). Virtually all cis women prefer female pronouns (she/her/hers) to communicate their identity. Similarly, if a person was assigned to the male gender at birth (based on external genitalia) and also identifies as male now, then this person is considered a cisgender man (or, cis man). Virtually all cis men prefer male pronouns (he/him/his) to communicate their identity.

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Cisgender man (or cis man): Refers to a person who was assigned by a cultural authority (usually a medical professional) to the gender category “male” at birth, and who experiences his gender as “male.” (Cis- is the Latin prefix for “on the same side as.”) Cisgender men may also be called “cis men” and are often referred to as simply “men” since they are numerically the largest group with a male gender identity. (A small number of academics refer to cismen as “gender normal,” but this label can imply that transgender identities are not valid. Thus, we do not endorse the use of “gender normal.”) Almost all cis men prefer male pronouns (he/him/his) to communicate their gender identity to others.

Cis men vary in their visual appearance. Some cis men have appearances that are common for men in their given society. Other cis men have appearances that are less common for men in their given society (including appearances that are associated with women in that society). In any case, being a cis man is about the psychological experience of being in a male gender category. Visual presentation is often an easy way for other people to categorize the person into a gender group based on cultural standards, but this visual presentation may not necessarily the person’s individual psychological feelings about his gender category because visual appearance is gender-expression (based on cultural stereotypes for groups), not gender identity.

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Cisgender woman (or cis woman): Refers to a person who was assigned by a cultural authority (usually a medical professional) to the gender category “female” at birth, and who experiences her gender as “female.” (Cis- is the latin prefix for “on the same side as.”) Cisgender women may also be called “cis women” and are often referred to as simply “women,” since they are numerically the largest group with a female gender identity. (A small number of academics refer to cis women as “gender normal,” but this label can imply that transgender identities are not valid. Thus, we do not endorse the use of “gender normal.”) Almost all cis women prefer female pronouns (she/her/hers) to communicate their gender identity to others.

Cis women vary in their visual appearance. Some cis women have appearances that are common for women in their given society. Other cis women have appearances that are less common for women in their given society (including appearances that are associated with men in that society). In any case, being a cis woman is about the psychological experience of being in a female gender category. Visual presentation is often an easy way for other people to categorize the person into a gender group based on cultural standards, but this visual presentation may not necessarily the person’s individual psychological feelings about her gender category because visual appearance is gender-expression (based on cultural stereotypes for groups), not gender identity. 

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Current gender identity (or self-assigned gender identity): Current gender identity refers to an individual’s self-definition of gender or, more precisely, their "felt-sense" of being in a particular gender category. In this way, current gender identity is thought to reflect one's true, underpinning, or core gender identity--or the sense of self that one experiences as personal, irrespective of what other people might think or infer from appearance. Current gender identity (self-judgment) can therefore be contrasted with birth-assigned gender category (another person's judgment based only on anatomy). The combination of birth-assigned and current gender identities can be organized into two classes: cisgender experiences and transgender spectrum (trans*) experiences.

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Femme-presenting: Refers to the behavioral characteristics associated with “feminine” visual presentation in a given culture. The feminine visual presentation is usually associated with those who are female-identified in the society, such as “women’s clothing styles,” “women’s haircuts,” and other characteristics that one can see that are associated with the gender concept of “female” in most of the society. The use of “femme” indicates that the person using these visual cues does not necessarily identify with being female; instead, this person may identify as male, post-gender, two-spirit or any gender identity. (It is also possible for those whose gender is female to be femme-presenting. This situation may appear redundant, but highlights that fact that all women do not visually present themselves in the same way.)

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Genderqueer (also non-binary): Refers to either (a) a set of identities or (b) behavioral expressions of gender cues that are not normative for the larger societal view of that gender category. These two referents can occur separately or together within the same individual. In any case, genderqueer individuals are those who do not match normative views of gender in a given society—either in terms of gender identity, in terms of gender cues, or both. For this reason (and others), genderqueer individuals may also refer to themselves as "non-binary." The non-binary label might best refer to the set of identities (as explained below), rather than the behavioral expression of gender cues.

In the United States, genderqueer can refer to several groups of individuals, who actually have distinct experiences with respect to gender and distinguishable identities. One identity within the genderqueer label is not identifying with the categories male or female. One might characterize this group as gender neutral or post-gender. In effect, this group rejects the established categories for a different understanding of gender altogether. Post-gender individuals may be interested in using pronouns that are not associated with either of the two gender categories, such as “ze” (pronounced zee) or “they” (to the extent that this pronoun is ambiguous in its gender referent). This is one sense of being non-binary: being at outside of the two categories.

Another genderqueer identity involves identifying as both genders simultaneously. Labels given to this self-categorization include two-spirit and genderblender to indicate both categories simultaneously. In effect, this group merges the two established gender categories into one psychological experience. Two-spirit individuals may be interested in using pronouns that blend the two gender categories, such as “ze” (auditory combination of “he/she”; pronounced zee) or “they” (to the extent that this pronoun can refer to males and females together). (“Ze” can conjugated as “hirs” [his+hers] and “hir” [her+him]. Alternatively, "ze" can be conjugated as "zirs" and "zir.") A more distinct pronoun is "co" (conjugated "co's" and "co"), which makes explicit the combination idea. This is another sense of being non-binary: being at the confluence of the two categories.

In terms of behavioral expressions of gender cues, people can also be genderqueer (as an adjective not a noun). The genderqueer adjective refers to visual presentation. Some individuals who are genderqueer describe their behavior as “genderf*ck” (e.g., wearing some clothing items associated with men and other associated with women simultaneously). Other individuals who describe themselves as genderqueer identify as one gender but cultivate the perception from other people of another gender category via visual cues or psychological experience. This can involve crossing butch or femme presentation with one’s current gender identity. For instance, a person could be a butch-presenting (masculine-presenting) woman. Similarly, a person could be a femme-presenting (feminine presenting) man.

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Transgender experience (or transgender identity): Refers to the combination of a birth-assigned category and current gender identity that are different. Further, transgender identities always mark in language the gender identity that the person currently has. For instance, if a person was assigned to the female gender at birth (based on external genitalia) and identifies as male now, then this person is considered a transgender man (or, trans man). Virtually all trans men prefer male pronouns (he/him/his) to communicate their identity. Similarly, if a person was assigned to the male gender at birth (based on external genitalia) and identifies as female now, then this person is considered a transgender woman (or, trans woman). Virtually all trans women prefer female pronouns (she/her/hers) to communicate their identity.

It sometimes happens that people who were medically classified as “intersex” (based on genital appearance at birth) do not identify with the gender category given to them at birth by parents or others (for the purposes of filling out the birth certificate). These individuals may then self-identify as the other gender category that was not assigned at birth.

Transgender experience is also a large enough concept to capture transitions to less commonly represented gender categories. Consequently, some people use the terms "transgender spectrum" or trans* to indicate the inclusiveness. This class of less common categories can be referred to collectively as genderqueeer identities. Genderqueer identities can include experience of gender that are: (a) a combination of the female and male categories (e.g., two-spirit identity), or (b) a rejection of both female and male gender categories (e.g., post-gender).

Importantly, pronoun use is also related to these genderqueer identities, though unevenly so. Some number of genderqueers who have a combined sense of male and female categorization may use co-pronouns such as “ze” (combination of the sounds for “she” and “he”). (“Ze” can conjugated as “hirs” [his+hers] and “hir” [her+him].) Some genderqueers who identified as both gender categories may use “she” or “he” alternately. Other genderqueers who identify as neither male nor female, may be interested in using pronouns such as “they” (conjugated in the common manner in English) to indicate that they identify with neither gender category. Still other genderqueers who do identify as neither male nor female use “ze” to indicate gender neutrality.

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Transgender man (or trans man): Refers to a person who was assigned by a cultural authority (usually a medical professional) to the gender category “female” at birth, but who experiences his gender as “male.” (Trans- is the latin prefix for “to move across.”) Transgender men are also referred to as “Females-to-males” (FTMs) or as “trans men” to indicate the transition from birth-assigned category to current gender identity. We prefer the term "trans men" to emphasize current identity. Moreover, referring to trans men as FTMs may place unwarranted emphasis on an assumed identity. Think about calling "gay men" HTGs: "heterosexuals-to-gays." This was likely not the case for many gay men. Similarly, many trans men never identified with being female. Instead, other people assume that they did. Almost all trans men prefer male pronouns (he/him/his) to communicate their gender identity to others.

Trans men vary in their visual appearance. Some trans men have appearances that are common for men in their given society. Other trans men have appearances that are less common for men in their given society (including appearances that are associated with women in that society). In any case, being a trans man is about the psychological experience of being in a male gender category. Visual presentation is often an easy way for other people to categorize the person into a gender group based on cultural standards, but this visual presentation may not necessarily the person’s individual psychological feelings about his gender category because visual appearance is gender-expression (based on cultural stereotypes for groups), not gender identity.

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Transgender woman (or trans woman): Refers to a person who was assigned by a cultural authority (usually a medical professional) to the gender category “male” at birth, but who experiences her gender identity as “female.” (Trans- is the Latin prefix for “to move across.”) Transgender women are also referred to as “Males-to-Females” (MTFs) or as “trans women” to indicate the transition from birth-assigned category to current gender identity. We prefer the term "trans women" to emphasize current identity. Moreover, referring to trans women as MTFs may place unwarranted emphasis on an assumed identity. Think about calling "lesbians" HTLs: "heterosexuals-to-lesbians." This was likely not the case for many lesbians. Similarly, many trans women never identified with being male. Instead, other people assume that they did. Almost all trans women prefer female pronouns (she/her/hers) to communicate their gender identity to others.

Trans women vary in their visual appearance. Some trans women have appearances that are common for women in their society. Other trans women have appearances that are less common for women in their society (including appearances that are associated with men in that society). In any case, being a trans woman is about the psychological experience of being in a female gender category. Visual presentation is often an easy way for other people to categorize the person into a gender group based on cultural standards, but this visual presentation may not necessarily the person’s individual psychological feelings about her gender category because visual appearance is gender-expression (based on cultural stereotypes for groups), not gender identity.

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Transgender spectrum experience (or trans*): Refers to trans men, trans women, and genderqueer identities simultaneously as a class of gender experiences that are united insofar as they all indicate (in different ways) a current gender identity that is different from one's birth-assigend category. Trans* experience can be definitionally contrasted with cisgender experience to the extent that cisgender individuals experience their current gender identity using the same label as their birth-assigned catgeory.