Gender Identity and Sex

Intro blurb about this topic.

  • Sex and gender identity are two distinct concepts:
    • Sex” is the classification of a person as male or female based on bodily characteristics, including internal and external reproductive organs, chromosomes and hormones. A person’s sex is also referred to as their “sex assigned at birth.”
    • Gender identity” is a person’s internal sense of gender along a spectrum, a closely held feeling of who they are, which may or may not match their sex assigned at birth.
  • Cisgender” refers to a person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. For example, a person whose sex assigned at birth is female and who feels their gender identity is that of a woman is cisgender.
  • Intersex” refers to a person who is born with genitalia, chromosomes or a reproductive system that does not conform to only male or female characteristics.
  • Genderqueer” refers to a person whose gender identity is outside of the gender binary, i.e. is not male or female. Similarly, some people use “nonbinary” to describe their gender identity as neither male nor female.
  • Be sure of someone’s name, especially if a person uses a name that differs from the name they were given at birth. The name they no longer use is known as their “deadname,” and using that name — also known as “deadnaming” someone — rather than their current name can create an environment that makes them feel unsafe.
    • Asking a person how they would like to be addressed or what you should call them is a surefire way to avoid accidentally deadnaming someone or violating their sense of safety. The name that’s on their records may not be the name they go by.
  • Pronouns: Whenever possible, ask someone what their pronouns are.
    • When someone’s gender is not known, use gender-neutral pronouns (they/them/their) or rewrite the sentence to avoid using a pronoun at all.
    • Always use the pronouns that correspond with a person’s gender, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.
    • Pronouns are simply that — pronouns — not “preferred pronouns,” which insinuates that using the pronouns that match a person’s gender is optional.
  • transgender person’s gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.
    • “Transgender” is an umbrella term, under which there are other, more specific gender identities and terms — though they are not necessarily synonyms for the term “transgender.”
    • “Transgender” is an adjective, not a noun.
      • Never use “transgenders,” “a transgender,” etc.
      • Never use “transgendered,” which causes grammatical issues and confusion.
    • Trans” is OK on subsequent references.
  • Use “transition,” not “sex change,” “pre-operative,” “post-operative,” etc.
    • Not all transgender people undergo medical procedures or changes in physical appearance — an identity is not dependent on those factors.
  • Two spirit” is a gender that refers to a Native American person who has both masculine and feminine spirits.

Gender-Conscious Terminology

Be aware of common phrases or terminology that can reinforce harmful stereotypes and adjust accordingly.

Avoid terms such as “opposite sex,” “both genders,” etc., as the numeration reinforces the idea that there are only two sexes or two genders. These terms exclude people who are intersex and people whose gender is neither male nor female. Terms like these are common and are easily replaced by inclusive terms such as “other sex,” “other genders,” etc.

When speaking in a general context (i.e., not about a specific person), avoid defaulting to pronouns or terminology that refers to men exclusively. Gender-neutral, inclusive equivalents usually exist. This is especially important when referring to positions of power. Use “chairperson” instead of “chairman,” for instance, as the latter reinforces the belief that men are more inherently suited to a position of power such as chairing a department.