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Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression

Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is gender?

Gender means social and cultural expectations of roles and how we present ourselves in society. 

For most people, their gender matches up with the cultural expectations of the sex they were given at birth (cisgender). Others may self-identify as being transgender, agender or gender nonbinary.

​​​​​What is gender identity?

Gender identity means a person’s internal sense of whether they’re male or female, both, or neither. It’s a person’s internal, deeply-held sense of one’s gender. Gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender identity may be the same as the sex they were assigned at birth (cisgender) or not (transgender). A transgender person’s internal gender identity doesn’t match up with the cultural expectations of the sex they were given at birth.

Some people have a gender identity as a man (or boy) or a woman (or girl). Some people’s gender identity doesn’t fit into one of these genders. They may identify as agender, which means they don’t identify with a gender at all. They may also identify as gender non-conforming or nonbinary. This means their identity is not exclusively male/masculine or female/feminine.

​​​​​What is gender expression?

A person’s gender is expressed outwardly through their name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behaviour, voice, or body characteristics.

Gender expression includes using facilities (like washrooms and change rooms) that match up with a person’s own sense of gender. Society thinks of these cues as male/masculine and female/feminine, although what‘s considered masculine and feminine changes over time and within different cultures.

​​​​​What does LGBTQ2S+ stand for?

  • LGBTQ2S+ is an acronym, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and Two-Spirit (2S). You might sometimes see the symbols * or + after the acronym, which represents the many diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • The word queer is used by some people who identify as sexual or gender-sexual minority. It’s also used as a positive, collective term to describe communities and social movements.
  • The word questioning is used for a person who’s exploring or unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • The word transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is usually associated with the sex they were given at birth. Not all people identify as transgender and some people may describe themselves using a variety of terms.
  • Two-Spirit (2S) is a cultural term used by some Indigenous people to mean a person who has a male and female spirit, which may include concepts of spirituality, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

​​​​​Are there other words I might hear about sex and gender?

  • The word sex means categories (like male or female) people are assigned at birth and may appear on proof of identity documents. Some people may change their documentation and others may not. People have the right to self-identify their gender.
  • Pansexual is a person who’s emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people of any gender or sex.
  • Polyamory is when a person has more than one sexual, loving relationship at the same time and all partners are consenting.

  • The word intersex may be used when the person’s reproductive, sexual, or genetic biology is unclear—not exclusively male, female, or otherwise and don’t fit within traditional definitions of male or female.

Current as of: September 25, 2018

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services