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Sexual Orientation and Gender

Gender, gender identity, and gender expression

What is gender?

Gender is social and cultural. It’s how your identity relates to society’s idea of what it means to be a woman, man, neither, or a mix of many genders.

For most people, their gender matches up with the cultural expectations of the sex they were assigned at birth. This means they’re cisgender. Others may self-identify as being transgender, agender, Two-Spirit, gender queer, non-binary, gender fluid or any number of terms (explained below).

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is your deeply-held inner feelings of whether you’re female or male, both, or neither. Your gender identity isn’t seen by others.

Gender identity may be the same as the sex you were assigned at birth (cisgender) or not (transgender).

Some people identify as a man (or a boy) or a woman (or a girl). And some have a gender identity that doesn’t fit into one of these genders.

  • Transgender means your gender identity doesn’t match up with the sex you were assigned at birth.
  • Agender means you don’t identify with any gender.
  • Gender non-conforming, non-binary, and gender fluid means you don’t identify fully as a man or a boy (male, masculine) or a woman or a girl (female, feminine).
  • Gender queer means you identify or express yourself beyond what is often linked to the sex and gender you were assigned at birth. People who are gender queer also may or may not identify as transgender.

What is gender expression?

Gender expression is how you choose to express your gender identity through your name, pronouns, clothing, hair style, behaviour, voice, or body features.

Gender expression includes using facilities (like washrooms and change rooms) that match up with your own sense of gender. Society often thinks of these cues as being male/masculine and female/feminine. But what‘s thought to be masculine and feminine changes over time and within different cultures.

What does LGBTQ2S+ stand for?

LGBTQ2S+ is an acronym. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual (or bi), transgender, queer/questioning and Two-Spirit (2S). You might sometimes see the symbols * or + after the acronym. This shows there are many more sexual orientations and gender identities than the ones listed in this acronym.

  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are sexual orientations.
  • Transgender means your gender identity or gender expression is different from the sex you were given at birth. Some people may use other terms to describe themselves.
  • Queer is used by some people who identify as a sexual or gender-sexual minority. It’s also used as a positive term to describe LGBTQ2S+ communities and social movements.
  • Questioning is used for a person who’s exploring or not sure of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Two-Spirit (2S) is a cultural term used by some Indigenous people to describe having a male and female spirit. This may relate to their spirituality, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

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

Sex is a category that people are assigned at birth based on the genitals they’re born with. Sex may also be on proof of identity documents. This most often includes female, male or X.

X is sometimes used by people who don’t identify as a female or male or who choose not to share their gender on identity documents.

You’ll sometimes see “sex” or “gender” on your identity documents. Some people change what’s listed as their gender and others don’t. You have the right to self-identify your gender.

Pansexual is when you’re emotionally or sexually attracted to people of any gender or sex.

Polyamory is when you have more than one sexual, loving relationship at the same time and all partners agree (consent) to this.

Intersex may be used when your reproductive, sexual, or genetic biology is not clear. Intersex isn’t fully male or female and doesn’t fit within the typical definitions of male or female.

What does it mean to be an ally?

You might also hear the word ally when people talk about sexual orientation. An ally is someone who advocates for (supports) the human rights of sexual- and gender-minority people by challenging discrimination and heterosexism.

  • Discrimination is an act (such as a practice, comment, or behaviour) that treats someone in a way they don’t want to be treated based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, ancestry, race, age, disability, marital status (such as being married or single), family status, or source of income.
  • Heterosexism is prejudice or discrimination against someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit, or other sexual orientation or gender.
  • Cissexism is prejudice or discrimination against someone whose gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth, such as transgender, non-binary, gender queer, or Two-Spirit.

You’re not alone

If you have questions about your sexual orientation or gender identity, it can be comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you’re going through.

You can find local and online support groups. If you don’t know where to find support:

  • talk to someone you trust and feel safe with, such as your friends, family members, teachers, school counsellors, co-workers, or healthcare providers
  • look for LGBTQ2S+ clubs and organizations where you live
  • contact churches and faith-based communities that welcome LGBTQ2S+ members
  • look for websites and online organizations that welcome LGBTQ2S+ members

The following organizations offer support:


Alberta Human Rights

Current as of: December 18, 2020

Author: Diversity and Inclusion, AHS