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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 the sex they were assigned at birth (cisgender). Others identify as being transgender or gender-diverse.

​​​​​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 the sex they were assigned 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.

​​​​​What is gender expression?

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

Gender expression includes using facilities (like bathrooms and change rooms) that are right for a person’s own sense of gender. Society thinks of these cues as masculine and feminine, although what‘s considered masculine and feminine changes over time and within different cultures.

​​​​​What does LGBTQ stand for?

  • LGBT​Q is an acronym, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning. You might sometimes see the number 2 or 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 diverse. 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 used when a person doesn’t feel that their gender identity matches the cultural expectation of the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Two-Spirit (2S) is a term used by some Indigenous people for 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 isn’t clear—they’re not exclusively male, female, or otherwise and don’t fit within traditional definitions of male or female.

Current as of: August 1, 2016

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services