The Basics

This section aims to define fundamental terms, vocabulary, and ideas used in expressing various aspects of gender identity and gender expression.

Common Questions

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Sex: Sex is assigned at birth as male or female, usually based on the appearance of the external genitalia. "When the external genitalia are ambiguous, other components of sex (internal genitalia, chromosomal and hormonal sex) are considered in order to assign sex."[1]

Gender: "Gender refers to the socially and culturally constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and trans and gender diverse people."[2] "Gender may also be used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female."[3] The ways people think about gender change over time and are different across cultures.

For most people, gender identity and expression are consistent with their sex assigned at birth. For trans and gender nonconforming individuals, gender identity or expression differ from their sex assigned at birth; this difference or incongruence may cause gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria: "Distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender and their sex (including associated gender roles and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics)."[1:1]

What is the difference between gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity: "A person’s intrinsic sense of being male (a boy or a man), female (a girl or woman), or an alternative gender (e.g., transgender, genderqueer, etc.)"[1:2]

Gender expression: "Characteristics in personality, appearance, and behaviour that in a given culture and historical period are socially designated as masculine or feminine. While most individuals present in distinctly male or female gender roles, some people present in an alternative gender role such as genderqueer or specifically transgender."[1:3]

What is the difference between cisgender and trans and gender diverse?

Cisgender: "A term used to describe people who identify their gender as the same as what was assigned to them at birth (male or female). ‘Cis’ is a Latin term meaning ‘on the same side as’."[4]

Trans and gender diverse: "These are umbrella terms that describes a wide range of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differ from their assigned sex and/or the societal and cultural expectations of their assigned sex."[2:1]

Trans and gender diverse can include, but are not limited to, people who are transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, agender, transman, transwoman, FTM, MTF, AMAB/DMAB, AFAB/DFAB.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation: "Sexual orientation includes patterns of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to groups of people (e.g. men, women, trans people). A person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, their behaviours, and their membership in a community of others who share those attractions is also part of sexual orientation."[2:2]

Many people mistakenly believe that being trans and gender diverse is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is fundamentally different from gender identity.

What is the difference between cross-dressing, drag, and trans and gender diverse?

Cross-dressing: "Cross-dressing involves wearing clothes and accoutrements traditionally associated with a different gender than a person’s gender identity; cross-dressers may or may not be trans. ‘Cross-dressing’ has generally replaced the term ‘transvestism’, as ‘transvestism’ is considered an offensive term by many."[2:3]

Drag King: "Drag kings are performance artists of any gender identity who dress and act in a masculine manner and personify male gender stereotypes as part of their routine."[2:4]

Drag Queen:"Drag queens are performance artists of any gender identity who dress and act in a feminine manner and personify female gender stereotypes as part of their routine."[2:5]

The terms cross-dresser and drag king/queen aren’t typically used by most trans and gender diverse people to describe their experience.

Other definitions

The website Trans Care BC has an extensive glossary of terms related to trans health, which can be found at the following link:

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care, 7th Version, also has a glossary of terms in Appendix A (pages 95 – 97)


Trans and gender diverse people are more likely to be subjected to prejudice, discrimination, and stigmatisation, often in the form of non-affirming, transphobic language (1). Unfortunately, in many instances, incorrect language is used unknowingly. Use of incorrect language has been found to have a negative impact on the health outcomes of trans and gender diverse people (2).

ACON, a New South Wales health promotion organisation primarily funded by NSW Health, has recently created a Transgender and Gender Diverse Inclusive Language Guide with the goal of improving trans and gender diverse inclusion in society.


  1. WPATH glossary ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Trans Health BC Glossary ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Oxford dictionary ↩︎

  4. ACON Language Guide ↩︎