Thursday, 17 March 2016

Trangender, non-binary, pansexual, and more: Quick explanations for people who want to know more

There's an explosion of expression around gender and sexuality, and there's a lot of new or newish words being used to describe things we didn't have words for before.

So, here's some quick definitions and explanations if you need helping out.

I'd call it a "cheat sheet", but cheating implies there's some kind of "test".
The only test is, are you willing to treat people like people? If yes, you've already passed.

Cisgender (cis): You're born in a male/female body, and you're brought up male/female, and you're totally happy being male/female. Generally, most people are cis.
It's not "normal", it's just more common.

Transgender: Generally, one or more things different to the above.

  • Maybe you were born with a female body but feel very sincerely, deep down, that you're a man, or vice versa.
  • Maybe you were born with a male or female body but don't feel 100% male OR female - your gender identity is somewhere inbetween, or neither.
Being transgender doesn't just mean binary, ie. male to female (MtF) or female to male (FtM).

You don't need surgery to be transgender. Gender is different to biological/physical sex. E.g. some trans women born with a penis might be happy having a penis. They are still a woman, because genitals do not define our gender.

Non-binary: Your gender identity is not truly male or female.
Most non-binary people are transgender, because most people are brought up male or female.

Agender: You feel like you have no gender. 

Androgynous: To express (e.g. dress or act) like you have gender. Not the same as agender, asexual or non-binary.
  • Not all agender, asexual or non-binary people dress or act androgynous
  • Not all androgynous people are non-binary, asexual or agender
Genderfluid: You have different genders for different times or situations.
So, maybe you are usually a cis male, but once a month you go out to a bar as a woman - not just dressed as a woman, but actually behaving & feeling you are a woman.

Or, maybe you are usually a woman, but sometimes go out as a non-binary person.

Being genderfluid just means having more than one gender identity. It's totally okay, and it's definitely not just "dressing up".

Genderqueer: Someone who simply identifies differently to the standard binary definition of gender. Often used to specify about gender identity, and not "queer" as a sexual word meaning gay/non-straight.

Bisexual: Being attracted to men and women.

Pansexual: Being attracted to all genders.

What's the difference between bisexual and pansexual?
Bisexual means just being attracted to 2 genders, usually male and female. People can be attracted to men in one way and women in a different way.
Pansexual means being attracted to someone of any gender, including non-binary people.

Asexual: Not feeling sexual attraction at all.

Greysexual: Someone who feels sexual attraction/desire sometimes, but often doesn't. It's a pun on "asexual" but it's still a real thing.

Aromantic: Not feeling romantic attraction/love at all.

Greyromantic: Yep you guessed it, sometimes feeling romantic attraction/love, but often not.

Demiromantic: Someone who rarely feels romantic love or attraction, unless they've built an emotional connection first. It sounds very specific but it's actually very common.

Demisexual: As above, but with sexual attraction/desire.

Intersex: You're born with a body that's not 100% male or female.
This is actually much more common than people think. Parents' first question is often "is it a boy or girl?" and the answer given is usually based on whether then baby has male or female features. So, there's huge pressure on doctors and parents to have a child which is 100% one or the other - often resulting in unnecessary surgery to babies to make them physically "fully" male or female.

Femme: Someone who acts or dresses femininely. This is often used by non-binary people to describe that they lean towards femininity, but can apply to anyone who presents themselves in a feminine way, even men.

Masc: As above but acting or dressing in a masculine way.

Really, the key thing to remember is this: that there aren't just 2 giant boxes marked "male" and "female", and everyone who says something different is just being pretentious and attention-seeking.

Sex and gender are separate things, and can be as varied as human beings are.

Also remember that people experiment and change their gender - maybe it takes some time to work it out, or maybe it changes gradually through their life.

All this is off the top of my head, so if I've got anything wrong or missed anything out, let me know nicely please!


  1. Thanks, Jez.

    One comment:

    "Androgynous: To express (e.g. dress or act) like you have gender."

    Wouldn't it be 'no gender' or 'both male/female genders'?

    From ol'

    being both male and female; hermaphroditic.
    having both masculine and feminine characteristics.
    having an ambiguous sexual identity.
    neither clearly masculine nor clearly feminine in appearance:
    the androgynous look of many rock stars.

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