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Sex Ed for Adults: The Gender Identity Glossary

Sex Ed for Adults: The Gender Identity Glossary Image
Written by vhigueras
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Hi. I’m Logan Levkoff. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. (This is important. Read until the end.)

Sex education has always been a bit of a joke to some people. Images emerge of the PE teacher awkwardly standing in front of a class of wide-eyed teenagers telling them not to have sex or they’ll die (thank you, Mean Girls). But the reality is that Sex Ed — when done well and by people trained to do it — can be empowering, inspiring, inclusive of diversity, and medically accurate. Unfortunately, many people in America don’t receive that, but they should. It’s a matter of human rights. 

One important part of comprehensive Sex Ed that many of us didn’t receive: A lesson on gender identity. As a member of Gen X, I speak from experience — we had absolutely no discourse around sexual orientation. You may feel ill-equipped to understand or confidently speak in the inclusive and expansive language of gender that many people use today. Depending on where you live and where you work, you may feel at a disadvantage because you don’t have this knowledge — worries that you’re going to say or do the wrong thing.

Fear not — I am here to give you an introductory lesson on Sexuality and Gender in the 21st Century. Chances are, when you grew up, people talked about gender and sex (they are not synonymous) in binaries. People with vaginas were girls, people with penises were boys. But as you’ve probably already realized that information wasn’t true. It denied the experiences of a whole lot of people, and horribly limited all of our understanding of the possibilities when it comes to gender and sexuality. 

It’s time we all learned the truth. Read on for the essential terms and definitions we all should have been taught in Sex Ed, followed by links to resources that can provide even more in-depth information.

Assigned Sex at Birth 

Assigned sex at birth refers to how our bodies are medically assigned and arranged based on in-utero development. ASAB can be male, female, or intersex. Yes, intersex. Though we have spent years in classrooms inappropriately erasing intersex people from our conversations, assigned sex has never been binary. 

Intersex is a term used for a variety of conditions in which a person has reproductive or genital anatomy, chromosomes, or sex traits that don’t fit rigid definitions of female or male. These conditions may be something visible at birth or may present around puberty or later. 1.7% of people are born intersex; before you assume that’s a small number, it’s the same size population as people born with red hair (and my guess is that you run into someone with red hair pretty regularly). 

Terms to Know: Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB), Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB), Intersex (The “I” in LGBTQIA!)  

Gender Identity

Assigned sex, regardless of what someone’s may be, is not the same as gender identity — which is an entirely different, every bit as important, part of who we are. While assigned sex refers to our bodies, gender identity is our deep understanding of who we are, which may or may not be the same as our ASAB.  

Some people identify as male, female, neither, or both. Sounds confusing? I’ll explain. Gender exists on a spectrum. There are lots of words that people use to define their gender, and the terms I share with you now are not exhaustive. 

If I identify with my assigned sex at birth, I am “cisgender.” 

If I identify differently than my assigned sex at birth, I am “transgender.”

But as gender is not a binary, there are some of us who feel like our identity cannot be limited to one of two particular categories; it exists along a spectrum and can change. 

If my gender identity is not fixed, I may say that I am “genderfluid” or “genderqueer.”  

If I don’t identify with any particular gender, I might identify as “agender.”

If the entire binary concept of gender doesn’t resonate with me, I might identify as “nonbinary.” 

The process of transition is not the same for all transgender people. For some, this process may be social (including changing your name, coming out to friends and family, using different pronouns) or medical (using blockers or hormone therapy or having surgery to confirm your gender in some way). It is not our business to decide how or if someone should transition. 

Gender Expression

Your gender identity doesn’t have anything to do with how you like to wear your hair, whether you wear makeup, or whether you follow any gender stereotypes. That is “Gender Expression,” and it refers to how you choose to express your gender to the world, but not how you feel inside. 

Sexual Orientation

And contrary to what some people may believe, our gender identity has nothing to do with who we are attracted to. Sexual orientation is an entirely different concept altogether. I promise to explain this in more depth in an upcoming article.

A Note on Pronouns

You may be wondering how to navigate the world today with all of these options. How do you approach people without making assumptions about them or their gender? Well, first, thank you for wanting to be respectful of others. We need more of that. Second, it’s very simple. I gave you a clue at the very beginning of this article. When you meet someone, share your pronouns and ask someone for theirs. We can also start including areas for people to identify their pronouns on intake, employment, and enrollment forms. And of course, if we misgender someone, apologize, be accountable, and work harder at getting people’s pronouns correct. If the Merriam Webster dictionary now recognizes “they/them” as a singular (as opposed to plural) gender-neutral pronoun, we can, too.  

So in the end, don’t make assumptions about anyone’s gender. And perhaps most important, if you don’t understand someone’s gender, that’s your issue, not theirs. (Just saying.) 

For additional sex ed topics for those of you who haven’t had sex ed in a while, stay tuned for my next Nurx column!

Learn More

In the meantime, for more information on these topics, check out the following resources:

InterACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth 

Human Rights Campaign 

The Trevor Project


About the Author

An internationally recognized expert on sexuality and relationships, Dr. Logan Levkoff is an author and educator dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sexuality and relationships and encouraging honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in our culture. As a thought leader in the field of human sexuality and personal relationships, Logan frequently appears on television including Good Morning AmericaThe Today Show, and CNN.  Logan is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Educator Supervisor and served on the AASECT Board of Directors. She received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Life Education from New York University and holds an M.S. in Human Sexuality Education.


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