Modern Sex and Gender Terms Explained

A new decade is on the horizon and the holidays are more complicated than ever. Along with the perennial issues that can drive a wedge between family members, a lot of new terms relating to sex and gender have entered everyday vernacular. Many of these may be unfamiliar or confusing for even the well-intentioned, and while this isn’t a complete list, here are a few definitions to help navigate conversation.


Adjective that means a person identifies with the biological sex the person had or was assigned at birth; derived from the Latin word meaning “on the same side.”

Gender binary

A view of gender as consisting solely of two, opposite categories termed “male” and “female,” with no other possibilities believed valid.

Gender expression

The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine or feminine). Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they feel they are) rather than their gender identified at birth.


Preferred umbrella term for identifying neither as exclusively male nor female, or for all gender identities other than female/male or woman/man; used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is a nonbinary person; a nonbinary attitude).


A term for people not limited to a particular gender identity or sexual orientation, not heterosexual in orientation and/or not self-identified as cisgender. This word has a complicated history as a reclaimed slur.

Transgender or trans spectrum

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were identified as having at birth and is unrelated to sexual orientation or bodily characteristics like anatomy, hormones or appearance.


A person’s process of developing and assuming a gender expression or surgically altering the body to match that person’s gender identity.

 Photo courtesy of iStock.


Kasia Pawlowska

Kasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include travel, trends, mushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is never-ending.