Creating an inclusive work environment focused on equality and acceptance is not simply a moral imperative but also a business necessity. As with all employees who are more likely to be creative, think critically, and be generally more resourceful when they feel supported enough to be authentic in their workplace, members of the LGBTQ+ community require support in order to show up in the same manner.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide to understanding terms relating to gender identity. The goal of which is to help people communicate respectfully with one another while demonstrating the importance that language has in this.
Respecting the proper use of gender identity terms, including preferred pronouns, is a powerful way to foster a sense of belonging both in and outside of the workplace. Associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, Alex Schmider, equates using someone’s correct pronouns to pronouncing their name correctly, demonstrating how small deliberate acts can go a long way in making someone feel respected.
It’s important to note that language changes and progresses, therefore some of the terms referred to below are different to those previously used to describe similar ideas, identities, and experiences and will likely change in the future. While many people may use one term to describe themselves, others may have different terms entirely. The important thing is to recognise and respect each individual's preference. As early as 1795, there has been an expression of dissatisfaction with binary, gendered language . There are many languages, both modern and historical, that don’t gender their nouns at all, including Japanese, Tagalog, and Haitian Creole . While the singular “they” has long been shunned by many, the evolution of language to communicate experience has shown that expressing gender isn’t always necessary in everyday conversation.
Now that we have a deeper understanding of the importance of pronouns and language, let’s take a look at a list of gender identity terms:
Sex is typically assigned at birth based on external anatomy and refers to a person’s biological status. Sex is generally categorised as male, female or intersex.
Gender the socially constructed norms, behaviours, and roles associated with the most common categorisations of gender; male, female or nonbinary. It’s important to note here that these vary between societies and over time.
Gender identity is an individual's internal sense of self and their gender, which unlike gender expression is not outwardly visible to others. This can range from man, woman, neither or both and is not fixed.
It is estimated that between 0.5 to 1.3% of the population in the UK has some form of gender variance , transgender people identify in varying degrees from the sex they are assigned at birth.
Gender expression refers to how a person presents gender outwardly, through their behaviour, clothing, voice, or other perceived characteristics. While what is determined as masculine and feminine by society changes over time and varies by culture, these cues are used to identify individuals as more masculine or feminine presenting.
Cisgender, often shortened to cis, this adjective describes people whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender, often shortened to trans, this adjective describes someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender woman, for example, is someone who was listed as male at birth but whose gender identity is female.
Both cisgender and transgender are used to describe experiences of someone’s gender identity.
Nonbinary refers to people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of either man or woman. There are a range of terms that are used to refer to those who fit within this spectrum ; nonbinary and genderqueer are among those most often used.
Agender is the adjective used to describe an individual who does not identify as any gender.
While both nonbinary and agender identities exist outside of the traditional binary understanding of gender and gendered language. Agender individuals identify as having no gender, while non-binary individuals identify outside of the defined male and female categories.
Gender transition describes the process a person may take to bring themselves and their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. This process is not a one step process and can include any, none or all of the following: disclosing to one’s friends, family, and co-workers; changing one’s name and pronouns; updating gender markers on legal documents; medical intervention such as hormone therapy or surgical intervention, often referred to as gender affirming surgery.
Gender dysphoria refers to the psychological distress resulting from an incongruence between one’s assigned sex and one’s gender identity. Not all trans people experience gender dysphoria, and those who do experience it do so at differing levels of intensity.
Sexual orientation refers to the enduring physical, romantic and emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight orientations.
Intersex is the umbrella term used to describe people with differences in reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, or hormones that don’t typically fit within the definitions of male or female.
The term intersex can refer to a number of sex trait variations or reproductive anatomy as laid out by InterAct , but it’s important to note that being intersex is not the same as being nonbinary or transgender, as these are terms typically relating to gender identity.
Let’s take a look at pronouns and how the use of these are used to acknowledge gender identity:
Based on everything we’ve covered above, judging a person's pronouns based on their name or appearance is not always accurate which is why it’s best practice to normalise sharing our pronouns. This simple addition to everyday communication can help to raise awareness and acceptance of different gender identities and make it commonplace for others to share theirs.
In practice this could sound like;
“ Hello, I’m John. I use He/Him pronouns. Which pronouns do you prefer? ”
In practice this can be as simple as a slight adjustment in the way in which we introduce ourselves, by including preferred pronouns with our name. While it may feel strange at first, it is a very small step towards creating a safe space for others to do the same, showing that additional thought is being given to creating a safe space for others to authentically present themselves.
As the world and language is evolving to become more inclusive of less rigid binary terms, we see social media sites and email signatures becoming an easy space in which to demonstrate preferred pronouns. LinkedIn has recently introduced a pronoun feature that displays pronouns on users profiles and company’s across the world include pronouns in designed email signatures as standard practice.
Gaining a deeper understanding of how language can be used to create a space in which employees feel safe and comfortable showing up as their authentic selves is only part of the puzzle. Be sure to take a look at our recommendations on creating an inclusive workplace for LGTBQ+ employees here and discover more about what bespoke benefits and clinical pathways a Healix Healthcare Trust can offer your employees here.
Williams, John (1990s), History - Modern Neologism, Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ, https://web.archive.org/web/20061205220746/http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/history.html
Wikipedia.org, List of languages by type of grammatical genders, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_type_of_grammatical_genders
House of Commons Library, UK Parliament, 2021 census: What do we know about the LGBT+ population?, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/2021-census-what-do-we-know-about-the-lgbt-population/#:~:text=93.5%25%20of%20respondents%20said%20their,people%20identified%20explicitly%20as%20transgender
Gender GP, Gender Identity is NOT the Same as Sexual Orientation by Giulia Castagnaro, https://www.gendergp.com/the-difference-between-gender-identity-and-sexual-orientation/
InterAct, What is intersex?, https://interactadvocates.org/faq/#definition