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As the national conversation surrounding gender grows broader, a number of terms get thrown around. Here’s a roundup of words people might see — but don’t entirely understand.

Related: The Dumbass’ Guide to Gender Free Toys

Sex: Personally, I think this term is outdated. However, it’s still important to know about. Sex refers to biological status, such as “male,” “female” or intersex. Sex is determined by factors such as internal and external genitals, internal reproductive organs and chromosomes.

AFAB: Assigned female at birth. When a baby is born, someone looks at the genitals, slaps the baby booty and says, “it’s a girl!” Bodies assigned female at birth usually have vaginas, a uterus and ovaries.

AMAB: Assigned male at birth. When a baby is born, someone looks at the genitals, slaps the baby booty, and says, “it’s a girl!” Bodies assigned male at birth usually have penises, testicles, etc.


The “phall-o-meter” that is used to measure babies’ genitals after they’re born. This tool is used to assign sex at birth.

Intersex: This term is used to describe a variety of characteristics that don’t conform to traditional ideas about male or female genitalia. When a baby is born, not only do doctors slap the baby’s booty, they also measure the baby’s genitals to see if they’re  “ideal” or “normal.” If a baby doesn’t fit into these archaic ideas, they are deemed “intersex.”

Gender identity: This is also usually referred as just “gender.” It describes how a person views their own gender and the experiences around it. This is different from biological sex.

Cisgender: A gender identity that matches the sex assigned at birth. When the doctor slapped someone’s baby booty and said, “it’s a ______,”  that person was content with that. Even if there was a period of  questioning, they always came back to being okay with being a ______.  Let’s say Bobby was assigned male at birth and currently identifies as a man. That makes Bobby cisgender.

Transgender:  A gender identity that doesn’t match the sex assigned at birth. When the doctor slapped someone’s booty and said, “It’s a ______,” that person was not content with that. This could’ve been in childhood or later in life. Either way, their gender is valid. Let’s say Susan was assigned male at birth and now identifies as a woman. That makes Susan transgender.

Nonbinary: A gender identity that diverges from the male/female binary. When the doctor slapped someone’s booty and said “It’s a ______,” they were not content with that, and found that their gender identity fell somewhere outside of male or female. Some folks who are nonbinary identify as trans and some don’t. 

Genderqueer: Similar to nonbinary, this essentially means a gender that falls outside the binary of male or female. This can mean identifying as a different gender than the one you were assigned at birth but isn’t male or female, identifying with two genders, more than two genders or no gender at all.

Agender: This is another example of a nonbinary identity. However, some agender folks aren’t comfortable being called nonbinary or trans. “Agender” literally means “without gender.” This could mean identifying as genderless, having an unknown gender, or just not having a specific word to describe one’s gender. One example is yours truly; I am agender. I also call myself trans and nonbinary, but everyone is different.

Related: Platonic Love: Relationships Are More than Just Sex

Genderfluid: A gender that fluctuates and varies over time. For example, someone can flow between male, female and agender. Or they can be fluid between agender and female or male. It varies from person to person. Some genderfluid folks are comfortable identifying as nonbinary, trans, partially trans or genderqueer. Before making assumptions, it’s always good to check in with people.

Note: There are many genders and terms out there, but I wanted to start out with the more common ones readers may have heard. Some of these terms can be problematic, but it’s important to understand the definitions and learn why these terms can be problematic.


Mickey Valentine is an activist of Jamaican descent born and raised in the Bronx, NY and currently lives in Somerville, MA. Some things (besides angry) that can describe them : a polyamorous, nonbinary, queer disabled femme who promotes the importance of honesty and vulnerability. They’re down to talk about animation, youth development, kink, gentrification, disability justice and reproductive justice-related things.

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