A Gender Identity Glossary for Schools

How we choose to define and express our identity to ourselves and each other is important. Conversations about gender identity are becoming increasingly common in schools, and school counselors should be prepared to support students who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming. Part of this support includes understanding the language used to describe gender expression and identity so that words are not incorrect or hurtful to a student or colleague. 

When thinking about these words, never assume that a student identifies with a particular label or term to describe themselves. Trust that a student knows themselves better than anyone, and listen to what they have to say about their gender identity and expression. When you take the time to listen and learn, you empower a student to be their most authentic self.

Below is a glossary of commonly-used terms to describe aspects of gender identity and expression. Do not hesitate to ask clarifying questions about labels or acronyms, and empower students to give you feedback about whether you’re using terms and preferred pronouns correctly.



Not identifying with any particular gender; sometimes referred to as “nongender.” Return to glossary index


Describes a person who appears to exhibit traits of both male and female genders or neither gender. Return to glossary index


Identifying with both male and female genders. Return to glossary index


An individual whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were designated at birth. Return to glossary index


Coming Out
The process through which a person accepts and shares their gender identity or sexuality with themselves and others. Coming out can be a continual process. Return to glossary index


Designated Sex at Birth
The sex a person is designated at birth based on their physical characteristics. People may use the acronyms DFAB and DMAB to describe “designated female at birth” and “designated male at birth.” Return to glossary index


Gender Binary
The cultural concept of two traditional and opposed genders, male and female. Return to glossary index


Gender Dysphoria
A mental health term used to describe the dissonance between an individual’s designated sex and their gender identity and between physical features and their gender identity. Return to glossary index


Gender Expansive
That which demonstrates a wider and more flexible range of gender identity than the gender binary. Return to glossary index


Gender Expression
The external expression of one’s gender identity, which can include appearance, behavior, and voice. Return to glossary index


A gender identity where an individual may identify outside of the male/female binary or identifies with a range of femaleness and maleness. Also referred to as gender-queer. Return to glossary index


Gender Identity
A person’s sense of what gender(s), if any, with which they identify. This is a person’s internal sense and not to be confused with external expression. Return to glossary index


Gender Nonconforming
Expressing or identifying gender in a way outside of or beyond cultural or societal expectations for gender expression. Return to glossary index


Gender Neutral
A term used to describe spaces which are gender-inclusive, e.g., a gender-neutral bathroom. Return to glossary index


Gender-Neutral Pronouns
Sets of pronouns that do not conform to the male/female binary. Also known as all-gender pronouns. Examples can include, ze, hir and hirs, or the singular they, among others. Return to glossary index


Gender Role
Behaviors and beliefs that a cultural group deems appropriate for people based on their designated sex. Return to glossary index


Hormone Therapy
Intentional treatment used to impact development of secondary sex characteristics. Return to glossary index


Describes an individual born with sex chromosomes, genitalia, or reproductive system not typical for the male or female sex. Return to glossary index


Identifying with multiple genders. Return to glossary index


Describes a person who identifies neither as male or female. Return to glossary index


Transgender (TG)
Describes people who have a gender identity that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. Return to glossary index


The process of a trans person coming out, which can be marked by changes in appearance, body, behaviors, and how a person refers to themselves. A transition can be over a set amount of time or a continual process. Return to glossary index


Fear and hatred of people who identify as transgender or challenge the binary gender system. Return to glossary index

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Citation for this content: USC Rossier’s online masters in school counseling program.