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A Brief Guide to Terminology

Gender is part of a person’s inherent and persistent understanding of who they are. This is distinct from the pressures in society to conform to established conventions for male or female behaviour and appearance (sometimes referred to as gender expression). The Endocrine Society’s position statement of 2020 states, "scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender".


A person’s sex is based on a range of characteristics relating to reproductive development and includes anatomy, metabolism and genetics.


An intersex person is someone who does not fit conventional expectations for male or female development in terms of anatomy, metabolism or genetics. The opposite of intersex is endosex, which is where a person does fit conventional expectations.


Confusingly, the term ‘gender’ is often used interchangeably with ‘sex’, especially on documents recording personal data, but these terms are not precisely the same. On UK birth certificates, the ‘sex’ recorded is based on the appearance of the newborn’s external genitals.


Trans, short for transgender, refers to anyone whose gender does not match their sex as recorded at birth. This includes people who are non-binary. Cis, short for cisgender, refers to anyone whose gender matches the sex they were recorded birth.


Gender is more than two either-or (binary) options of male or female. A non-binary person is someone whose gender is not fixedly either male or female. Their gender may be intermediate, or they may be gender-neutral, gender-fluid, or genderless.


Gender incongruence is a term used in clinical settings to denote a mismatch between a person’s gender and their recorded sex. Gender dysphoria denotes the persistent distress a trans person experiences when they attempt to meet society’s expectations for the sex they were recorded at birth. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria does not indicate mental illness but is required to access appropriate NHS services.


The term ‘gender incongruence’ was adopted by the World Health Organisation in 2019 to replace the outdated term ‘transsexualism’ although this can still be found in legal and healthcare documents in the UK.


Transsexual is a term that has been largely replaced in general use by the term transgender but is still found in legal documents, medical reports and research, and is occasionally used self-referentially by those who have medically transitioned.


Transition refers to the steps a trans or non-binary person takes to live according to their gender. There is no legally defined set of steps or timescale for transitioning, but it might involve a change of name, personal pronouns, or attire, or any of a range of medical steps such as gender affirmation (or confirmation) surgery. Every transition is different, and every transition is valid regardless of the specific steps taken or not taken.


Personal pronouns are the words we all use to refer to ourselves and each other, both in conversation and in writing. The most common relevant examples are ‘he’, ‘she’ and ’they’.


The term Gender reassignment denotes one of the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 and is understood to cover anyone who has transitioned, is in the process of transitioning or is proposing to transition. The Taylor v Land Rover judgment in 2020 ruled this to include non-binary people.


In addition to the protection afforded by the Equality Act, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 enables trans people who have met a series of specific conditions to apply for a gender recognition certificate (GRC). Possession of a GRC primarily enables the holder to have their birth certificate amended and then they are legally regarded ‘for all purposes’ as being of that gender. Once in possession of a GRC, information about the person’s gender history becomes 'protected information' in all but exceptional circumstances.


Transphobia is the fear, dislike or hatred of a person because they are perceived to have a trans background, or because they associate with someone perceived to have a trans background.


Transphobia can be expressed in many ways but if this is by direct or indirect exclusion, discrimination or other detrimental treatment then it is likely to be against the Equality Act. However, transphobia is often expressed in ways that are difficult to explicitly call out as such. Examples include misgendering, which is when a person deliberately uses incorrect personal pronouns, or other language that denies a person’s gender, or deadnaming, which is the deliberate use of a person’s previous name after they have changed it as part of their transition. Other scenarios include deliberately spreading misinformation under the guise of wider concerns around safety or propriety, but where the hidden intention is to either ridicule trans people, deny their validity, or portray them as a threat to others.

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