Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

AP Stylebook: Gender, sex, and sexual orientation

For a thorough list of terminology about sexual and gender minorities, please reference the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s LGBTI-SafeZone Terminology page.

Bisexual

Bisexual people have the potential to be emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to people of the same and different gender—not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.

Cisgender

A cisgender person is someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth; sometimes abbreviated as cis. Use cisgender first with cis in parentheses after it if you use the abbreviation in your writing. 

Gender

Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and/or attributes that a given society associates with being a woman, man, girl, or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

Gender affirmation, gender confirmation, transition, transitioning

Use the terms above rather than the terms transgendering, sex change, the surgery, or pre-operative/post-operative. Gender affirmation and transition define the interpersonal, interactive process where a person receives social recognition and support for their gender identity and expression. This process can but does not necessarily involve medical intervention, which can include hormone therapy and one or more surgeries to affirm one’s gender. Pre-/post-operative may still be used in medical literature but should not be applied to a specific person without their consent.

Gender expression

Gender expression is how one chooses to convey one’s gender identity through behavior, clothing, and other external characteristics.

Gender identity

An individual’s sense of being a man, woman, boy, girl, genderqueer, nonbinary, etc. This identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Gender non-conforming

A person whose gender expression is not consistent with the societal or cultural norms expected of that gender.

Intersex and differences in sex development

Intersex is a general term used to refer to individuals born with, or who develop naturally in puberty, biological sex characteristics that are not typically male or female. Never use the term hermaphrodite. Differences in sex development (DSD) is an inclusive umbrella term; some people with DSD identify as intersex.

LGBTQIA+

LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. The plus sign includes other members of the community, such as genderfluid, nonbinary, or two-spirit, among others.

Use LGBTQIA+ when writing about the community outside of research contexts, e.g., community engagement or Pride. Use sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations when referring to health research and policy.

Misgender

To misgender is to refer to someone, especially a transgender or gender diverse person, using a word or address that does not correctly reflect their gender identity.

Nonbinary

A nonbinary person identifies outside of a gender binary by seeing themselves as neither a man nor or woman. Nonbinary people are part of the trans community.

Pronouns

Use pronouns that correspond to a person’s gender identity. Because gender identity is an internal characteristic that should not be assumed, asking for a person’s pronouns is the best practice. In addition to the binary English pronouns she/her and he/his, some people may use nonbinary pronouns, including the pronouns they/them used as singular terms, among others. When using the singular they, still conjugate the verb as a plural, as in, “they are gender nonbinary.”

When writing about a hypothetical person, like an anonymous participant in a study enrolling people of all genders, use the singular they rather than he or she.

Please review Gender Pronouns and Their Use in Workplace Communications for a more in-depth discussion.

Queer

The term queer is more fluid and inclusive than traditional categories for sexual orientation and gender identity. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA+ people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBTQIA+ community. People who identify as queer may think of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity as characterized by nonbinary constructs of sexual orientation, gender, and/or sex. Queer should only be used to describe members of the community who themselves identify with it.

Sex

A biological category based on reproductive, anatomical, and genetic characteristics, generally defined as male, female, and intersex.

Sexual and gender minority

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations include, but are not limited to, individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, queer, and/or intersex. Individuals with same-sex or -gender attractions or behaviors and those with a difference in sex development are also included. These populations also encompass those who do not self-identify with one of these terms but whose sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or reproductive development is characterized by non-binary constructs of sexual orientation, gender, and/or sex.

Use sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations as a broad, umbrella term when referring to LGBTQIA+ communities as a singular population in the context of health research, related activities, and policy. Use LGBTQIA+ when identity is important (e.g., community engagement, Pride messaging). When writing about a specific research project or study, always use the population terms identified and defined by the investigators for that study. For example, a study could be examining outcomes among sexual minority women, while another may look at LGB people. In these instances, using SGM populations or LGBTQIA+ would not be appropriate. For more information, see the Sexual and Gender Research Minority Office’s website.

Sexual orientation

Use sexual orientation rather than sexual preference. Preference suggests that non-heterosexuality is a choice, a concept often used to discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community. Preference also suggests a selection from two or more choices, excluding bisexual people and pansexual people, among others.

Transgender, trans

AP Stylebook: Transgender Coverage Topical Guide
A transgender person is someone who identifies with a gender other than the one that was assigned to them at birth. Use the term transgender or trans and not transgendered. Transgendered is a dated term that suggests a point in time when a person “became” transgender, which diverges from the lived experiences of most transgender people. Trans is an adjective that helps describe someone's gender identity, and it should be treated like other adjectives (e.g., trans man, trans woman). Merging the adjective and the noun risks suggesting that a trans man or woman is more (or less) than just a man or just a woman, which goes against how many trans people identify themselves.

Two Spirit

A person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender, and/or spiritual identity. Traditionally, American Indian two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes individuals with intersex traits who combined activities of both men and women, with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status.

Various spellings of Two Spirit exist, including uppercase, lowercase, and hyphenated or with a number (e.g. 2Spirit, Two Spirit, two-spirit). 2S is the most common abbreviation. Consensus on spelling isn’t set, but Two Spirit is most frequently used.

This page last reviewed on September 2, 2022