Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Terminology and Definitions

Sexual orientation

"Sexual orientation" is the preferred term used when referring to an individual's physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. "Heterosexual," "bisexual" and "homosexual" are all sexual orientations. A person's sexual orientation is distinct from a person's gender identity and expression.

Gender identity

The term "gender identity," distinct from the term "sexual orientation," refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person's body or designated sex at birth (meaning what sex was originally listed on a person's birth certificate).

Gender expression

Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions. Social or cultural norms can vary widely and some characteristics that may be accepted as masculine, feminine or neutral in one culture may not be assessed similarly in another.


A broad range of people who experience and/or express their gender differently from what most people expect — either in terms of expressing a gender that does not match the sex listed on their original birth certificate (i.e., designated sex at birth), or physically changing their sex. It is an umbrella term that includes people who are transsexual, cross-dressers or otherwise gender non-conforming. Not all people who consider themselves (or who may be considered by others as) transgender will undergo a gender transition.


A transsexual person has changed, or is in the process of changing, his or her physical and/or legal sex to conform to his or her internal sense of gender identity. The term can also be used to describe people who, without undergoing medical treatment, identify and live their lives full-time as a member of the gender opposite their birth sex. Transsexuals transitioning from male to female are often referred to as "MTFs." Similarly, female-to-male transsexuals are frequently called "FTMs."

Gender transition

The term "transitioning" refers to the process through which a person modifies his or her physical characteristics and/or manner of gender expression to be consistent with his or her gender identity. This transition may include hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery and/or other components and is generally conducted under medical supervision based on a set of standards developed by medical professionals. The transition process typically includes a one-year "real-life experience" in which the individual lives and presents consistently with their gender identity under medical supervision.


A cross-dresser wears the clothing and/or accoutrements, such as makeup and accessories, that are considered by society to correspond to the "opposite sex." Unlike transsexuals, cross-dressers typically do not seek to change their physical characteristics and/or manner of expression permanently or desire to live full-time as the opposite gender. (Cross-dressers are sometimes called "transvestites," but that term is considered pejorative.)

Employees who cross-dress some of the time may fear that discovery of their cross-dressing, even when on personal time, may lead to discrimination or harassment at work. While cross-dressing off-duty is not related to an employee's job performance, a person who cross-dresses off-duty is still protected by our EEO policy prohibiting discrimination or harassment based on [gender identity / gender identity and expression].

Gender identity disorder / Gender dysphoria

GID is a psychological diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. This disorder is marked by severe distress and discomfort caused by the conflict between one's gender identity and one's designated sex at birth. Not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria or are diagnosed with GID.