Explore the concepts of sex and gender and the different ways people may experience them.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Want to better understand what it means to be transgender or gender diverse? Here's an overview of the basics, along with definitions of common terms used to describe gender identity.

The terms "transgender" and "gender diverse" cover a range of gender identities and gender expressions. These terms move past the idea that all people can be classified as only one of two genders — female or male. That idea is called the gender binary.

Gender identity is the internal sense of being male, female, neither or some combination of both. Gender expression typically involves how gender identity is shown to the outside world through the way a person looks or acts. Gender expression may include clothing, mannerisms, communication style and interests, among other things.

People who are transgender or gender diverse include:

  • Those who have a gender identity that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Those whose gender expression doesn't follow society's norms for the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Those who identify and express their gender outside of the gender binary.

Most people have a sense of physical, emotional and romantic attraction to others. Sexual orientation describes the group of people to whom this attraction is directed. For example, a person may be attracted to men, women, both or neither. Being transgender or gender diverse isn't linked to a specific sexual orientation. And sexual orientation can't be assumed based on gender identity or gender expression.

Gender dysphoria is a feeling of distress that can happen when a person's gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or from their sex-related physical characteristics. Some transgender and gender-diverse people experience gender dysphoria at some point in their lives. Other transgender and gender-diverse people feel at ease with their bodies and gender identities, and they don't have gender dysphoria.

A diagnosis for gender dysphoria is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. This diagnosis was created to help people with gender dysphoria get access to the health care and treatment they need. It focuses on distress as the problem, not a person's gender identity.

Other terms that might come up in a discussion about being transgender or gender diverse include:

  • Agender. A person who doesn't identify with any gender label or who doesn't use gender as part of their identity.
  • Cisgender. An individual whose gender identity and gender expression align with the sex assigned at birth.
  • Cross-dressing. Dressing as the other gender. Cross-dressing isn't necessarily a sign of a person's gender identity or sexual orientation. Cross-dressing also isn't a sign of gender dysphoria.
  • Gender-fluid. Displaying flexibility in gender identity and expression. Gender-fluid people typically aren't limited by gender norms and expectations. They may identify and express themselves as masculine, feminine, some combination of both or neither.
  • Gender role. The norms and expectations a society associates with a person's sex assigned at birth.
  • Gender minority stress. Stress related to stigma, prejudice and discrimination toward individuals with diverse gender identity and expression.
  • Nonbinary. A person whose gender identity is a combination of or goes beyond the gender binary of female and male.
  • Sex. A person's physical characteristics that traditionally are labeled as male or female.
  • Transgender man and transgender woman. Terms used to describe a transgender individual's gender identity or expression within the gender binary. For example, the term "transgender woman" may be used for someone whose sex at birth was assigned male and who identifies as a woman. Not all transgender and gender-diverse people use these terms to describe themselves.

For more information about transgender and gender-diverse topics, consider exploring resources offered through organizations such as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and the Fenway Institute.

Feb. 14, 2023