Cis, trans, nonbinary: A guide to gender terminology

It might seem like in recent months, a host of unfamiliar words have sprung up in the English language.

Cisgender, transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid: they might sound like they've just been made up, but in fact each of these terms refers to a specific and often marginalised identity.

Until very recently, these terms were generally only used in academic writing about gender studies. But with the lightning-fast rise of social media and online activism, they're quickly making their way into everyday language. 

That doesn't mean such identities are new, but rather that it's only relatively recently that society has deemed them legitimate or acceptable.

The word 'transgender' has been around since the 1960s, while its antonym 'cisgender' was coined by German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch in the late 1990s.

If you've spent most of your life believing there are only two genders, decided based on biological sex, a lot of these words are probably confusing.

Here's a quick glossary of terms you might like to get familiar with:

Agender: Someone who doesn't identify as any gender.

"A person who is agender sees themselves as neither man nor woman, has no gender identity, or no gender to express," children's psychiatrist Dr Meredith Chapman told Teen Vogue.

Bigender: Sort of the opposite to agender, in which a person identifies with two genders.

They might feel an affinity with both manhood and womanhood at the same time, and combine the two identities into their own unique expression, or they might swap back and forth at different times.

It's common for bigender people to develop different personas for when they feel more aligned with one gender.

Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth.

Derived from the Latin prefix 'cis-', meaning 'on this side of' (the opposite of 'trans-'), the term describes most of the population and has come into popular usage with the increased awareness of different gender identities.

Gender diverse: An umbrella term for a variety of non-normative identities from different cultures.

It includes Samoan fa'afafine to Native American two-spirits to Māori takatāpui.

Genderfluid: Someone with no fixed gender identity. They may identify more with being a man at certain times, and feel more like a woman at others.

Alternatively, they might never feel at home in either gender and live a more androgynous existence.

Genderqueer: Another general term for people who don't subscribe to conventional gender distinctions.

However, some people do use the word to describe their own specific identity.

Intersex: Someone born with a combination of both male and female anatomy.

Thought to affect between 1 and 2 percent of the population, being intersex is about as common as being born with red hair.

Intersex people are often given 'corrective' surgery as children to make their physical appearance align more with one sex, so the exact number of intersex people is difficult to categorise.

Nonbinary: A catch-all term for those whose gender identity doesn't fit within the traditional binary of man and woman.

Transgender: Someone who identifies as a different gender than what was assigned to them at birth.

Trans people may experience dysphoria, a particular kind of existential anxiety that stems from not feeling like themselves, and may or may not have surgery to affirm their gender.

For a more extensive glossary, check out RainbowYOUTH.