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Understanding Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity

By: Jessica MousseauDiversity Insights
Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity

One of the main barriers to creating a fully inclusive workplace is the assumption that sex, gender and sexual orientation fit into binary models – either male or female, straight or gay, nothing in between. For anyone who understands the nuances of gender identity and pronouns, it’s clear that this binary framework is limiting. To be truly understanding and accepting of all people, we must explore the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

What Is Biological Sex?

Biological sex refers to the anatomy and physical attributes that define us as male or female. However, the term “intersex” refers to people who are born with sexual anatomy that doesn’t neatly fit traditional definitions of male or female.

What Is Gender Identity?

Defining gender is a complex task, as there are so many identities and the meaning of each is deeply personal. Gender identity is how a person perceives their own gender, which may or not be the sex that was assigned to them at birth.

Pronouns may or may not correspond to a person’s gender identity; for example, someone may use she/her pronouns but identify as non-binary.

Gender Identity Terms to Know

  • Agender: People who don’t identify with any gender or typically fall within the non-binary category.
  • Cisgender: People whose gender identity aligns with their assigned sex at birth.
  • Genderfluid: People who have a fluctuating gender identity.
  • Non-binary: A gender that doesn’t align exclusively as male or female.
  • Intersex: People who have sexual characteristics that don’t align with their assigned sex at birth.
  • Transgender: People whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation describes who you are attracted to emotionally, romantically, or sexually. Sexuality can be fluid, much like gender.

Sexual Orientations Terms to Know

  • Heterosexual: A person who is attracted to someone from the opposite gender. Also known as straight.
  • Homosexual: A person who identifies as gay and is attracted to someone of the same gender.
  • Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women.
  • Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both someone of the same gender and other genders too, although some consider this term limiting.
  • Queer: A broad term that includes anyone who doesn’t identify as straight, allowing for fluidity in its definition.

Understanding Gender Expression

Gender expression is how someone shows their gender to the world, whether through clothing, hairstyle, voice, or body language.

People can express their gender in ways that conform to societal norms or defy them; it’s crucial to understand that gender expression doesn’t have to align with someone’s biological sex.

Learning to Accept All People

Taking the time to understand these terms and concepts properly helps create a society in which everyone feels understood and accepted. After all, isn’t that what we all want to feel?

If you’re looking to learn more, LGBTQ+ Inclusion Training can help you and your staff learn how to respectfully identify others in the workplace. A Diversity and Inclusion Calendar also helps you learn about other races, ethnicities, and faiths at work too.


What is the definition of gender identity?

Gender identity is someone’s individual experience of their gender. It may be the same or different from their birth-assigned sex. This deeply personal sense of self can influence one’s self-concept and interactions with others. Societal norms and expectations often play a significant role in how people express and navigate their gender identity.

What is your gender identity?

This is a personal question, so refrain from asking it until someone is comfortable sharing it, especially in a work setting. One’s gender identity isn’t readily seen by others, it can be the same sex that you were assigned at birth or cisgender, or not, which is transgender. Some people identify as male, female, or non-binary. Understanding and respecting each person’s self-identification is crucial in creating inclusive environments.

What are the 8 gender identities?

The spectrum of gender identity is evolving every day. Some of the known gender identities include male, female, gender neutral, non-binary, transgender, agender, genderqueer, pangender, third gender, and two-spirit It’s essential to recognize this diversity and the unique experiences and challenges each identity may face. It’s important to remember that gender identity is fluid for some, and they may not fit into traditional categories.

What are the 4 gender pronouns?

There are actually more than four gender pronouns. The main gendered pronouns include she/her/hers, he/him/his, and non-binary pronouns such as they/them/theirs.  Other pronouns include ze/hir/hirs and xe/xem/xyrs, among others, catering to a wide range of gender identities. Respecting and using a person’s chosen pronouns is a fundamental aspect of acknowledging their identity and dignity.

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