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Sex, gender, and gender identity are all related, but different parts of who you are. For lots of people sex, gender, and gender identity line up. But not for everyone.

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

It’s pretty easy to confuse biological sex (sometimes called “sex assigned at birth”) with gender and gender identity. They’re related, but different.

  • Sex is a label that’s usually first given by a doctor based upon the genes, hormones, and body parts (like genitals) you’re born with. It goes on your birth certificate and describes your body as female or male. Some people’s sex doesn’t fit into male or female, called intersex.

  • Gender is how society thinks we should look, think, and act as girls and women and boys and men. Each culture has beliefs and informal rules about how people should act based on their gender. For example, many cultures expect and encourage men to be more aggressive than women.

  • Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you show your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins early in life.

There are lots of ways people express their gender. Learn more about sex and gender.

What do transgender and cisgender mean?

Most people who are assigned female at birth feel like girls or women, and most people who are assigned male at birth feel like boys or men. These people are cisgender (or cis).

Some people have a gender identity that doesn’t match the sex they were given at birth — for example, they were born with a vulva, vagina, and uterus, but they feel and identify as male. These people are transgender (or trans). Transgender is the “T” in LGBTQ.

Trans can also include people who don’t identify with strict male/female gender roles. Other people who don’t feel either male or female call themselves genderqueer. There are other gender identity terms and labels, but don’t use terms like transgendered, transvestite, tranny, or, he-she — they’re old-fashioned and can be hurtful. It’s always best to respect the words people use to describe themselves.

Learn more about coming out as transgender, finding a trans-friendly doctor, or supporting someone who is trans.

What does intersex mean?

Some people are born with a mix of male and female biological traits, which can make it hard for doctors to assign them a male or female sex. These people are intersex. Being intersex is not the same thing as being transgender.

Being intersex is often caused by one of many genetic or hormonal conditions, but it isn’t a medical problem. It’s also more common than most people realize. Some people know their child is intersex at birth. But many people don’t find out they’re intersex until they go through puberty, or even later.

If you’re intersex, or think you might be, it’s important to talk with a doctor you’re comfortable with. But not all doctors are up to date with the latest information on intersex conditions. You can learn more about intersex on our website or check out InterACT, a network for intersex teens and young adults.

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