Words are lawyers’ stock in trade. As attorneys and officers of the court, we need to use correct language when dealing with clients, opposing counsel, witnesses and members of the public. First realize that there are infinite combinations of gender expression and sexuality. To that end, I offer here a simple primer on important terminology beyond those words with which you may already be familiar.
Transgender/Trans: Encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or identify exclusively with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy or how one is perceived in daily life.
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity and assigned sex at birth correspond (i.e., a person who is not transgender).
Gender Nonconforming: Describes a gender expression that differs from a given society’s norms for males and females.
Nonbinary: Describes a person whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional gender binary structure.
Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both or another gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their own internal sense of gender identity are not the same.
Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape and so on. Most transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth.
These definitions were borrowed heavily from Trans Student Educational Resources and the National LGBT Health Education Center, with help from Wesley Hartman of the Austin Medical-Legal Partnership. For more information and definitions, I encourage you to check out the Gender Unicorn, a widely accepted resource.
Check my next blog post for a primer on pronouns!
Jessica Markham is the owner of Markham Law Firm, a family law firm in Bethesda.