Introduction to GBA Plus

Sex and gender

The following definitions are adapted from The Gender Integration Framework from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Definitions have also been provided by Government of Canada’s LGBTQ2 Secretariat.

Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed.

Sex (assigned) at birth: refers to the label one is given at birth based on physiological factors, including hormones, chromosomes, and genitals. Most people are assigned male or female, as per socially constructed and medicalized standards, which is what is put on birth certificates. The assignment of a biological sex upon an newborn infant, based on visible/external sex characteristics, may or may not align with internal, hormonal and/or chromosomal sex characteristics, as well as how they feel or eventually identify with age.

Gender Socially-constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men and gender-diverse people.  It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, the distribution of power and resources in society, and people’s social, health and economic outcomes.

Sexual Orientation: A term used to describe a person’s emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction.

Gender expression Gender expression refers to the various ways in which people choose to express their gender identity. For example: clothes, voice, hair, or mannerisms. A person’s gender expression may not align with societal expectations of their gender. It is therefore not a reliable indicator of a person’s gender identity.

Gender identity Gender identity is how people perceive themselves with respect to their gender. Gender identity is not confined to a binary (girl/woman, boy/man) nor is it static; it exists along a continuum and can change over time. There is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience and express gender through the roles they take on, the expectations placed on them, relations with others and the complex ways that gender is institutionalized in society.

Cisgender A person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.

Intersex Intersex is a general term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with external sex characteristics that do not fit the binary medical categories typically used to classify “female” or “male.” There are lots of ways someone can be intersex. Some intersex people have genitals or internal sex organs that fall outside the male/female categories — such as a person with both ovarian and testicular tissues. Other intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that are different than XY (usually associated with male) and XX (usually associated with female), like XXY.  Some people are born with external genitals that fall into the typical male/female categories, such as people with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS), but their internal organs or hormones do not. Intersex people may or may not identify with their sex assigned at birth. 

LGBTQ2 In Canada, LGBTQ2 is often used to refer to individuals who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two Spirit. There are many different acronyms that may be used in different contexts to represent these individuals. It should be noted that these acronyms represent both sexual identities and gender identities. It is also important to note that LGBTQ2 communities are diverse, and that language and terminology are constantly evolving. While these terms and definitions are generally accepted today, they may continue to evolve over time.

Non-Binary (sometimes referred to as ‘genderqueer’) refers to a person whose gender identity does not align with a binary understanding of gender such as man or woman. A gender identity which may include man and woman, androgynous, fluid, multiple, no gender, or a different gender outside of the “woman—man” binary.

Trans or transgender A person who does not identify, either fully or in part with the gender associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. It is often used as an umbrella term to represent a wide range of gender identities.

Two-spirit is a term that describes non heterosexual and/or non-cisgender Indigenous sexual and gender expressions. The term comes from the Northern Algonquin word niizh manitoag, meaning two spirits. The term Two-spirit represents the presence of masculine and feminine traits within an individual.