Pride Week 2020: LGBT+ 101: What is Gender?

26 August 2020

24th-28th August 2020 saw us celebrate our first Pride Week at ANS. The week was full of Pride-inspired events, like roundtables, quizzes and raffles. We even invited the LGBT Foundation to talk to us about the amazing work they do to support LGBT people. As part of Pride Week, Technical Analyst Apprentice, Jess, wanted to share some thoughts and their own experience on Pride. They’ve written a series of blogs to educate us more on Pride. The second one is all about gender, take a look below.

Hi! And welcome back to my short series of blogs for Pride 2020 where I break down the basics of everything LGBT+.

In my last blog, LGBT+ 101: What is Sexuality? I covered my sexuality, queer, as well as many other commonly heard labels and what they mean. In this blog, I’m going to cover they/them, non-binary, and androgynous as well as a few other pronouns, gender identities and gender expressions.

Binary & non-binary

The gender binary is the incorrect idea that the only two gender identities that exist are female and male – in reality, there are many, many more gender identities that are non-binary, as in, neither female nor male.

Coming out

During the time I was having quite the journey figuring out my sexuality, and before that, I was looking inwards, questioning all that I had been told that I was – including my gender.

I am AFAB, meaning I was assigned female at birth by a doctor. I was raised as female alongside my older sister – she was the girliest girl I’d ever known. She wanted to be a nurse, she loved Barbies, she wanted to start a big family, she loved trendy clothes and handbags and makeup. Luckily, my parents weren’t the type to force me to play with makeup and dolls if I didn’t want to – they openly supported my fascination with Lego, Star Wars, Hot Wheels and tools.

I came to realise that as well as my sister, a lot of girls I knew presented in a very feminine way and liked all the same things – I figured something was up, but I still referred to myself as female – albeit a ‘tomboy’.

One weekend when I was about 7 or 8, my mum took me to a shop to buy me some new scout uniform – I was wearing trainers, cargo shorts, a polo shirt and my long hair was bunched up into a baseball cap. A woman who knew my mum from ages ago greeted her and looked down at me and said “That must be your little one. Oh, you do look like your dad, little lad” of course I defended myself at the time, but I look back on that event fondly – I loved the feeling of not being perceived as female.

But it’s not like I wished I was a boy either, nothing I knew as an option at that time felt right to me.

I struggled with this for a very long time, trying to fit into the ‘female’ box, until I started learning about the LGBT+ community, where I discovered the word non-binary. I consumed every bit of online content about gender identities and after all that time, at the age of 23, I’d found my label.

I am proud to be non-binary!

Sex, gender and gender expression

Sex is what you are assigned at birth. This is usually assigned by a doctor or midwife at birth initially as female or male based solely on primary sex characteristics.

The terms AFAB and AMAB stand for assigned female at birth and assigned male at birth respectively.

Sometimes a baby is born and not assigned female or male at birth; some people are instead born intersex – this is where a person has XXX, XXY, or XYY chromosomes instead of XX or XY. This can manifest in a few ways, including a mixture of primary and secondary sex characteristics that don’t fully align with being female or male.

Gender is what you know you are. This could be the same as your sex assigned at birth, or it could be different.

Gender expression is how you present your gender to the outside world via pronouns, clothing, hairstyles and more. This is separate to gender – whilst with some people it lines up with societal expectations (for example, a male person presenting in a masculine way), for a great many people it doesn’t (for example, a female person presenting in a masculine way).

Umbrella terms

The umbrella terms for gender are cisgender and transgender, often shortened to cis and trans.

If a person is cis, their gender is the same as the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, a cis male could be a person who was assigned male at birth, and whose gender is also male.

If a person is trans, their gender is different to the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, a trans female could be a person who was assigned male at birth, and whose gender is female.

Other common gender labels

Agender – a person who is agender may not feel like they have any gender, or they have a very weak connection to their gender.

Androgyne – a person who is both male and female or is part male and part female.

Cis female – an AFAB person whose gender is female.

Cis male – an AMAB person whose gender is male.

Genderfluid / genderqueer – a person whose gender easily changes between female, male, non-binary, agender and more.

Non-binary – a person who is neither male nor female.

Trans+ / Trans* – a person whose sex assigned at birth does not match their gender, but they aren’t male or female.

Trans female – an AMAB or intersex person whose gender is female.

Trans male – an AFAB or intersex person whose gender is male.

Gender expression

There are loads of different ways to express gender, but I’ll focus on the most common three here.

Masculine – often associated with a muscly physique or sharper features, shorter hair, facial hair and duller clothing colours

Feminine – often associated with a curvy physique or softer features, longer hair, accessories and brighter clothing colours

Androgynous – a mix of what is seen as masculine and feminine features, accumulating in a style that does not entirely fit into the boxes of masculinity or femininity. The best way to explain this is through an image. The photos below show (left to right) musician Andy Biersack, actor Ruby Rose and model Sarah Whale, all people who present similarly androgynously – but all three show aspects of masculinity and femininity in their expression such as tattoos, makeup, hairstyle, and choice of clothing.

At first glance, the viewer may not be able to tell if these people are male, female or otherwise – this is exactly the effect that people who preset androgynously want to have.

Pronouns and how to use them

There are many different pronouns that people may want to be referred to with, but just as with gender expression, I’ll focus on the most common ones, using the same example sentence in each.

She / her / hers – Most commonly used by female people and most commonly used by others to refer to feminine presenting people.

  • “She forgot her phone, even though I reminded her”
  • “This phone is hers”

He / him / his – most commonly used by male people and most commonly used by others to refer to masculine presenting people.

  • “He forgot his phone, even though I reminded him”
  • “This phone is his”

They / them / their(s) – this pronoun is often used when the speaker is unsure of the gender of the person they are talking about.

  • “They forgot their phone, even though I reminded them”
  • “This phone is theirs”

If you’ve known someone for a while, it can be difficult and take a lot of practice to change the pronouns you have used for them. My personal view is: if you’re at least trying, then that’s good enough! If you can notice where you’re using the wrong pronoun and correct yourself, then that is what matters. Consistently using the right pronoun for someone who has just changed which ones they use is so affirming and will often make that person’s day (I can vouch for this!).

If you’re struggling to keep a conversation flowing because you’re worried of using the wrong pronoun, you can always fall back on using their name, for example, instead of “when did they book their holidays for?” you could say “when did [name] book holidays for?”, but do try and make the effort to use the right pronouns.

Practice makes perfect: The more you use the correct pronoun, the easier it gets!

To wrap up

As people discover more and more about themselves, new labels are created that describe very specifically someone’s gender. If a person is comfortable to tell you how they identify, but you don’t know what it means, just politely ask! Most will be happy to explain what the term means.

To my colleagues: if you find yourself hearing a term and don’t understand it, I’m here to help! I’m happy to explain things for you!

Please stay tuned for my next blog post, “LGBT+ 101: What is Pride?” where I cover the history of pride, what pride means to me, safe spaces, and pride in the workplace.

And if you missed the last blog in the series on sexuality, find it here.

Thoughts and opinions by Jess Outhwaite


For ANS, diversity and inclusion means providing equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender orientation or expression, race, age, sexual orientation, cultural and economic background, physical ability or neural diversity.  Everyone at ANS has the ability to progress throughout the business, and we are very proud of the level of comfort our employees feel about being able to bring their true selves to work.