Gender Visibility

We are all functions of the system that we live in; a system that has taught us how to think about ourselves and others, how to interact with others, and how to understand what is expected of us. These thought processes and expectations are based on the specific set of social identities we were born into that predispose us to unequal roles that allow us to access (or deny access) to resources. 

The information here provides a basic overview of important considerations related to Gender Visibility It is crucial that you continue expanding upon this knowledge and look further into the concepts presented that you are unfamiliar with and/or are curious about. 

In addition to the resources provided below, you can also review additional terminology interconnected with Gender Visibility here.

Understanding Gender

Often people confuse gender with sex; assuming they are the same and the language in reference to each identity is interchangeable. Taking it one step further, people also have been socialized to expect one's sex/gender determines one's sexual orientation.

This is because we have been taught to operate in a binary system where there can only be two options with any identity.  We have been told, "you are either this, or you are that," i.e. you are either a boy or you are a girl.

However, in reality, a person's gendered identity exists on a spectrum. This reality applies to any identity someone has. A person can identify in any way that feels authentic to them.

The Women and Gender Center (WGC) defines gender and other affiliated terms, i.e. gender expression, sex, and sexual orientation, as follows: 

  • Gender: refers to your internal sense of your gender.
  • Gender Expression: refers to how you show your gendered self to the world.
  • Sex: refers to something you get assigned when you’re born.
    • Does not determine gender identity.
  • Sexual Orientation: refers to a ccombination of who you’re attracted to sexually or romantically, and who you choose to build intimate relationships with
    • Very loosely connected to gender and gender expression.

When it comes to gender, there are important differences to acknowledge and understand. Some of the terms below were defined on the "What is gender?" tab by the Women and Gender Center (WGC). The Office of Equity (OE) has expanded upon some of those definitions and added additional terms below. 

  • Sex: refers to the assignment and/or classification of an infant based on reproductive organs.
  • Gender: refers to the social construction of masculinity or femininity as it aligns with designation sex at birth; a person's psychological and sociological understanding/behavior related to what is expected of men and women; refers to the internal feeling of one's gender. 
  • Cisgender: refers to a person whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth.
  • Transgender*refers to a person whose internal sense of gender differs from their sex assigned at birth.
    • Trans is an umbrella term that is used to refer to the range of diversity of gender variance including: transgender, gender non-conforming persons, binary folks etc.
    • Not all trans persons choose pursue hormone therapy/medical procedures to make their bodies feel more congruent with their gender.
  • Gender Expression: refers to how one displays their gender through dress, social behavior, and/or demeanor.
  • Sexuality/Sexual Orientation: 
    • The Women and Gender Center separates sexuality and sexual orientation into three definitions.
      • Sexual Identity (Orientation): refers to the words you use to describe yourself.
      • Sexual Behavior: refers to the people with whom you choose to engage in sexual activity.
      • Sexual Attraction: refers to the people, if any, to whom you are sexually or romantically attracted; refers to how you like to be intimate or in relationships with people. 

Note*: The word “trans” is often used as an adjective to describes someone’s gender. When "trans" is used in front of a noun i.e. woman or man, it can suggest that a trans man or woman is more (or less) than a cisgender man or woman; this can go against how a trans person identifies themselves. Also note that “trans” can be a gender identity in and of itself without a noun to follow i.e. man or woman. While it is important to acknowledge the different barriers and hurdles that a trans person faces because of inequitable power structures (privilege cisgender folks have) that do not honor their identities in all environments, their gender identity is just as valid. All this to say, there is extreme nuance in language regarding our identities that is deeply personal; it is paramount that you rely on the relationships you have with those in your life to be sure you are honoring how they would like to be referred to in relation to identities they hold. 

All identities a person has are valid. Never make assumptions about a person's gender or sexual orientation.

Most importantly, it is your responsibility to honor how a person identifies even if it does not make sense to you. Everyone's identity is personal and unique; there is no "cookie-cutter" definition of anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. 

"Come to think of it, well is Alex a boy or a girl?"

This is nothing new...

Pronouns & Language

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are used to refer to a person in place of using that person’s name. In many languages, pronouns are used to signal formality and respect for people of higher family, professional, or social status, and informality and intimacy with people with whom we share closer, more intimate connections. Pronouns may be used to signal a person’s gender.

In English, the most common pronouns used to refer to someone in the third person are he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs. Many other sets of pronouns have been created or drawn from other languages. Some of those sets of pronouns include e/em/eir, xe/xem/xyr, ze/zie, hir/hir/hirs, and shkle/shkler/shklers. There are other pronoun options not listed here. Note, someone may not use pronouns at all and instead only use their name (see below). 

Using a set of pronouns

An individual may use a set of pronouns (more than one). For example, an individual could use the pronoun set “she/they,” which means you could refer to this person with the following pronouns: she/her/hers and they/them/theirs. Using more than one pronoun can: 1) be based on the situation, i.e. would an individual feel physically unsafe and/or uncomfortable if folks in the shared space knew this person used “she” and “they” pronouns; and 2) affirm an individual’s gender fluidity and expression, which operates outside the binary constructions of gender. Folks may be comfortable with you using their set of pronouns interchangeably or simultaneously; however, most often, sets of pronouns are not used at the same time. Ultimately, what someone is comfortable with is up to them.  

Using no pronouns (May be referred to as nullpronominal, nameself, pronounless)
An individual may not use pronouns at all and instead only use their name and/or initial. People may be nullpronomial for many reasons, including the rejection of traditional notions of gender, a lack of identification with any and all pronouns, etc. Again, what someone is comfortable with is up to them.

Why do pronouns matter?

The words we use to talk to and about a person can show that we respect, honor, and value that person. By using the correct pronouns to talk about someone, you show that you not only respect and value that person, but also that you respect the right of all people to be seen, valued, and respected.


As a general rule, it’s important to gently ask people what pronouns they use instead of assuming based on how a person looks, acts, or sounds. If someone uses a set of pronouns, it is important to know if they use one set in particular contexts versus another.


Learn more about pronouns and why they matter.

What is the difference between pronouns and "preferred" pronouns? 

Most often, individuals do not have a "preference" with their pronouns; they simply have pronounsUsing "preferred" as a qualifier can indicate that respecting someone's pronouns is optional.

To avoid the misconception that respecting someone's pronouns is optional, do not use "preferred" to describe pronouns. 

What if I mess up someone's pronouns and/or hear someone else mess up someone's pronouns?

If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, correct yourself, apologize, and move on. If you hear someone else use the wrong pronouns for someone, it may be appropriate to correct that person immediately, or to follow up privately with that person to make sure they know what pronouns to use.


Recognize that it is exhausting for trans and gender non-conforming folks to constantly have to correct those they are interacting with to ensure they are not misgendered. It is your responsibility to ensure that is not their reality. 

If I am cisgender (see definition above), do I still need to share my pronouns with others? 

Yes, for the following reasons:

  1. Being misgendered isn’t just a “transgender problem.” Many cisgender people struggle with people using the wrong pronouns, and even if this isn’t a problem for you, it’s helpful to be clear about how you want people to talk about you.
  2. Sharing your pronouns helps to raise awareness about what pronouns are and why they matter, and this is a chance to educate others.
  3. Sharing your pronouns signals that you’re an ally to transgender and non-binary people and to people who struggle with having their identities affirmed by others.

Is it grammatically appropriate to use "they" as a singular pronoun?

YES. Using "they" as a singular pronoun has been used in literature dating back as far as the late 14th century. In fact, many respected citation standards approve of and encourage writers to use "they" to avoid making any assumptions of gender.

Review additional resources regarding the appropriateness of using they as a singular pronoun.

There are "small things" in our everyday lives we can do that have a huge impact and can influence the institutional change we need. The "small stuff" is critical to achieving gender equity because it brings awareness and attention to the larger issues (i.e. ending transphobia/homophobia) and incites change in yourself and others. 

So, what's an example of an everyday action that seems small but has a huge impact? Let's consider how you use "you guys" as a collective term. 

In society, we often default to male-centric language. Some examples include referring to a police officer as a policeman, or referring to the general population as mankind etc. We even do this with phrases like, "hey, can you man the front desk while I go to the restroom?" Terms like this reflect our culture’s long history of treating maleness as the primary or default identity.

Another example is using the term "you guys" when referring to a group of people who are not all men. This phrase is commonly used as a generic, non-gendered term even though the word “guys” is defined as a term that’s used to refer to men or boys, and not to refer to women or girls. The phrase “you guys” may be painful to some members of our society, particularly women, transgender, or nonbinary people. The phrase also reinforces our culture’s long history of centering men and maleness. By choosing a different way to address a group of people, you can avoid causing pain and can help a wider of variety of people to feel included.

The things we do and say matter, even when it comes to the "small stuff." Changing your vocabulary moves us one step closer to dismantling the gendered hierarchy. It may feel "unnatural" at first but then it becomes easy.

We created language, so we can change it. 

Some alternative identifiers you can use in reference to a group of persons include: 

  • Folks/Folx
  • Y'all/You all 
  • Everyone

When in doubt, using someone's name is always a great option.




In an effort to assist the university community and the general public, the OE has gathered the list of resources above, including links to websites. Please note, the OE does not accept solicitations to partner, sponsor, promote, and/or publish content from external organizations.   

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Credit: Sara D. Anderson, Karissa Stolen, and Paulina Venzor, 2020, Office of Equity at the University of Colorado Denver and University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

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