Seeing Gender as a Spectrum: Some helpful definitions to start a conversation

qsy washroom sign photoYou may have seen this sign at our studio. Perhaps it makes sense to you, or maybe you’d like to know more background about what it means.

At QSY, we view gender as a spectrum, and while many people feel completely comfortable going into a “women’s changeroom” or a “men’s changeroom”, there are others who feel they don’t fit into these ends of gender spectrum.

To really (over) simplify things, we could say:

  • Sex is in your genitals and chromosomes
  • Gender is in your head/our culture
  • Orientation/Attraction is in your heart

As the “Genderbread” image below illustrates really well, gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation are experienced by many people as a continuum or something more fluid than our traditional terms and roles suggest.


To broaden our understanding and create safer spaces at our studio for all genders, orientations, and expressions it can be really helpful to learn some definitions for gender, sex, and other terms that points to these various identities along the continuums.

Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex (i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female). There are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.*

Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that society associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.*

Queer was originally a pejorative word for gay. Queer is now reclaimed by many gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons as a self-affirming umbrella term.

Transgender or transexual (often abbreviated as trans) describe a person whose gender identity or gender expression is not matching the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc; some individuals that identify as trans may find conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable to them.  

Cisgender and cissexual (often abbreviated to simply cis) describes a person whose experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Heteronormativity is the idea that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with “natural” roles in life. It asserts that heterosexuality is the only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. In a heteronormative view, there “should be” confluence between biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles.

*Definitions drawn from American Psychological Association

“All-Genders,” as seen on our individual washroom/changeroom sign, is our way of recognizing that a third option is needed, and that the washroom is a space for those who don’t want to use a specifically gendered changeroom.

If you’re wanting to learn more, this is a quick and engaging video about the infinite continuums of gender, sex, and identity:

More on the Genderbread diagram and what it means:

If you’ve never heard of or thought about cisgender, here’s a helpful list of things that people who are cis might take for granted. link to a cisgender checklist:

This post was written by Leena Miller Cressman & Emma Dines.


  1. AndyCee says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!!!

    FYI, the newest version of the Genderbread Person was published a month ago. It no longer uses a continuum, it identifies intensity in addition to identification, it separates romantic and sexual attraction, and it places less emphasis on labels. Check it out!

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