About a year ago, April 1, 20014, I write a blog entitled http://www.straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com/2014/01/14/not-your-mother’s alphabet-anymore/. A year later, the gender spectrum still confuses readers.  In fact, two days ago, a writer for Psychology Today put an ad on HARO (Help A Reporter Out) seeking a psychiatrist or psychologist to explain the difference between homosexuality and transgender issues for “heterosexuals who frequently combine and confuse them.”

Broad Misunderstood Meanings

People, thinking they mean the same, often confuse the terms sex and gender. Sex refers to biological differences that includes a person’s chromosomes and physical body. Intersex is a word to describe people who are born with both male and female sex markers (genitalia, hormones, chromosomes). It’s a newer term for hermaphrodite.


While gender is usually assigned at birth, along with sex, it refers to the behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits typically associated with one sex.  It’s not just about being male or female and being placed in a binary system of male and female, man and woman, and boy and girl. If you are cisgender, your physical body matches your gender identity.

It is possible to be gender-free or agender too.

What Is Gender Identity?

Some people identify as non-binary and consider themselves neither men or women. Gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identity as male or female. It can include one’s sex (man, woman, intersex), one’s identification of their sex (transman, transwoman), or one’s location on the masculine/feminine spectrum, and one’s attitude toward gender (genderqueer, gender fluid, etc.) People are gender queer if their gender expression and/or identity doesn’t exactly align with the gender assigned at birth. Gender fluid is gender identity in which one views one’s gender as fluid and constantly changing.

What Is Gender Expression?

Gender expression is connected to gender identity, but one’s gender identity cannot be assumed from one’s gender expression because a person may dress in a more “masculine” or androgenous manner, but identify as female.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation is a physical or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. Words used to describe one’s sexual orientation include homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual (attracted to people regardless of gender), asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone), gay, straight, and queer.

Transgender is not a sexual orientation and the most misunderstood.  It is associated with people whose gender identity do not match their assigned birth gender ‘though transgender people may identify as heterosexual. Many transgenders do not feel they are “cross dressing” but rather dressing to reflect the gender with which they identify.  Drag queens and Drag Kings do not necessary identify as trans even though they dress up as the opposite sex.

FTM (F2M) is a female-to-male transgender or transsexual person. FTM is synonymous with the term transman. MTF(M2F) is a male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.  MTF is synonymous with transwoman  A transgender person who has changed their sex through hormones and/or surgery has been said to have had sex- reassignment or sex-change surgery. A transvestite is NOT a transsexual. Think Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.

The rainbow spectrum is large, and its umbrella term contains many different groups. The terms reflect basically how the individual feels about his actual self.

When Your Child is Gay

When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know

For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting as well as gay and lesbian content. For the past two years, Wesley has concentrated almost exclusively on the lesbian and gay community, specifically on advising straight parents of gay children on how to be better parents and raise happy, well-adjusted adults

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