Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression

Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression

Sex: The physical differences between humans. Typically given at birth and is termed assigned/biological sex by anatomical classification under the categories male, female, or intersex.

Gender Identity: This is the individual and internal gender experience for a human. This means that it’s their sense of being a woman, man, both, neither, or anywhere that falls on the gender spectrum.

Gender Expression: This is how a person displays/presents/expresses their gender. Gender expression includes things such as behavior, appearance, wardrobe, hair cut or styles, body language, voice, etc. It is important to note that a person’s chosen name and pronouns are ways of expressing gender. Check out our Pronouns Blog!


Why do we assign certain genders to things? 

Why is clothing gendered? 

Why are there certain stereotypes of men doing this, while women do this? 

Why is it deemed acceptable for women to show feelings (although not in the workplace), while it isn't for men?

Where did these “gender norms” come from and how can we challenge ourselves to break them?


Most of the time we perceive someone's gender through their gender expression; however, a better practice would be to start conversations with something like, “Hey, I’m Shep and I use she/her/hers pronouns, what about you?” This allows individuals, if they feel comfortable, to express their authentic selves. It will also give you key insights into how they identify and what pronouns you should use when referring to them.


Gender identity can be the same OR different from an individual's sex assigned at birth.

If an individual's gender identity or gender expression does not match their sex assigned at birth, the human can choose to fall under an umbrella term of transgender. Transgender does not mean that the individual needs to physically transition, but is the term used for when there is a difference between the assigned sex and the human's gender identity and/or gender expression. 

Gender transition is the process where an individual strives to align their gender identity with their outward appearance. Now, this can be a social transition, where the human might match their gender expression with their gender identity by using pronouns that feel correct to them and dressing the way they'd like, independent of societal norms. Others choose to undergo a physical transition, where they may modify their bodies through medical interventions.

Gender identity and gender expression do not have to match. This is why intentional, real, and safe conversations are so important to have with other humans. 

If you take away 1 thing from this, please remember creating a safe environment for people to live as their authentic selves can save lives. If you don’t feel like you have a safe place, come hang out with us. If you’re struggling to find yourself or need some support, please check out our resources.


Sources: Human Rights CampaignOntario Human Rights Commission