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Gender and Sexuality

Language is shifting and changing all the time, as is society’s understanding of gender and sexuality. Gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.

Visit MSU’s Name, Gender, Sexual Identity and Pronoun Data Policy for a list of suggested data labels to use.

  • Legal Name: The name that appears on an individual’s legal documents (i.e., passport, driver’s license, social security card, etc.)

  • Name: The name used by an individual for self-identification should always be used to refer to that individual unless required or requested. Do not “deadname,” or use someone’s legal name in direct communication with the individual. In addition, weigh the risks of potentially outing or revealing their gender and sexuality to others through their name.

  • Gender: A person’s deep-seated, internal sense of who they are as a gendered being, specifically: woman, man, cisgender, transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, agender and two-spirit individuals. Some legal documents now allow for a person’s gender to match their gender presentation.

  • Legal sex: The gender marker on a person’s legal documents (such as a birth certificate or personal identification). This is frequently but not always the same as their birth-assigned sex. Most transgender, nonbinary and genderqueer people do not have legal documents that match their gender identity. 

  • Birth-assigned sex: The designation that refers to a person’s biological, hormonal and genetic composition and should not be confused with gender. This is the sex marker on a person’s birth certificate – typically, intersex, female or male. One’s sex is typically assigned at birth and classified as male or female. Birth-assigned sex is preferred to “assigned-at-birth,” which implies that sex assignment is without the agency of the individual.

  • If you use the term transgender, also consider using cisgender. Not including cisgender implies that cisgender identities are more valid than transgender identities. Note that cisgender is not synonymous with heterosexual, which refers to sexual orientation. 

  • Sexual Orientation: An individual’s sexual orientation is different from gender. It refers to a person’s physical, romantic and emotional attraction. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted to men may identify as a straight woman. 

  • LGBTQIA2S+ is often used at MSU to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer, intersex, asexual and two-spirit groups. The plus sign refers to the inclusion of all identities that are not specified in the acronym. However, LGBTQIA+ is the recommended umbrella term for communications with external audiences.

  • Pronouns: Do not assume an individual’s pronouns based on appearance. Always use the pronouns someone uses to refer to themselves or ask for the person’s pronouns. Do not refer to someone’s pronouns (or name) as their “preferred” pronouns. Simply call them “pronouns.” Likewise, “preferred” name implies a person’s name is optional.

  • While pronouns may be placed in parentheses in a signature line, bio or nametag, do not put pronouns in parentheses following a person’s name in a story unless requested. Just use their pronouns. When unsure or unable to confirm someone’s pronouns, the best option is to refer to the person using their name or default to the gender-neutral ‘they.’

  • Pride: Capitalize Pride when referring to specific events or organizations honoring LGBTQIA+ communities and on subsequent references. For example, Pride Month is commonly called Pride for short and is capitalized as an adjective in terms: “at the Pride parade.” Lowercase pride in the context of generally having pride in one’s LGBTQIA+ sexual orientation or gender, including pride events or the pride flag.

  • It is common to reference binary genders, him and/or her, when speaking to large groups of people or providing examples. De-center the binary and use him, her, they or simply use the gender-inclusive terms: people, folks, everyone, etc.

  • When using courtesy titles, which include Mx., Miss, Ms., Mrs. and Mr. allow the option to enter another prefix or select none. Do not automatically assign honorifics based on a person’s assumed gender.

  • When describing events, identify the locations of nearby all-gender and accessible restrooms so that guests can plan accordingly.

  • Go to the race and ethnicity portion of the guide for information on intersecting identities, including Latine/x and two-spirit.

  • Avoid the term “female” as a noun for women. The pejorative term reduces women to their assumed biological anatomy.

  • Avoid the term “nickname,” which implies that a person’s name is a substitute for their legal name.

  • "Queer" is originally a pejorative. It is an umbrella term covering people who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Avoid using the term unless people or organizations use the term to identify themselves.

  • "Sexual preference.” Use “sexual orientation.”

  • “Homosexual.” Use “gay” or “lesbian.”

  • “Hermaphrodite.” Use “intersex.”

  • “Closeted.” Use “not out.”

  • “Normal/norm” to refer to people who are not transgender, gender fluid or nonbinary.

  • “Sex change.” Use “gender transition.”

  • “Transsexual” or “transgendered.” Use “transgender” only as an adjective.

Also refer to the gender-neutral writing entry in the MSU Editorial Style Guide.

  • Instead of “freshman” and “upperclassman,” use “first-year” and “advanced.” Consider using “second-year,” “third-year” and “fourth-year” in place of “sophomore,” “junior” and “senior” to move away from male-centric and western father-son language.

  • Instead of “emeritus,” use “emeritum.”

  • Technically, “alumni” is the masculine plural form of “alumnus” but is often used to refer to gender neutral graduates. Consider using “graduate(s)” or “alum(s)” as alternatives. Does not apply to office or established group names.

  • Instead of “women’s/men’s restroom”, use “restroom” or “all-gender,” ”family” or ”single-occupant restroom.”

  • Use inclusive terms, such as “chair,” “spokesperson,” “parents,” “siblings,” “relative,” “family,” “companion,” “significant other,” etc.