The Big Four


One way to understand the ideas discussed in this glossary is to imagine humans as each having four different parts of who they are: their sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction. These are related, but differ because there is no default combination of these categories.

For example, just because someone ia a certain sex, does not mean we know their gender identity.
Just because someone has a certain gender identity, doesn’t mean their gender expression will look how we expect.
Just because we know someone’s gender identity, does not mean we know who they are attracted to.



a biological categorization, assigned at birth by doctors and parents.

— Doctors and parents assign sex based on genitals and internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, hormones, and more. These can exist in many different combinations.
— When doctors say “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl”, they usually mean “this baby is male” or “this baby is female”. People can also be intersex.


the way you feel about yourself and your gender; Your internal sense of who you are.

— Your gender identity may or may not “match” your sex in the way that society expects. For example, someone who was assigned male at birth may grow up to identify as a woman.


the way you express your gender on the outside.

— People can express their gender through clothing, hairstyle, voice, and behaviour.
— Some words to describe gender expression are masculine and feminine.
— Someone’s gender expression may not “match” their gender identity in the way society expects. For example, a girl can wear masculine clothing.


who you like, love, or are attracted to.

— A more common term is “sexual orientation”. CANVAS uses the word “attraction” because there are many types of attractions, not just sexual.
— People may use words like
lesbian, straight, bisexual, and more to describe their attraction.

Diamond shape with silhouette of a human shape in the centre. At corners of diamond are terms “gender identity” (surrounded by thought bubbles), “gender expression” (surrounded by t-shirts), “attraction” (surrounded by hearts), “sex” (surrounded by DNA).