Sex & Gender

Sex characteristics

Male: someone who has male sex characteristics, such as XY chromosomes, a penis and testicles and testosterone

Female: someone who has female sex characteristics, such as XX chromosomes, a vagina, uterus and ovaries, and oestrogen.

Intersex: someone who has one of a variety of syndromes resulting in a mix of male and female sex characteristics, including chromosomal variations, hormonal variations and physical variations.

Assigned sex at birth: Doctors usually assign a gender to a baby based on their sex characteristics at birth. Where the baby has intersex characteristics, doctors will often assign a binary gender based on the appearance of the baby and surgeries that can be done to make the baby’s genitals match that assigned sex.

Systems: sexism, patriarchy, male privilege

Resistance: feminism

Gender identity 

Cisgender: someone whose gender identity (boy or man, girl or woman) matches their sex characteristics at birth (male or female).

Gender-diverse: someone whose gender identity varies from the binary of man/woman. For example, this includes people who identify as nonbinary, genderfluid, agender, demiboy, demigirl or a variety of other names.

Transgender: someone whose gender identity (boy or man, girl or woman) differs from their sex characteristics at birth (male or female). Some people whose gender expression (see next section) differs from the stereotypes for the sex they were assigned at birth will identify as transgender as well as gender-diverse, using terms such as ‘transmasc’ and ‘transfemme’. Some people will have gender-affirming surgeries or take hormones so that their genitals and/or secondary sex characteristics match their gender identity.

Note: More than half of people with intersex characteristics identify as the sex they are assigned at birth, so intersex is not synonymous with transgender.

Systems: cisnormativity, transphobia

Resistance: transgender pride, intersex pride

Gender expression 

Gender-conforming: Wears stereotypical feminine or masculine clothing, accessories and makeup (or no makeup) that matches their sex characteristics at birth (male or female).

Passing: Wears stereotypical feminine or masculine clothing, accessories and makeup (or no makeup) that matches their current gender identity and is perceived by others to be of that gender.

Gender non-conforming: Wears stereotypical feminine or masculine clothing, accessories and makeup (or no makeup) that differs from their sex characteristics at birth (male or female) or deliberately mixes up/plays with stereotypical clothing, accessories and makeup from all genders or aims to display no gender markers whatsoever in their clothing, accessories or makeup, resulting in an entirely androgynous (gender-neutral) appearance.

Not cis-passing: Wears stereotypical feminine or masculine clothing, accessories and makeup (or no makeup) that differs from their sex characteristics at birth (male or female) but continues to be perceived by others as the gender that matches their sex characteristics at birth. This is more common early in transition, when someone transitions later in life (has gone through the puberty associated with their sex assigned at birth) or when someone has chosen not to have gender-affirming surgeries or hormones commonly associated with gender reassignment. This applies to both gender-diverse people who choose not to be cis-passing and to transgender people who would like to be cis-passing but may not be able to afford surgeries or hormones, for example.

Systems: patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, cisnormativity

Resistance: feminism, LGBTIQA+ pride

Sexuality & Family


Sexual: A person is considered sexual if they experience primary sexual attraction to other people. Sexual attraction is a bodily response experienced by many people when they are in the proximity of, view images of or read about people they find aesthetically attractive or whose company they enjoy. A sexual person experiences attraction whether or not they are in a romantic relationship with the person.

Experiences some attraction: Many people do not experience sexual attraction with only physical stimuli or only experience primary sexual attraction occasionally. There are many different names for these variations in sexual attraction, including ‘demisexual’, which refers to someone who experiences sexual attraction only after a romantic relationship has begun (sometimes called ‘secondary attraction’) and ‘graysexual’, which refers to someone who might experience primary sexual attraction but infrequently.

Asexual: A person is considered asexual if they do not experience primary or secondary sexual attraction to other people. Some asexual people are ‘sex-repulsed’ meaning they find sex disgusting, some are ‘sex-neutral’ meaning they are indifferent to it, and some are ‘sex-positive’ meaning they enjoy sex but do not experience attraction prior to sex occurring. 

Note: This list of sexual identities is not exhaustive. Some people may also experience differing levels of romantic attraction or consider themselves aromantic (meaning they don’t experience romantic attraction at all). It is possible to be sexual but aromantic, romantic but asexual and all combinations in between.

Systems: allosexual normativity

Resistance: asexual pride


Heterosexual: This term generally refers to a person being exclusively sexually attracted to someone who is of the ‘opposite’ gender to them (or in some cases with the ‘opposite’ sex characteristics to them). It relies on binary definitions of gender and sex and therefore usually refers to sexual attraction between men and women (or among more conservative groups, between males and females).

Same-sex attracted: This term generally refers to a person being exclusively sexually attracted to someone who has the same sex characteristics as them. It generally relies on binary definitions of sex (and assumes sex and gender overlap) and therefore usually refers to being gay (sexual attraction between men) or lesbian (sexual attraction between women). More recent definitions are likely to refer to gender rather than sex characteristics or even to gender expression. This means that someone who presents as masculine and is attracted to masculine people might be considered gay.

Bisexual: This term generally refers to a person being sexually attracted to someone of their own gender and people of another gender. It is sometimes called ‘multi-gender attracted’. 

Pansexual: This term generally refers to a person being sexually attracted to people regardless of their gender or sex characteristics.

Queer: This term is used to describe a person who experiences sexual attraction to people in any of the above ways but doesn’t wish to define their sexual experiences using binary terms or labels. It may also be used by people who are nonbinary, trans or gender diverse even if they experience attraction exclusively to a particular gender since they themselves cannot be defined by a binary gender. It is also used as a term of resistance (for example, in queer theory) and as an umbrella term by some people (the queer community).

Systems: heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia

Resistance: LGBTQIA+ pride


Married: This refers to couples who have formalised their sexual and romantic relationship, either through a religious or civil ceremony and registered their relationship with a state registry.

Monogamous: This refers to couples who have decided to have sexual and romantic relations with each other exclusively for the duration of their relationship. Some people will choose to be with one person only for their whole life, while others will go from one monogamous relationship to another (often called ‘serial monogamy’). People of any sexuality can be monogamous.

Polyamorous: This refers to people in romantic relationships with more than one person at a time. Polyamorous relationships can take many forms, and the people in them may be of any sexuality.

Promiscuous: This refers to people in sexual relationships with more than one person at a time, usually without a romantic relationship. This can include single people who have a lot of casual sex, couples or polyamorous people with ‘open’ relationships (casual sex outside of the relationship as well as sex within the romantic relationship) or people who enjoy group sex.

Systems: heteronormativity, nuclear families

Resistance: polyamory movement; swingers


Fertile: A person who has gone through puberty and has the hormonal and physical capacity to conceive a child.

A parent: Someone who has responsibility for a child, whether as a biological parent, adoptive parent or foster parent.

Childless: Someone who does not have a child, either by choice or because they have not yet started a family.

Infertile: Someone who has gone through puberty but for a variety of reasons does not have the hormonal or physical capacity to conceive a child.

Systems:  heteronormativity, nuclear families

Resistance: feminism

Health, ability & ageing


Tall: Above average height. Studies have found that taller people earn more money and are more likely to get promotions.

Average height: The average height for men in Australia is 175.6cm and the average height for women is 161.8cm. There is no information about the average height for nonbinary or intersex people.

Short-statured: If someone is less than 147cm tall, they are considered ‘short-statured’. This can be caused by a variety of conditions including achondroplasia which causes disproportionate limbs or growth hormone deficiency which results in short-stature but with proportionate limbs. 

Systems: ableism

Resistance: disability pride


Attractive: People who have highly symmetrical faces and no blemishes are often considered more attractive by other people and studies have shown that they are more likely to receive job offers and promotions, and earn more.

“Plain”: Most people have no particular facial features that stand out. They are neither attractive nor unattractive.

Has facial difference: People born with a variety of medical conditions that affect the shape and appearance of the skull or face are said to have a ‘facial difference’. Facial difference can also refer to skin conditions that affect the appearance of a person, including conditions that occur after birth such as burns or scarring.

Systems: ableism

Resistance: disability pride


Slim: Our society promotes a culture of ‘athletic’ body shapes and ‘waif-like’ bodies through celebrity, models and athletes.

Average build: The average weight for an Australian man is 85.9kg. The average weight for an Australian woman is 71.1kg. There is no information about the average weight for nonbinary or intersex people.

Large, fat: People who are considerably heavier than average weight for their height. The measures used to determine this (body mass index) have been discounted but are still widely used by the medical profession.

Systems: ableism, fatphobia

Resistance: disability pride, fat pride, health at any size

Physical ability

Able bodied: Anatomically standard with no impairments of motor, neuron or hormone function.

Injured: Temporarily physically impaired.

Invisibly disabled: Physically impaired by motor, neuron or hormone dysfunction that is not visible and does not require visible assistive technology (although it may require regular medical treatment or use invisible or hidden assistive technology).

Visibly disabled: Has anatomical differences that are clearly visible or has permanent physical impairments that are clearly visible.

Uses assistive technology: Relies on tools and technologies such as wheelchairs, white cane, hearing aids, communication devices, walking frame, callipers and so on.

Systems: ableism

Resistance: disability pride

Physical health

Healthy: A person whose body is free of disease and whose organs and systems are functioning well for them.

Health issues: When someone has temporary illness or a medical issue with a body organ or system that can be rectified with medication or surgery.

Chronically ill, in chronic pain: Some issues may not respond to medical treatment, or medical treatment may not be sufficient to reduce pain or impairment completely. This includes management of terminal illnesses.

Systems: ableism

Resistance: disability pride

Mental ability

Neurotypical: A person whose mental capacity has no impairment and who meets a variety of psychological thresholds determined through testing. Since most people only go through testing if it’s suspected they are not neurotypical, there may be many people who are assumed neurotypical but are not.

Neurodivergent: A person whose thinking patterns diverge from the ‘typical’. This may be due to a neurological condition or a genetic condition causing chemical or neuron differences. Neurodivergence includes autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia and a variety of other learning difficulties. These divergences do not affect intellect (reasoning), which is covered separately below and may be comorbid (occur alongside the neurodivergence).

Intellectually disabled: A person whose mental capacity is impaired according to standardised IQ or memory tests.

Brain injury: A person with a brain injury may experience differences in ability depending on which part of the brain is injured. Some brain injury will affect memory, speech, mobility or executive function. Brain injury will not necessarily affect intellect (reasoning) but may be comorbid (occur alongside the brain injury).

Complex mental health: Mental health challenges such as bipolar, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder are now known to be related to biological profiles that affect brain chemistry and neurological functioning. Complex trauma has also been shown to change brain structure and therefore profiles such as complex PTSD are included in this category as well.

Systems: ableism

Resistance: disability pride, neurodivergence pride, mad pride

Mental health

Coping: Someone who is dealing with all of life’s challenges well. They manage their physical, mental and emotional health. Their financial situation is predictable and they are able to plan ahead for the future. They rate themselves as happy more often than not.

Struggling: Someone who regularly finds life’s challenges a complicated juggle. They may manage one or more aspects of their life at a time but find themselves having to neglect another aspect to do so. Most of their energy is taken up dealing with the immediate and there is little opportunity for future planning. They are likely to report anxiety and stress.

In crisis: Someone who is currently in danger. At least one of their physical, mental or emotional health is in collapse. They may be unable to meet financial obligations on a regular basis, be under physical threat or regularly believe themselves to be. They may use drugs and alcohol to excess. 

Systems: ableism, protestant work ethic

Resistance: mutual aid


Adult: Between the ages of 18 and 65 — a person of working age, with responsibilities including voting and a variety of legal entitlements.

Young: Technically, under the age of 18, although many categorise ‘youth’ to include 18–24 year olds. For the purpose of this exercise, young people are seen to have more power than older people because they are seen as a protected category and as future voters and workers.

Elderly: Over the age of 65. Although retirement age is becoming later and later, elderly people are more likely to be subjected to abuse in systems and services and less likely to be considered in funding. This is likely a combination of other factors in the wheel (physical frailty and disability, mental decline, unemployment etc) but age itself is a factor of discrimination based on assumptions of other deficits even when they are not present.

Systems: ageism

Resistance: university of the third age

Social status, class and education

Income & class

Wealthy: The top 10% of income earners in Australia earn around a third of the total income available. The top 1% of income earners in Australia started at $237,300 per year but averaged $438,100 per year (in 2021). Wealth — and specifically disposable income — affects a person’s ability to purchase goods and services outside of basic needs.

Middle-class: Although Australia theoretically doesn’t have a ‘class’ system, the majority of people in Australia would be considered middle-class. Around 60 per cent of Australians get their income from employment (as opposed to investments or other wealth). The median personal income in 2021 was $51,389.

Working class, poor: Households in the lowest 20 per cent of Australian income received only 7.4 per cent of total income in 2019–20. Many households in this group also have low wealth or are services a debt that is more than three times their annualised income. Poorer households may not have sufficient income to meet basic needs.

Systems: capitalism, class systems

Resistance: the other 98%, unions, unemployed workers union


Owns property: People who own property have more stability and choice about when they move house. If they own property outright or own more than one property, they may also be able to use that property as collateral to access money through loans.

Renting, sheltered: People who are renting or otherwise live in stable housing have the benefit of privacy, protection from the weather and a safe place to store their belongings. However, they have to rely on other people to maintain their dwelling and the owner of the property can terminate their lease and require them to move with a certain amount of notice. This leads to uncertainty.

Homeless: Someone who is experiencing homelessness doesn’t have a fixed address. They may sleep on friends’ couches, in vehicles such as caravans or their cars, or on the street. They are likely to have limited privacy, limited protection for their belongings, limited access to washing facilities and in many cases, they are at risk from over-policing of street sleeping.  

Systems: capitalism, wealth inequality

Resistance: renter’s rights, homeless rights


Employed: A person who is employed has regular income available to them. For the purposes of the privilege wheel, ‘employed’ includes people who draw a regular salary or income from investments despite not necessarily working full-time. Regular employment confers power both through earning capacity and through status.

Precarious employment: Employment that is casual, shift-work, contract work, piece work, cash-in-hand or otherwise unstable income. Precarious income generally means a person cannot plan ahead and may find it hard to meet basic needs from time to time.

Unemployed: People who are unemployed rely on a suite of low-level government payments that include unemployment benefits, disability payments, carer payments and pensions. These amounts are often below the ‘poverty line’ meaning that they do not cover the basic costs of living. In addition, there is often stigma around being unemployed leading to other types of discrimination.

Systems: capitalism

Resistance: unions, unemployed worker’s union


Urban: Living in a metropolitan area in a capital city. There is a high concentration of services, fresh food, arts and entertainment, medical services, a choice of schools and a variety of Universities.

Regional: Living in a large city outside the capital cities. It is likely that there is a high concentration of services, fresh food and some arts and entertainment. Local medical services are available but trips to the capital city would be required for some hospital procedures. Primary and high school education is available but likely only one University or only TAFE.

Rural: Living in a town or farmland that is within a reasonable distance of a major urban centre by road. It is likely that there will be primary schools and secondary schools, but no tertiary education. Local GPs would be available but no hospital. 

Remote: Defined by the ABS as living a certain distance by road from any urban centre, remote communities may have to travel long distances to access schools or medical services, and food prices and other services may be exorbitantly expensive due to the cost of transporting them.

Systems: urbanisation, capitalism

Resistance: degrowth, transition towns


Qualified: Has received a certificate or licence from a high school, University, TAFE or other trade school which qualifies the person to work in a particular career. The higher a qualification, the more likely it is that a person will be successful in job applications and promotions.

Limited education: Has attended some or all of high school but no further education. A person with a basic high school education can generally read and write, and work in roles that don’t require qualifications. These roles are generally lower paid.

No formal education: Did not attend formal schooling (note that this does not refer to home schooling or distance education where the person gained formal certification once schooling was complete). While a person can teach themselves and become highly successful, some people without formal education may have limited literacy and numeracy which has implications for employment and navigating society in general. Even with high skills, lack of formal qualifications is likely to be a barrier to many careers.

Systems: education privilege, credentialism

Resistance: homeschooling movement, unschooling, living experience

Race, culture, ethnicity


English speaker: A person whose first language is the official language of the country they live in benefits from this fluency in a variety of ways. Generally, they will be ‘accentless’ and treated with respect by default. They will be able to understand instructions, forms and education easily and be able to communicate their needs clearly.

English as a second language: A person whose second language is the official language of the country they live in may have challenges understanding instructions, forms and education easily and may have difficulties communicating their needs. They may experience discrimination due to their accent and even if they are highly fluent in the second language, may have invisible additional cognitive load caused by code-switching.

Speaks only a language other than English: A person who does not speak the official language of the country they live in is likely to have difficulty communicating basic needs and needs to rely on family members or formal services to provide translation. Translators may not translate accurately due to discrimination or self-interest.

Systems: Anglo-centrism, racism

Resistance: multiculturalism, indigenous language revival


No religion: In Australia, a large number of people identify as atheist or agnostic, meaning they don’t believe in a god or gods, or they have a philosophical position that there is no way to prove that god exists or that gods exist. As Australia is officially a secular country, this position experiences privilege. There are no repercussions for not following a religion, not attending a place of worship regularly. It is possible to get married, have children and participate in all aspects of life without involving religious organisations.

Majority religion: In most countries, there is one religion that is dominant for a greater proportion of the population. This religion will have its holidays publicly celebrated, often with businesses closed for the day. The day of worship for that religion will be a day of rest. A variety of other subtle cues will indicate that worship in this religion is encouraged and accepted, such as foods at the local supermarket, school plays telling the religious stories, TV shows and movies representing the celebrations and public greetings from strangers about the holiday, because of assumptions the religion is so widely observed.

Minority religion: In most countries, there are a variety of religions that are observed by groups of people that are not the dominant religion. If the religious group is large enough, there may be public celebrations of their religious holidays in community centres and there may be acknowledgement that the religious holidays are occuring, but businesses will not close for the day and staff are expected to work. Representations in media are far fewer and may be caricatures.

Targeted religion: At various times in history, observers of particular religions have been targeted for discrimination and sometimes genocide. Observing the religion may be outlawed. Wearing clothing that is sacred to the religion may be banned. Representations in media villainise adherents to the religion. Threats of violence and actual violence may be used against the communities and sometimes at the places of worship themselves.

Systems: islamophobia, anti-semitism, xenophobia, eurocentrism

Resistance: community pride, multiculturalism


Settler: A person whose family arrived in the country they live in before any of the living people currently in the family but who are not indigenous to the land. It generally refers to people who moved to a place as part of a colonising group, whether they moved by choice, were part of the military or police forces sent to manage the country, or were moved forcibly (eg: convicts). Despite the relative differences in power of these categories of people at the time of settlement, the descendants of settlers have similar levels of power today.

Migrant: A person who has moved from one country to another by choice, for a variety of reasons that include economic opportunity, love, career opportunity or just preference. Descendants of migrants may be referred to as ‘second-generation migrant’ (their parent immigrated, but the descendant was born in the new country or was an infant at the time of migration) or ‘third-generation migrant’ (their grandparent immigrated but their parent was born in the new country or was an infant at the time of migration). A migrant can generally return to their country of origin if they wish to visit and maintains cultural connections to family who remain in the country of origin.

Refugee: A person who has moved from one country to another in order to flee from warfare, persecution, climate or other untenable conditions. Also called ‘asylum-seekers’ until they are granted refugee status, this is a protected and formal category. Many refugees spend years in transient housing, camps or detention while waiting for permanent residency. A refugee is generally unable to return to their country of origin and may also find it challenging to maintain cultural connections to family who remain in the country of origin.

Dispossessed: A person who was forced to move from their homelands through colonisation or settlement. While dispossessed peoples may also become refugees, others will continue to live in designated areas of their homeland but with limited rights under the governance of settlers or colonisers. Dispossessed peoples are also sometimes referred to as ‘stateless’ if the result of the colonisation/settlement was a redrawing of boundaries resulting in their country no longer officially existing. A dispossessed person is forcibly severed from their country of origin and as the land is transformed through settlement, the cultural connections are also ruptured. Dispossession is part of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and may accompany other genocidal acts.

Systems: colonisation

Resistance: warriors of the aboriginal resistance, palestinian movement


Citizen: A person who is a citizen of a country can vote in that country once they reach the legal age, can obtain a passport entitling them to return to the country any time they leave and cannot be sent out of the country without their consent (except under exceptional circumstances such as extradition or conscription). A person can become a citizen by being born in a country to someone who is a citizen, or through applying for citizenship after meeting certain criteria, which generally include a certain length of residency.

Documented: A person who is ‘documented’ has the legal right to stay in a country for a certain period of time. The documents might include tourist, student or business visas, residency permits related to marriage, de facto relationship or humanitarian reasons. A person’s documents may be cancelled if they breach the conditions of their visa or permit and they might then be deported (removed from the country). They do not have the right to vote in the country and may also not have access to certain other services, including free or subsidised healthcare or education.

Undocumented: A person who is ‘undocumented’ is in a country without a visa or permit. A person who is undocumented and applies for asylum immediately falls under international protection, however someone who is undocumented for other reasons (because their visa expired, because they falsified documents, because their birth was never registered or because they entered a country through a non-standard route) may face prosecution and detention. A person who is undocumented will not be able to obtain identity documents and therefore will not be able to officially attend school, get healthcare, drive, work or participate in any other activity that requires proof of identity. They may work for cash-in-hand and may experience exploitation and threats related to revealing their undocumented status.

Systems: colonisation, imperialism, nationalism

Resistance: refugee movement, open borders movement, anarchism

Skin colour

Light/pale: People who have Anglo-Celtic, Germanic, Scandinavian or other European heritage often have paler skin that is light pink or peach-coloured in appearance. Even in countries where the majority of the population is darker-skinned, people with paler skin tones are more likely to be promoted and considered attractive.

Olive-skinned: People who have Asian, Jewish, Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern heritage often have olive or tan skin tones. 

Brown-skinned: People from South Asia, South America and many parts of Africa have brown skin tones.

Dark-skinned: Some people from parts of Africa, Australia and South Asia have very dark brown or black skin.

Systems: racism, colorism

Resistance: black lives matter, warriors of the aboriginal resistance, democracy in colour


Anglo: As Australia was colonised by the British, being of Anglo-Celtic ethnicity is afforded more power. This is manifested in the history of the West (Greece, Rome, England) being the standard history; English literature being taught as the default; the Westminster political system and a variety of other experiences that reinforce the dominance of Anglo culture.

European: European heritage is the second most common in Australia and the most similar to Anglo culture in that it shares Western values, scientific history and a similar history of colonisation and exploration. This can also be seen in common second languages taught in schools until recently, for example. The main reason for this was the existence of a discriminatory migration policy for the majority of the 20th century known as the ‘White Australia Policy’.

African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Latin American: Sometimes referred to as the ‘global south’, these countries were more likely to be the subject of colonisation rather than the coloniser (although China is an exception). These countries had their own scientific discoveries, empires, political systems, art and structures before they were colonised but this information is less likely to be mentioned in Australian schools. Although Chinese migrants arrived in Australia in the mid-1800s, other migration from these countries has been more recent, following the end of the ‘White Australia Policy’.

Indigenous: A person who is descended from the original inhabitants of the land. People of indigenous heritage are more likely to have been subject to colonisation practices, more likely to be dispossessed of their lands and less likely to have access to power.

Systems: racism, imperialism, colonisation

Resistance: warriors of the aboriginal resistance, democracy in colour

This glossary is designed to work with our Power, Privilege and Resistance poster or workshop handout. You can also make a donation towards our work so that we can continue to produce quality resources to support justice and equity.