The glossary is designed to provide basic definitions of words and phrases commonly used in discussions about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and related issues. All language is constantly evolving; new terms are introduced, while others fade from use or change their meaning over time. This remains true for the following terms and definitions. For terms that refer to people’s identities, people must self-identify for these terms to be appropriately use to describe them.
Agender: A person who is internally ungendered or does not have a felt sense of gender identity. (From UC Berkeley Gender Equality Resource Center)
Ally: A member of the majority or dominant group who works to end oppression by recognizing their own privilege and supporting or advocating for the oppresses population. For example, a straight cisgender person who supports and stands up for the equality of LGBT people.
Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction, but may experience other forms of attraction (e.g., intellectual, emotional). Asexual people may also identify as “bisexual”, “gay”, “lesbian”, pansexual”, “queer”, “straight”, and many more.
Biphobia: Fear of, hatred of, or discomfort with people who are bisexual.
Bisexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to two genders. For example, a person attracted to some male-identified people and some female-identifies people.
Closet: Used as slang for the state of not publicizing one’s sexual identity, keeping it private, living an outwardly heterosexual life while identifying as LGBT, or not being forthcoming about one’s identity. At times, being in the closet also means not wanting to admit one’s sexual identity to oneself.
Coming Out: To disclose one sexual identity or gender identity. It can mean telling others or it can refer to the time when a person comes out to him/herself by admitting that his/her identity is not what was previously assumed. In some situations, a heterosexual may fell the need to come out about her or his identity.
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity and expression are aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Crossdresser: Individual who dresses in the “opposite” gender clothing for a variety of reasons, sometimes for sexual pleasure. Crossdressing is not indicative of sexual orientation. This term replaces the sometimes pejorative term transvestite.
Demisexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong connection with someone.
Fluid: (sexually fluid) – This generally indicates an individual who’s emotional, physical, romantic attractions are not stagnant and vary over time & degrees.
(gender fluid) – This generally indicates an individual who’s gender identity and/or expression are not stagnant and vary over time & degrees.
FTM: An abbreviation for female-to-male transsexual. This person most likely prefers masculine pronouns.
Gay Male: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of the same gender. “Gay” often refers to a male-identified person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other males. “Gay” should not be used as an umbrella term to refer to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: the term “LGBT” is more accurate and inclusive.
Gender: A set of cultural identities, expressions and roles – codified as feminine or masculine – that are assigned to people, based upon the interpretation of their bodies, and more specifically, their sexual and reproductive anatomy. Since gender is a social construction, it is possible to reject or modify the assignment made, and develop something that feels truer and just to oneself.
Gender Expression: The multiple ways (e.g., behaviors, dress) in which a person may choose to communicate gender to oneself and/or to others.
Gender Identity: How an individual identifies in terms of their gender. Gender identities may include, “male”, “female”, “androgynous”, “transgender”, “genderqueer”, and many others, or a combination thereof.
Gender Role: Norms of expected behavior for men and women assigned primarily on the basis of biological sex; a sociological construct which varies from culture to culture.
Genderqueer: A person who has a gender identity and’or gender expression that does not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. People who identify as “genderqueer” may or may not also identify as “transgender”.
Heteronormativity: Processes through which social institutions and policies reinforce the notion that there are only two possibilities for sex, gender, and sexual attraction; male/masculine/attracted to women and female/feminine/attracted to men.
Heterosexism: Norms and behaviors that result from the assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. This system of oppression assumes that heterosexuality is inherently normal and superior and negates LGBTQ peoples’ lives and relationships.
Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, or relationally attracted to members of the opposite sex. Often called a straight person.
Homophobia: Fear of, hatred of, or discomfort with people who love and sexually desire members of the same sex. Homophobic reactions often lead to intolerance, bigotry, and violence against anyone not acting within socio-cultural norms of heterosexuality. Because most LGBTQ people are raised in the same society as heterosexuals, they learn the same beliefs and stereotypes prevalent in the dominant society, leading to a phenomenon know as internalized homophobia.
Homosexual: The clinical term, coined in the field of psychology, for people with a same-sex sexual attraction. The word is often associated with the idea that same-sex attractions are a mental disorder, and is therefore offensive to some people.
Intersex: An umbrella term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive and/or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the medical definitions of female or male.
Lesbian: A person who is female-identified and who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other females.
LGBT or LGBTQ: An umbrella term referring to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. Sometimes the acronym is written as LGBTQ, with the “Q” referring to those who identify as queer and/or questioning.
Lifestyle: A word often used outside the LGBTQ community to describe life as an LGBTQ person, e.g. “the homosexual lifestyle.” Many people find this word inappropriate because it trivializes identity, implies that sexual orientation is a choice, and ignores the variety of lifestyles that LGBTQ people live.
MSM: An abbreviation for male-to-female transsexual. The person most likely prefers feminine pronouns.
MTF: An abbreviation for male-to-female transsexual. This person most likely prefers feminine pronouns.
Pansexual: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some people, regardless of their gender identity.
Polyamory: The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with full knowledge and consent of all the people involve.
Preferred Gender Pronouns (PGPs): The pronoun or set of pronouns that a person would like others to call them by, when their proper name is not being used. Traditional examples include “she/her/hers”, “he/him/his”. Some people prefer gender-neutral pronouns, such as “ze/hir/hirs”, “zie/zir/zirs”, “ey/em/eirs”, “per/per/pers”, “hu/hum/hus”, or “they them/theirs”. Some people prefer no pronouns at all.
Queer: An umbrella term used to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to dominant, societal norms. While it is used as a neutral, or even a positive term among many LGBT people today, historically “queer” was used as a derogatory slur.
Questioning: A person who is in the process of understanding and exploring what their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and gender expression might be.
Sapiosexual: A person who is attracted to intelligence.
SGL (Same-Gender Loving): How some African-Americans prefer to describe their sexual orientation, seeing “gay” and “lesbian” as primarily white terms. “Same-Sex Loving” is also in use.
Sex: 1. A biological term dividing a species into male or female usually on the basis of sex chromosomes (XX = female, XY = male); hormone levels, secondary sex characteristics, and internal and external genitalia may also be considered criteria. 2. Another term for sexual behavior or gratification. Sex is a biological fact or a physical act.
Sexuality: The complex range of components which make us sexual beings; includes emotional, physical, and sexual aspects, as well as self-identification (including sexual orientation and gender), behavioral preferences and practices, fantasies, and feelings of affection and emotional affinity.
Sexual Orientation: The direction of one’s sexual interest toward members of certain sexes. Can involve fantasy, behavior, and self-orientation; a person’s general makeup or alignment in terms of partner attraction. Includes (among others) a same-sex orientation, male-female orientation, a bisexual orientation, and a pansexual orientation.
Third Gender: A term for those who belong to a category other than masculine or feminine. For example, Native American two-spirit people, hijira in India, kathoeys in Thailand and Cambodia, and travestis in Brazil.
To Pass: To represent one’s self as a member of a social group other than one’s own. For example, a lesbian who passes for straight, or a biological man who is perceived to be a woman.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity and/or expression are not aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth. “Transgender” is often used as an umbrella term (and denoted as trans*) encompassing a large number of identities related to gender identity different than sex assigned at birth.
Transgender: An umbrella term for those individuals whose gender identity does not match with that assigned for their physical sex includes, among others, transsexuals, genderqueer people, and crossdressers. In its general sense, it refers to anyone whose behavior or identity falls outside of stereotypical expectations for their gender. Transgender people may identity as straight, gay, bisexual, or some other sexual orientation. Sometimes shortened as trans.
Transphobia: Fear of, hatred of, or discomfort with people who are transgender or otherwise gender non-normative.
Transsexual: Term referring to a person whose gender identity consistently differs from what is culturally associated with his/her biological sex at birth. Some choose to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
Two-Spirit: Contemporary term chosen to describe Native American and Canadian First Nation people who identify with a third gender, implying a masculine and a feminine spirit in one body. Replaces the offensive term berdache.
WSW: An abbreviation for women who have sex with women. This term emphasizes the behavior, rather that the identities of the individuals involved.
The above Glossary of LGBT-Related Terms was adapted from:
- GLSEN Sage Space Kit (www.glsen.org).
[Click on the following link to download a pdf file containing many of the above definitions from GLSEN Safe Space Kit: LGBT-Related Terms]
- LGBTQ basic Glossary updated
[Click on the above link to download another version of many of the above definitions from Washington State University]
- The Gender Equality Resource Center at UC Berkley: (geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definition_of_terms)
- Gender Unicorn for Trainings
Graphic by TSER (Trans Student Educational Resources)