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Glossary of LGBTQ-Related Terms

The glossary is designed to provide basic definitions of words and phrases commonly used in discussions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer 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.

As a start, here is a video with that identifies some of the gender names:

  • Gender Names: Video titled “Can you name all the genders?”

Below are more definitions:

Affirmed Gender: The gender to which someone has transitioned. This term is often used to replace terms like “new gender” or “chosen gender”, which imply that the current gender was not always a person’s gender or that their gender was chosen rather than simply in existence.

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 term used to describe someone who does not identify as LGBTQ but who is supportive of LGBTQ equality in its many forms and through a wide variety of different expressions, both personal and private.

Androgynous: A non-binary gender identity, having both male and female characteristics. Can be used to describe people’s appearances or clothing.

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. This term is a self-identity.

Assigned Gender: The gender that is given to an infant at birth based on the infant’s external genitals. This may or may not match the person’s gender identity in adulthood.

Assigned Sex: The sex (male, female, or intersex) that is assigned to an infant at birth.

Biological Sex: Sex determined by the physical characteristics of the body at birth, such as genetic markers and internal/external genitalia. Biological sex may differ from identity.

Biphobia: Fear of, hatred of, or discomfort with people who are bisexual.

Bisexual: A person who is emotionally, and/or physically attracted to men and women. This is sometimes stated as “bi”. People who are bisexual need not have had equal sexual experience with both men and women and need not have had any sexual experience at all; it is attraction that determines orientation.

Cisgender: A term used to describe an individual whose gender identity aligns with the one typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. This is a term that is preferable to “non-trans”, “biological”, or “natal” man or woman.

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: For people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, the process of self-acceptance that continues throughout one’s life. People often establish a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity to themselves first and then may decide to reveal it to other. Coming out can also apply to the family and allies of people who are LGBTQ. There are many different degrees of being out: some may be out to friends only, some may be out publicly, and some may be out only to themselves. It’s important to remember that not everyone is in the same place when it comes to being out, and to respect where each person is in that process of self-identification. It is up to each person, individually, to decide if and when to come out or disclose.

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity and expression are aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Cross-dresser: Someone who wears the clothes typically worn by another gender, sometimes only in their home, or as part of sexual play, and sometimes at public functions. It can be a self-identity. Crossdressing is not indicative of sexual orientation. This term is not interchangeable with transgender, and some people who cross dress may consider themselves to be part of the trans community, while others do not. (This is a newer word for the older and less preferred term “transvestite” that is sometimes still used in this context.)

Demisexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong connection with someone.

Disclosure: The act or process of revealing one’s transgender or gender nonconforming identity to another person in a specific instance. Related to, but not the same as, coming out.

Drag: The act of dressing in gendered clothing and adopting gendered behaviors as a part of the performance. Some perform in drag for entertainment, others as a political commentary, and others see it as personal enjoyment.

Drag King/Drag Queen: Someone who dresses in either male (king) or female (queen) clothing as performance, People of all assigned sexes and gender identities can perform drag, and it does not necessarily follow that the individual will identify as transgender.

Female-to-Male (FTM): A term that describes someone who was assigned a female sex and gender at birth and currently has a male gender identity. The individual may or may not have had surgery or taken hormones to physical alter their appearance. Affirmed male is sometimes the preferred terminology.

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: The adjective used to describe people whose emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction is to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people).  People who are gay need not have had any sexual experience: it is the attraction that helps determine orientation. “Gay” often refers to a male-identified person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some other males. In contemporary contexts, “lesbian” is often a preferred term for women. People who are gay need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation. “Gay” should not be used as an umbrella term to refer to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: the term “LGBTQ” 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-affirming Surgery: Surgical procedures that help people adjust their bodies in a way that more closely matches or desired gender identity. Not every transgender person will desire or have resources for surgery. This should be used in place of the older and often offensive term “sex change”.

Gender Binary: The concept that there are only two genders, male and female, and that everyone must be one or the other.

Gender Dysphoria: A mental health diagnosis that is defined as a “marked incongruence between ones” experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender”. This term replaced Gender Identity Disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition.

Gender Expression: The manner in which a person chooses to communicate their gender identity to others through external means such as clothing and/or mannerisms.  This communication may be conscious or subconscious and may or may not reflect their gender identity or sexual orientation. While most people’s understandings of gender expressions relate to masculinity and femininity, there are countless combinations that may incorporate both masculine and feminine expressions – or neither – through androgynous expressions. The important thing to remember and respect is that every gender expression is valid.

Gender Fluid: Someone who embodies characteristics of multiple genders, or shifts in gender identity (see genderqueer).

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. One’s gender identity does not always correspond to biological sex (i.e., a person assigned female at birth identifies as male or a person assigned male at birth identifies as female). Awareness of gender identity is usually experienced in infancy and reinforced in adolescence.

Genderless: Not identifying with a particular gender.

Gender Marker: A legal indicator of one’s gender. This can include one’s gender on a passport, birth certificate, license, or insurance card.

Gender Neutral: Not gendered. Can refer to language (including pronouns), spaces (like bathrooms), or identities (being genderqueer, for example).

Gender Nonconforming: A person who views their gender identity as one of many possible genders beyond strictly female or male. Such people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the male and female binary paradigm. This is an umbrella term (which for some is outdated) that encompasses other terms such as “gender creative”, “gender expansive”, “gender variant”, “genderqueer”, “gender fluid”, “gender neutral”, “bigender”, “androgynous”, or “gender diverse”.

Gender Norm: Societal expectations about how people of different designated genders are supposed to act, live, and look.

Gender Policing: Enforcing gender norms and attempting to impost gender-based behaviors on another person.

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”. This can include having no gender (agender), being androgynous, or having elements of multiple genders.

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.

Gender Variant: A term, often used to describe children and youth, that describes those who dress, behave, or express themselves in a way that does not confirm with dominant gender norms. Some people do not use this term because they feel it suggests these identities are abnormal. (See Gender Nonconforming.)

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: An outdated 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 considered derogatory and offensive to some people, as opposed to the preferred terms, “gay” and “lesbian”.

Intersex/Disorders of Sex Development (DSD): A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy or genetic construct that does not fit the typical definitions of male and female. Not everyone who has one of these conditions identifies as intersex. This term is not interchangeable with transgender. For more information on intersex-related issues, visit the Intersex Society of North America at isna.org.

Lesbian: A person who is female-identified and who is emotionally, romantically and/or physically attracted to some other females. People who are lesbians need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.

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. Sometimes it is stated as “GLBT” (gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender). Occasionally, the acronym is stated as “LGBTA” to include allies.

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.

Male-to-Female (MTF): A term that describes someone who was assigned a male sex and gender at birth and currently has a female gender identity. The individual may or may not have had surgery or taken hormones to physically alter their appearance. Affirmed female is sometimes a preferred term for MTF.

Medical Transition: The process of taking hormones or undergoing surgical procedures in order to change one’s body in a way that affirms one’s gender identity. Surgical procedures are sometimes discussed separately as surgical transition.

Pansexual: A person who is emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction is to people of all gender identities and biological sexes. People who are pansexual need not have had any sexual experience; attraction determines orientation. Sometimes referred to as omnisexual.

Physical Transition: The process of making physical changes to the body, such as taking hormones, having surgery, or undergoing procedures as part of a gender transition.

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. It is polite to ask for a person’s preferred gender pronoun when meeting them for the first time.

Queer: An umbrella term used to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to dominant, societal norms. A term currently used by some people – particularly youth – to describe themselves and/or their community. Some value the term for its defiance, some like it because it can be inclusive of the entire community, and others find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. While it is used as a neutral, or even a positive term among many LGBTQ people today, historically “queer” was used as a derogatory slur. Due to its varying meanings, this word should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as queer (i.e., “My cousin self-identifies as queer.”)

Questioning: A term used to describe those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression,or a combination thereof.

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. Sex is often compared or interchanged with gender, which is thought of as more social and less biological, though there is some considerable overlap.

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: Emotional, romantic, fantasy, or sexual feelings toward other people. People who are straight experience these feelings primarily for people of the opposite sex. People who are gay or lesbian experience these feelings primarily for people of the same sex. People who are bisexual experience these feeling for people of both sexes. People who are asexual experience no sexual attraction, while pansexuals are attracted to people of all gender identities and biological sexes. Other terms describing sexual orientation include (but are not limited to) pansexual and polysexual. Sexual orientation is part of the human condition, while sexual behavior involves acting on one’s sexual orientation. A person’s sexual behavior does not define who they are with regard to their sexual orientation; it is the attraction that determines their orientation.

Social Transition: Transitioning in the context of everyday life and social space, without necessarily taking steps to medically transition.

Standards of Care (SOC): Guidelines developed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) to assist health providers in caring for transgender people.

Stealth: A term used to describe transgender individuals who do not disclose their trans status in their public lives.

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 including, among others, transsexuals, genderqueer people, and cross-dressers. Transgender people may also identity as straight, gay, bisexual, or some other sexual orientation.

Transition: The process one goes through to discover and/or affirm their gender identity. This can, but does not always, include taking hormones, having surgeries, or going through therapy.

Trans Man: A person who is transgender who was assigned female at firth and identifies as a man.

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. Some people who identify as transsexual do not identify as transgender and vice versa.

Trans Woman: A person who is transgender who was assigned male at firth and identifies as a woman.

TGNC: Acronym which stands tor trans and gender nonconforming. Often used when talking about groups of people with diverse gender identities.

Third Gender/Third Sex: A term that incorporates genders other than male or female such as the Fa’afafine in Samoa, Kathoey or Ladyboys in Thailand, and Hijras in India and Pakistan. Some people in the United States, especially in communities of color, use the term third gender to self-identify.

Two-Spirit: A self-identity adopted by some Native American and Canadian First Nation people who take on a multitude of gender roles, identities, and expressions. Those who identify as Two Spirit often see themselves as embodying both masculine and feminine spirits and characteristics. 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:

  1. 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]
    and/or
  2. LGBTQ basic Glossary updated
    [Click on the above link to download another version of many of the above definitions from Washington State University]
  3. The Gender Equality Resource Center at UC Berkley: (geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definition_of_terms)
  4. Gender Unicorn for Trainings
    Graphic by TSER (Trans Student Educational Resources)
  5. Guide to being a trans ally: from the straight for equality which is a program of PFLAG National

 

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