Terms to Know

Please note: This list is not exhaustive as language is constantly changing, but these are some of the basic terms to know. It is very important to respect people’s desired self-identifications. One should never assume another person’s identity based on that person’s appearance. It is always best to ask people how they identify, including what pronouns they prefer, and to respect their wishes.

Asexual | A person who does not experience sexual attraction to anyone, and/or does not experience desire for sexual contact. Some people prefer the nickname “Ace”.

Allosexual | A person who experiences sexual attraction.

Bisexual | A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way, or to the same degree.

Cisgender | A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Gay | A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender and/or sex. Often associated with men. Some nonbinary people also identify with this term. Not all men who engage in same-gender sexual behavior identify as gay, and as such this label should be used with caution.

Gender | The range of characteristics associated with men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them by society.

Gender Dysphoria | Clinically significant distress caused when a person's assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify.

Gender Expression | External appearance of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender Identity | One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender Non-Binary | Any gender identity that does not fall within the strict categories of contemporary Western societies, which typically consider gender to be binary (man or woman). For some people who identify as non-binary there may be overlap with other concepts and identities like gender expansive and gender non-conforming.

Intersex | A person whose biological anatomy and/or genes vary from the expected male or female anatomy and/or genetics. An outdated term once used is “hermaphrodite”, which is no longer appropriate. Intersex is an umbrella term and there are around 20 variations of intersex that are included in this umbrella term.

Lesbian | A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to other women. Some nonbinary people also identify with this term.

LGBTQIA | An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual”. It can be expanded to include other identities as well, including ally, pansexual, two-spirit, etc.

Pansexual | A person who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to people regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or biological sex.

Queer | A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQ."

Questioning | A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sex | The identification of the biological/physical anatomy most often categorized as male or female.

Sexual Orientation | One’s sexual attraction to other people.

Transgender/Trans | An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Transitioning | The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.

Transsexual | A person whose gender identity is not congruent with their biological sex. These individuals may or may not pursue hormonal or surgical means to bring congruency to themselves. Some dislike this term as it is considered outdated and prefer to use transgender or trans.

AFAB/AMAB | Abbreviation for assigned female at birth/assigned male at birth. Older terminology included FTM (female to male) or MTF (male to female).

Agender | An umbrella term encompassing many different genders of people who commonly do not have a gender and/or have a gender that they describe as neutral. Many agender people are trans. As a new and quickly-evolving term, it is best you ask how someone defines agender for themselves.

Ally | A person who does not identify with a group but still advocates for that group’s rights.

Androgynous | Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.

Aromantic | A romantic orientation generally characterized by not feeling romantic attraction or a desire for romance. Aromantic people can be satisfied by friendship and other non-romantic relationships.

Biphobia | Prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward those who are or perceived to be bisexual.

Butch | A gender expression that fits societal definitions of masculinity. Usually used by queer women and trans people, particularly by lesbians. Some consider “butch” to be its own gender identity.

CisHet | An abbreviation for someone who's both cisgender and heterosexual.

Closeted | Describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Coming Out | The process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates their sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others.

Crossdresser | A cisgender person who dresses in clothing deemed inappropriate by society for the gender assigned at birth. The purposes is usually emotional comfort or erotic fulfillment.

Demisexual | A person who feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. This is considered to be part of the asexuality spectrum.

Drag King & Drag Queen | A person who crossdresses as a means of performance or entertainment.

Enby | A phonetic pronunciation of NB, short for nonbinary, or people who do not identify their gender as male or female. Some people who identify as non-binary are uncomfortable with the word, however, so many people will ask before using the word to refer to someone.

Femme | An identity or presentation that leans towards femininity. Femme can be an adjective (he’s a femme boy), a verb (she feels better when she “femmes up”), or a noun (they’re a femme). Although commonly associated with feminine lesbian/queer women, it’s used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.

Gender Fluid | A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations. Being fluid in motion between two or more genders.

Genderqueer | A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside of the dominant societal norm for their assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination of them.

Heteronormative | A term that describes the marginalization of non-heterosexual relationships and reinforces the binary system of viewing gender.

Homophobia | The fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are perceived to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Lipstick Lesbian | Usually refers to a lesbian with a feminine gender expression. Can be used in a positive or a derogatory way, depending on who is using it. Is sometimes also used to refer to a lesbian who is seen as automatically passing for heterosexual.

Outing | Exposing someone’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity to others without their permission. Outing someone can have serious repercussions on employment, economic stability, personal safety or religious or family situations.

Passing | Being perceived by others as a particular identity/gender or cisgender regardless how the individual in question identifies, e.g. passing as straight, passing as a cis woman, passing as a youth. This term has become controversial as “passing” can imply that one is not genuinely what they are passing as.

Polyamory | Denotes consensually being in/open to multiple loving relationships at the same time.

Same-Gender Loving | A description for gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, particularly in the African American and Black community. It emerged in the early 1990s as a culturally affirming African American LGBQ identity.

Transphobia | The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.

Two-Spirit | A Native American term for LGBTQIA+ individuals with dual or multiple genders. It can mean having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. It has different meanings in different communities.

This list has been revised using resources from the following organizations: Rowan University, University of Southern California, University of Massachusetts, Human Rights Campaign, Trans Student Education Resources, The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), GLAAD. Updated May 2021.

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