Definitions

This is far from a complete or exhaustive list. What’s here is an introduction to gender and sexual identity centered around the most commonly used terms.

Community Words

+ – added to the end of LGBTQ to indicate a range of other sexual and gender identities outside of the standard Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer.

AFAB – stands for ‘assigned female at birth.’

Agender – someone who identifies themselves as being without gender.

Ally – someone who is supportive of and advocates for the LGBTQ community, but does not identify as LGBTQ+.

AMAB – stands for ‘assigned male at birth.’

Asexual – someone who does not experience sexual attraction.

Assigned sex – at birth, medical professionals assign either ‘male’ or ‘female’ identities to babies based on the development of their genitals. This does not always describe an individual’s gender identity or even their later physical appearance.

Binary – when something is divided into only two sides. For example, saying something is either hot or cold, without any variation in between.

Biphobia – the particular set of prejudices and fears that people express towards bisexual people. Both straight and LGT people often exclude bisexual people from their communities or pressure bisexual people to identify as either straight or gay.

Bisexual – someone who is attracted to all genders.

Cisgender – describes someone whose gender identity matches the gender assigned to them at birth. Commonly abbreviated to ‘cis.’

Cisgender privilege – the system of laws, commonly held beliefs, and societal attitudes that gives cisgender people an unearned advantage over transgender people.

Closeted – someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, but not open about that identity to everyone.

Coming out – the process of someone becoming open about their LGBTQ+ identity.

Conversion therapy – also known as ‘reparative therapy,’ this is an extremely harmful practice conducted by therapists and non-medical personnel that attempts to make an LGBTQ+ person “straight.” More information about the harm caused by conversion therapy can be found here on the Human Rights Campaign’s website.

FTM – an abbreviation for ‘female to male.’ This is used to describe someone who was assigned female gender at birth, but identifies as male.

Gay – describes a man who is exclusively attracted to other men. Note: within the LGBT community, people of various identities may also refer to themselves as ‘gay,’ but don’t assume that everyone uses that word to describe themselves. Also, remember that ‘gay’ is still used to negatively describe things, so be careful never to hurtfully use ‘gay’ in this way.

Gender binary – the false idea that sex and gender identity only exist on a strict male/female spectrum.

Gender dysphoria – discomfort, sometimes extreme, with the difference between the characteristics of one’s assigned gender and one’s internal gender identity.

Gender identity – someone’s internal, personal identification of their gender.

Gender non-conforming – someone whose gender presentation does not match typical expectations for that gender.

Gender presentation – this refers to the mix of physical traits, clothing, and mannerisms that is traditionally associated with male and female genders. Gender presentation is separate from gender identity and sexual orientation.

Genderfluid – someone whose gender identity and presentation is variable and does not identify on a gender binary.

Genderqueer – a term used by some who do not identify on a male/female gender binary. This word overlaps with non-binary.

Heterosexism – refers to the extremely common misconception that everyone is straight and cisgender, and the resulting bias and intolerance that results from this belief.

Heterosexual – a person who is solely attracted to the opposite sex.

Homophobia – having fear and prejudice towards LGBQ+ people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hormone replacement therapy – often abbreviated as ‘HRT.’ This refers to the hormones (estrogen or testosterone) that trans people take to match their physical gender presentation with their internal gender identity.

Internalized homophobia – when an LGBTQ+ person has absorbed homophobic attitudes and directs those against themselves and others.

Intersex – someone who possesses physical sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions for male and female bodies. Although it’s difficult to track, current research approximates 1 in 2000 births are intersex.

Lesbian – a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women.

MTF – an abbreviation for ‘male to female.’ This is used to describe someone who was assigned male gender at birth, but identifies as female.

Neopronouns – pronouns created to lack a specific gender. Many were developed in the 70s and 80s, such as ey/em/eir.

Non-binary – people who do not fit into the strict male/female gender binary and do not strongly identify as masculine or feminine.

Out – the state of being open about one’s LGBTQ+ identity.

Outing – revealing that someone is LGBTQ+ without their permission. This can be extremely harmful to the person and is always a severe violation of privacy.

Pansexual – has the same meaning as bisexual, but is a newer, more trans-inclusive term that deemphasizes traditional ideas of gender.

Passing – someone who ‘passes’ identifies as LGBTQ+, but are assumed by most to be straight and cisgender.

Privilege – refers to the system of laws, commonly held beliefs, and societal attitudes which gives people of some groups automatic advantages over others.

Pronouns – words that take the place of a person’s name in a sentence, such as ‘she’ or ‘they.’

Queer – a controversial word that is sometimes used by LGBTQ+ people to describe themselves, but is still generally considered a slur. The word is often used as a catch-all phrase to describe someone who is not straight and/or cis and was first reclaimed by LGBTQ+ activist movements in the 70s. Many people self-identify as queer, but this word should not be applied to people who do not use it describe themselves. Queer is most likely to be used as a descriptor by someone who does not fit a gender or sexual binary.

Questioning – someone who is questioning what their sexual orientation or gender identity is.

Romantic orientation – describes the gender(s) someone is romantically attracted to.

Sexual orientation – describes the gender(s) someone is sexually attracted to.

Singular ‘they’ – used by many non-binary and genderqueer individuals as a personal pronoun.

Slur – a word used to describe people that is intended to hurt and dehumanize them.

Straight – a person who is solely attracted to the opposite sex.

Straight privilege – refers to how straight people are privileged in society because male/female relationships are widely seen as the most “natural” type of relationship.

Third gender – a word used by some cultures to describe gender that does fit a male/female binary.

Transphobia – having fear and prejudice towards transgender people because of their gender identity.

Trans man – a person assigned female at birth who identifies as a man.

Trans woman – a person assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman.

Transgender – someone whose gender is different from the gender assigned at birth. Often shortened to ‘trans.’ This includes not just trans men and women, but is often extended to any individual who does not strictly identify with their gender assigned at birth, such as a non-binary person. Saying ‘transgendered’ is a common error. Transgender people are transgender, not transgendered.

Transition – the process of affirming gender identity. This may involve changes in gender expression, taking hormones, or surgeries.

Two-spirit – a gender-variant Native American person. Not all Native Americans use this term, and it does not describe people who are not Native American.

Controversial and Outdated Words

These terms should be avoided, unless the person chooses to identify themselves that way.

Gay/LGBT lifestyle – this phrase is commonly used to belittle and attack LGBTQ+ people for “choosing” to be the way they are, rather than simply being themselves. Hate groups often speak of “condemning the gay lifestyle.”

Hermaphrodite – a word used to describe people who are intersex that was used to define it as an abnormal condition.

Homosexual – an outdated word used to describe gays, lesbians, and bisexuals that is tied to the assumption that being LGBTQ+ is abnormal and wrong. This is considered to be an offensive term by most of the community because of its history of being used by lawmakers and medical professionals to oppress LGBTQ+ people.

Same-sex attraction – this term (often abbreviated as SSA) is commonly used by organizations that frame gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities as a conscious choice which ought to be ignored, or changed, by the individual.

Transsexual – an outdated way of referring to someone who is transgender, particularly someone who has surgically transitioned. As with many of these words, ‘transsexual’ was used to emphasize abnormality.

Transvestite – another outdated word to describe a gender non-conforming or transgender individual. This was usually used for someone who wore clothing different from their perceived gender.