LGBTQ Terminology

November 30, 2020

The following terms are presented in three categories: sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. These three categories describe distinct areas of identity, and each functions independently of the other two. Category titles are in bold and defined in italics.

SEX or SEX ASSIGNED AT BIRTH (n): A person’s assignment at birth, based upon a medical provider’s perception of one’s bodily characteristics (genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, etc.) as male, female, or intersex.

  • INTERSEX (adj): A general term used to refer to people whose bodies defy a common understanding of sex as a simple male/female binary. Intersex continues to be widely accepted as an umbrella term referring to biological diversity affecting sexual and reproductive anatomy.
  • FEMALE(adj./n): A label conferred by medical professionals at or before birth which is often associated with XX chromosomes and the production of certain hormones and sex characteristics. Not all people who are assigned female at birth display said characteristics.
  • MALE (adj./n): A label conferred by medical professionals at or before birth which is often associated with XY chromosomes and the production of certain hormones and sex characteristics. Not all people who are assigned male at birth display said characteristics.

GENDER IDENTITY (n): A person’s inner understanding of the gender(s) with which they identify. This is each person’s unique knowing or feeling, and is separate from a person’s physical body or appearance (although often related).

  • TRANSGENDER or TRANS (adj): An umbrella term for anyone who knows themself to be a gender that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Some trans people may have a gender identity that is neither man nor woman, and for some people their gender identity may vary at different points in their lives. Transgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix trans, meaning “across” or “beyond.” Transgender is generally preferred over the antiquated “transsexual” to shift focus from body parts to internal sense of self. Some (often older) people self-identify as transsexual.
  • CISGENDER (adj): A term describing anyone who knows themself to be the gender they were assigned at birth. Antonym of transgender. Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis, meaning “on the same side.”
  • CIS-NORMATIVE (adj): Describes the social, cultural, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that intentionally or unintentionally assume that cisgender experiences and identities are normative or universal.
  • GENDER ATTRIBUTION (n): The situation in which an observer decides and assigns what they believe a person’s gender is based on that person’s gender expression. Gender attribution is always a guess, unless someone has explicitly shared their gender identity.
  • GENDER EXPRESSION (n): The manner in which one outwardly expresses, signals, or performs their gender. Can encompass appearance (clothing, haircut, makeup, etc.), behavior, mannerisms, etc.
  • GENDER BINARY (n): A system of thinking in which there are only two genders (man and woman). The gender binary posits these two genders as opposites and mutually exclusive, and forces all people in one of these two options. The gender binary is not universal and is not upheld by many cultures today and historically, including Talmudic Judaism. Western colonists have a history of forcibly imposing the gender binary on Indigenous and racialized people.
  • GENDER NON-CONFORMING (adj): Used to describe people whose gender expression does not align with societal expectations based on their perceived gender. Gender non-conforming is not the same as trans.
  • GENDERQUEER (adj): Describes a gender identity that is queer  (see below) or that deliberately rejects societal gender norms. Someone whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, is between or beyond gender, rejects binary gender, is some combination of genders. Can sometimes be used interchangeably with nonbinary.
  • NONBINARY (adj): A gender identity that specifically rejects the notion of binary gender. Can sometimes be used interchangeably with genderqueer.
  • GENDER TRANSITION (n/v): The process through which a trans person changes aspects of themself to be more aligned with their gender. There is not one way to transition. Transition includes some or all of the following: cultural, legal, and medical adjustments; telling one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; electrolysis or laser hair removal; hormone therapy; different forms of surgery-including but not limited to chest and genital surgery. Gender transition is not a linear process, and is often influenced by one’s access to information, community, and financial resources.
  • PRONOUNS (n): The part of speech used to refer to someone in the third person. Examples include she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, ze/hir/hirs, he/him/his. Pronouns are chosen by each individual and can only be known when shared. Sharing pronouns during introductions, in email signatures, and on nametags is now common practice in order to ensure all people are referred to respectfully. “Pronoun” is more accurate than the outdated phrase “preferred pronoun.”
  • MISGENDER (v): The act of incorrectly classifying another person’s gender. Can refer to using the incorrect pronoun for someone, or using other incorrect gendered language (i.e. “sir” or “ma’am.”)
  • DEADNAME (n, v): The name given to a trans person when they were born which they no longer use. Also known as birth name. Deadnaming is the act of calling a trans person by their deadname.
  • TRANSPHOBIA (n): Irrational fear or hatred of people who break or blur gender roles and sex characteristics, which exists in both the heterosexual and LGBQ communities. Expressed as negative feelings, erasure, attitudes, actions, and institutional discrimination against those perceived as transgender or gender non-conforming, or the fear of being perceived as transgender or gender non-conforming.
  • FLUID(ITY) (adj/n): Describes an identity that changes over time within or between available options. Often combined another identity, such as “genderfluid” or “sexually fluid.”

SEXUAL ORIENTATION (n): A pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions. A sense of one’s personal and social identity based on attractions. Describes whether and to whom one is attracted sexually, physically, romantically, etc.

  • LESBIAN (n/adj): Often describes a woman who is emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted primarily to women. Some nonbinary people also identify as lesbians if they feel connected to womanhood and are primarily attracted to women.
  • GAY (adj): Describes a person who is emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted primarily to members of the same gender. (Often used by people who identify as men, though others in the LBTQ+ community may also identify as gay.)
  • BISEXUAL (adj): Describes an individual who is emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender. Can sometimes be used interchangeably with Pansexual.
  • PANSEXUAL (adj): Describes a person who is emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted toward persons of all gender identities. Can sometimes be used interchangeably with Bisexual.
  • QUEER (adj/v): 1) A term used to describe a sexual orientation that is not straight, without indicating the genders of the queer person or the people they are attracted to. Some people identify as queer because it doesn’t reference gender, and some people prefer queer because it can expansively include attraction to people of a range of genders (used similarly to “pansexual” and “bisexual”). 2) An umbrella term used by some to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. 3) Historically and currently used by some as a slur targeting those perceived to transgress “norms” of sexual orientation and/or gender expression, but for others, a word that has been reclaimed as a positive and affirmative part of their identity.
  • STRAIGHT (adj): A person who is primarily emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted toward persons of a different gender. This is another term for heterosexual.
  • HETERONORMATIVE (adj): Describes the social, cultural, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that intentionally or unintentionally assume that heterosexual experiences and identities are normative or universal.
  • HOMOSEXUAL (adj/n): A person who is primarily emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or sexually attracted toward persons of the same gender. Some LGBTQ elders self-identify with this term. However, based on a pathologizing and oppressive history, it is widely considered outdated and is not widely used.
  • ASEXUAL (adj): An umbrella category describing those who experiences little or no sexual attraction. Identifying as asexual does not preclude any behavior, including dating and sex. Often abbreviated as Ace, asexual can also refer to the Asexuality Spectrum, which describes the range of experiences related to attraction. Demisexual (describing a person who feels sexual attraction only to someone with whom they have an emotional bond) and aromantic, (someone who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others) fall under the umbrella category of asexual.
  • HOMOPHOBIA (n): The irrational fear of love, affection, or sexual behavior between people of the same gender. Expressed as negative feelings, erasure, attitudes, actions, and institutional discrimination against those perceived as non-heterosexuals, or the fear of being perceived as non-heterosexual.
  • BIPHOBIA (n): The irrational fear of love, affection, or sexual behavior of people who identify as bisexual. Expressed as negative feelings, erasure, attitudes, actions, and institutional discrimination against those perceived as bi-sexual, or the fear of being perceived as bisexual.

These are some of the most common English terms used in the local and national LGBTQ communities. There are many others, and more are created every day. It is always best to ask individuals and communities what terms they use, and what those terms mean to them.

 

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