Glossary of LGBT-Related Terms

The glossary is designed to provide basic definitions of words and phrases commonly used in discussions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex 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-identity for these terms to be appropriately used to describe them.

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 oppressed population. For example, a straight cisgender person who supports and stands up for the equality of LGBT people is an ally.

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.

Bicurious

A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.

Biphobia

The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBT community, as well as in general society.

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-identified people.

Cisgender

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

Coming Out

The ongoing process of coming to terms with one’s sexual and/or gender identity or identities. It can describe an internal process, describing the internal decisions to take on a sexual or gender identity. It can be an external process, describing the process of disclosing sexual and gender identity to friends, family, co-workers, etc. It can also be a process we are not aware that we do on a daily basis.

Drag

The adoption of clothing and roles of another gender for the purposes of play, entertainment, or eroticism. Originally used to refer to “drag queens” (men dressed as women), there are also a number of “drag kings” (women dressed as men). Drag performers are not cross-dressers, who adopt the clothing of another gender outside of the context of entertainment or performance.

Dyke

A derogatory term directed at a person perceived as a lesbian. It is oftentimes used against women who are gender nonconforming, with the assumption being that their gender nonconformity implies a sexual attraction to women. Many lesbians (of all gender-expressions) have reclaimed the term and use it as an affirming label with which to identify.

Fag/Faggot

A derogatory term directed at a person perceived as a gay man. It is oftentimes used against men who are gender nonconforming, with the assumption being that their gender nonconformity implies a sexual attraction to men.

Gay

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—typically 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 Binary

A socially constructed system of viewing gender as consisting solely of two categories—“male” and “female”—in which no other possibilities for gender are believed to exist. The gender binary is inaccurate because it does not take into account the diversity of gender identities and gender expressions among all people. The gender binary is oppressive to anyone that does not conform to dominant societal gender norms.

Gender Dysphoria

Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned sex is not the same as the gender with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

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

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.

Genderism

A system of oppression that benefits cisgender people at the expense of transgender and gender nonconforming people. Genderism may take the form of Transphobia, bias and discrimination towards transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Gender Nonconforming

A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

Genderqueer

People who typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as “genderqueer” may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories.

Gender transition

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.

Heterosexism

A system of oppression that benefits straight/heterosexual people at the expense of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Heterosexism may take the form of Homophobia or Biphobia, bias and discrimination towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Heterosexual (straight)

A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of another gender (specifically, a male-identified person who is attracted to some females or a female-identified person who is attracted to some males).

Homophobia

The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism, as well as heterosexism.

Homosexual

A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some members of the same gender. Many people prefer the terms “lesbian” or “gay”, instead.

Identity

Identity is how we understand ourselves, what we call ourselves and often who we connect to and associate with. Each of us has a unique diversity of social identities based on our sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, and other important parts of who we are. Those identities develop over time, intersect with each other and help give meaning to our lives.

In the Closet

A term used to refer to people who have not revealed their sexual or gender identity/identities either to themselves or others.

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. A person whose combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns. “Hermaphrodite” is an out-of-date and offensive term once used to describe an intersex person.

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. The acronym can also include additional letters, in reference to other identities that do not conform to dominant societal norms around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, such as “I” for intersex, “A” for asexual, and “”2S” for two-spirit. Additionally, “A” may also be used to be inclusive of the support of allies.

Omnisexual

An attraction to many genders; an alternative to bisexual, which evokes the idea of an attraction to only two genders.
Outing: Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.

Pansexual

A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to some people, regardless of their gender identity.

Polyamory

The non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love. Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning love hence “many loves” or polyamory

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” or “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.

Sex

A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender orgrans, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. Since it is usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female,’ this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.

Sexual Orientation

The inner feelings of who a person is attracted to emotionally and/or physically, in relation to their own gender identity. Some people may identify as “asexual,” “bisexual,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “pansexual,” “queer,” “straight,” and many more.

Trans

An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.

Tranny

A derogatory term directed at a transgender person. Some transgender people have reclaimed the term and use it as an affirming label with which to identify.

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 encompassing a large number of identities related to gender nonconformity.

Transphobia

The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.

Transsexual

A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.

Transvestite

Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex. While the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘transvestite’ have been used synonymously, they do in fact signify two different groups. The majority of transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from dressing in “women’s clothing”. (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but the term ‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)

Two-Spirit

American Indian/First Nations/Native American persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term ‘two-spirit’ is usually considered specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.

Gender Neutral Pronoun Usage Table

SubjectObjectPossessive Adjective Possessive PronounReflexive
FemaleSheHerHerHersHerself
MaleHeHimHisHisHimself
Gender NeutralZeHirHirHirsHirself
SpivakEEmEirEirsEmself

Examples of how to use these pronouns:

She went to her bedroom.
He went to his bedroom.
Ze went to hir bedroom.
E went to eir bedroom.

I am her sister.
I am his sister.
I am hir sister.
I am eir sister.

She shaves herself.
He shaves himself.
Ze shaves hirself.
E shaves emself.

This terminology sheet was adapted from GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, as well as the LGBTQI Terminology list originally created by Eli R. Green and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside 2003-2004. Please feel free to alter, use or pass on as needed but be sure to give credit to the original creators. Thank you.