Glossary of LGBT Terms

Affirming/Nonaffirming: Affirming refers to those whose understanding of sexuality is affirming of people’s innate orientation and gender identity. This perspective affirms those who have pursued same-sex relationships, positive identity as a queer person, or a gender identity different from their biological sex. Nonaffirming beliefs are that same-sex relationships are wrong or that identifying with a gender different their your biological sex at birth is wrong.

Ally: This is someone who is not LGBT themselves but who actively supports LGBT people. Someone who is LGB but not transgender can also be a cisgender ally to trans people. A straight transgender person could be an ally to LGB people as well. Having allies is crucial to the mental health of queer people and to the progress of queer people in the public sphere.

Asexual: People who have less desire for sexual activity than most or no desire. They may still be very interested in romance, partnership, and having children.

Bisexual: Someone whose sexual orientation is towards either their own gender or another gender. In other words, attracted to both men and women. Many bisexual people also specify that this includes any gender other than their own, including people who are transgender or non-binary. Bisexual is not defined as people who like to have threesomes or who need both a man and a woman in their life. Just like any other group, bisexual people differ in these respects.

Biological Sex: A person’s genetics and genitalia determine their biological sex. In most cases people’s biological sex is clearly male or female, but not always. For some people, their biological sex is different from their gender identity. See also gender identity and transgender.

Biphobia: Being threatened by people who are bisexual. Often bisexual people experience discrimination from both heterosexual people and gay and lesbian people who want them to choose. This is sometimes referred to as monosexism, or discrimination against people who are attracted to more than one gender. Often, bisexual people are also excluded from research or discussions about sexual orientation which tend to focus on gay and lesbian people.

Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity matches their biological sex at birth.

Gay: Someone who is attracted to their same gender, it formerly referred to men only both now often refers to women as well. It also has come to have a more broad meaning in some contexts. It can be used as an umbrella term for LGBT people. Historically, the first movements for LGBT rights focused primarily on gay men and lesbian women. They often used the term gay, such as the Gay Liberation Movement, and many organizations like the Gay Christian Network have retained this terminology even though they’ve come to include a range of sexual and gender minorities.

Gender Identity: To be differentiated from biological sex. While sex is related to biology, gender is a social construct. That is not to say that gender is chosen, but that a person’s sense of gender may not match their biological sex. A person’s gender identity may be male though biologically and genetically his sex is female. See also transgender and biological sex.

Genderqueer/Nonbinary: People whose gender identity is neither fully male or fully female but falls somewhere on the spectrum in between. They may choose modifiers such as the singular “they” or “their,” but genderqueer people choose their own pronouns to self-identify. You may also see the terms gender fluid or non binary.

Heteronormative: This refers to societal ideas and behaviors that assume heterosexual norms. It’s similar to ethnic ideas about ethnocentrism or eurocentrism. For bisexual people, it may be the assumption that they are straight if they are with someone of the other gender. It also refers to the idea that same-sex relationships always have to have a woman who is masculine or a man who is feminine. Often heteronormative ideas find their way into queer communities as well. Sometimes heteronormative behaviors and values are also assumed by queer people to avoid harassment and violence.

Homophobia: Being threatened by people who are LGB. It often includes ideas that same-sex sexuality will have a harmful impact on societies or families, that it is contageous, that LGB people will make straight people queer, that LGB people are pedophiles or sexual predators, or that their relationships are a threat to straight people’s relationships. It is not meant to refer to fear in the clinical sense such as social phobia, but of societal fear of and defensiveness against sexual minorities that often results in discrimination and violence.

Intersex: People whose biological sex has elements of both male and female. This can be a result of genetic differences or because of reproductive organs and genitalia that are not typical. It is not common but is also part of normal genetic variation in human populations.

Lesbian: Women who are attracted exclusively or primarily to women.

LGBT/LGBTQ: An acronym that refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer. Sometimes letters are added for Intersex, Asexual, Ally, and others as well. The intention is to be inclusive. It’s sometimes referred to as alphabet soup. Though it is cumbersome, it includes groups that don’t fit into definitions such as gay. Some people choose to use LGBT and not include the other letters simply for simplicity, but not to exclude. Sometimes people use LGBT+ in order to indicate inclusion. The intention is to be inclusive of sexual and gender minorities and their allies.

Pansexual: A sexual identity/orientation that includes attraction to people of any gender on the spectrum. It is mean to be inclusive of male, female, and genderqueer. Many bisexual people describe themselves in similar terms to pansexual people, but some bisexual people are referring to only male and female, not to gender non-binary people. The term pansexual can be preferable because it is clearly inclusive of genderqueer people.

Queer: This is often used of an umbrella term to describe LGBT people who often identify as queer or as an adjective in situations where LGBT might be cumbersome such as queer film, queer politics, or queer media. It was a pejorative term that is being reclaimed by LGBT people, but it is still sometimes used negatively. If you are straight and cisgender, you may want to use caution with this term as some LGBT people could be offended since it has only recently been reclaimed, and the process is not yet complete. It is still used pejoratively at times.

Questioning: People who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or gender but suspect they are not heterosexual or are not cisgender.

Sexual Fluidity: Variations in sexual attraction or behavior outside of one’s typical patterns of attraction. This would be happen if a straight woman is attracted to a woman, or a lesbian woman is attracted to a man. There is some evidence that sexual fluidity is more common in women, but it’s not entirely certain. Sexual fluidity seems to be more common in adolescents for both genders.

Sexual Identity: This refers to the term a person uses to self-identify their orientation. It is how they choose to present themselves to the world, and people have different reasons for choosing identities other than only their orientation. A person whose orientation is bisexual may choose to identify as gay or lesbian if they identify more closely with that community, are interested primarily in dating the same gender, are concerned about biphobia in the queer community, or are in a relationship with someone of the same gender. Often people who are attracted to other genders choose to identify as straight to avoid harassment or because they believe same-sex sexuality is wrong.

Sexual Orientation: This refers to a person’s unchosen and natural sense of sexual attraction. Though a person’s sexual identity may change over time, research indicates that a person’s general sense of attraction is persistent and resistant to change. Sexual orientation should not be conceived of as binary, either straight or gay. Many people fall somewhere in between. Sometimes this means people who are primarily straight but experience occasional but persistent same-sex attraction. People can also be primarily gay and experience occasional but persistent other-sex attraction. Other people are bisexual and experience persistent attraction to their own and other genders though this attraction may ebb and flow over a lifetime and they may be more or less interested in different genders at different stages in life and different situations, their attraction over time is nonetheless bisexual. It may also happen that someone becomes aware of other attractions later in life, but it is very uncommon perhaps even impossible for a person to have persistent attraction for a gender that goes away.

Side A/Side B: This is different terminology for the same concept as affirming (side A) and non-affirming (side B).

Transgender: People whose sense of gender differs from their biological sex. When a transgender person transitions to a different gender, they may be referred to as male-to-female or female-to-male. Transitioning can mean anything from simply dressing and presenting as a different gender to various surgeries or hormone treatments. The steps a person takes are personal and differ based on preference and resources. People who transition normally do so after extensive counseling and reflection. Not everyone who wears the clothing of another gender is transgender.

Transphobia: Being threatened by people who are transgender. It often includes ideas that transgenderism will have a harmful impact on societies or erode the idea of gender in cisgender people or that their presence will confuse or negatively impact children. It also includes ideas that transgender people are violent or will sexually assault people in bathrooms despite the fact that there is no example of this ever happening. It is not meant to refer to fear in the clinical sense such as social phobia, but of societal fear of and defensiveness against gender minorities that often results in discrimination and violence.

Xenophopia: This is a broad term for fear of people who are different. Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are types of xenophobia. So are racism, sexism, and religious intolerance.

Terms to Avoid

Homosexual: This terms comes from a time in which LGBT people were almost exclusively referred to in negative terms, and it is not a term which LGBT people often choose the describe themselves.

Homosexual/Gay Lifestyle: LGBT people have all kinds of different lifestyles. This terms is generally used to stereotype. Talk about LGBT lives instead of lifestyles.

Sexual Preference: People don’t choose their sexuality. Use the terms sexual orientation or sexual identity.

Tranny/Tranvestite: These are dated and pejorative terms. Speak about transgender or trans people.