The plethora of terms used in the LGBTQIA+ community can seem confusing and overwhelming. The most important thing to keep in mind is to always describe people with the words and pronouns they ask you to use. Terminology is constantly evolving, and this document will be updated regularly.
Updated April 2021
Advocate – 1 noun : A person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a marginalized group. 2 verb : to actively support/plea in favor of a particular cause, the action of working to end intolerance, educate others, etc.
Agender – adj. : A person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman and/or who sees themselves as existing without gender. Sometimes called gender neutrois, gender neutral, or genderless.
Ally – noun : A (typically straight and/or cisgender) person who supports and respects members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We consider people to be active allies who take action in support and respect.
“Coming out” as an ally is when you reveal (or take an action that reveals) your support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Being an active supporter can, at times, be stigmatizing; though it is not usually recognized, many allies go through a “coming out process” of their own.
Androgyny; -ous /“an-jrah-jun-ee”; “an-jrah-jun-uss”/ – adj. : 1 A gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity; 2 Occasionally used in place of “intersex” to describe a person with both female and male anatomy.
Androsexual; androphilic – /”an-jrah-seks-shu-uhl”; “an-jrah-fil-ik”/ adj. : Being primarily sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to some men, males and/or masculinity.
Aromantic – adj. : Experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others and/or having a lack of interest in romantic relationships/behavior. Aromanticism exists on a continuum from people who experience no romantic attraction and have no desire for romantic activities, to those who experience low levels, or romantic attraction only under specific conditions, and many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (see demiromantic). Sometimes abbreviated to “aro” (pronounced like “arrow”).
Asexual – adj. : Experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. Asexuality exists on a continuum from people who experience no sexual attraction and have no desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions, and many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (see demisexual). Sometimes abbreviated to “ace.”
NOTE: Asexuality is different from celibacy in that it is a sexual orientation whereas celibacy is abstaining from a certain action. Not all asexual people are aromantic.
Assigned female at birth/Assigned male at birth -- adj. : A term used to refer to the sex that one was assigned at the time of birth based on hormonal, chromosomal, and anatomical characteristics. Often abbreviated AFAB or AMAB. This is the correct way to identify someone's sex assigned at birth, especially when referring to transgender patients whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. Do not use "male-to-female (MTF)"/"female-to-male (FTM)", "born a boy" or "used to be a girl."
Bigender – adj. : A person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (and sometimes a third gender).
Bicurious – adj. : A curiosity about having attraction to people of the same gender/sex (similar to questioning).
Biological sex – noun : A medical term used to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male or intersex. Often referred to as simply “sex,” “physical sex,” “anatomical sex” or specifically as “sex assigned at birth.”
Often seen as a binary, but as there are many combinations of chromosomes, hormones and primary/secondary sex characteristics, it’s more accurate to view this as a spectrum (which is more inclusive of intersex people as well as trans*-identified people). Is commonly conflated with gender.
Biphobia; biphobic – 1 noun : A range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, invisibility, resentment, erasure or discomfort) that one may have or express towards bisexual individuals. Biphobia can come from and be seen within the LGBTQIA+ community as well as straight society. 2 adj. : a word used to describe an individual who harbors some elements of this range of negative attitudes towards bisexual people.
Bisexual – adj. : 1 A person who is emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women. 2 A person who is emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to people of their gender and another gender . This attraction does not have to be equally split or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders or sexes an individual may be attracted to.
Can simply be shortened to “bi.”
Many people who recognize the limitations of a binary understanding of gender may still use the word bisexual as their sexual orientation label. This is often because many people are familiar with the term bisexual (while less are familiar with the term pansexual).
Cisgender /“siss-jend-ur”/ – adj. : A person whose gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth align (e.g., man and assigned male at birth). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to “cis.”
Cissexism – noun : Behavior that grants preferential treatment to cisgender people, reinforces the idea that being cisgender is somehow better or more “right” than being transgender and/or makes other genders invisible.
Cisnormativity – noun : The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is cisgender, and that cisgender identities are superior to trans identities or people. Leads to invisibility of non-cisgender identities.
Closeted – adj. : An individual who is not open to themselves or others about their (queer) sexuality or gender identity. This may be by choice and/or for other reasons such as fear for one’s safety, peer or family rejection or disapproval and/or loss of housing, job, etc. Also known as being “in the closet.” When someone chooses to break this silence they “come out” of the closet. (See coming out)
Coming out – noun : 1 The process by which one accepts and/or comes to identify one’s own sexuality or gender identity (to “come out” to oneself). 2 The process by which one shares one’s sexuality or gender identity with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.).
This is a continual, life-long process. Everyday, all the time, one has to evaluate and re-evaluate who they are comfortable coming out to, if it is safe and what the consequences might be.
Constellation – noun : A way to describe the arrangement or structure of a polyamorous relationship.
Cross-dresser – noun : A person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification. The term transvestite is considered derogatory.
Deadnaming -- noun : Referring to a trans person by their birth name instead of the name they choose. This is often a form of bullying and is hurtful. Even if a trans person has not legally changed their name, one should always call them the name they want to be called. In this case the legal name should only be used if necessary for record-keeping.
Demiromantic /”deh-mee-roh-man-tik”/ – adj. : Having little or no capacity to experience romantic attraction until a strong sexual or emotional connection is formed with another individual, often within a sexual relationship.
Demisexual /”deh-mee-seks-shu-uhl”/– adj. : Having little or no capacity to experience sexual attraction until a strong romantic or emotional connection is formed with another individual, often within a romantic relationship.
Drag king; drag queen – noun : Someone who performs masculinity or femininity theatrically.
Emotional attraction – noun : A capacity that evokes the want to engage in romantic intimate behavior (e.g., sharing, confiding, trusting, interdepending), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, romantic attraction and/or spiritual attraction.
Feminine-of-center; Masculine-of-center – adj. : A word that indicates a range of terms of gender identity and gender presentation for folks who present, understand themselves and/or relate to others in a more feminine/masculine way, but don’t necessarily identify as women/men. Feminine-of-center individuals may also identify as femme, submissive, transfeminine, etc.; masculine-of-center individuals may also often identify as butch, stud, aggressive, boi, transmasculine, etc.
Feminine-presenting; Masculine-presenting – adj. : A way to describe someone who expresses gender in a more feminine/masculine way. Often confused with feminine-of-center/masculine-of-center, which generally include a focus on identity as well as expression.
Femme – noun & adj. : Someone who identifies themselves as feminine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. Often used to refer to a feminine-presenting queer woman.
Fluid(ity) – adj. : Generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that may change or shift over time between or within the mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, bi and straight).
Gay – adj. : 1 Individuals who are primarily emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex and/or gender. More commonly used when referring to men who are attracted to other men, but can be applied to women as well. 2 An umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual. The term homosexual is considered stigmatizing (particularly as a noun) due to its history as a category of mental illness, and is discouraged for common use (use gay or lesbian instead).
Gender confirmation surgery (GCS)/Gender affirmation surgery (GAS) -- noun : a group of surgical options that alter a person’s biological sex.. In most cases, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve legal recognition of gender variance. Some refer to different surgical procedures as “top” surgery and “bottom” surgery to discuss what type of surgery they are having without having to be more explicit. Some medical professionals use the term Sex reassignment surgery (SRS), although this is not preferred.
Gender binary – noun : The idea that there are only two genders and that every person is one of those two.
Gender expression; gender presentation – noun : The external display of one’s gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity and femininity.
Gender fluid– adj. : A gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of male and female. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more male or female from day to day.
Gender identity – noun : The internal perception of an person’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Common identity labels include man, woman, genderqueer, trans* and more. Often confused with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth.
Gender neutrois – adj. : See agender.
Gender non-conforming – adj. : 1 A gender expression descriptor that indicates a non-traditional gender presentation (masculine woman or feminine man) 2 A gender identity label that indicates a person who identifies outside of the gender binary. Often abbreviated as “GNC.”
Gender normative; gender straight – adj. : Someone whose gender presentation, whether by nature or by choice, aligns with society’s gender-based expectations.
Genderqueer – adj. : A gender identity label often used by people who do not identify with the binary of man/woman; or as an umbrella term for many gender non-conforming or non-binary identities (e.g., agender, bigender, gender fluid).
NOTE: May combine aspects of man and woman and other identities (bigender, pangender); not having a gender or identifying with a gender (genderless, agender); moving between genders (gender fluid); third gender or other-gendered; includes those who do not place a name to their gender. Often having an overlap of, or blurred lines between, gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation.
Gender variant – adj. : someone who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc).
Gynesexual; gynephilic /“guy-nuh-seks-shu-uhl;” “guy-nuh-fil-ik” / – adj. : Being primarily sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to some woman, females and/or femininity.
Heteronormativity – noun : The assumption, in individuals and/or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Leads to invisibility and stigmatizing of other sexualities: e.g., when learning a woman is married, asking her what her husband’s name is. Heteronormativity also leads us to assume that only masculine men and feminine women are straight.
Heterosexism – noun : Behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness and/or makes other sexualities invisible.
Heterosexual – adj. : A person primarily emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. Also known as straight.
Homophobia; homophobic – 1 noun : An umbrella term for a range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, erasure or discomfort) that one may have towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The term can also connote a fear, disgust or dislike of being perceived as LGBTQIA+. 2 adj. : A word used to describe an individual who harbors some elements of this range of negative attitudes towards gay people.
The term can be extended to bisexual and transgender people as well; however, the terms biphobia and transphobia are used to emphasize the specific biases against individuals of bisexual and transgender communities.
May be experienced inwardly by someone who identifies as queer (internalized homophobia).
Intersex – adj. : Term for a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs and genitals that differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Formerly known as hermaphrodite or hermaphroditic, but these terms are now outdated and derogatory.
Lesbian – noun & adj. Women who have the capacity to be attracted romantically, sexually and/or emotionally to some other women. The term homosexual is considered stigmatizing (particularly as a noun) due to its history as a category of mental illness, and is discouraged for common use (use gay or lesbian instead).
LGBTQIA; GSM; DSG – abbreviation : Shorthand or umbrella terms for all folks who have a non-normative (or queer) gender or sexuality. Many different initialisms are preferred. LGBTQIA is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual/Agender/Aromantic (sometimes with a + at the end in an effort to be more inclusive); GSM is Gender and Sexual Minorities; DSG is Diverse Sexualities and Genders. Other options include the initialism GLBT, LGBT or LGBTQ and the acronym QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning Undecided Intersex Lesbian Trans Bisexual Asexual/Allied and Gay/Genderqueer).
There is no “correct” initialism or acronym — what is preferred varies by person, region and often evolves over time. The efforts to represent more and more identities led to some folks describe the ever-lengthening initialism as “Alphabet Soup,” which was part of the impetus for GSM and DSG.
MSM / WSW – abbreviations : Men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women, to distinguish sexual behaviors from sexual identities: because a man is straight, it doesn’t mean he’s not having sex with men. Often used in the field of HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.
Mx. / “mix” or “schwa” / – An honorific (like Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.) that is gender neutral. It is often the option of choice for folks who do not identify within the gender binary: Mx. Smith is a great teacher.
Outing – verb : Involuntary or unwanted disclosure of another person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
Pansexual – adj. : A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical and/or spiritual attraction to other people regardless of gender identities/expressions. Often shortened to “pan.”
Passing – adj. & verb : 1 Trans people being accepted as, or able to “pass for,” a member of their self-identified gender identity (regardless of sex assigned at birth) without being identified as trans. 2 An LGB/queer individual who is believed to be or perceived as straight.
Trans people who are perceived as cisgender may also describe themselves as "stealth." These are both controversial terms because they often focus on the person who is observing or interacting with the individual who is “passing” and put the power/authority in observer rather than giving agency to the individual.
While some people are hoping to “pass,” or perhaps more accurately be accepted for the identity that they feel most aligns with who they are, “passing” is not always a positive experience.
Personal pronouns – noun : the pronouns a person uses to refer to themself and by which others should refer to them - he/him; she/her; they/them; ze/zir. Often used during introductions, becoming more common in educational institutions.
Polyamory; -ous – noun, adj. : Refers to the practice of, desire to, or orientation towards having ethical, honest and consensual non-monogamous relationships (i.e. relationships that may include multiple partners). This may include open relationships, polyfidelity (which involves more than two people being in romantic and/or sexual relationships that are not open to additional partners), among many other arrangements.
Queer – adj. : Used as an umbrella term to describe individuals who don’t identify as straight. Also used to describe people who have a non-normative gender identity, or as a political affiliation. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, it is not embraced or used by all members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The term “queer” can often be use interchangeably with LGBTQIA+ (e.g., “queer folks” instead of “LGBTQIA+ folks”).
NOTE: If a person tells you they are not comfortable with you referring to them as queer, don’t. Always respect individuals’ preferences when it comes to identity labels, particularly contentious ones (or ones with troubled histories) like this. Some individuals may use words to describe themselves that are considered derogatory as a way to reclaim, celebrate or affirm their identity. Others should not use those terms unless asked to do so by the individual. For example, someone who is not a lesbian should not use the word “dyke” unless in reference to a specific person who specifically requests that identifier.
Use the word queer only if you are comfortable explaining to others what it means. Because some people feel uncomfortable with the word, it is best to know/feel comfortable explaining why you choose to use it if someone inquires.
Questioning – verb & adj. Used to describe an individual or a time in an individual’s life when they are unsure about or exploring their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
QPOC; QTPOC – abbreviation : Initialisms that stand for queer people of color and queer and/or trans people of color.
Romantic attraction – noun : A capacity that evokes the want to engage in romantic intimate behavior (e.g., dating, relationships, marriage), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, emotional attraction and/or spiritual attraction.
Same gender loving (SGL) – adj. : Sometimes used by some members of the African-American or Black community to express an non-straight sexual orientation without relying on terms and symbols of European descent.
Sex assigned at birth (SAAB) – abbreviation : A phrase used to intentionally recognize a person’s assigned sex (not gender identity). Sometimes called “designated sex at birth” (DSAB) or “sex coercively assigned at birth” (SCAB), or specifically used as “assigned male at birth” (AMAB) or “assigned female at birth” (AFAB): Jenny is a woman who was assigned male at birth.
Sexual attraction – noun : A capacity that evokes the want to engage in physical intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction, emotional attraction and/or spiritual attraction.
Sexual orientation – noun : The type of sexual, romantic or emotional/spiritual attraction one has the capacity to feel for some others, generally labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to. Often confused with sexual preference.
Sexual preference – noun : The types of sexual intercourse, stimulation and gratification one likes to receive and participate in. Generally when this term is used, it is being mistakenly interchanged with “sexual orientation,” creating an illusion that one has a choice (or “preference”) in who they are attracted to.
Skoliosexual /”sko-lee-oh-seks-shu-uhl”/ – adj. : Being primarily sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to some genderqueer, transgender and/or non-binary people.
Spiritual attraction – noun : A capacity that evokes the want to engage in intimate behavior based on one’s experience with, interpretation of or belief in the supernatural (e.g., religious teachings, messages from a deity), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, romantic attraction and/or emotional attraction.
Straight – adj. : A person primarily emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to people who are not their same sex/gender. A more colloquial term for the word heterosexual.
Stud – noun : Most commonly used to indicate a Black/African-American and/or Latina masculine lesbian/queer woman. Also known as ‘butch’ or ‘aggressive’.
Third gender – noun : For a person who does not identify with either man or woman, but identifies with another gender. This gender category is used by societies that recognize three or more genders, both contemporary and historic, and is also a conceptual term meaning different things to different people who use it, as a way to move beyond the gender binary.
Trans – adj. : An umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms. Trans with an asterisk is sometimes used in written forms to emphasize the inclusion of nonbinary trans identities, although this is not preferred.
Transgender – adj. : A person whose gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth.
NOTE: Because sexuality labels (e.g., gay, straight, bi) are generally based on the relationship between the person’s gender and the genders they are attracted to, trans sexuality can be defined in a couple of ways. Some people may choose to self-identify as straight, gay, bi, lesbian, or pansexual (or others, using their gender identity as a basis), or they might describe their sexuality using other-focused terms like gynesexual, androsexual, or skoliosexual (see full list for definitions for these terms.
A trans person can be straight, gay, bisexual, queer, or any other sexual orientation.
Transsexual and tranny are terms that were often used in the past but is now considered derogatory.
Transition; transitioning – noun & verb : This term is primarily used to refer to the process a trans person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.
Trans man or trans woman – noun : A transgender man who was assigned female at birth, or a woman who was assigned male at birth. Not all trans people adopt this identity label and prefer to refer to themselves simply as a “woman” or “man.”
Transphobia, transphobic – 1 noun : The fear of, discrimination against or hatred of trans people, the trans community or gender ambiguity. Transphobia can be seen within the queer community, as well as in general society. Transphobia is often manifested in violent and deadly means. 2 adj. : a word used to describe an individual who harbors some elements of this range of negative attitudes, thoughts and intents towards trans people.
Two-spirit – noun : An umbrella term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders.
Ze; zir /“zee”, “zerr” or “zeer”/ – pronoun : Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some trans* people. They replace “he” and “she” and “his” and “hers” respectively. Alternatively, some people use the plural pronoun “they/their” as a gender neutral singular pronoun.