The terms in this section have been gathered over the course of my research, with special thanks to PFLAG, The Trevor Project, and the Human Rights Campaign for having such well-organized glossaries!
The power of language cannot be overstated. Many people are hesitant to ask questions or talk about sexual orientation and gender identity because they are nervous they will use the wrong words, or simply don't understand the language. While it is ever-evolving, this section will provide a starting point to understanding words and their meanings which will add ease and openness to conversations. As one podcast guest recently shared, it is very meaningful when heterosexual, cisgendered people use correct language. If there is a term you feel should be included, please email me! Here are some current definitions and examples of frequently used (and misused) terms.
AFAB: Acronym meaning Assigned Female at Birth.
Affirmed Gender: An individual’s true gender, as opposed to their gender assigned at birth. This term should replace terms like "new gender" or "chosen gender," which imply that an individual’s gender was chosen.
Agender: A person who does not identify with any gender.
Ally: A term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals and the community, either personally or as an advocate. Allies include heterosexual and cisgender people who adovocate for equality for LGBTQ+ people, as well as those who are LGBTQ+ who are supportive of others within the community.
AMAB: Acronym meaning Assigned Male at Birth.
Androgynous: An individual with elements of both femininity and masculinity, whether expressed through sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, is known as an androgyne.
Aromantic/Aro: Refers to an individual who does not experience romantic attraction.
Asexual: An individual who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexuality is a sexual orientation that does not necessarily include celibacy or sexual abstinence.
Assigned Sex: The sex that is assigned to an infant at birth based on the child’s visible sex organs, including genitalia and other physical characteristics.
Assigned Gender: The gender that is assigned to an infant at birth, which may or may not align with their sex at birth.
Assumed Gender: The gender others assume an individual to be based on the sex and gender they are assigned at birth. It is also based on physical as well as expressed characteristics.
Binding: The process of tightly wrapping one’s chest with cloth or elastic to minimize the appearance of having breasts.
Biological Sex: Anatomical, physiological, genetic, or physical attributes that determine if a person is male, female, or intersex. These include both primary and secondary sex characteristics, including genitalia, gonads, hormone levels, hormone receptors, chromosomes, and genes. Often also referred to as “sex,” “physical sex,” “anatomical sex,” or specifically as “sex assigned at birth.” Sex is often confused or interchanged with gender, which is more social than biological, and involves personal identity factors as well.
Bisexual: An individual who has the capacity for attraction—sexually, romantically, emotionally, or otherwise—to people with the same gender and to people with different genders and/or gender identities as themselves. It is attraction and self-identification that determine orientation. Sometimes referred to as bi or bi+.
Cisgender: An individual whose gender identity is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth.
Closeted: A person who is not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Coming Out: For people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, the process of self-identifying and self-acceptance that continues throughout one’s life, and the sharing of their identity with others. There are many different stages of the coming out process: Some may be out to friends only, some may be out publicly, and some may be out only to themselves. It’s important to remember that coming out is an incredibly personal and transformative experience. Not everyone is in the same place when it comes to being out, and it is vital to respect where each person is in that process of self-identification. It is up to each person, individually, to decide if and when to come out.
FTM/F2M: A transgender male/masculine person who was assigned female at birth.
FTX/F2X: A genderqueer or gender expansive person who was assigned female at birth.
Gay: The adjective used to describe people who are emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender (e.g., gay man, gay people). Lesbian is often a preferred term for women, though many women use the term gay to describe themselves. People who are gay need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction and self-identification that determine orientation.
Gender-Affirming Surgery (GAS): Surgical procedures that can help people adjust their bodies to more closely match their innate gender identity. Not every transgender person will desire or have resources for surgery. This term should be used in place of the older term sex change. Also sometimes referred to as sexual reassignment surgery (or SRS), genital reconstruction surgery, or medical transition.
Gender Binary: The disproven concept that there are only two genders, male and female, and that everyone must be one or the other. It also implies that gender is biologically determined.
Gender Dysphoria: The distress caused when a person's assigned sex at birth and assumed gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV), the term "...is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults."
Gender Expansive: An umbrella term used to describe people who expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond what is perceived as the expected gender norms for their society or context. Some gender-expansive individuals identify as a man or a women, some identify as neither, and others identify as a mix of both. Gender-expansive people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm, and sometimes prefer using gender-neutral pronouns.
Gender Expression: The way a person communicates about gender to others through external means such as clothing, appearance, or mannerisms. This communication may be conscious or subconscious and may or may not reflect their gender identity. While most people’s understandings of gender expressions relate to masculinity and femininity, there are countless combinations that may incorporate both masculine and feminine expressions—or neither—through androgynous expressions. An individual’s gender expression does not automatically imply one’s gender identity.
Genderfluid: A person who does not consistently identify with one fixed gender, and who may move between gender identities.
Gender Identity: One’s deeply held core sense of being a woman, man, some of both, or neither. One’s gender identity does not always correspond to biological sex. Awareness of gender identity is usually experienced as early as 18 months old.
Gender Neutral: Not gendered. Can refer to language (including pronouns and titles—see Gender-neutral titles), spaces (like bathrooms), or identities (being genderqueer, for example).
Gender-Neutral Titles: A title that doesn’t identify the gender of the person being addressed in a formal communication or introduction. Also used for persons who do not identify as a binary gender, addressing someone where the gender is unknown, or if the correspondence-sender is unsure of the gender of the person to whom the correspondence is being sent. Mx is the most commonly used gender-neutral salutation (e.g. “Dear Mx. Smith…”).
Gender Nonconforming: An outdated term used to describe those who view their gender identity as one of many possible genders beyond strictly man or woman. More current terms include gender expansive, differently gendered, gender creative, gender variant, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, gender fluid, gender neutral, bigender, androgynous, or gender diverse.
Genderqueer: Refers to individuals who identify as a combination of man and woman, neither man nor woman, or both man and woman, or someone who rejects commonly held ideas of static gender identities and, occasionally, sexual orientations. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term similar to how the term ‘queer’ is used, but only referring to gender, and thus should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as genderqueer.
Gender Socialization: How an individual is taught and influenced to behave as a man or a woman. Parents, teachers, peers, media, and books are some of the many influencers of gender socialization.
Gender Spectrum: The concept that gender exists beyond a simple male/female binary model, but instead exists on a continuum. Some people are more masculine or more feminine, some people move fluidly along the spectrum, and some identify off the spectrum entirely.
Heteronormativity: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.
Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to a person of the opposite gender.
Homophobia: An aversion to lesbian or gay people that often manifests itself in the form of prejudice and bias. Similarly, biphobia is an aversion people who are bisexual, and transphobia is an aversion to people who are transgender. Collectively, these attitudes are referred to as anti-LGBTQ+ bias.
Homosexual: An outdated clinical term often considered derogatory and offensive, as opposed to the generally preferred terms gay, lesbian, or queer.
Intersex: Intersex is the current term used to refer to people who are biologically between the medically expected definitions of male and female. This can be through variations in hormones, chromosomes, internal or external genitalia, or any combination of any sex characteristics. These different variations are not always noticed at birth. Intersex is about biological sex, and so therefore distinct from gender identity and sexual orientation. An intersex person can be of any gender identity and can also be of any sexual orientation and any romantic orientation. The Intersex Society of North America opposes the practice of genital mutilation on infants and children who are intersex. The medical terms hermaphrodite and pseudohermaphrodite used to be common, however these terms are now considered neither acceptable nor scientifically accurate.
Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to other women. It is attraction, not sexual experience that determines orientation.
LGBTQ+: An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. It is sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) or GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender). The addition of the Q for queer is a more recently preferred version of the acronym as cultural opinions of the term focus increasingly on its positive, reclaimed definition, which recognizes more fluid identities; and as a move towards greater inclusivity for gender-expansive people (see Queer below). The Q can also stand for questioning, referring to those who are still exploring their own sexuality and/or gender. The “+” represents those who are part of the community, but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity.
Lifestyle: A negative term often incorrectly used to describe the lives of people who are LGBTQ+. It implies that being LGBTQ+ is a choice.
Misgender: To refer to someone, especially a transgender or gender-expansive person, using a word, which does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify, such as a pronoun or form of address.
MTF: A transgender female/trans feminine person who was assigned male at birth.
MTX: A genderqueer or gender expansive person who was assigned male at birth.
Nonbinary: Refers to individuals who identify as neither man or woman, both man and woman, or a combination of man or woman. It is an identity term which some use exclusively, while others may use it interchangeably with terms like genderqueer, gender creative, gender nonconforming, gender diverse, or gender expansive. Individuals who identify as nonbinary may understand the identity as falling under the transgender umbrella, and may thus identify as transgender.
Out: Generally describes people who openly self-identify as LGBTQ+ in their private, public, and/or professional lives.
Outing: The deliberate or accidental sharing of another person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression without their explicit consent. Outing is considered disrespectful and a potentially dangerous act for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Pansexual: Refers to a person whose emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction is to people inclusive of all genders and biological sexes. It is the attraction and self-identification that determines the orientation.
Personal Gender Pronouns: A personal gender pronoun, or PGP—sometimes called proper gender pronoun—is the pronoun or set of pronouns that an individual personally uses and would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. In English, the singular pronouns that we use most frequently are gendered, so some individuals may prefer that you use gender neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns when talking to or about them. In English, individual use they and their as gender-neutral singular pronouns. Others use ze (sometimes spelled zie) and hir/zir or the pronouns xe and xer. Replaces the term Preferred Gender Pronoun, which incorrectly implies that their use is optional.
Queer: A term used by some people to describe themselves and/or their community. It can be inclusive of the entire community, and an appropriate term to describe more fluid identities. Because it used to be a negative term for people who are gay, queer is still sometimes disliked within the LGBTQ+ community. This word should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as queer (i.e. “My cousin identifies as queer”).
Questioning: Those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or a combination thereof. For many reasons this may happen later in life and does not imply that someone is choosing to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer.
Same-Gender Loving: A term sometimes used by some members of the African-American/Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation (gay/bisexual) without using terms and symbols of European descent.
Sexual Orientation: Emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings toward other people. It is the attraction that helps determine orientation, not sexual behavior.
Transgender: A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity. This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression—such groups include, but are not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous.
Transition: A term used to refer to the process—social, legal, and/or medical—one goes through to discover and/or affirm one’s gender identity. This may include taking hormones, having surgeries, and/or changing names, pronouns, identification documents, and more. Many individuals choose not to or are unable to transition for a wide range of reasons both within and beyond their control. The validity of an individual’s gender identity does not depend on any social, legal, and/or medical transition; the self-identification itself is what validates the gender identity.
Transsexual: A less frequently used—and sometimes misunderstood—term (considered by some to be outdated or possibly offensive, and others to be uniquely applicable to them) which refers to people who use (or consider using) medical interventions such as hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries (GAS), also called sex reassignment surgery (SRS) (or a combination of the two) or pursue medical interventions as part of the process of expressing their gender. Some people who identify as transsexual do not identify as transgender and vice versa.
Two-Spirit: A term used within some American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) communities to refer to a person who identifies as having both a male and a female essence or spirit. The term--which was created in 1990 by a group of AI/AN activists at an annual Native LGBTQ conference--encompasses sexual, cultural, gender, and spiritual identities, and provides unifying, positive, and encouraging language that emphasizes reconnecting to tribal traditions. (With thanks to Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board [NPAIHB].)