Although #labels aren’t always helpful or wanted, expressing and describing yourself can be very important. Here’s a list of #LGBTQ+ terms that might help you describe yourself, describe your friends and family members, and / or help you discuss rights issues with others. This is an updated version of a piece we did in 2014, and the goal is to give you a more complete understanding of terms and issues the #GSM community deals with on a daily basis. It’s a pretty long list, and it’s still not complete, but it’s worth the read if it gives you some insight into people’s orientations, preferences, inherent qualities and placement on the gender and sexuality spectrums.
**Remember: these terms are malleable and fluid, and there are as many combinations as there are people to use them.**
To create this list we used information from advocacy groups, the dictionary and the very helpful Sex & Gender Guide: “The Sex & Gender Guide provides a general overview of the differences between #sexual orientation, #romantic attraction, #gender identity, #gender expression, and #biological sex. The most important thing to remember is that all of these categories contain examples of possible self-identified labels. People can have different definitions and use these terms in many ways, and that is okay! It is all about understanding that sex and gender are fluid concepts, and that every person has the right identify with the terms that make them the most comfortable.”
So learn them, know them, love them so that you can learn how to discuss people and issues in an intelligent way rather than sounding naïve.
Sexual / Physical Attraction (Sexual Orientation)
Sexual orientation is the term used to describe what gender(s) someone is sexually / physically attracted to.
Ally: can merely be someone who is supportive and accepts the LGBTQ+ person, or a straight ally can be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment.
Androsexual/Androphilic: attracted to males, men, and/or masculinity.
Asexual: a person who generally does not experience sexual attraction (or very little) to any group of people. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who they are.
Bisexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction to people of their own gender as well as another gender; often confused for and used in place of “pansexual.”
Demisexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone. It’s more commonly seen in but by no means confined to romantic relationships.
Gay: a term used to describe a man who is attracted to men, but often used and embraced by women to describe their same-sex relationships as well.
Gynesexual/Gynephilic: attracted to females, women, and/or femininity.
Heterosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the other gender (or, literally, biological sex) than they have; often referred to as “straight.”
Homosexual: a medical definition for a person who is attracted to someone with the same gender, this is considered an offensive/stigmatizing term by many members of the queer community; often used incorrectly in place of “lesbian” or “gay.”
Lesbian: a term used to describe a woman who is attracted to other women.
Polysexual: sexual attraction to many genders; pansexual.
Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.
Questioning: the process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations.
SGL (same gender loving): a phrase coined by the African American/Black queer communities used as an alternative for “gay” and “lesbian” by people who may see those as terms of the White queer community.
Sexually fluid: one or more changes in sexual #identity or sexual orientation. There is significant debate over whether sexuality is stable throughout life or is fluid and malleable.
Sexual Orientation: the type of sexual, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to; often mistakenly referred to as “sexual preference.”
Sexual Preference: (1) 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; (2) the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in.
Skoliosexual: attracted to genderqueer and transsexual people and expressions (people who aren’t identified as cisgender).
Straight: a man or woman who is attracted to people of the other binary gender than themselves; often referred to as “heterosexual.”
Romantic / Emotional Attraction
Romantic attraction is an emotional response that people can feel that results in a desire for a romantic relationship with a certain gender(s). People can experience romantic attraction even though they may not feel sexual attraction.
Aromantic: An aromantic is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others. What distinguishes romantic relationships from a non-romantic relationships can vary diversely, but often includes physical connection (holding hands, cuddling, etc.) The aromantic attribute is usually considered to be innate and not a personal choice, just as the lack of sexual attraction is innate to asexuals. It is important to note that aromantic people do not lack emotional/personal connection, but simply have no instinctual need to develop connections of a romantic nature. Aromantics can have needs for just as much empathetic support as romantics, but these needs can be fulfilled in a platonic way.
Heteromantic: A person who is romantically attracted to a member of the opposite sex or gender. (ASEW)
Homoromantic: A person who is romantically attracted to a member of the same sex or gender.The sexual counterpart to homoromantic is homosexual.
Panromantic: A person who is romantically attracted to others but is not limited by the other’s sex or gender. Similar to biromantic. Panromantics will tend to feel that their partner’s gender does little to define their relationship.
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 can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
Agender: a term which can be literally translated as ‘without gender’. It can be seen either as a non-binary gender identity or as a statement of not having a gender identity. People who identify as agender may describe themselves as one or more of the following: Genderless or lacking gender. Gender neutral.
Bigender: a gender identity that can be literally translated as ‘two genders’ or ‘double gender.’ Bigender people experience exactly two gender identities, either simultaneously or varying between the two. These two gender identities could be male and female, but could also include non-binary identities.
Binary gender: a traditional and outdated view of gender, limiting possibilities to “man” and “woman”; binary.
Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity and assigned gender at birth all align. A term used to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is therefore an antonym of “trans-.” A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people.
Cis-man: a person who identifies as a man and was assigned male at birth
Cis-woman: a person who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth.
Demigender: (also called a demiboy or demigirl) is a gender identity describing someone who partially, but not wholly, identifies as a man, boy or otherwise masculine, whatever their assigned gender at birth. They may or may not identify as another gender in addition to feeling partially a boy or man.
Fluid(ity): generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, gay and straight); not to be confused with “transitioning.”
Genderfluid: a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. (GENW)
Genderless: a person who does not identify with any gender.
Genderqueer: (1) a blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with “transgender.”
Gender binary: also referred to as gender binarism (sometimes shortened to just binarism), is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine. It is one general type of a gender system.
Gender dysphoria: Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s gender is not the same as the gender others would assign them. 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 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. As permitted by state laws, some people will transition legally by changing their legal name, the sex marker on IDs, and official birth certificates.
GSM: an acronym for “Gender and/or Sexuality Minority.” This is the basic catch-all for people who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. It is more encompassing than the traditional LGBT and other such acronyms while still including those who don’t identify as queer or who are offended by the term.
LGBPTTQQIIA+: any combination of letters attempting to represent all the identities in the queer community, this near-exhaustive one (but not exhaustive) represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender and Asexual.
Misgendering: To refer to a person using terms (pronouns, nouns, adjectives…) that express the wrong gender, either accidentally or deliberately; for example by calling a woman “son”, a boy “she,” or an agender individual “he” or “she”; refer to (someone, especially a transgender person) using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect their stated gender.
Non-binary: those with non-binary genders can feel that they: have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne; have an identity between male and female, such as intergender; have a neutral or non-existent gender identity, such as agender or neutrois.
Third gender: (1) a person who does not identify with the traditional genders of “man” or “woman,” but identifies with another gender; (2) the gender category available in societies that recognize three or more genders.
Transgender: an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
Trans man: a person who identifies as a man but was assigned a female sex at birth.
Trans woman: a person who identifies as a woman but was assigned a male sex at birth.
Two-Spirit: a term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders.
Queer: (1) historically, this was a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ+ people; (2) a term that has been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, representing all individuals who fall out of the gender and sexuality “norms.”
External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
Androgyny: (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.
Cross-dressing: wearing clothing that conflicts with the traditional gender expression of your sex and gender identity (e.g., a man wearing a dress) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification.
Drag King: a person who consciously performs “masculinity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of masculine expression, often times done by a woman.
Drag Queen: a person who consciously performs “femininity,” usually in a show or theatre setting, presenting an exaggerated form of feminine expression, often times done by a man.
Feminine: having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness; effeminate, womanish.
Gender non-conforming: A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional — that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. Simply being transgender does not make someone gender non-conforming. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.
Masculine: having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.
Transvestite: a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often called a “cross-dresser,” and often confused with “transsexual.”
Sex Assigned at Birth
The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex or another sex assigned at birth often based on physical anatomy at birth and/or karyotyping.
Binary sex: a traditional and outdated view of sex, limiting possibilities to “female” or “male.”
Female: a person who identifies as female.
FTM / MTF: Female To Male, or Male To Female; terms used by some transgender individuals to self-identify
Intersex: a person with a set of sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit within the binary labels of female or male; often doctors will surgically alter an intersex infant’s genitalia with or without parental consent to fit a “binary sex.”
Male: a person who identifies as male.
Secondary sex characteristics: features that usually appear in sexual maturity (puberty) that, though they can distinguish sex and/or gender expression, unlike sex organs are not part of the reproductive system. These are characteristics such as a beard, breasts, change in voice pitch, distribution of fat tissue and so forth.
Sex reassignment surgery: refers to doctor-supervised surgical interventions, and is only one small part of transition. Avoid the phrase “sex change operation.” Do not refer to someone as being “pre-op” or “post-op.” Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to, undergo medical surgeries. Journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of surgeries in the transition process.
Trans: used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual — or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella. Because its meaning is not precise or widely understood, be careful when using it with audiences who may not understand what it means. Avoid unless used in a direct quote or in cases where you can clearly explain the term’s meaning in the context of your story.
Transitioning: a term used to describe the process of moving from one sex/gender to another, sometimes this is done by hormone or surgical treatments. (METRO)
Transsexual: a person whose gender is the binary opposite of their assigned sex at birth, who may undergo medical treatments to change their primary and secondary sex characteristics.