Sex, sexuality, and gender are complicated subjects, and deeply personal. Each of these is a separate continuum, where people can fall at any point.
Understanding where you identify on each spectrum and how you want to express that identity can be a lifelong process. It’s important to remember that people are at different points in that process and to some, it’s just not important. Some have come a long way to claim their sex, sexuality, and gender. Others haven’t thought about it much.
To respect wherever a person is in their journey, it’s essential to use the right vocabulary. There are a myriad of terms related to sex, sexuality, and gender and they’re always changing so it’s normal to feel intimidated, but do not fear! We have compiled an LGBTQ inclusive language glossary so you know which terms to use.
Ally- (noun) a heterosexual or straight person who supports and advocates for the LGBTQ community and against homophobia and transphobia
Androgynous- (adj) a gender expression that has both masculine and feminine elements; often used in place of the out-of-date term “intersex,” that refers to a sex that is not just male or female
Androsexual/Androphilic- (adj) attracted to men, males, and/or masculinity
Aromatic- (adj) having little interest in romance or relationships
Asexual- (adj) lacking a desire to have sex or sexual attraction in others, commonly called “ace” within the asexual community
Bigender- (adj) a person whose gender is fluid, sometimes presenting behaviors traditionally considered for women, and other times presenting behaviors traditionally considered for men
Bicurious- (adj) feeling curious about an attraction to the same sex
Biological Sex- (noun) a medical term assigned at birth based on chromosomes, hormones, body shape and hair, gonads, internal organs and genitalia. It is either male or female, unless there is a difference of sex development and the baby has both male and female anatomies, previously called “intersex”
Biphobia- (noun) negative feelings toward bisexual people. Biphobic can describe someone who harbors these negative feelings
Bisexual- (adj) a person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to men and women. The attraction can be split equally or lean one way.
Butch- (noun & adj) a gender expression of masculinity. The term can be derogatory for lesbians, unless a person claims the identity for themselves.
Cisgender- (noun) a person who identifies with the biological sex identified at birth; the opposite of cisgender is transgender
Cisnormativity- (noun) the misconception that everyone is cisgender. This limited thinking leaves out non-cisgender people.
Closeted- (adj) refers to an individual who has not been open about their queer identity. “Coming out of the closet” is deeply personal. Each person does it when the time is right for them and some never come out of the closet. It is important to support that person whenever they do.
Coming Out- the process a person goes through to claim their queer sexual identity. For some, coming out also means being public with friends, family, etc. about their identity. For others, they only tell some people. Others aren’t open with anyone. However a person decides to come out is perfect, as long as it’s honest and right for them.
Constellation- (noun) the structure of a polyamorous relationship (see polyamorous relationship)
Cross-dresser- (noun) refers to someone to who wear clothes typically assigned to the opposite gender/sex
Demisexual- (noun) the sexual orientation of someone who only feels sexual attraction/desire toward someone with whom they feel emotionally intimate
Drag King- (noun) someone, typically a female, who dresses in masculine drag and personifies male gender stereotypes
Drag Queen- (noun) someone, typically a male, who dresses in feminine drag and personifies female gender stereotypes
Dyke- (noun) a lesbian who presents masculinity. The term can be derogatory for lesbians, unless a person claims the identity for themselves.
Faggot- derogatory term referring to a gay or queer person. It is sometimes shortened to “fag.”
Feminine presenting; masculine presenting- (adj) showing your gender as more feminine or more masculine, this is not confined to your biological sex
Femme- (noun & adj) identifying yourself as feminine. Feminine-presenting queer women typically use this term
Fluidity- (adj) a general term referring to ever-changing, in regards to gender or sexuality. For example, a person may move between presenting more masculine or more feminine or being more attracted to women and then being more attracted to men.
FtM/F2M; MtF/M2F- (adj) an abbreviation for female-to-male and male-to-female to describe a transgender person who has transitioned from to their affirmed gender, or the gender with which they identify
Gay- a person who is attracted to the people of the same sex and/or gender. This term is often used by men who are attracted to other men. Women who are attracted to other women usually use the term queer or lesbian as opposed to gay.
Gender binary- (noun) the traditional way of thinking about gender that consists of two options: male/female or man/woman. Newer concepts of gender recognize that gender is a continuum and not everyone fits into one or the other.
Gender expression- (noun) how a person chooses to show their gender, like hairstyle, make up, clothing, tone of voice, etc.
Gender fluid- (adj) not identifying as male or female but floating in between, so sometimes identifying more as one gender and other times identifying more with another gender
Gender identity- (noun) how a person thinks of themselves, whether that’s man, woman, both, or somewhere in between. Sometimes this matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way is just fine!
Gender Non-Conforming (GNC)- (adj) a broad term to describe expressing gender in a way that doesn’t conform to the traditional gender norms, like a boy who wears lipstick
Gender Normative/Gender Straight- (adj) expressing gender in a way that conforms to the traditional gender norms of society
Genderqueer- (adj) an umbrella term of anyone who doesn’t identify with the binary or man/woman
Gender variant- (adj) a person who for a variety of reasons does not conform to gender-normativity
Gynesexual/Gynephilic- (adj) attracted to woman, females, and/or femininity
Heteronormativity- (noun) the assumption that all people are heterosexual, or that men should be masculine and attracted to women, and women should be feminine and attracted to men. This misconception does not consider people who identify differently.
Heterosexism- (noun) preferring heterosexuality or thinking heterosexual people are better, making it seem like there is something wrong with people who do not identify as heterosexual
Hetersexual- (adj) being attracted and interested in the opposite sex. Often referred to as straight
Homophobia- (noun) a fear of people who identify as LGBTQ. This fear can be appears in different ways ranging from avoiding places or people within the LGBTQ community to being outright discriminatory or judgmental toward LGBTQ people.
Homosexual- (adj) a person who is attracted to and interested in people of the same sex. This term is now considered derogatory and gay or lesbian are better alternatives.
Intersex- (noun) someone who is born with a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals. This used to be referred to as “hermaphrodite,” which is now an out-of-date, offensive term.
Lesbian- (noun) a woman who is attracted to and interested in women. Even if a person openly identifies as queer, it is best to not call a person a lesbian unless they claim that identity for themselves first.
LGBTQ- (noun) abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Oftentimes additional letters are added at the end, like “I” for intersex or “A” for asexual. A plus sign is also sometimes added to represent anyone who identifies anywhere on the non-binary.
Metrosexual- (noun & adj) a man who cares passionately about his appearance, which can be shown with time and money put into shopping, grooming, etc.
MSM/WSW- (noun) abbreviation for “men who have sex with men” and “women who have sex with women”
Pansexual- (adj) feeling attracted to and interested in people of all gender identities/expressions
Passing- (verb) a term to describe a transgender person who is able to pass as their self-identified gender and people may not even realize the person is transgender
Polyamory/polyamorous- (noun/adj) the practice of a non-monogamous relationship. There is no one structure for this. There can be several partners, one primary partner, secondary partners, etc.
Questioning- (verb/adj) a person who is exploring and figuring out their sexuality and gender identity
Same Gender Loving- (adj) a term coined by the African American community to describe people who identify on the non-binary
Sexual Attraction- (noun) feeling physically and/or emotionally attracted toward someone and wanting to engage in sexual behavior
Sexual Orientation- (noun) the inherent attraction a person feels toward another person
Sexual Preference- (noun) the type of sexual intercourse and pleasure a person likes to give or receive
Sex Reassignment Surgery/SRS- (noun) also called “Gender confirmation surgery” and refers to one or multiple surgeries a transgender person may undergo to have the body that matches their identified gender
Skoliosexual- (adj) attracted to people who don’t identify on the binary, like genderqueer or transgender individuals
Stud- (noun) another word to refer to a ‘butch’ lesbian, usually within the African-American/Latina community
Top Surgery- (noun) surgery to either remove or augment breasts; a transgender person might choose to have top surgery when they are transitioning to match their identified gender
Transitioning- (noun/verb) the process a transgender person may go through to transition into the gender they identify with. This means something different for every person; some choose to have surgery, hormone therapy, change their names and pronouns, or none of the above
Transman; Transwoman- (noun) the identity a transgender person has claimed so a person who is born female-bodied but identifies as a man is a transman.
Transphobia- (noun) the fear of transgender people, which can manifest in different ways like outright discrimination, avoidance of transgender people, judgment, hatred, etc.
Transsexual- (noun & adj) a person whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth and has had surgery and hormone therapy to switch genders. This is now considered an out of date term.
Transvestite- (noun) a person who dresses in the opposite gender of the one they’re assigned, also called “cross dresser;” this is often considered a derogatory term
Two-Spirit- (noun) a term in the Native community for a person who has both male and female characteristics or “spirits"
Ze/Hir- alternative gender neutral pronouns to “he” and “she” that a person may choose to use if they don’t identify with the binary