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LGBTQ Studies: Terminology

A subject guide for LGBTQ Studies

Terminology

Within the LGBTQ+ Community, there's a lot of different terms used. And terminology used within the Community doesn't necessarily match the terms used outside of it, or within the medical community. On this page are commonly used terms and definitions. Definitions are taken from It's Pronounced Metrosexual, a website by Sam Killermann. Sam also sells an ebook, Definining LGBTQ+, on a pay-as-you can model that is more updated than the website. In addition, GLAAD offers An Ally's Guide to Terminology which can help you understand the best context to use different terms.

Sexuality-Related Terms

Aromantic
adj. : experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others and/or has a lack of interest in romantic relationships/behavior. Aromanticism exists on a continuum from people who experience no romantic attraction or have any desire for romantic activities, to those who experience low levels, or romantic attraction only under specific conditions. 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 or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions. Sometimes abbreviated to “ace."
Emotional attraction
noun : a capacity that evokes the want to engage in emotionally intimate behavior (e.g., sharing, confiding, trusting, inter-depending), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.
Romantic attraction
noun : a capacity that evokes the want to engage in romantic intimate behavior (e.g., dating, relationships, marriage), experienced in varying degres (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or emotional attraction.
Sexual attraction
noun : a capacity that evokes the want to engage in physically intimate behaivor (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction or emotional attraction.
Sexual orientation
noun :the type of sexual, romantic, 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 and Romantic Identities

Bisexual
1 noun & adj. : a person who experiences attraction to some men and women. adj. : a person who experiences attractino to some people of their gender and another gender. Bisexual attraction does not have to be equally split, or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders an indvidual may be atracted to. Often used interchangeably with pansexual.
Gay
1 adj. : experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to some members of the same gender. Can be used to refer to men who are attracted to other men and women who are attracted to women. adj. : an umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who is not straight (see LGBTQ and queer).
Homosexual
adj. & noun a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex/gender. This [medical] term 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).
Lesbian
adj. & noun : women who are primarily attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other women.
LGBTQ; GSM; DSG; TGNC
abbr. : shorthand or umbrella terms for all folks who have a non-normative (or queer) gender or sexuality, there are many different initialisms people prefer. LGBTQ is Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer and/or Questioning (sometimes people add a "+" at the end in an effort to be more inclusive); GSM is Gender and Sexual Minorities; DSG is Diverse Sexualities and Genders; TGNC is Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (sometimes you'll see NB added for nonbinary). Other options include the initialism GLBT or LGBT and the acronym QUILTBAG (Queer [or Questioning] Undecided Intersex Lesbian Trans* Bisexual Asexual [or Allied] and Gay [or Genderqueer].
Pansexual
adj. a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions. Often shortened to "pan."
Queer
1 adj. : an umbrella term to describe individuals who don't identify as straight and/or cisgender noun : a slur used to refer to someone who isn't straight and/or cisgender. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, and how it is still used as a slur in many communities, it is not embraced or used by all LGBTQ people. The term "queer" can often be used interchangeably with LGBTQ (e.g., "queer people" instead of "LGBTQ people").
Questioning
verb, adj. : an individual who or time when someone is unsure about or exploring their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
QPOC
abbr. initialism that stands for queer people of color.
straight
adj. : a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to some people who are not their same sex/gender. A more colloquial term for the word heterosexual.

Terms Related to Gender

Cisnormativity
noun : the assumption, in individuals and in institutions, that everyone is cisgender, and that cisgender identities are superior to trans* identities and people. Leads to invisibility of non-cisgender identities.
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."
Gender binary
noun : the idea that there are only two genders and that every person is one of those two.
Gender expression
noun : the external display of one's gender, through a combination of clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as "gender presentation."
Mx.
/ "mix" or "schwa" / - noun : an honorific (e.g., 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.
Passing
1 adj. & verb : 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 adj. : an LGB/queer individual who is believed to be or perceived as straight.
Sex assigned at birth (SAAB)
abbr. : 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 was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a woman.
Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) (use instead: Gender Confirmation Surgery)
noun : used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s biological sex. Instead, use: Gender confirmation surgery, which is considered by many to be a more affirming term. 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.

Gender Identities

Agender
noun : 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 someone who sees themselves as existing without gender. Sometimes called gender neutrois, gender neutral, or genderless.
Cisgender
/"siss-jendur"/ - adj. : a gender description for when someone's sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). 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."
FtM / F2M; MtF / M2F
abbr. : female-to-male transgender or transsexual person; male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.
Intersex
adj. : term for a combination of chromosones, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals that differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Formerly known as hermaphrodite, which is now considered an outdated and derogatory term.
Genderfluid / gender fluid
1 adj. : a gender identity label often used by people whose sense of self in relation to gender changes from time-to-time. The time frame might be over the course of many months, days, shorter, or longer, but the consistent experience is one of change. 2 adj. : a general descriptor for an individual's or society's ever-changing (i.e., "fluid") embodiment of gender, in the ways it affects us or we express it individually (e.g., someone might express gender fluidly), and/or in how it is socially constructed.
Genderqueer
1 adj. : a gender identity label often used by people who do not identify with the binary of man/woman. 2 adj. : an umbrella term for many gender non-conforming or non-binary identities (e.g., agender, bigender, genderfluid).
QTPOC
abbr. : initialism that stands for queer and/or trans people of color.
Trans*
adj. : an umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially-defined gender norms. Trans with an asterisk is often used in written forms (not spoken) to indicate that you are referring to the larger group nature of the term, and specifically including non-binary identities, as well as transgender men (transmen) and transgender women (transwomen). Some folks prefer not to use the asterisk (*).
Transgender
1 adj. : a gender description for someone who has transitioned (or is transitioning) from living as one gender to another. 2 adj. : an umbrella term for anyone whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity do not correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, but does not identify as a man).
Transition / Transitioning
noun, verb : referring to the process of a transgender person changing aspects of themself (e.g., their appearance, name, pronouns, or making physical changes to their body) to be more congruent with the gender they know themself to be (as opposed to the gender they lived as pre-transitioning).
Two-spirit
noun : is an umbrella term traditionally within Native American communities to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both feminine and masculine genders. An outdated, Eurocentric term sometimes used for this community is "Berdache".

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