Here are a few definitions to help you get started understanding the gender spectrum and LGBTQ+ terminology. This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. It is a place to help you get started. Some of these words you may be familiar with, but may have learned a flawed definition.
Sources: Welcoming Schools; It’s Pronounced Metro-Sexual; PFLAG; Raising My Rainbow
Advocate – (noun) (1) a person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a marginalized group. (verb) (2) to actively support/plea in favor of a particular cause, the action of working to end intolerance, educate others, etc.
Affirmed gender – (noun) the gender by which one wishes to be known. This term is often used to replace terms like “new gender” or “chosen gender,” which imply that the current gender was not always a person’s gender or that the gender was chosen rather than simply in existence.
Agender – (noun) a person who does not identify with any gender.
Ally – (noun) a term that describes a person who speaks out or takes actions on behalf of someone else or for a group that they are not a part of.
Androgyny/ous – (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.
Asexual: a term that describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction or desire for other people.
Assigned sex – (noun) the sex that is assigned to an infant at birth based on the child’s visible sex organs, including genitalia and other physical characteristics.
Assumed gender – (noun) the gender a person is assumed to be based on the sex they are assigned at birth.
Bi – (adj.) bisexual.
Bicurious – (adj) a curiosity about having attraction to people of the same gender/sex (similar to questioning).
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).
Biphobia – (noun) a range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, erasure, or discomfort) that one may have/express towards bisexual individuals. Biphobia can come from and be seen within the queer community as well as straight society. Biphobic – (adj) a word used to describe an individual who harbors some elements of this range of negative attitudes towards bisexual people.
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 [or designated] at birth.”
Bisexual – (adj) a term that describes a person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to people of more than one sex, gender or gender identity, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.
Butch – (noun & adj) a person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. ‘Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but is also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.
Cisgender – (adj; pronounced “siss-jendur”) a term that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., man and male-assigned). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not trans, they are cisgender.
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 – (verb); (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.).
Cross-dresser – (noun) someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.
Disclosure – (noun) word that some people use intently and others avoid with equal intent, preferring to use the term “coming out” to describe the act or process of revealing one’s transgender or gender nonconforming identity to another person in a specific instance. Some find the term offensive, implying the need to disclose something shameful, while others prefer disclosure, finding “coming out” offensive.
Drag King – (noun) someone who performs masculinity theatrically.
Drag Queen – (noun) someone who performs femininity theatrically.
Dyke – (noun) a term referring to a masculine presenting lesbian. While often used derogatorily, it can is adopted affirmatively by many lesbians (and not necessarily masculine ones) as a positive self-identity term.
Fag(got) – (noun) derogatory term referring to a gay person, or someone perceived as queer. Occasionally used as an self-identifying affirming term by some gay men, at times in the shortened form ‘fag’.
Feminine Presenting; Masculine Presenting – (adj) a way to describe someone who expresses gender in a more feminine or masculine way, for example in their hair style, demeanor, clothing choice, or style. Not to be confused with Feminine of Center and Masculine of Center, which often includes a focus on identity as well as expression.
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, relate to others in a more feminine/masculine way. Feminine of center individuals may also identify as femme, submissive, transfeminine, or more; masculine of center individuals may also often identity as butch, stud, aggressive, boi, transmasculine, or more.
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).
FtM / F2M; MtF / M2F – (adj) abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual person; abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.
Gay – (adj) (1) a term used to describe 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 males/men-identified ppl who are attracted to males/men-identified ppl, but can be applied to females/women-identified ppl 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.
Gender-affirming surgery (GAS) – (noun) surgical procedures that help people adjust their bodies in a way that more closely matches their innate or internal gender identity. Not every transgender person will desire or have resources for surgery. This should be used in place of the older and often offensive term “sex change.” Also sometimes referred to as sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), genital reconstruction surgery, or medical transition.
Gender Binary – (noun) the idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.
Gender Creative – (adj) people (typically children) who don’t conform to traditional or stereotypical gender norms; a developmental position in which the child transcends the culture’s normative definitions of male/female to creatively interweave a sense of gender that come neither totally from the inside (the body, the psyche), nor totally from the outside (culture, others’ perceptions), but resides somewhere in between. Sometimes referred to as gender non-conforming.
Gender-Expansive – (adj) describes a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.
Gender Expression – (noun) the external display of one’s gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as “gender presentation.”
Gender Fluid – (adj) gender fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more man some days, and more woman other days.
Gender Identity – (noun) the internal perception of an one’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, creative, and more.
Gender neutral – (adj.) not gender-based. Can refer to language (including pronouns), spaces (like bathrooms), or identities (like being gender queer, for example).
Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) – (adj) someone whose gender presentation, whether by nature or by choice, does not align in a predicted fashion with gender-based expectations.
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, genderfluid). Genderqueer people may think of themselves as one or more of the following, and they may define these terms differently:
- may combine aspects man and woman and other identities (bigender, pangender);
- not having a gender or identifying with a gender (genderless, agender);
- moving between genders (genderfluid);
- third gender or other-gendered; includes those who do not place a name to their gender having an overlap of, or blurred lines between, gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation.
Gender Role – (noun) a set of social and cultural beliefs or expectations about appropriate behavior for men/boys or women/girls. Gender roles can vary from culture to culture. Strict gender roles can limit a person’s development.
Gender Role Stereotyping – (verb) stereotypes based on social and cultural beliefs or expectations about appropriate behavior for men/boys or women/girls. This can limit children’s aspirations, achievements and well-being.
Gender Spectrum – (noun) the broad range along which people identify and express themselves as gendered beings or not.
Gender Transition – the process by which some people strive to more closely align their outward identity with the gender they know themselves to be. To affirm their gender identity, people may go through different types of transitions.
- Social transition: This can include a name change, change in pronouns and change in appearance, clothes or hairstyle.
- Legal transition: The process of updating identity documents, such as birth certificates and drivers’ licenses, to reflect a person’s authentic gender and name. Different states and localities have different rules, often making this process very challenging.
- Medical transition: For children, this may include the use of hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty. It may also include cross-sex hormones to induce a puberty that is more consistent with the child’s gender identity, or for adults, to promote physical changes. It can also include gender affirmation surgery.
Gender Variant– (adj) someone who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, gender creative, gender-queer, cross-dresser, etc.).
Heteronormativity – (noun) the assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Leads to invisibility and stigmatizing of other sexualities. Often included in this concept is a level of gender normativity and gender roles, the assumption that individuals should identify as men and women, and be masculine men and feminine women, and finally that men and women are a complimentary pair.
Heterosexism – (noun) behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness, 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 – (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 LGBTQ community. The term can also connote a fear, disgust, or dislike of being perceived as LGBTQ. The term is 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.
Intersex – (noun) someone whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. In the medical care of infants the initialism DSD (“Differing/Disorders of Sex Development”). About 1.7 percent of the population is intersex. Formerly known as *hermaphrodite (or hermaphroditic), but these terms are now considered outdated and derogatory.
Lesbian – (noun) a term used to describe women attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other women.
LGBTQ / GSM / DSG / + – (noun) initialisms used as 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, or Questioning (sometimes people at a + at the end in an effort to be more inclusive); GSM is Gender and Sexual Minorities; DSG is Diverse Genders and Sexualities. Other popular options include the initialism GLBT and the acronym QUILTBAG (Queer [or Questioning] Undecided Intersex Lesbian Trans Bisexual Asexual [or Allied] and Gay [or Genderqueer]).
Lipstick Lesbian – (noun) Usually refers to a lesbian with a feminine gender expression. Can be used in a positive or a derogatory way. Is sometimes also used to refer to a lesbian who is assumed to be (or passes for) straight.
Masculine of Center – (adj) a word that indicates a range personal understanding both in terms of gender identity and gender presentation of lesbian/queer women who present, understand themselves, relate to others in a more masculine way. These individuals may also often identity as butch, stud, aggressive, boi, trans-masculine among other identities.
Metrosexual – (noun & adj) a man with a strong aesthetic sense who spends more time, energy, or money on his appearance and grooming than is considered gender normative.
Misgender – (verb) to refer to someone, especially a transgender person, using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, which does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.
Mx. – (typically pronounced “mix”) is a title (e.g. Mr., Ms., etc.) that is gender neutral. It is often the option of choice for folks who do not identify within the cisgender binary.
Non-binary – (adj.) preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man. Not all non-binary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as non-binary. Sometimes non-binary can also be used to describe the aesthetic/presentation/expression of a cisgender or transgender person.
Out – (adj.) describes people who openly self-identify as LGBTQ in their private, public, and/or professional lives. Some people who are transgender prefer to use the term “disclose.”
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 for members of all gender identities/expressions.
Passing – (verb) (1) a term for trans people being accepted as, or able to “pass for,” a member of their self-identified gender/sex identity (regardless of birth sex). (2) An LGB/queer individual who can is believed to be or perceived as straight.
Preferred Gender Pronouns: A preferred gender pronoun, or PGP, is the pronoun or set of pronouns that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. In English, the singular pronouns that we use most frequently are gender based, which can create an issue for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, who may prefer that you use gender neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns when talking to or about them. The most commonly used singular gender-neutral pronouns are “ze” – pronounced “zee” – (sometimes spelled “zie”) and “hir” – pronounced “here.” Some also use “they” and “their” as gender-neutral singular pronouns. “Latinx” (pronounced “la-TEEN-ex”) is the preferred gender neutral pronoun for “Latino,” “Latina,” or “Latin@.”
Queer – (adj.) a term used by some people—particularly youth—to describe themselves and/or their community. Reclaimed from its earlier negative use, the term is valued by some for its defiance, by some because it can be inclusive of the entire community, and by others who find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. Traditionally a negative or pejorative term for people who are gay, “queer” is still sometimes disliked within the LGBTQ+ community. *Due to its varying meanings, this word should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as queer (i.e. “My cousin identifies as genderqueer.”)
Queer/Questioning (verb, adjective) – an individual who is unsure about or is exploring their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
Romantic Attraction – (noun) an affinity for someone that evokes the want to engage in relational intimate behavior (e.g., flirting, dating, marriage), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-non, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or emotional/spiritual attraction.
Same-Gender loving – (adj.) a term sometimes used by members of the African-American/Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation (gay/bisexual) without relying on terms and symbols of European descent.
Sex – (noun) one’s biological and physical attributes––external genitalia, sex chromosomes and internal reproductive structures––that are used to assign someone as male or female at birth.
Sex Assigned at Birth – (noun) this is generally determined by external genitalia at birth––female, male or intersex.
Sexual Attraction – (noun) an affinity for someone that evokes the want to engage in physical intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-non, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction or emotional/spiritual attraction.
Sexual Orientation – (noun) the type of sexual, romantic,emotional/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) the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in. (2) 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.
Sex Reassignment Surgery / SRS – A term used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s biological sex. “Gender confirmation surgery” 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.
Stealth – (adj). a term used to describe transgender or gender-expansive individuals who do not disclose their transgender or gender-expansive status in their public or private lives (or certain aspects of their public lives). *The term is increasingly considered offensive by some as it implies an element of deception. The phrase “maintaining privacy” is often used instead.
Straight – (adj) the slang term for heterosexual; Not LGBTQ+
Third Gender – (noun) a term 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.
Top Surgery – (noun) this term refers to surgery for the construction of a male-type chest or breast augmentation for a female-type chest.
Trans/Transgender – (adj) (1) An umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms. (2) A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on sex assigned at birth.
Transition(ing) – (noun & verb) this term is primarily used to refer to the process a trans person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.
Transman; Transwoman – (noun) An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transgender people or transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as assigned female sex at birth. (sometimes referred to as transguy) (2) Identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals or transgender people to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as assigned male sex at birth.
Transphobia –(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.
Transsexual – (noun & adj) a person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.
Transvestite – (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 (often called a “cross-dresser,” and should not be confused with transsexual)
Two-Spirit – (noun) is an umbrella term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders
Ze / Hir – alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some trans* people. Pronounced /zee/ and /here/ they replace “he” and “she” and “his” and “hers” respectively. Alternatively some people who are not comfortable/do not embrace he/she use the plural pronoun “they/their” as a gender neutral singular pronoun.
*Outdated terms that may be considered offensive:
Gender Dysphoria – according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-V): “A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least 6 months duration….associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of functioning.” This term is mainly used for health insurance and legal purposes. It can be used for access to an IEP or 504 in a school setting. DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.
Homosexual – a [medical] term used to describe a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex/gender. This term is considered stigmatizing due to its history as a category of mental illness, and is discouraged for common use (use gay or lesbian instead).
Lifestyle – a negative term often incorrectly used to describe the lives of people who are LGBTQ+. The term is disliked because it implies that being LGBTQ+ is a choice
(From www.time.com) A word about the phrases: “a Transgender” or “Transgendered” – Referring to someone as “a transgender” can sound about as odd as saying, “Look, a gay!” It turns a descriptive adjective into a defining noun and can make the subject sound distant and foreign, like they’re something else first and a person second. This guidance is part of GLAAD’s media reference guide, under the heading “Terms to Avoid”: “Do not say, ‘Tony is a transgender,’ or ‘The parade included many transgenders.’ Instead say, ‘Tony is a transgender man,’ or ‘The parade included many transgender people.’”
“The consensus now seems to be that transgender is better stylistically and grammatically,” DiEdoardo says. “In the same sense, I’m an Italian-American, not an Italianed-American.” The most common objection to the word, says Serano, is that the “ed” makes it sound like “something has been done to us,” as if they weren’t the same person all along. DiEdoardo illustrates this point, hilariously, with a faux voiceover: “One day John Jones was leading a normal, middle-class American life when suddenly he was zapped with a transgender ray!”
Moving away from the “ed”—which sounds like a past-tense, completed verb that marks a distinct time before and a time after— helps move away from some common misconceptions about what it means to be transgender.
One is that being transgender might be a choice that involves a person simply deciding to be that way or a result of something that happened to them, like sexual abuse. The majority of trans people I’ve spoken to have said they knew they had feelings of identifying as a boy (when assigned female) or girl (when assigned male) as far back as they can remember—even if they didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding to articulate what was going on—and even if they tried to change or stifle those feelings for half their lives. Imagine how it would sound if one described people as “gayed” or “femaled,” as if there was a point when that wasn’t the case.
Another misconception is that the defining part of being transgender is having surgery, as if a trans person isn’t really trans until they’ve gone under the knife and come out the other side fully “transgendered.”
“There’s a tendency in American culture for entertainment and news outlets to focus on surgery, surgery, surgery,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told TIME in a previous interview. But, she says, while surgery is very important for some trans people, others have no desire to have surgery; they might not have surgery for medical reasons, religious beliefs, financial constraints and so on. There’s an “authenticity issue that trans people face,” says Elizabeth Reis, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. “People are so focused on whether or not they’ve had surgery, as if that’s the pinnacle of authenticity. Even if they haven’t had it or if they haven’t had it yet or they’re never planning on having it, they still have these feelings about their gender.” Avoiding the ed isn’t going to solve that authenticity issue, but it doesn’t hurt.