Below is a list of commonly used (or often misunderstood) terms within the LGBTQ+ community. Please know that while these definitions have been carefully researched and vetted for appropriateness and usage, there may be some variations based on culture, geography, or experience. Additionally, definitions or appropriate usage of some terms and concepts may change rapidly due to more nuanced understanding of the word or individuals described by a word/phrase. Both culture and the culture of acceptance are evolving, as are the terms used within it! If you do not understand a word someone is using or how that word should be used, the best idea is to ask!
Ally – A person who confronts the issues facing marginalized persons despite not being a member of the marginalized group. For example, in the LGBTQ+ community, this could be a straight, cisgender person who openly denounces transphobia and homophobia. Members of the LGBTQ+ community can also be allies to one another - such as a lesbian who criticizes biphobia, or a cisgender gay man who stands up for transgender rights. An ally does not speak over the voices of members of the marginalized group, but rather uses their privilege to bring attention to the cause.
Binding – The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest. Usually carried out with a special bra-type binder. Binding should be thoroughly researched before being used because if it is done incorrectly, it can cause irreversible damage to breast tissue and ribs. Binding can reduce body dysphoria in many trans individuals, but should never be seen as a requirement to be “truly” trans.
Biphobia - The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals. Biphobia is not limited to general society, as it is often found in the LGBTQ+ community by means of erasure (see also “Erasure”). Biphobia is not just fear or discrimination, but also includes the belief that bisexuals are more promiscuous, that they are more prone to cheating, or that bisexuality does not exist and a bisexual person will eventually “choose” to be gay or straight.
Bottom Surgery – Surgery of the genitals designed to align the body in harmony with a person’s gender identity and/or expression.
Coming Out – May refer to the process by which one discovers and/or accepts one’s own LGBTQ+ identity and/or expression (to “come out” to oneself). May also refer to the process by which one shares one’s LGBTQ+ identity with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.). This is a continuous, lifelong process for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people might experience different degrees of openness about their identity over their life. Coming out does not have to be a public expression or process to be valid, and it may exist only within a person’s self-assessment.
Drag - The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically and for entertainment purposes. A behavior, not necessarily an identity.
Drag King – A person who performs masculinity theatrically and for entertainment purposes. A behavior, not necessarily an identity.
Drag Queen – A person who performs femininity theatrically and for entertainment purposes. A behavior, not necessarily an identity.
Erasure – The means by which society, culture, or individuals discount and/or condemn an identity, whether ostracizing or simply ignoring it. An example of this is when people claim that bisexuality is a phase and does not exist - by both minimizing and ignoring the reality of bisexuality, these persons are engaging in bisexuality erasure.
FTM / F2M – Abbreviations for a female-to-male transgender person. Often used in the transgender community with the understanding that the trans individual is not “changing” into another gender and has always been that way. Please ask before identifying someone. Use the term and pronouns used by the individual.
Gender Binary – The idea that there are only two genders – male/female – and believing that a person's gender is only possible as one or the other (and must be strictly either/or). (See also ‘Identity Sphere.’) This system is oppressive to anyone who defies their sex assigned at birth, but particularly to those who do not fit neatly into one of the two standard categories.
Gender Confirming Surgery – Medical surgeries used to modify one’s body to be more in harmony with one’s gender identity. (See also ‘Sex Reassignment Surgery.’)
Gender Cues – Socialized behaviors humans use to attempt to ascertain the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.
Gender Identity – A person’s inner sense of being masculine, feminine, or another combination of gender(s).
Gender Oppression - The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices which privilege cisgender individuals while disparaging transgender people. Also known as “genderism.”
Heteronormativity – The tacit assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone falls into the binary categories of male or female by believing in and engaging others through a world view that binary cis-gender expression and identity (masculine or feminine) are the only options for people. This often expresses as the idea that every person has a natural role in life in regards to their assigned gender identity at birth with prescribed assumptions of associated gender expression. Heteronormative beliefs render individuals and/or the community invisible by assuming everyone has and wants to pursue the same goals and ideals of various social norms expected from heterosexual persons/relationships.
Heterosexism – Prejudice/attitudes perpetrated by individuals or institutions that is directed against those who display non-heterosexual behaviors or identities. This includes denying personal and political significance of LGBTQ+ identity, labeling LGBTQ+ identity as a problem or abnormal, and considering heterosexism as less important than other oppressions. Heterosexism often manifests in individuals and institutions by interpreting everything LGBTQ+ people do to be a product of sexuality. Heterosexism actively engages oppression by assuming everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise, and/or expecting people to avoid talking about and being LGBTQ+. This oppression may also express though homophobia.
Homophobia – The irrational fear or hatred of gay persons, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid gender role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism, and may lead to engagement of heterosexist beliefs and behaviors, individual and/or systematic oppression of LGBTQ+ individuals, and/or violence against those perceived as LGBTQ+.
Identity Sphere – The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale between the traditional binary check-boxes of masculine and feminine, but rather on a sphere, which allows room for a continuum of gender identity and expression without weighting any one expression as better than another.
In the Closet – Refers to any LGBTQ+person who cannot, has not, or will not disclose their LGBTQ+ identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society. There are varying degrees of being “in the closet”; for example, a person can be out in their social life, but in the closet at work, or with their family. Also known as ‘Down low” or ‘DL.’
Intersex Person - Describes a person who is born with reproductive, sexual, or chromosomal anatomy which are not singularly displaying as binary female or male sexual characteristics. The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for the word transgender (although some people who are intersex may also identify as transgender).
Outing – The involuntary and non-consensual disclosure of one’s orientation/identity. Often a traumatic experience as it is not a choice.
Polyamory – Refers to having relationships with multiple partners with all partners knowledge and consent, and can include: co-primary relationships, open relationships, polyfidelity (see below), and sub-relationships (also see below). (Also known as Ethical non-Monogamy).
Polyfidelity – Involves multiple and/or parallel romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to those involved, with the knowledge and consent of all partners.
Queer – A term which has been reclaimed by some people of marginalized gender identities and sexual orientations to describe themselves. Queer has been used as an offensive term historically, but in the modern context this term is used for many reasons, including its defiance. It is also used in academic contexts because of its use to describe the community in a single term, and can be, but not always is, inclusive of those who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.
[Disclaimer: Some people are very uncomfortable with the term "Queer". It is important not to use any term to identify specific individuals if they are not comfortable or choose not to identify with a particular term(s). Additionally, it is considered highly derogatory to use the grammar articles “a” or “the” to prefix the word, Queer.]
Sub-relationships – A polyamorous relationship structure in which a person has multiple partners who are not equal to one another in terms of interconnection, emotional intensity, intertwinement in practical or financial matters, or power within the relationship. Sub-relationships further denotes a distinguishing factor between a ‘primary" or “co-primary” relationship, and various secondary and/or tertiary relationships.
Sex - A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. While it is usually subdivided into “male” and “female”, this category does not recognize the existence of intersex bodies.
Sex Identity – How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between, beyond, neither, or any combination thereof.
Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) – A term used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s “sex.” In most states, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve legal recognition of gender variance. Also known as “Gender Confirming Surgery.”
Sexuality – A person’s preference for a specific gender. Sexuality exists without sexual behavior. For example, a woman who is bisexual is not straight because they have only slept with men.
Top Surgery - This term usually refers to surgery for the construction of a traditionally male chest, but may also refer to breast augmentation.
Trans* – An umbrella term which covers a variety of genders outside of the societal norms or expectations of gender, specifically including gender identities which may not be viewed as binary - as in, not expressly male or female.
Transgender - Typically refers to people who move away from the gender identity associated with the sex they were assigned at birth and/or their biological sex. Identifying as transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.
Transactivism- The political and social movement to create equality for transgender persons.
Transgender (Trans) Community – A loose category of people who transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central ethic of this community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms including gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Transphobia – The irrational fear or hatred of trans persons or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid biological sexes. May also refer to the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.
Agender – Can be translated as “without gender,” but does not necessarily mean a lack of gender identity. May be genderless, but may also identify with non-binary gender expression, or combination of genders.
Androgenous – A non-binary expression of gender. Someone who behaves, dresses, or identifies with a combination of both feminine and masculine traits. May also be understood as the opposite, which is behaving, dressing, and identifying as neither feminine nor masculine. The expression of gender does not be in equal amounts.
Bigender - One whose gender identity aligns with a combination of the social constructs of masculine and feminine gender expression. Can also identify as multigender (identifying as two or more genders).
Butch – A gender identity, sometimes used in a derogatory manner toward masculine lesbians. While created in lesbian society, the term is applicable to any gender/identity. The complement of “femme,” (see below).
Cisgender – Someone whose assigned sex matches their identity.
Femme – A gender identity, often used to describe highly-feminine lesbians. May be a person of any gender/sex; a term created to complement “butch.”
Genderqueer – A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. Umbrella term to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.
Pangender – A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.
Transman – An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transgender individuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history when they were raised as females. Also referred to as ‘transguy(s).’
Transwoman – An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transgender individuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history when they were raised as males.
Ze/Hir/They – Some examples of alternate pronouns one might prefer others to refer them by; “Ze” replaces “he/she,” and “hir” replaces him/her,” whereas “they” is replaces any pronoun, singular or plural; all refer to a single person without assumption of gender. (Check our Pronouns Matter page to learn more).
Aromantic – A person who does not have romantic feelings or desires. While romantic persons desire romantic relationships, aromantic persons feel no dissatisfaction from not being in one.
Asexual – A person who does not have sexual feelings or desires. May still participate in sexual behavior, usually for a partner’s sake. Important: being asexual does not necessarily mean one is entirely put off from sexual relations, it simply means one does not actively desire it. Also, asexuality does not automatically mean one is aromantic. (See below.)
Bicurious – A curiosity about having emotional/physical relations with another whose identity/sex is not the person’s (both conscious and subconscious) previously preferred identity/gender. Also referred to as “Questioning.”
Biromantic – A person emotionally/psychologically attracted to members of more than one gender.
Bisexual – This is an umbrella term which describes people whose sexual and/or romantic attractions are not limited to one sex and/or gender. The specific way people experience these attractions may further be specifically identified by the individual using terms such as pansexual, etc. It is an open and inclusive word which describes a diverse group of people with a wide variety of experiences around same-sex and different-sex attractions. Individuals may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.
Gay – An adjective used to describe people whose physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attractions are to people of the same sex. In contemporary contexts, the term is more commonly used to describe the population who identifies as men who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to other men.
Heteromantic– A person primarily emotionally/psychologically attracted to members of the a different gender identity.
Heterosexual – A person primarily sexually attracted to members of a different gender identity.
Homoromantic– A person primarily emotionally/psychologically attracted to members of the same gender identity.
Homosexual – A person primarily sexually attracted to members of the same gender identity.
[Note: this term is no longer utilized in everyday (colloquial) speech, and in a modern context is sometimes considered offensive if used as a adjective.]
Lesbian – Usually describes a person who identifies as a woman who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other women, but can be used by non-binary identities.
Panromantic– A person whose emotional/psychological attraction is not affected by another’s sex/gender/identity.
Pansexual – Usually, a person whose sexual attraction is not affected by another’s sex/gender/identity. Persons who identify as bisexual might use this definition for their bisexuality instead, and the definition of these two identities largely depend on the people who use them.
Romantic Orientation – One’s emotional/psychological identity in regards to the gender/sex one is romantically attracted to.
Sexual Orientation – One’s sexual identity in regards to the sex one is physically attracted to (hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan-).
Straight – Another term for heterosexual.
Some definitions listed were adapted from the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center list, 2015.