Terms to Know

Some definitions may include words you aren’t familiar with or terms that have been misused, carrying a flawed or incomplete definition. This list of terms is ever-evolving, as it is frequently updated to reflect the most current understanding.

Please also reference GLAAD’s “Terms to Avoid” and the American Psychological Association’s article, “Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language,” to better understand why some terms are preferred over others.

agender – A person who is internally ungendered or does not have a felt sense of gender identity.

aggressive (AG) – A term used to describe a female-bodied and identified person who prefers presenting as masculine. This term is most commonly used in urban communities of color.

androgynous – A person appearing and/or identifying as neither distinguishably man/masculine nor woman/feminine, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

ally – Someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own. Promotes equality in a variety of ways.

asexual – Someone who generally does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people can experience sexual arousal, romantic attraction and desire intimacy, but do not feel the need to act out those feelings in a sexual, physical way. Asexuality should not be confused with celibacy which is a distinct choice to not have sex.

bi-gender – Someone who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

binary -That of which only two possibilities exist. For example, in our society, gender has been historically referred to in binary terms (strictly male or female). In gender binary compositional terms, neither a spectrum, flexibility, nor expansion are plausible.

biphobia – Prejudice, fear, or hatred directed toward people who are bisexual; can be overt or very subtle.

bisexual – An adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity.

cisgender – Referring to an individual who has a match between the gender they were assigned at birth and the roles and behaviors considered by society to be appropriate to their particular sex.

cisgenderism – Assuming every person to be cisgender therefore marginalizing those who identify as trans* in some form. It is also believing cisgender people to be superior, and holding people to traditional expectations based on gender, or punishing or excluding those who don’t conform to traditional gender expectations.

closeted – A closeted person and the expression ‘in the closet’ describes an LGBTQ person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity to some or all people.

coming out – The process in which a person first acknowledges their sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to partially or fully share such with others. It is important that each person’s coming out process is their own, meaning we should never out someone.

cross-dresser – A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. Avoid using the older term ‘transvestite’ which is now considered a derogatory term.

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.

drag Performance of gender expression; does not correlate with sexual orientation.

drag king – Used to refer to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.

drag queen – Used to refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.

dyke – (slang) referring to a lesbian or lesbianism regardless of the person’s actual sexual identity. Originally, it was a derogatory label for a masculine or butch woman, and this usage still exists. However, it has also been re-appropriated as a positive term implying assertiveness and toughness, or simply as a neutral synonym for lesbian, regardless of individual gender expression.

fag – (slang) is a shortened version of the word faggot and is a pejorative term and common homophobic slur used primarily in North America against homosexual males. The word has many meanings worldwide, like ‘bundle of sticks,’ ‘cigarette’  or as a culinary term for seasoning added to a meal. The etymology of the word faggot meaning homosexual is unclear, though the earliest known written reference was in 1914 as a contemptuous word for ‘woman.’ Some gays have ‘reclaimed’ the word, but many still reject it. GLSEN’s ‘Think Before You Speak campaign is an example of the efforts made by the gay community to stop it’s popular usage.

gay – An adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex or gender. Avoid identifying gay people as “homosexuals” an outdated term considered derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people.

gender – A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures.

gender dysphoria – Clinically significant distress caused from psychological conflict when a person’s assigned birth gender does not match the gender to which they identify. People (some even younger than four years old) may feel very uncomfortable in and/or with their bodies or with the expectations of their assigned gender. Gender dysphoria is not the same as gender nonconformity. Not every person who is transgender will experience dysphoria; they key term is distress.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry “Gender Identity Disorder” with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. Some transgender advocates believe the inclusion of Gender Dysphoria in the DSM is necessary in order to advocate for health insurance that covers the medically necessary treatment recommended for transgender people.

gender expansive – A wide and flexible range of gender identity and/or expression outside of society’s strict binary (only two, male or female) gender system.

gender expression – How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

gender fluid – A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations. Fluid, not fixed, gender identity and/or expression. Individuals who identify as fluid are not confused or questioning.

gender identity – An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. Gender identity can be the same or different from sex assigned at birth.

gender-neutral / gender-inclusive – Inclusive language to describe relationships (“spouse” and “partner” instead of “husband/boyfriend” and “wife/girlfriend”), spaces (gender-neutral/inclusive restrooms are for use by all genders), pronouns (“they” and “ze” are gender neutral/inclusive pronouns) among other things.

gender non-conforming – A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender. Abbreviated as “GNC.”

gender roles – Culturally-defined behaviors, traits, mannerisms, appearances; socially constructed ideals or norms

gender variant – A synonym for “gender diverse” and “gender non-conforming”; “gender diverse” and “gender non-conforming” are preferred to “gender variant” because variance implies a standard normativity of gender.

genderism – The system of belief that there are only two genders (men and women) and that gender is inherently tied to one’s sex assigned at birth. It holds cisgender people as superior to transgender people, and punishes or excludes those who don’t conform to society’s expectations of gender.

genderqueer – A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female. Someone who is genderqueer may identify as male or female, neither, or something completely different.

gender transition – The process through which a person endeavors to better align with their internal gender identity. Transitioning most often falls somewhere along a spectrum, as each person’s transition will be unique to them/their situation. Some people socially transition (by pronoun usage, dressing/appearance, or legal changes) and/or medically transition (through hormones or surgeries). It is not appropriate to ask someone what aspects of transition have been completed.

GNCGender Non-Conforming. See definition above.

hate crime – A crime (usually an act of violence) where the victim is targeted because of their perceived membership in a certain social group, race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

heterosexuality – Sexual, emotional, and/or romantic attraction to a sex other than your own. Commonly thought of as “attraction to the opposite sex” but since there are not only two sexes (see “Intersex” and “Transsexual”), this definition is inaccurate.

heterosexism – A term that applies to a system of negative attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of heterosexual sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the norm and therefore superior. Heterosexism as discrimination ranks gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social equality in the majority of the world’s jurisdictions and societies.

heterosexual privilege – Benefits derived automatically by being (or being perceived as) heterosexual that are denied to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers and all other non-heterosexual sexual orientations.

homophobia – A range of negative attitudes and feelings towards LGBQ people. Definitions refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-heterosexual orientation. Homophobia is not a binary concept (meaning we aren’t either homophobic or not homophobic); rather, it is a spectrum in which many people have some degree of homophobia (even if they don’t intend to), which can be expressed overtly or in very subtle manners.

internalized homophobia – When LGBQ individuals are subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance and stigmas towards LGBQ people, and as a result, turn those ideas inward believing they are true.

internalized oppression – The process by which an oppressed person comes to believe, accept, or live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.

intersex – A term used for people who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersex conditions are also known as differences of sex development (DSD). Not the same thing as being transgender.

invisible minority – A group whose minority status is not always immediately visible, such as some disabled people and LGBTIQ people. This lack of visibility may make organizing for rights difficult.

lesbian – A woman whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women.

LGBTQ – “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning.” Sometimes noted with a “+” sign (LGBTQ+) to indicate the inclusion of additional identities that belong to this community.

LGBTQIA – “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Ally.”

lifestyle – Inaccurate term used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives. As there is no one straight lifestyle, there is no one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender lifestyle.

marginalized – Excluded, ignored, or relegated to the outer edge of a group/society/community.

microagressions – A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.  Most of the time, people are unaware that they have enacted a microagression because they are so embedded in cultural transactions; however it is important to be aware of how we might unknowingly contribute to the stress that people in marginalized groups. Click here for examples of microagressions against the LGBTQ+ community that we can avoid.

MSM – Men who engage in same-sex behavior, but who may not necessarily self-identify as gay or bisexual.

M2F/M2F  – Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.

non-Op -A trans-identified person whose identity does not involve receiving Sexual Reassignment Surgery/Sex Confirmation Surgery

out (of the closet) – Refers to varying degrees of being open about one’s sexual orientation and/or sex identity or gender identity.

outing – Telling someone about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their express permission.

on T  – When a person takes the hormone testosterone.

PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, is a non-profit ally group whose mission is to ‘promote the health and well-being of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender persons − while providing support and information to their families and friends.’

pangender – A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

pansexual – A sexual orientation that emphasizes romantic, emotional, and spiritual attraction to people regardless of their gender or gender expression. Pansexuality widely rejects the gender binary and embraces fluidity, thus is not the same as being bisexual.

polyamory – The practice of having multiple open, honest love relationships.

post-op –  A trans-identified person who has received Sexual Reassignment Surgery/Sex Confirmation Surgery.

pre-op – A trans-identified person who has not received Sexual Reassignment Surgery; implies that the person does intend to receive such surgical procedures

queer – A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender people. Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a sense of gender. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.

questioning – People who are exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not the same as fluidity.

sex – A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Common terms are “male, “female” and “intersex.”

sex reassignment surgery: Surgical procedures that change one’s body to better reflect a person’s gender identity. This may include different procedures, including those sometimes also referred to as “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.

sex identity – The sex that a person sees themselves as. This can include refusing to label oneself with a sex.

sexual orientation – A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same sex and/or a different sex, usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual. However, the types of sexual orientation has increased with our understanding. Click here for UCSB’s “Overview of Sexual Orientations.”

transgender – An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. An umbrella term for transsexuals (older term), cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation; transgender people may have any sexual orientation. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.)

transgender man – A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man, aka FTM.

transgender woman – A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman, aka MTF.

transition – The time when a person begins to living as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing one’s first name and dressing and grooming differently. Transitioning may or may not also include medical and legal aspects, including taking hormones, having surgery, or changing identity documents (e.g. driver’s license, Social Security record) to reflect one’s gender identity. Medical and legal steps are often difficult for people to afford.

transphobia –Fear or hatred of transgender people; transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment and discrimination.

transsexual – An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seeks to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical.

transvestite – An outdated term for a cross-dresser that is considered derogatory.

triangle – A symbol of remembrance. Gay men in the Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear the pink triangle as a designation of being homosexual. Women who did not conform to social roles, often believed to be lesbians, had to wear the black triangle. The triangles are worn today as symbols of freedom, reminding us to never forget.

two-spirit – A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

ze– Gender neutral pronouns that can be used instead of he/she.

zir – Gender neutral pronouns that can be used instead of his/her.


As found on http://www.revelandriot.com/resources/lgbtq-and-trans-definitions. Many definitions have been borrowed from: GLAADGLSEN, the NCTE,  The Gender Equity Resource Center at UC Berkley, and the Human Rights Campaign.