LGBT Terminology

Note: Because of the inherently changing nature of the use of words in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Allied (LGBTQIA) community, these definitions are always in draft form. It should also be noted that these terms are contextualized from American culture. Other cultures have their own terms, definitions, and identities. Please note, most of these definitions are taken from the University of California Riverside LGBT Resource Center.

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Ag/Aggressive: See “Stud.”

Agendered: Person is internally ungendered.

Ally: Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexual privilege in themselves and others out of self-interest, a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people, and a belief that heterosexism is a social justice issue.

Androgyne: Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, present a gender either mixed or neutral.

Androgyny: Blending or absence of what are usually regarded as male or female characteristics, values, or attitudes; aims to integrate into one’s personality the positive characteristics of the other sex as well as one’s own.

Asexual: Person who does not feel sexual attraction or does not have a sexual orientation.



Berdache: A generic term first used to describe Native American/American Indians who adopted a gender role that was in contrast with their given sex (a male-bodied person who engaged in a woman’s gender role or took a husband). This was sometimes referred to as a “third gender” category. The term “berdache” is generally rejected as inappropriate and offensive by Native Peoples because it is a term that was assigned by European settlers to differently gendered Native Peoples. Appropriate terms vary by tribe and include: “one-spirit,” “two-spirit,” and “winkte."

Bicurious: A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.

Bigendered: A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.

Binding: The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest.

Biphobia: The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals. Negative perceptions of bisexual-identified individuals are often steeped in the belief that bisexuals are promiscuous or that they can’t be attracted to both men and women.

Bisexual: People whose affectional and/or sexual orientation is for men or women. Bisexual identity is far more than sexual behaviors, however, and identifies an entire orientation, parallel to heterosexual and homosexual identity. Someone who is bisexual may feel equally attracted to men and woman or may have a stronger preference for one sex over the other.

Bottom Surgery: Surgery on the genitals designed to create a body in harmony with a person’s preferred gender identity.

Butch: 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 it also can be claimed as an affirmative identity label.



Cisgender: A term describing anyone who is not transgender, gender nonconforming or questioning; a non-transgender person (i.e., a cisgender man or a cisgender woman) means that the individual was socialized and still identifies and expresses as the gender assigned to them at birth and is comfortable doing so.

Cisgender Privilege: The unearned rights or benefits afforded to cisgender people because of the gender conformance that are denied to those who are gender variant.

Cisgenderism: Occurs when prejudice against individuals and groups who display non-cisgender behaviors or identities is combined with power to impose inequity between cisgender and non-cisgender groups. Any attitude, action, or practice — backed by institutional power — that subordinates people because of their gender identity/expression.

Coming Out: Refers to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexual orientation (to “come out” to one’s self). Also refers to the process by which one shares one’s sexual orientation with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.).  This process is a continual, lifelong process for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals. 

Cross-dresser: One who wears clothing considered “inappropriate” by society for one’s gender for comfort, performance, sexual gratification, or any other purposes(s). An old term is transvestite, and because this is considered offensive by a lot of people, it should not be used unless a person self-identifies using it.



Discrimination: Prejudice plus power. It occurs when members of a more powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including individual acts of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the affected group.

Drag King/Queen: Traditionally, drag is understood as the performance of one or multiple genders theatrically through dress, mannerisms, and makeup. Drag Kings/Queens may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, gender variant, and/or cisgender. Dragging can be an expression of one’s gender, a political statement, a venue for entertainment, and a safe space for gender exploration and empowerment.

Dyke: Derogatory term referring to a masculine lesbian. Currently adopted by many lesbians in an affirmative manner as a term of empowerment, regardless of their gender expression (masc/fem).



Fag: Derogatory term that refers to men who are not heterosexually identified and/or who express a feminine gender expression.

Femme: A feminine-identified person of any gender/sex.

Female to Male (FTM, F2M): Person born female-bodied but who self-identifies primarily as male. FTMs may/may not seek surgical intervention to make their bodies congruent with their sense of self (related terms: transmen, men with female histories, female-bodied men, transgender, pre-op, post-op, transsexual).



Gay: Most often describes homosexual men and is the most socially acceptable term to describe homosexual men. Some women also are comfortable describing themselves as gay. This term is often (incorrectly) used as shorthand to describe the LGBTQIA community.

Gender assignment: A term used to describe individual identity given at birth. The assisting physician assigns gender at birth. It is this determination that first classifies a human into a gendered category. Determination of this first gender assignment is dependent on the appearance of external genitalia.

Gender Attribution Process: A process through which gender is ascribed. It is a term used to describe the process individuals use to categorize people into gendered categories, usually using binary structures. Being male or female is, thus, a cultural event [Kessler & McKenna, 1978]. Some literature cites more in-depth analysis of this, that gender attribution is a process of weighing gendered cues. [Bornstein, 1994]. Bornstein states that it takes four female cues to outweigh one male cue. These cues consist of a range of criteria. 

1.  Physical cues: Body, hair, clothes, voice, skin, and movement.
2.  Behavioral cues: Manners, decorum, protocol, and deportment.

All of these define status in an upper (male) or lower (female) class 

3. Textual cues: Histories, documents, names, associates, relationships — true or false — that support a desired gender attribution (driver's license, name change, etc.).
4. Mythic cues: Cultural and subcultural myths that support membership in a given gender (archetypes such as dumb blonde, strong and silent type, etc.).
5. Power Dynamics: Modes of communication, communication techniques, degree of aggressiveness, assertiveness, persistence and ambition.
6. Sexual Orientation as Cue: The “heterosexual imperative” or the “homosexual imperative” — a trans male going on a date with a woman dressed as a woman, or a trans woman in a gay bar with another woman. Their gender attribution can be perceived because of a perceived sexual orientation. So sex (the act) and gender (the classification) are different, and depending on the qualifier one is using for gender differentiation, they may or may not be dependent on one another.
7. Biological Gender: Classification through body type, chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, or some other corporal/chemical essence (theory of biological supremacy) [Bornstein, 1994].

Gender Binary: The idea that there are only two genders, male and female, and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.

Gender Cues: What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, and facial hair. Cues vary by culture.

Gender Expression/Presentation: Expression of gender through behavior, clothing, hair style, voice, and body movement/characteristics.

Gender Identity: The psychological understanding of oneself in relation to gender. The two most common gender identities are male and female, but many others exist, including transgender, genderqueer, third gender, two-spirit, and others that are marginalized in American society.

Gender Non-Conforming: A person who may or may not identify as transgender but who has a gender identity, gender expression, and/or gendered behavior(s) that are outside of the binary of masculine male and feminine female; for example, a butch lesbian or flamboyant gay man could be described as gender non-conforming. This term does not require a person to identify as such to be applied appropriately.

Gender Role: The social role one plays with regard to gender. There are two roles as defined by society, that of a “man” (dominant in a relationship, assertive, non-emotional, enjoys sports, etc.) and that of a “woman” (non-dominant in a relationship, passive, empathetic/emotional, enjoys cooking, etc.). This is based on stereotypes of appropriate behavior, appearance, etc., that are often sexist and very offensive and restricting.

Gender Variant: A person who by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.). This term also is sometimes applied to butch women and feminine men whose gender identity is congruent with the state of their body.

Genderqueer: One whose gender identity lies outside of the binary male/female, often somewhere on the continuum between male and female or entirely outside of the gender binary system, sometimes changing on a regular basis. Individuals who identify as genderqueer sometimes seek to challenge or disrupt gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.



Hermaphrodite: An out-of-date and offensive term for an intersex person. See "Intersex."

Heteronormativity: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality, bisexuality, or queer sexual orientations. 

Heterosexism: Prejudice against individuals and groups who display non-heterosexual behaviors or identities, combined with the majority power to impose such prejudice. Usually used to the advantage of the group in power. Any attitude, action, or practice — backed by an institutional power — that subordinates people because of their sexual orientation.

Heterosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the other sex (related term: straight).

Heterosexual Privilege: Those benefits derived automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.

HIV-phobia: The irrational fear or hatred of persons living with HIV/AIDS. 

Homophobia/Homonegativity: The irrational fear of homosexuals or homosexuality, or any behavior, belief, or attitude believed to indicate homosexuality or tolerance of homosexuality. Refers to the discomfort one feels with any behaviors (telling “faggot” jokes, graffiti, verbal and physical harassment), and discriminatory policies such as denial of health, retirement, and housing benefits. Homophobia results in fear of knowing, befriending, or associating with gays, lesbians, or bisexuals; fear of being perceived as gay or lesbian; or fear of stepping out of accepted gender role behavior. 

Homosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex (i.e., gay, lesbian).



Internalized Oppression: Sometimes members of marginalized groups hold an oppressive view toward their own group or start to believe in negative stereotypes of themselves.

In The Closet: May refer to a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or allied person who has not accepted his or her own sexuality, gender identity, or physical makeup (to be “in the closet” to one’s self). Also may refer to those who choose not to share their sexuality, gender identity, or physical makeup with family, friends, co-workers, or society (to be “in the closet” to everyone). (Related terms: closeted, “out”).

Institutional Oppression: Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.

Intersex: One born with an anatomy and/or physiology that differs from the cultural and medical “ideals” of male and female, including genitals, gonads, hormone production, and/or genotypes that are considered non-standard; most individuals who are intersex do not identify as transgender and the intersex community is not part of the trans community. [This term is included to help avoid confusion of the trans and intersex communities.]



Legal Sex: Your sex as the local, state, and federal government sees you. The “F” or “M” marker on someone’s state ID, driver’s license, Social Security card, birth certificate, etc. A person’s legal sex at birth and one’s legal sex later in life may or may not match. Also, all documentation may or may not be the same. **Federal documents (passport, birth certificate, military ID) may only be changed if you have completed sexual reassignment surgery.

Lesbian: Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as such is sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not necessarily represent the identities of African-Americans and other non-European ethnic groups. This being said, individual female-identified people from diverse ethnic groups, including African-Americans, embrace the term "lesbian" as an identity label.

Lesbian Baiting: The heterosexist notion that any woman who prefers the company of women, who does not have a mail partner, who has a masculine gender expression, or who shows agency over heterosexist/patriarchal institutions and/or attitudes, is a lesbian. This is often used as a threat to control the actions and attitudes of non-queer women by heterosexist systems.

LGBTQIA: Acronym most commonly used to refer to the community composed of those whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and whose gender identity is not traditional masculine/feminine. It can be broken down into its constituent parts of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, queer, intersex, ally, but is more inclusive when used as an acronym.



Male to Female (MTF, M2F): Person born male-bodied but who identifies primarily as female. MTFs may/may not seek surgical intervention to make their bodies congruent with their sense of self (related terms: transwomen, females with male histories, male-bodied females, transgender, pre-op, post-op, transsexual).



Oppression: The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.

Outing: The use of fact or rumor and innuendo to declare someone as LGBTQIA. This phenomenon is commonly used by militant gay awareness groups and tabloid magazines to “out” famous people. Outing a person when they are not ready or comfortable can be very upsetting and damaging to an individual. 



Pansexual: A person who is sexually attracted more by gender identities/expressions than male/female. This identity encompasses bodies and attraction outside of the gender binary.

Passing: Describes a person's ability to be recognized/accepted as their preferred gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual. Those individuals in the LGBTQIA community who do not “pass” may be in danger of increased discrimination and harassment. 

Polyamory: Refers to having honest, usually non-possessive, relationships with multiple partners and can include open relationships, polyfidelity (which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to those), and sub-relationships (which denote distinguishing between a "primary" relationship or relationships and various "secondary" relationships).

Prejudice: A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.



Queer: 1. An umbrella term that embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive (underworld) explorers. 2. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label instead of "bisexual" as a way of acknowledging that there are more than two genders to be attracted to or as a way of stating a non-heterosexual orientation without having to state who they are attracted to. 3. A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. "Queer" is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades "queer" was used solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold "queer" to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive. Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in group when used by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is not a member of the group.  

Questioning: Refers to individuals who are unsure of or are exploring their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or physical development and as a result “question” their identity.



Same Gender Loving: A term sometimes used by members of the African-American/black community to express an alternative sexual orientation without relying on terms and symbols of European descent. The term emerged in the early 1990s with the intention of offering black women who love women and black men who love men a voice, a way of identifying and being that resonated  with the uniqueness of black culture in life. Sometimes abbreviated as "SGL."

Sex: A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. Usually subdivided into "male" and "female" to the exclusion of any others; however, scientists have identified more than 40 human sex categories, two of which are male and female.

Sexual Behavior: How one expresses their sexuality. One does not have to exhibit any sexual behavior to identify their sexual orientation or identity. As well, sexual behavior can be congruent or incongruent with sexual identity or sexual orientation.

Sexual Identity: This is the definition a person consciously or unconsciously assigned to their sexuality (gay, straight, bi, lesbian, etc.). This may be congruent or incongruent with one's sexual behavior or sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation: The direction of a person’s sexual, emotional, erotic, romantic, physical, and psychological attractions for other people.

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.

Sexuality: A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual pleasur,e and desire.

SOFFAs: Abbreviation for “Significant Others, Friends, Family, and Allies” of trans people/communities.

Stealth: This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in the public sphere about their gender history after transitioning or while successfully passing.

Stereotype: A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, it also can be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.

Stud: An African-American and/or Latina masculine lesbian. Also known as “butch” or “aggressive."



Top Surgery: This term usually refers to surgery for the construction of a male-type chest but also may refer to breast augmentation.

Trans: An abbreviation sometimes used to refer to a gender-variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender-variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term sometimes is used to refer to the gender-variant community as a whole.

Transactivism: The political and social movement to create equality for gender-variant persons.

Transgender: Used to describe people who transcend or transform expectations of gender norms through their identity, expression, or role. It is important to note that the term transsexual is not synonymous with transgender. (Related terms: transsexual, genderqueer, queer, FTM/F2M, MTF/M2F).

Transgender (Trans) Community: An umbrella term for anyone whose gender identity(s) and/or gender expression(s) don’t fit social ideas and norms of gender, which can include transsexuals, crossdressers, genderqueer people, and other gender-nonconforming individuals; depending on how the community is defined, the term may or may not be used to be inclusive of SOFFAs. For the term to be applied appropriately, a person must self-identify as trasngender (trans). The central ethic of this community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms including gender and sexual identity and orientation.

Transition: This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender-variant 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. This may include changes in dress, hormone balance, surgical alteration of chest or genitalia, and/or preferred gender pronoun/name.

Transman: An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as females. Also referred to as “transguys.”

Transphobia: The fear or hatred of transgender and transsexual people and those who express their gender in ways that are not traditionally expected and accepted by society. Like biphobia, this term was created to call attention to the ways that prejudice against trans people differs from prejudice against other queer people. Transphobia also can be found within the LGB community.

Transsexual: Individuals assigned one gender at birth who now identify and live as what most people would consider the “opposite” gender. They may or may not use hormones and surgical procedures to help bring their bodies, voices, and other physical “cues” more in line with cultural expectations for the gender in which they’re living. [This includes both Male-to-Female (MTF) individuals, assigned male at birth who now identify as women, and Female-to-Male (FTM) individuals, assigned female at birth who now identify as men.]

Transvestite: This historically has been a term used to describe gender-variant individuals, particularly crossdressers and transsexuals. However, this term is strongly associated with the medical community and the DSM-IV condition of “transvestic fetishism," which refers to someone who derives sexual pleasure from dressing in clothing generally identified with the opposite sex. It is perceived by many transgender, crossdressing, and transsexual people to pathologize and hypersexualize their identity and consider the term derogatory.

Transwoman: An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.

Two-Spirited: Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and/or social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually a mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term "two-spirit" is usually considered to be specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include "one-spirit" and "wintke."



Ze/Hir/Hirs: One set of gender neutral pronouns, often used by an individual whose gender identity falls outside of male and female. They are used just like she/he, her/him and hers/his.