New words and phrases are emerging to describe wide variations in sexual orientation and gender identity. A number of key terms that appear throughout LGBTQ Stats are defined below; unless otherwise noted, these definitions are based on information from The Trevor Project, which works to empower and end suicide among LGBTQ youth, and are used with permission.
ALLY A straight and/or cisgender person (see definition below) who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ social movements and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. 1
ASEXUAL A term describing individuals who do not experience sexual attraction or do not have interest in or desire for sex. Asexuality is different from celibacy, which means abstaining from sex. Asexuality is often viewed as a spectrum—meaning asexual individuals experience varying levels of emotional, spiritual, and romantic attraction and claim a range of identities to define them. The best way to refer to the asexual community is to use the umbrella term “ace,” as in the “ace community,” which acknowledges that spectrum.
BINARY SYSTEM A binary system is something made up of two opposing parts. Gender (man/woman), sex (male/female), and sexual orientation (gay/straight) are examples of binary systems.
BIPHOBIA Aversion toward bisexuality and bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. 2
BISEXUAL A person who is attracted to both men and women, or to more than one gender identity.
CISGENDER Describes people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if you were told you were “male” at birth and still identify that way, you are cisgender.
GAY In the past, only men who were attracted to men have used the word “gay.” Now it is common for “gay” to be used by anyone who is attracted to people of the same sex or gender.
GENDER Biological gender (sex) includes physical attributes such as external genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones,and internal reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex—that is, to identify individuals as male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship among an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both, or neither (gender identity), as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including one’s gender role. Together, the intersection of these three dimensions produces an authentic sense of gender, both in how people experience their own gender as well as how others perceive it. 3
GENDER-FLUID A term that describes a person whose gender identity or gender expression is not fixed and shifts over time. 4
GENDER-NONCONFORMING A term describing people whose gender expression is, or appears to be, different from what we would expect from their assigned gender. Other terms include “gender-variant” or “gender-diverse.”
GENDERQUEER A term that describes someone whose gender identity is not just a man or a woman. This identity can mean different things to different people.
HOMOPHOBIA Hatred or fear of homosexuals—that is, lesbians and gay men—sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility.
INTERSEX A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. 5
LESBIAN A woman who is predominantly attracted to other women. Some women prefer the term “gay”; it’s an individual choice.
LGBTQ Acronym used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning community.
NONBINARY Anything that falls outside the binary system (see definition above). Intersex, genderqueer, and bisexual identities are all examples of nonbinary identities.
PANSEXUAL Describes people who are capable of being attracted to multiple sexes or gender identities.
QUEER A broad term that is inclusive of people who are notstraight and/or cisgender. In the past it was used as a discriminatory term. Today the word is often used in a positive way by folks who identify as queer as well as by allies of queer/LGBTQ people; however, some people still feel that the word carries negative weight.
QUESTIONING Describes people who may be processing or questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION A person’s physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to another person. Everyone has a sexual orientation.
TRANSGENDER (TRANS*) An umbrella term used to describe people whose true gender identity does not “match” the sex or gender they were assigned at birth. Many identities fall under the transgender umbrella, which are often designated with an asterisk after the abbreviation “trans.” However, not all genderqueer or nonbinary people identify as transgender—and some people who have transitioned to their true gender choose to identify as just a man or a woman instead of transgender. It is respectful to address trans people by using their preferred identity, name, and pronouns. 5
TRANSITIONING The social, legal, and/or medical process that trans people may go through to make their gender identity fit their gender expression, presentation, or sex. This word means many different things to different people, and people don’t have to experience all or any of these common transitioning elements to identify as their true gender.
TRANSPHOBIA Intense dislike of or prejudice against transgender people. 6
TRANSSEXUAL An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth and who seek to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical. 7
TWO-SPIRIT A contemporary term that refers to First Nations people whose individual identities are a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBTQ communities to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. 7