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Glossary (Brief Form)

A more detailed glossary can be found here.

Dimensions of Identity Related to Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation
Notice: Throughout this glossary, the acronym LGBTQ means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning & Queer

1. Sex / biological sex: The term sex refers to the biological distinction between female (girl/woman) and male (boy/man). It is based on physical characteristics, especially genitalia and chromosomes.

  • Intersex: A situation where an individual cannot easily be categorized as either biologically male or biologically female. This typically involves ambiguous external and/or internal genitalia.

2. Sexual Orientation: A person’s sexual orientation is defined by the sex of the person she or he is emotionally and sexually attracted to. The most common designations include:

  • Gay: Usually used to refer to males (gay boys / gay men) who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other boys/men. Sometimes used to refer to all LGBTQ people.
  • Lesbian: A girl or woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other girls/women.
  • Bisexual: A person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to members of both sexes (either at different times or simultaneously).

  Emerging Terms: Other, more recent and informal terms referring to sexual orientation:

  • Spectrum: Used by some LGBTQ people (especially younger folks) to describe the wide spectrum of possible identities, as opposed to discrete identity categories.
  • Bicurious: Someone who is exploring the possibility of attractions to and/or relationships with members of both sexes, but who does not claim a bisexual identity.

  Terms with Mixed Meanings – avoid using these unless you are invited to do so: The following are words that you may hear used by members of the LGBTQ community that generally should not be used by people outside that community, except when invited to do so. Historically, these terms have often had negative connotations, but they are now often used within the LGBTQ community as affirmations of pride.

  • Butch and Femme: Slang term for stereotyped roles of "masculine" and "feminine," respectively.
  • Dyke: Slang term for a lesbian, especially someone with traditionally "masculine" appearance and behavior.
  • Faggot/Fag: Slang term for a gay man. “Faggot” means a bundle of sticks, and its use to refer to gay men apparently derives from the time when men accused of homosexual acts were burned along with the witches.
  • Fairy: Another slang term for a gay man, deriving from the "feminine" qualities stereotypically attributed to gay men
  • Queen: A gay man, especially one who is very "feminine" in manner and dress.
  • Queer: A slang term traditionally used to refer to LGBTQ people. Increasingly used to refer to anyone who steps outside the “straight” box. Also serves as an umbrella term for all the varieties of non-straight identity.

  Terms to Avoid

  • Homosexual: A medical and psychiatric term for a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. It was used to label same-sex attractions as crazy, sick, or perverted. Offensive to many LGBTQ people because it is a psychiatric diagnosis and also because it focuses on the sexual aspect of LGBTQ experience and ignores all the other elements of LGB identity.
  • “Gay” as a put-down: The term “gay” (and sometimes “fag”) is often used as a form of put-down (“That’s so gay!”), with or without any actual reference to sexual orientation. Its use in this way is demeaning to LGBT people.

3. Gender Identity and Expression refer to experiences that are unrelated to sexual orientation:

  • Gender identity refers to whether one sees oneself as a man or as a woman (regardless of what one’s biological sex might indicate).
    • Transgender or trans: For some people, biological sex and gender identity do not match. Instead, these individuals experience themselves as truly being members of the other sex. They often express a feeling of being "in the wrong body." For some people, this contrast leads to alternative identities, including:
      • Transwoman or MtF (male to female) – a person who was born a biological male but has changed (or transitioned) to a female identity.
      • Transman or FtM (female to male) – a person who was born a biological female but has transitioned to a male identity.
      • The term transsexual is sometimes used to indicate people who choose to make physical changes to their bodies so that their biological sex fits with their gender identity.
    • Genderqueer: A term preferred by some folks who do not identify with the “standard” sex/gender categories, i.e., they don’t see themselves as “male/masculine” or as “female/feminine,” but as some combination of traits independent of sex/gender labels. They may comfortably dress, act, and experience life in ways that are a mixture of gender identities.
  • Gender expression: The term gender refers to a social role. It means how a person is taught to behave based on his or her biological sex (i.e., based on being a male or female). Gender expression refers to which of those roles a person actually displays or expresses – i.e., whether their dress, behavior, interests, etc. fit the stereotypic “masculine” or “feminine” role. Gender expression can be different from biological sex, and this is true whether or not a person identifies as trans (e.g., a girl who fights or a boy who dances). Examples of cross-gender expression that are not trans include:
    • Drag: Being "in drag" involves violating gender role expectations, especially by dressing in clothing usually prescribed for the other sex. People doing drag do not identify as being in the wrong body.
    • Transvestite: A transvestite is a person (most often a heterosexual man, often married with children) who dresses in clothing usually seen as appropriate for the other sex, and finds sexual gratification in this practice.
    • Gender bending/ genderqueer: A term referring to situations where people do not identify as trans but engage in behaviors, dress, etc. that differ from gender role expectations based on their biological sex. This term is more often claimed by younger and/or politically active folks who want to challenge the traditional sex/gender binary
    • “Cross-gender” behavior refers to the vast range of behaviors that don’t match one’s “expected” gender expression, but that do not represent transgender identity. It is a less political/activist term than “genderqueer” or “gender bending,” and in some ways describes virtually all of us at some times. Think of men being sensitive, women being assertive, women in construction professions, men in the arts, etc.

4. Other Important Terms

  • Ally: A heterosexual person who takes a stand in support of LGBT rights. 
  • Closet, In the Closet, Closeted: The term used to describe a lesbian, gay male, or bisexual (or, sometimes, transgender) person who hides her/his sexual orientation (or gender identity) for fear of the consequences if her/his true identity were known.
  • Coming Out (of the Closet): The sequence of events by which individuals come to recognize their sexual orientation or and disclose it to others; increasingly applied to transgender people as they claim that identity. The opposite term, “passing,” refers to keeping one’s sexual orientation hidden. For trans people, “coming out” refers to disclosing one’s trans status, and “passing” refers to living in the trans (correct) identity and allowing others to accept one in that identity without revealing one’s transition. In both cases, people can be "out" in varying degrees in different settings.
  • Outing, To "Out" someone: Revealing the sexual orientation of someone else without that person’s consent.
  • Heterosexism: The belief that heterosexual identity and behavior are normal and legitimate, and that any other sexual orientation is unacceptable. Seen where individuals or institutions show a preference for heterosexuality and support it with public policies, rituals, legal rights, and resources while ignoring, demeaning, or even punishing other sexual orientations.
  • Homophobia: Prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ people and their sexual practices, lifestyles, and relationships.
  • Biphobia: Negative attitudes or feelings toward people who identify as bisexual
  • Transphobia: Negative attitudes toward transgender identity or transsexual people.
  • Internalized Homophobia (or Internalized Biphobia/Transphobia): Negative attitudes toward LGBT identity that have been taken in by LGBT people themselves.

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