LGBTQ Glossary of Terms

We want to recognize Lambda Legal, The Trevor Project, and UC San Diego’s LGBT Resource Center for compiling the following LGBTQ glossary. While these descriptions are not textbook, universal definitions, this glossary is provided to help build a more comprehensive and thorough understanding of these terms.

Ally – A person who may not share the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ students, but who supports and honors sexual and gender diversity and challenges homophobic, transphobic and heterosexist remarks and behaviors.

Allyship – The action of working to end oppression through support of, and as an advocate with and for, a group other than one’s own.

Asexual – A person who does not experience sexual attraction or desire.

Bigender – Having two genders, exhibiting cultural characteristics of masculine and feminine roles.

Bisexual – A person whose primary sexual and affectional orientation is toward people of the same and other genders, or toward people regardless of their gender.

Cisgender – A person who identifies 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 would be cisgender.

Cissexism/Genderism – The pervasive system of discrimination and exclusion founded on the belief that there are, and should be, only two genders and that one’s gender or most aspects of it, are inevitably tied to assigned sex. This system oppresses people whose gender and/or gender expression falls outside of cis-normative constructs. Within cissexism, cisgender people are the dominant group and trans/ gender non-conforming people are the oppressed group.

Closeted – A person who has not disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Demisexual – Demisexuality is a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity. Demisexuals are considered to be on the asexual spectrum.

Different Identity – A person who does not use one of the gender identity options provided.  Providing specific wording is not required.

Discrimination – The different and unfair treatment of certain groups of people based on specific characteristics, such as race, religion, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Female – A person’s own understanding of themselves as a woman based on their gender and gender expression.

Femme – Historically used in the lesbian community, it is being increasingly used by other LGBTQIA people to describe gender expressions that reclaim and disrupt traditional constructs of femininity.

Gay – A sexual and affectional orientation toward people of the same gender.

Gender-expansive – Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.

Gender Expression – How we express our gender identity on the outside.

Gender Fluid – Term used by people who identify their gender as fluid within a spectrum of gender identities and expression. Gender-fluid people may or may not also identify as transgender.

Gender Identity – A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, Trans Male/Trans Man, Trans Female/Trans Woman, Genderqueer or other identity.

Gender Non-Conforming – People who do not subscribe to gender expressions or roles expected of them by society.

Gender Queer – A person’s whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside of the dominant social norm for their assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination of them.

Harassment – Actions or words that harm or distress a person, and do not otherwise serve a legitimate purpose. Harassment often interferes with the ability to take full advantage of educational opportunities.

Hate Crime – A crime that is motivated by personal characteristics such as race, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Under federal law and some state and local laws, hate crimes may be investigated by additional law enforcement personnel and can carry additional penalties.

Heterosexism – The assumption that sexuality between people of different sexes is normal, standard, superior or universal and other sexual orientations are substandard, inferior, abnormal, marginal or invalid.

Heterosexual/Straight – A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of a gender other than their own.

Homophobia – A fear of or hostility toward lesbian, gay, and/or bisexual people, often expressed as discrimination, harassment and violence.

Intersex – Describes a condition in which a person is born with a sex that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male due to genetic, hormonal or anatomical differences.

Lesbian – A woman whose primary sexual and affectional orientation is toward people of the same gender.

Male – A person’s own understanding of themselves as a man based on their gender and gender expression.

Microaggressions – Brief and subtle behaviors, whether intentional or not, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages of commonly oppressed identities. These actions cause harm through the invalidation of the target person’s identity and may reinforce stereotypes. Examples of microaggressions include a person who is not white being told they speak “good English” or someone saying something is “gay” to mean they think something is bad.

Misgendering – Attributing a gender to someone that is incorrect/does not align with their gender identity.  Can occur when using pronouns, gendered language (i.e. “Hello ladies!” “Hey guys”), or assigning genders to people without knowing how they identify (i.e. “Well, since we’re all women in this room, we understand…”).

Non binary/Nonbinary/Non-binary – A gender identity and experience that embraces a full universe of expressions and ways of being that resonate for an individual, moving beyond the male/female gender binary. It may be an active resistance to binary gender expectations and/or an intentional creation of new unbounded ideas of self within the world. For some people who identify as non binary there may be overlap with other concepts and identities like gender expansive and gender non-conforming.

Non-Conforming – People who do not subscribe to societal expectations of typical gender expressions or roles. The term is more commonly used to refer to gender expression (how one behaves, acts, and presents themselves to others) as opposed to gender identity (one’s internal sense of self).

Oppression – Exists when one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit.

Orientation – This is one’s attraction or non-attraction to other people.  An individual’s orientation can be fluid and people use a variety of labels to describe their orientation.  Some, but not all, types of attraction or orientation include: romantic, sexual, sensual, aesthetic, intellectual and platonic.

Out – A description for someone who expresses, or does not hide, his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pansexual – Describes people who are capable of being attracted to multiple sexes or gender identities.

Pride – The idea, and events celebrating the idea, that people should be proud of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Pronouns – Linguistic tools used to refer to someone in the third person.  Examples are they/them/theirs, ze/hir/hirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his.  In English and some other languages, pronouns have been tied to gender and are a common site of misgendering (attributing a gender to someone that is incorrect.)

Queer – A broad term that is inclusive of people who are not straight and/or cisgender. In the past this word was used as discriminatory. 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 it is a word that carries negative weight.

Questioning – A person who may be processing or questioning their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Sexism – The cultural, institutional, and individual set of beliefs and practices that privilege men, subordinate women, and devalue ways of being that are associated with women.

Sexuality – The components of a person that include their biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual practices, etc.

Stereotype – A generalization applied to every person in a cultural group; a fixed conception of a group without allowing for individuality. When we believe our stereotypes, we tend to ignore characteristics that don’t conform to our stereotype, rationalize what we see to fit our stereotype, see those who do not conform as “exceptions,” and find ways to create the expected characteristics.

Trans – This term acts as a more inclusive term than “transgender” for gender non-conforming and non-binary folks.

Transgender – Used most often as an umbrella term; some commonly held definitions: 1) someone whose gender identity or expression does not fit within dominant group social constructs of assigned sex and gender; 2) a gender outside of the man/woman binary; 3) having no gender or multiple genders.

Transitioning – The social, legal, and/or medical process a trans* person 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 a person doesn’t have to experience all or any of these common transitioning elements to identify as their true gender.

Transphobia – The fear or hatred of transgender people, often expressed as discrimination, harassment and violence.

Trans Man/Trans Male – A female-to-male (FTM) transgender person who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a man.

Trans Woman/Trans Female – A male-to-female (MTF) transgender person who was assigned male at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a woman.