Definitions and Terms

Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Show an understanding of the key terms related to the LGBTQ2S community
  2. Be able to demonstrate the ability to use terms correctly
  3. Explain why some terms should not be used

Due to the complexity and diversity of the LGBTQ2S community, there are a lot of terms to understand. This is not a complete list. The good news is that you are familiar with many of the term listed in this module. We have divided these sections into Sexuality and Gender. It needs to be very clear that sexuality and gender are different and although LGBTQ2S is a large umbrella term, there are a number of differences that need to be respected.

The definitions given here are concise. This is a basic introduction. If you were to google these terms you would find much longer and more complex definitions. We are attempting to share a lot information in a short space and would prefer not to overwhelm you. The key is that you have the general idea and know you can come back here or visit one of the many resources listed in this Toolkit later if you need a refresher or want more details.

Download these definitions as a PDF: LGBTQ2S Definitions

Let’s get started!

LGBTQ2S, LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, TBLG are some of the acronyms refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, Asexual and Ally. Although all of the different identities within “LGBT” are often lumped together (and share sexism as a common root of oppression), there are specific needs and concerns related to each individual identity.

Main Sexual Orientation Terms

Biphobia is an aversion toward bisexuality and bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. People of any sexual orientation can experience such feelings of aversion. Biphobia is a source of discrimination against bisexuals, and may be based on negative bisexual stereotypes or irrational fear.

Bisexual a person who has emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction for people of more than one gender.

Gay or Lesbian is a person who has emotional, romantic or sexual attraction for people of the same sex.

Heterosexism is a behaviour that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people, reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is somehow better or more “right” than queerness, or ignores/doesn’t address queerness as existing.

Heterosexual is a person who is attracted to someone with the other gender (or, literally, biological sex) than they have; often referred to as “straight”.

Homophobia is fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, or discomfort with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people, often focused inwardly as one begins to question their own sexuality.

Questioning is the process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations.

Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person(s).

Same Gender Loving (SGL) is a phrase coined by the African American/Black queer communities used as an alternative for “gay” and “lesbian” by people who may see those as terms of the White queer community.

Main Gender Identity Terms

Binary Gender is a traditional and outdated view of gender, limiting possibilities to “man” and “woman”.

Binary Sex is a traditional and outdated view of sex, limiting possibilities to “female” or “male”.

Biological sex is the physical anatomy and gendered hormones one is born with, generally described as male, female, or intersex, and often confused with gender.

Cisgender/Cissexual is a person whose gender identity matches society’s expectations of someone with their physical sex characteristics.

Cis-man is a person who was assigned male at birth who ends up going through life identifying with male pronouns, and as a man.

Cis-woman is a person who was assigned female at birth who ends up going through life identifying with female pronouns, and as a woman.

Cissexism is a harmful belief that being cisgender (i.e. non-trans) is the only acceptable and “natural” form of gender expression.

Gender/Gender Identity is how we perceive our identity as male, female, both, neither, regardless of our physical bodies.

Gender Expression is the external display of gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on a scale of masculinity and femininity.

Genderqueer/Gender non-conforming is an umbrella term that describes a person whose gender identity does not fit into socially constructed gender norms associated with “male” or “female”. Used by some people to defy gender restrictions and/or to deconstruct gender norms. Gender neutral pronouns include: Ze, Hir, Hirs, They, and Them.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is a formal psychiatric diagnosis used by the medical profession to describe transgender people. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has replaced GID with “Gender Dysphoria”. The classification of GID and Gender Dysphoria as a psychiatric diagnosis has pathologized transgender people and created much stigma.

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a person whose physical sex characteristics or chromosomes don’t fit traditional medical definitions of male or female.

Stealth is when a transgender person lives as their self-identified gender without other people knowing that they are/ever were trans (not all trans people identify as trans, which is why some people are stealth).

Sex (biological sex) is a label we are given to describe our physical bodies and reproductive abilities. Characteristics of the body used to determine sex may include genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes, and secondary sex characteristics.

Trans is an umbrella term for a person whose gender identity does not match society’s expectations of someone with their physical sex characteristics.

Trans Man is a female-to-male trans person (a person who was assigned the female sex at birth, but identifies as male).

Trans Woman is a male-to-female trans person (a person who was assigned the male sex at birth, but identifies as female).

Transsexual is an older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed – or seek to change – their bodies through medical interventions (including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries). Unlike transgender,transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective: transsexual woman or transsexual man.

Two-Spirit is a cultural identity used by some indigenous people who have both masculine and feminine spirits.

Transphobia is an irrational fear and/or hatred and/or intolerance of people who are trans, perceived to be trans, or who cross societal gender norms.

Transition is the process trans people go through to overcome physical, legal, and social barriers so they can express their self-identified gender.

Third Gender (1) a person who does not identify with the traditional genders of “man” or “woman,” but identifies with another gender; (2) the gender category available in societies that recognize three or more genders.

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Please note that transgendered is not acceptable term to use as it implies that something happened to the person to make them transgender.

Related Terms

Advocate is a person who actively works to end intolerance, educate others, and support social equity for a group.

Ally is a straight person who supports queer and trans* people.

Androgyny (1) a gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity; (2) occasionally used in place of “intersex” to describe a person with both female and male anatomy.

Asexual is a person who generally does not experience sexual attraction (or very little) to any group of people.

Bigender is a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (and sometimes a third gender).

Closeted is a term to describe someone who is keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret from many (or any) people, and has yet to “come out of the closet”.

Coming Out is the process of revealing your sexuality or gender identity to individuals in your life; often incorrectly thought to be a one-time event, this is a lifelong and sometimes daily process; not to be confused with “outing”.

Crossdresser is someone who occasionally dresses in the clothing of the “opposite” gender as part of their gender expression.

Cross-dressing is wearing clothing that conflicts with the traditional gender expression of your sex and gender identity (e.g., a man wearing a dress) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification.

Drag queen or Drag King  is someone who dresses in the clothing of their “opposite” gender for performance.

Fluid(ity) is generally with another term attached, such as, gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity). Describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, gay and straight); not to be confused with “transitioning”.

Genderless is a person who does not identify with any gender.

Outing [someone]1 is when someone reveals another person’s sexuality or gender identity to an individual or group, often without the person’s consent or approval; not to be confused with “coming out”.

Pansexual is a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.

Real life experience (Real Life Test) is the period in which a trans person is currently obligated to prove they can adapt to societal gender roles before being approved by publicly funded medical institutions for hormones or surgeries.

Queer is an umbrella term used by some people to defy gender or sexual restrictions. Not used by all. Can be considered offensive.

Standard of care is a medical treatment guideline that governs trans people’s access to health care services.

Definition Posters

Here is a cool project from @FeministWork on Tumblr

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