LGBTQ+ 101: Terminology
At IWU, we use "LGBTQ+" and "LGBTQIA" to represent a very broad spectrum of identities and self-understandings. Our identities as underrepresented sexual minorities intersect with other identities grounded in race or ethnicity, faith, and social class, just to name a few. Coming to know, understand, and express who we are is one of the major tasks that confronts us as LGBTQIA individuals, and you will find the freedom to explore and define yourself here at IWU.
The glossary listed below is a list of terms used within the LGBTQIA community. This list is not completely comprehensive, as language is constantly evolving and new terms and identities are always forming. It is important to mirror the language someone uses to describe themselves to affirm their identity. When in doubt about a word, just ask!
advocate – ( verb) to actively support a particular cause, the action of working to end intolerance or educate others
agender – ( adj. ) a person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender. Sometimes called gender neutrois, gender neutral, or genderless.
androgyny/androgynous – ( noun ) a gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity
aromantic – ( adj. ) experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others and/or has a lack of interest in romantic relationships/behavior. Aromanticism exists on a continuum from people who experience no romantic attraction or have any desire for romantic activities, to those who experience low levels, or romantic attraction only under specific conditions. Sometimes abbreviated to “aro” (pronounced like “arrow”).
asexual – ( adj. ) : experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. Asexuality exists on a continuum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions. Sometimes abbreviated to “ace.”. For more information, click here .
bigender – ( adj ) a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (or sometimes identifying with either man or woman, as well as a third, different gender).
binder – ( noun ) an undergarment used to alter or reduce the appearance of one’s breasts. Binding is often used to change the way other’s read/perceive one’s anatomical sex characteristics, and/or as a form of gender expression.
biological sex – ( noun ) a medical term used to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female, male, or intersex. Often referred to as simply “sex,” “physical sex,” “anatomical sex,” or specifically as “sex assigned at birth.”
biphobia – ( noun ) a range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, invisibility, resentment, erasure, or discomfort) that one may have or express toward bisexual individuals. Biphobia can come from and be seen within the LGBTQ community as well as straight society.
bisexual – 1 ( adj. ) a person who experiences attraction to men and women. 2 ( adj. ) a person who experiences attraction to people of their gender and another gender. Bisexual attraction does not have to be equally split, or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders an individual may be attracted to. For more information, click here .
chosen name – ( noun ) a name that an individual chooses to be called that is different than their legal name. The term “chosen name” is usually favored over “preferred name” since preferred name may imply the name is just a preference, rather than a matter of identity.
cisgender – ( adj. ) a gender description for when someone’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). The word cisgender can also be shortened to “cis.”
cisnormativity – ( noun ) the assumption, in individuals and in institutions, that everyone is cisgender, and that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities and people. Leads to invisibility of transgender or gender non-confomring identities.
closeted – ( adj. ) an individual who is not open to themselves or others about their (queer) sexuality or gender identity.
coming in – ( verb ) the process by which one accepts and/or comes to identify one’s own sexuality or gender identity (to “come in” to oneself).
coming out – ( verb ) the process by which one shares one’s sexuality or gender identity with others.
constellation – ( noun ) a way to describe the arrangement or structure of a polyamorous relationship.
dead name – ( noun ) the name given at birth/legal name of someone who has since changed their name or goes by a different name.
demiromantic – ( adj. ) little or no capacity to experience romantic attraction until a strong connection is formed with someone, often within a sexual relationship.
demisexual – ( adj. ) little or no capacity to experience sexual attraction until a strong connection is formed with someone, often within a romantic relationship.
drag king – ( noun ) someone who performs (hyper-) masculinity theatrically.
drag queen – ( noun ) someone who performs (hyper-) femininity theatrically.
emotional attraction – ( noun ) a capacity that evokes want to engage in emotionally intimate behavior (e.g., sharing, confiding, trusting, inter-depending), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.
fluid(ity) – ( adj. ) generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that may change or shift over time between or within the mix of the options available.
folx – ( noun ) a gender neutral term used to address a group
gay – 1 ( adj. ) experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to some members of the same gender. Can be used to refer to men who are attracted to other men and women who are attracted to women. 2 ( adj. ) an umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who is not straight.
gender binary – ( noun ) the idea that there are only two genders, man and woman.
gender confirmation surgery (GCS) – ( noun ) used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s biological sex. “Gender confirmation surgery” is considered by many to be a more affirming term than gender reassignment surgery.
gender expression – ( noun ) the external display of one’s gender, through a combination of clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity, femininity, or another gender. Also referred to as “gender presentation.”
gender fluid – ( adj. ) a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of multiple genders. A person who is gender fluid may feel like a mix of man or woman or another gender, but may feel more one gender on certain days.
gender identity – ( noun ) the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be.
gender non-conforming – 1 ( adj. ) a gender expression descriptor that indicates a non-traditional gender presentation (masculine woman or feminine man). 2 ( adj. ) a gender identity label that indicates a person who identifies outside of the gender binary. Often abbreviated as “GNC.”
gender normative – ( adj. ) someone whose gender presentation or gender identity aligns with society’s gender-based expectations.
genderqueer – 1 ( adj. ) a gender identity label often used by people who do not identify with the binary of man/woman. 2 ( adj. ) an umbrella term for many gender non-conforming or non-binary identities (e.g., agender, bigender, genderfluid).
gender variant – ( adj. ) someone who does not conform to gender-based expectations of society.
heteronormativity – ( noun ) the assumption, in individuals and/or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Leads to invisibility and stigmatizing of other sexualities. Heteronormativity also leads us to assume that only masculine men and feminine women are straight.
heterosexual – ( adj. ) experiencing attraction solely (or primarily) to people of a different gender.
homophobia – ( noun ) an umbrella term for a range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, resentment, erasure, or discomfort) that one may have toward LGBTQ people. The term can also connote a fear, disgust, or dislike of being perceived as LGBTQ.
homosexual – ( adj. ) a person primarily attracted to members of the same sex/gender. This historically medical term is considered stigmatizing (particularly as a noun) due to its history as a category of mental illness, and is discouraged for common use.
intersectionality - ( noun ) a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw referring to the ways that systems of oppression are connected and overlapping
intersex – ( adj. ) term for a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals that differs from the patterns of male or female. Formerly known as hermaphrodite (or hermaphroditic), but these terms are now outdated and derogatory.
lesbian – ( adj. ) women who are primarily attracted to other women.
MSM / WSW – ( abbr. ) men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women, to distinguish sexual behaviors from sexual identities: because a man is straight, it doesn’t mean he’s not having sex with men. Often used in the field of HIV/Aids education, prevention, and treatment.
Mx. – ( noun ) an honorific (e.g. Mr., Ms., Mrs., etc.) that is gender neutral. It is often the option of choice for folks who do not identify within the gender binary
outing – ( verb ) involuntary or unwanted disclosure of another person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
pansexual – ( adj. ) a person who experiences attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions. Often shortened to “pan.”
passing – 1 ( adj. & verb ) transgender individuals being accepted as, or able to “pass for,” a member of their self-identified gender identity (regardless of sex assigned at birth) without being identified as transgender. 2 ( adj. ) an LGB/queer individual who is believed to be or perceived as straight.
preferred pronouns – ( noun ) often used during introductions, becoming more common as a standard practice. Many suggest removing the “preferred,” because it indicates flexibility and/or the power for the speaker to decide which pronouns to use for someone else.
polyamorous – ( noun ) refers to the practice of, desire for, or orientation toward having ethical, honest, and consensual non-monogamous relationships (i.e. relationships that may include multiple partners). Often shortened to “poly.”
queer – 1 ( adj. ) an umbrella term to describe individuals who don’t identify as straight and/or cisgender. 2 ( noun ) a slur used to refer to someone who isn’t straight and/or cisgender. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, and how it is still used as a slur many communities, it is not embraced or used by all members of the LGBTQ community. The term “queer” can often be use interchangeably with LGBTQ (e.g., “queer people” instead of “LGBTQ people”).
questioning – ( adj. ) an individual who or a time when someone is unsure about or exploring their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
QPOC / QTPOC – initialisms that stand for queer people of color and queer and/or trans people of color.
romantic attraction – ( noun ) a capacity that evokes want to engage in romantic intimate behavior (e.g., dating, relationships, marriage), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, emotional attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.
sex assigned at birth (SAAB) – ( abbr. ) a phrase used to intentionally recognize a person’s assigned sex (not gender identity). Sometimes called “designated sex at birth” (DSAB) or “sex coercively assigned at birth” (SCAB), or specifically used as “assigned male at birth” (AMAB) or “assigned female at birth” (AFAB)
sexual attraction – ( noun ) a capacity that evokes want to engage in physically intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction, emotional attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.
sexual orientation – ( noun ) the type of sexual, romantic, emotional/spiritual attraction one has the capacity to feel for some others, generally labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to.
skoliosexual – ( adj. ) being primarily attracted to some genderqueer, transgender, and/or non-binary people.
spiritual attraction – ( noun ) a capacity that evokes the want to engage in intimate behavior based on one’s experience with, interpretation of, or belief in the supernatural (e.g., religious teachings, messages from a deity), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and/or emotional attraction.
stealth – ( adj. ) a transgender person who is not “out” as transgender, and is perceived/known by others as cisgender.
straight – ( adj. ) a person primarily attracted to people who are not their same sex/gender.
third gender – ( noun ) a gender category that is used by societies that recognise three or more genders. A conceptual term meaning different things to different people who use it, as a way to move beyond the gender binary.
top surgery – ( noun ) this term refers to surgery for the construction of a male-type chest or breast augmentation for a female-type chest.
transgender – ( adj. ) an umbrella term for anyone whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity do not correspond (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, but does not identify as a man).
transitioning – ( verb ) the process of a transgender person changing aspects of themself (e.g., their appearance, name, pronouns, or making physical changes to their body) to be more congruent with their gender identity
transphobia – ( noun ) the fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of people who are transgender, the transgender community, or gender ambiguity. Transphobia can be seen within the queer community, as well as in general society.
two-spirit – ( noun ) a term within Native American communities to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders. This term is often conflated with sexuality, but was historically about gender identity.
ze / zir – ( pronoun ) pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some transgender people. They replace “he” and “she” and “his” and “hers” respectively.