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Sexualities and genders are too complicated to impose a set “vocabulary” upon. Yet, the concepts that drive certain words and their usage in LGBT communities are important to know. It is good to keep in mind that language is fluid, and in, addition, many people don’t agree on the same language for the same thing. Thus, all definitions are subject to change.

  • Allies – People who support and honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning communities and people. Allies appreciate sexual diversity, including their own; act to challenge institutionalized heterosexism, gender straight privilege, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia; and are willing to explore and understand these forms of bias within themselves.
  • Asexual – A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.
  • Bicurious – A curiosity about having sexual relations with a person of the same gender/sex.
  • Bigendered – A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.
  • Biological Sex – This can be considered our “packaging” and is determined by our chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); our hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and our internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for females, penis and testicles for males). About 1.7% of the population can be defined as intersexual – born with biological aspects of both sexes to varying degrees. So, in actuality, there are more than two sexes.
  • Biphobia – The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBT community, as well as in general society.
  • Bisexual – An adjective or noun to describe a person who is (or can be) attracted romantically, emotionally, and/or sexually to both males and females.
  • Bottom – A person who is said to take a more submissive/passive role during sexual interactions.
  • Butch – A person who identifies as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. Butch is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but it can also be claimed as an affirmative identity lesbian.
  • Closet – Audre Lorde often said, “Your silence will not protect you.” Thus, this proverbial, yet figurative, hiding place for those who are not public about their sexual identity, has often been seen as a form of silence that puts oneself and others at risk. However, of late, silence about one’s sexuality can be a strategic and constructive act. Not everyone needs to know a person’s sexuality. And, in some cases, others’ not knowing is preferable, e.g., like homophobic parents, bosses, teachers, students, or landlords.
  • Coming Out – The act of leaving the “closet” is a ritual unique to the LGBTQ communities and involves being open about one’s sexual or gender identity, orientation, preference, or variance.
  • Dyke – Lesbian and gay communities have re-appropriated “dyke” (in reference to lesbians) as a term of pride, defiance, and resistance to the norm of respectability. However, it may still be used in a derogatory manner by persons outside the community.
  • Faggot – A derogatory term used to describe gay men.
  • Fag Hag – A term primarily used to describe women who prefer the social company of gay men. While this term is claimed in an affirmative manner by some, it is largely derogatory.
  • Feminism – The belief (held by a person regardless of sex) that men and women should be treated equally, and a belief and practice which will ultimately free women and men from male oppression. Feminism is founded on the fact that women were and are oppressed by a system that is based on patriarchy. Feminism is also the study of the structural oppression of women. There are many different types of feminism, some of which include radical feminism, black feminism, lesbian feminism, and Marxist feminism.
  • Gay – A term used mostly in reference to men who have significant sexual attraction and/or romantic relationships with men; homosexual. At times gay is used to refer to all people, regardless of gender, who have primary sexual/romantic attractions to people of the same sex. While “gay” may be used to include both men and women (e.g., the “gay community”) , it is applied most commonly to men. “Lesbian” and “gay” are generally preferred over the more clinical (and sex-focused) term “homosexual”.
  • Gender – A social construction used to differentiate between “men” and “women”. Gendering helps create roles and expressions that lead to confining assumptions about masculinity, femininity, and sexuality, and these assumptions are often treated as being natural.
  • Gender Expression – The ways in which a person’s gender identity is communicated to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, and/or by emphasizing, deemphasizing, or changing physical characteristics.
  • Gender Identity – The gender role that a person claims for his or her self – which may or may not align with his or her physical gender.
  • Genderqueer – A word people use to describe their own non-standard gender identity, or by those who do not conform to traditional gender norms.
  • Heteronormativity – The assumption, in individuals and institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and bisexuality.
  • Heterosexism – Practices and behaviors that result from the assumption that all people are heterosexual or somehow innately attracted to members of the opposite sex/gender. Heterosexism assumes that heterosexuality is inherently normal and superior, and negates the lives of LGBT people.
  • Homophobia – Initially, the fear and hatred of, or the discomfort around those who identify as gay, lesbian, homosexual, or queer. The term is extended to bisexual and transgender people as well. However, biphobia and transphobia are used as well to emphasize the specific character of hatred of bisexual and transgender communities.
  • Internalized Homophobia – Self-identification of societal stereotypes by a LGBT person, causing them to dislike and resent their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Intersex - A person with an intersex condition is born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or an internal reproductive system that is not considered “standard” for either male or female (i.e., ambiguous). “Intersex” has replaced the outdated term “hermaphrodite”.
  • Lesbian/Lesbianism- Lesbians are women who have significant sexual attraction and/or romantic relationships with women. There are multiple definitions of these women loving women politics. Since 2nd Wave Feminism, it has been the work of Lesbians, primarily Lesbian feminists, to critique dominant institutional and ideological structures which are oppressive to all women.
  • LGBT – LGBT is an acronym for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.” Sometimes the letter “Q” is added to this acronym to and can either indicate “Queer” or “Questioning”.
  • Living Openly – A state in which LGBTIQ people are open with others about being LGBTIQ how and when they choose to be.
  • Outing – Exposing someone’s sexual orientation as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to others, usually without their permission; in essence “outing” them from the closet.
  • Pansexual – A person who is attracted to all or many gender expressions.
  • Passing – Ability to be accepted as preferred gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual.
  • Queer – Historically (and still) used as a slur against non-heterosexual and non-gender-conforming people. In recent years, the term has been “reclaimed” by a significant number of LGBTIQ individuals who, empowered by subverting the negative connotation of the word, proudly use it to assert difference. It is considered offensive when used as a label by a non-LGBTIQ person.
  • Questioning – Refers to people who are uncertain as to their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are often seeking information and support during this stage of their identity development.
  • Sexual Identity – This is how we perceive and what we call ourselves. Such labels include “lesbian,”, “gay”, “bisexual”, “bi”, “queer”, “questioning”, “heterosexual”, “straight”, “and others. Sexual identity evolves through a developmental process that varies depending on the individual. Our sexual behavior and how we define ourselves (identity) can be chosen. Debates regarding the nature of sexual identity – if it is a choice or solely biological – are still many.
  • Sexual Orientation – Defined by who you are ATTRACTED to emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually (males, females or both). This can be somewhat fluid over time. It is important to note that gender identity and sexual orientation do not correlate or predict one another.
  • Top – A person who is said to take a more dominant/active role during sexual interactions.
  • Transgender – Transgender is an “umbrella” term to describe individuals whose gender expression or identity is not always consistent with their physical sex.
    • Transgender people include those who identify as transsexual:
    • FTM (female to male): born female but see themselves as partly to fully masculine
    • MTF (male to female): born male but see themselves as partly to fully feminine.
  • Transphobia – Irrational fear and hatred of people who are gender variants. Inability to deal with gender ambiguity.
  • Transsexual – A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which the individual was assigned at birth.