The language of gender and sexuality is a shifting, ever-evolving terrain marked by an appreciable degree of nuance and, on occasion, contestation (see, for example, Julia Serano's blog post, "Regarding Trans* and Transgenderism").
It's important to note that there is sometimes a lag in academic language--for example, in the health sciences (see the article, "An Exploration of Terminology Related to Sexuality and Gender")--compared to that used colloquially.
Heed subject headings in catalogs and databases that employ outdated terminology or assign inaccurate or incorrect terms (see, for example, the article, "Transcending Library Catalogs").
For a broader view on how gender is inscribed in language around the world and how modern language use is changing to incorporate nonbinary gender identities, see the interactive piece from Reuters called "Beyond pronouns: How languages are reshaping to include non-binary and gender-nonconforming people."
Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The Q generally stands for queer when LGBTQ organizations, leaders, and media use the acronym. In settings offering support for youth, it can also stand for questioning. LGBT and LGBTQ+ are also used, with the + added in recognition of all non-straight, non-cisgender identities.
A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women. Lesbian can be used as a noun or adjective. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientation.
An adjective used to describe a person whose enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). Sometimes lesbian (n. or adj.) is the preferred term for women. Ask people how they describe themselves before labeling their sexual orientations.
An adjective used to describe a person who has the potential to be physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree. The bi in bisexual refers to genders the same as and different from one’s own gender. Some people use the words bisexual and bi to describe the community. Others may use bi+ which is intended to be inclusive of those who call themselves bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer and other words which describe people who have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender.
An adjective to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. People who are transgender may also use other terms, in addition to transgender, to describe their gender more specifically. Some of those terms are defined in the Transgender Glossary . Use the term(s) the person uses to describe themself. It is important to note that being transgender is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures. A person can call themself transgender the moment they realize that their gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender can be shortened to trans.
An adjective used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual (e.g. queer person, queer woman). Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay, and bisexual are perceived to be too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel do not apply to them. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves.
The scientifically accurate term for an person’s enduring physical, romantic and/ or emotional attraction to another person. Sexual orientations can include heterosexual (straight), lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, and other orientations. People need not have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all.
An adjective used to describe a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions to any person, regardless of gender identity. This is one of several terms under the bi+ umbrella.
An adjective used to describe a person who does not experience sexual attraction (e.g., asexual person). Sometimes shortened to “ace.” Asexual is an umbrella term that can also include people who are demisexual, meaning a person who does experience some sexual attraction, but only in certain situations, for example, after they have formed a strong emotional or romantic connection with a partner. (For more information, visit asexuality.org ).
Infants are assigned a sex at birth, “male” or “female,” based on the appearance of their external anatomy, and an M or an F is written on the birth certificate. However, the development of the human body is a complex process, and sex is not solely determined by anatomy, nor is it strictly binary. As many as 1.7% of people are born with an intersex trait. (See In Focus: Intersex People) Furthermore, a person’s body can be changed through medical transition in ways that fundamentally alter the sex they were assigned at birth.
A person’s internal, deeply held knowledge of their own gender. Everyone has a gender identity. For most people their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth (see cisgender). For transgender people, their gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Many people have a gender identity of man or woman (or, for children, boy or girl). For other people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two binary genders (see nonbinary). Please note: gender identity is not visible to others. You cannot look at someone and “see” their gender identity. Compare to gender expression.
External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, voice, and/or behavior. Societies classify these external cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. (For example, in some cultures men wear long hair as a sign of masculinity.) Most transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity to resolve the incongruence between their knowledge of their own gender and how the world “sees” them.
An adjective used to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is therefore an antonym of “trans-.” A cisgender person is a person whose gender identity is aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth. Cisgender can be shortened to cis.
Nonbinary is an adjective used by people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the binary gender categories of man and woman. Many nonbinary people also call themselves transgender and consider themselves part of the transgender community. Others do not. Nonbinary is an umbrella term that encompasses many different ways to understand one’s gender. Some nonbinary people may also use words like agender, bigender, demigender, pangender, etc. to describe the specific way in which they are nonbinary. Always ask people what words they use to describe themselves. (See In Focus: Nonbinary People for more information.)
A term used to describe people whose gender expression differs from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that many cisgender people have gender expressions that are gender non-conforming. Simply having a non-conforming gender expression does not make someone trans or nonbinary. Nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many transgender people have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. (May also be abbreviated as GNC.)
Also known as SGL, this is a term used by some African American people as an Afrocentric alternative to what are considered Eurocentric, or white, identities like gay and lesbian. Coined by activist Cleo Manago in the 1990s, the term and its usage explicitly recognizes the histories and cultures of people of African descent.
An adjective used by some Indigenous and First Nations people as an umbrella term to describe people who are not straight and/or cisgender. Many Indigenous communities have specific words in their language to describe these experiences, but some do not.
An adjective used to describe a person with one or more innate sex characteristics, including genitals, internal reproductive organs, and chromosomes, that fall outside of traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. Having an intersex trait is distinct from being transgender. Intersex people are assigned a sex at birth — either male or female — and that decision by medical providers and parents may not match the gender identity of the child. (See In Focus: Intersex People for more information.)
An adjective used by some people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.