LGBT+ Terminology & Definitions

A few notes about these definitions:
Each of these definitions have been carefully researched and closely analyzed from theoretical and practical perspectives for inclusiveness, cultural sensitivity, common usage, and general appropriateness. We have done our best to represent the most popular uses of the terms listed; however there may be some variation in definitions depending on location. Please note that each person who uses any or all of these terms does so in a unique way (especially terms that are used in the context of an identity label). Asking people for further information and/or clarification about the way in which they use the terms is encouraged. This is especially recommended when using terms which have been noted as having a potentially derogatory connotation.


Agender  also referred to as "gender-neutral", is a term used to describe a person without gender. This person can be any physical sex, but their body does not necessarily correspond with their lack of gender identity. Often, agender persons are not concerned with their physical sex, but may seek to look androgynous.

Ally — Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and cisgender privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.

Androgyne / Androgynous — Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

Asexual — Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation. Many asexual individuals have deep and meaningful relationships with others exclusive of sexual intimacy.

Bicurious — A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.

Bigendered — A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.

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 — A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.

Butch — A person who identifies themselves 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 label.

Cisgender — A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society. (Also referred to as 'Gender Normative'.)

Coming Out — May refer to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersex person (to come out to oneself). May also refer to the process by which one shares one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersex status with others (to come out to friends, etc.). This can be a continual, life-long process for homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.

Cross-dresser — Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex. Not to be confused with Drag King/Queen.

Discrimination — Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both individual acts of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the affected group.

DSD / Disorder of Sex Development — A medical term used to refer to someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns. (See Also Intersex Person)

Drag King — A person who performs masculinity theatrically.

Drag Queen — A person who performs femininity theatrically.

Femme — Feminine identified person of any gender/sex.

FTM / F2M — Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual person.

Gay —

1. Term used in some cultural settings to represent males who are attracted to males in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who engage in homosexual behavior identify as gay, and as such this label should be used with caution.

2. Term used to refer to the LGBT+ community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

Gender — One’s expressions of masculinity, femininity or androgyny in words, persons, organisms, or characteristics.

Gender Binary — The idea that there are only two genders male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also Identity Sphere.)

Gender Cues — What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.

Gender Diverse — A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.). Also known as gender nonconforming, these terms are preferable to gender variant because they do not imply a standard normativity.

Gender Expression — A person’s choice and/or manipulation of gender cues. Gender expression may or may not be congruent with or influenced by a person’s biological sex.

Gender Identity — A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, or other gendered.

Gender Nonconforming — see Gender Diverse

Gender Normative — See 'cisgender'.

Gender pronoun — refers to the pronoun a person prefered to be addressed by such as masculine pronouns (he/his/him), feminine pronouns (she/her/hers), or gender neutral pronouns (they/their/them or ze/hir/hirs). Those listed do not reflect a comphrehensive list of gender pronouns. (See also “Spivakian pronouns” and “Ze/Hir/Hirs”)

Genderqueer — A gender diverse person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. This identity is usually related to or in reaction to the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.

Gender Variant — A synonym for gender diverse. Gender diverse is preferred to 'gender variant’ because variance implies a standard normativity of gender.

Getting / Being Read — How a person’s gender is perceived by a casual observer, based on gender cues / expression. (e.g. a butch woman being perceived as a man). Sometimes refers to a transperson being perceived as transgender, or another gender other than the gender they wish to be perceived by.

Hermaphrodite — An out-of-date and offensive term for an intersex person. (See Intersex Person.)

Heteronormativity — The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and bisexuality.

Heterosexism — Prejudice against individuals and groups who display non-heterosexual behaviors or identities, combined with the majority power to impose such prejudice. Usually used to the advantage of the group in power. Any attitude, action, or practice backed by institutional power that subordinates people because of their sexual orientation.

Heterosexual Privilege — Those benefits derived automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.

HIV-phobia — The irrational fear or hatred of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Homophobia — The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.

Homosexual — A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.

Identity Sphere — The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on a linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all expression without weighting any one expression as better than another.

In the Closet — Refers to a homosexual, bisexual, transperson or intersex person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society. An intersex person may be closeted due to ignorance about their status since standard medical practice is to correct, whenever possible, intersex conditions early in childhood and to hide the medical history from the patient. There are varying degrees of being in the closet; for example, a person can be out in their social life, but in the closet at work, or with their family. Also known as 'Downlow'.

Intergender — A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.

Institutional Oppression — Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.

Internalized Oppression — The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.

Intersex Person — A person whose body does not fit into the dyadic categories of male or female, due to genital, gonadal, chromosomal, and/or hormonal variation; intersex people may have typical masculine or feminine identities, or may identify as gender diverse. (See Also DSD / Disorder of Sex Development).

Lesbian — Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as such is sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not necessarily represent the identities of African-Americans and other non-European ethnic groups. This being said, individual female-identified people from diverse ethnic groups, including African-Americans, embrace the term lesbian as an identity label.

LGBT+ — A common abbreviation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. There are many other communities within the broader LGBT+ community. These include but are not limited to Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, Sapiosexual, and Pansexual (LGBTQQIAASP). Commonly, LGBT+ is used as an abbreviated form of the former LGBTQQIAASP.

MTF / M2F — Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.

Oppression — The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.

Outing — Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.

Pangender — A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

Pansexual — A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions. Passing describes a person's ability to be accepted as their preferred gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as heterosexual.

Prejudice — A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.

Romantic attraction — a feeling that causes people to desire a romantic relationship with a specific other person. Romantic attraction may exist with, or without, sexual attraction.

Romantic orientation — an individual's pattern of romantic attraction based on a person's gender. This is considered distinct from sexual orientation, which refers specifically to a person’s patterns of sexual attraction, which is distinct from romantic attraction. Related terms include heteroromantic –romantic attraction to a person of a different sex or gender-, homoromantic –romantic attraction to a person of the same sex or gender-, etc.

Queer —

1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer may include lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons, and many other sexual or gender minorities

2. A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. Queer is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades queer was used solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold queer to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive. Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their use when one is not a member of the group.

Questioning — A person is in the process of questioning their sexual identity.

Sapiosexual — Experiencing sexual attraction to individuals on a cerebral rather than physical basis. Someone who is attracted to another person's display of intelligence.

Sex — A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into male and female, this category does not recognize the existence of DSD (intersex) bodies.

Sexual Assignment Surgery (SAS) — Surgical treatment for DSD or intersex bodies to assign a male or female sex, where such designation may not otherwise be clear. Historically, this has been performed shortly after birth and kept from the person. SAS is still performed in some cases today.

Sex Identity — How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between, beyond, or neither.

Sexual Orientation — The desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another gender/sex, or multiple genders/sexes.

Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) — A term used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s sex. In most states, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve legal recognition of gender variance.

Sexuality — A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, and desire.

Spivakian pronouns — New terms proposed to serve as gender-neutral, third-person, singular, personal pronouns in English. These neologisms are used by some people who feel that there are problems with gender-specific pronouns because they imply sex and/or gender.

Stereotype — A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.

Straight — Another term for heterosexual.

Straight-Acting — A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that gay men should act that is significantly different from heterosexual men.

Trans — An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender diverse person. This use allows a person to state a gender diverse identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender diverse community as a whole.

Transactivism — The political and social movement to create equality for gender diverse persons.

Transgender — A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

Transgender (Trans) Community — A loose category of people who transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central ethic of this community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of freedoms including gender and sexual identity and orientation.

Transition — This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender diverse person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.

Transman — An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as females. Also referred to as transguy(s).

Transphobia — The irrational fear of those who are gender diverse and/or the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.

Transsexual — A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.

Transvestite — Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex. While the terms homosexual and transvestite have been used synonymously, they do in fact signify two different groups. The majority of transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from dressing in women’s clothing. (The preferred term is cross-dresser, but the term transvestite is still used in a positive sense in the UK.)

Transwoman — An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.

Two-Spirited — Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term two-spirit is usually considered too specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include one-spirit and wintke.

Ze/Hir/Hirs — Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some gender diverse persons. Pronounced zee/here/heres, they replace he/she, him/her, his/hers respectively.

This list of terms was adapted from the LGBT Campus Resource Center at UCLA — www.lgbt.ucla.edu