Gender & Sexuality Resource Center

Terminology

Appendix D: Glossary of Terms

[adapted from WMU, BSU, UCLA and MSUD (as prepared by Dr. Janis Bohan)]

Agender:  A person who is agender sees themselves as neither man nor woman, has no gender identity, or no gender to express. This is an example of someone who may also identify as genderqueer or non-binary. Similar terms to agender include genderless, gender neutral, and neutrois.”

Affectional Orientation: A recent term used to refer to variations in object of emotional and sexual attraction. The term is preferred by some over sexual orientation because it indicates that the feelings and commitments involved are not solely (or even primarily, for some people) sexual.

Ally:  Any non-LGBT person whose attitudes, behaviors, and efforts seek to combat homophobia and heterosexism on both personal and institutional levels.

Ambisexual:  see Bisexual.

Asexual:  A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.

BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Submission/Sadism, and Masochism):  The terms “submission/sadism” and “masochism” refer to deriving pleasure from in a sexual context.  The terms “bondage” and “domination” refer to playing with various power roles, in both sexual and social context.  These practices are often misunderstood as abusive but when practiced in a safe, sane and consensual manner can be a part of healthy sex life. (Sometimes referred to as “leather.”)

Bisexual:  A person who is attracted to two sexes or two genders, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally, typically men and women (however, there are not only two sexes, see intersex and transsexual and transgender). Sometimes referred to as “ambisexual.”

Bear:  The most common definition of a “bear” is a man who has facial/body hair and a cuddly body though “bear is often defined as more of an attitude and a sense of comfort with natural masculinity and bodies.

Cisgender:  Someone who feels comfortable with the gender identity and gender expression expectations assigned to them based on their physical sex.

Closet/In the Closet/Closeted:  The term used to describe an LGBT person who hides her/his sexual orientation for fear of the consequences if her/his true identity were known.

Coming Out (of the Closet):  The sequence of events through which individuals come to recognize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and disclose it to others. Technically, both heterosexual and LGBT people would come to this realization and reveal it to others. However, because heterosexuality is taken for granted, and there is generally no conscious process of discovery or disclosure for straight people, the term is only applied to LGBT individuals.

Drag:  Being “in drag” involves overt violation of gender role prescriptions. Most obviously, it means dressing in clothing usually prescribed for the other sex; beyond this, one also mimics the make-up, hairstyles, and mannerisms of the other sex. Drag Queens are men who appear in public in drag; Drag Kings are women who appear in public in overtly masculine ways, dress, actions, etc. Both Drag Queens and Kings perform theatrically.

Dyke:  Avoid this term. Slang term for a lesbian, usually having the connotation of traditionally “masculine” appearance, dress, speech, and manner. In this meaning, it is a stronger form of “butch” and is often intended to convey contempt. Like fag/faggot, the term has historically had a negative connotation, but is now often used among lesbians themselves as an affirmation of lesbian pride.

FTM:  Female-to-male transgender or transsexual.

Fag/Faggot:  Avoid this term. Slang term for a gay man. The term faggot means a bundle of sticks, and its use to refer to gay men apparently derives from the time when men accused of homosexual acts were burned along with witches. This origin is reinforced by the term “flaming faggot,” a reference to extreme or exaggerated “femininity.” Like dyke, the term has historically had a negative connotation, but is now often used among gay men themselves as an affirmation of gay pride.

Gay:  The term applied to a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. In some cases, the term is applied to people who have same-sex sexual relations even if they do not identify themselves as gay (“He's gay, he just can't admit it.”). On the other hand, people may be said to be gay whether or not they have sexual relations with a member of the same sex (“I was always gay, I just never did anything about it.”). The most specific definition reserves this term for those who identify themselves as gay and as members of the gay community. Traditionally, “gay” has been the generic term to refer to both women and men. However, it has also been used to refer to men only (as the word “man” has been used to refer to us all). Because this generic use makes women invisible, the current preference in much of the LGBT community is for the term “gay” to refer to gay men (often “gay men” or “gay males” is used to further clarify the meaning of the term), and “lesbians” to refer to women. This position is shared by the American Psychological Association.

Gender/Gender Roles:  “Masculine” and “feminine.” The attitudes and behaviors one is expected (and socialized) to exhibit based on one's biological sex. Gender is the socialized consequence of our belief that men and women are and should be different in a wide range of behaviors and experiences.

Gender and Sexual Orientation:  We have a tendency to confuse gender with sexual orientation. The most obvious manifestation of this is seen in stereotypes of gay men as "effeminate" and lesbians as "masculine." It occurs in more subtle forms as well, such as arguments that men become gay (sexual orientation) because of lack of a male model (gender). Given that gender and sexual orientation are separate dimensions, it is important to differentiate between gender identity and sexual orientation identity. Being transgender is not the same as being gay or lesbian. However, both transgender identity and non-heterosexual orientation face similar oppression, and the source of that oppression is the same: the assumption that sex (male or female) and gender (masculine or feminine) are inextricably linked, and that only opposite-sex/gender attachments are legitimate. Thus, violation of the sex-gender link (as in trans identity) and/or attachments to others of the same sex (whatever their gender) is cause for prejudice and discrimination.

Gender Bending (sometimes “gender blending”):  Any form of behavior that challenges traditional, stereotypical expectations for "gender appropriate" behavior. LGBT folks engage in gender bending/blending by virtue of their involvement with members of the same sex, because this violates “appropriate” (i.e., heterosexual) pairings. Some argue that LGBT identities pose a threat precisely because they challenge the necessity for traditional roles. In this view, the real fear is that traditional roles may be lost if LGBT people are allowed to exercise gender-role freedom.

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.

Gender Fluid   Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.

Heterosexism/Heteronormativity:  The belief and everyday representations that heterosexual identity and behavior are normal and legitimate, whereas any other sexual orientation is deviant, perverse, abnormal, dangerous. Institutionalized heterosexism occurs where social institutions assume the legitimacy of heterosexuality and support it with public policies, rituals, and resources while ignoring, demeaning, or even punishing other sexual orientations. It is often revealed in our language (where “couple” automatically means heterosexual couple), in the expectation that romantic interests are always of the other sex, in products marketed as “his and hers,” and in uncounted daily occurrences where heterosexuality is taken for granted. This assumption contributes to homophobia and heterosexism both by reinforcing the ultimate propriety of heterosexual (and only heterosexual) identities and by making the lives of LGBT individuals invisible.

Heterosexual:  A clinical term for someone having emotional, physical, and sexual responses primarily to members of the opposite sex. Slang: “straight”.

Heterosexual Privilege:  One result of heterosexism is that heterosexual individuals can take for granted certain privileges that are not available to LGBT individuals. Some of the more obvious of these privileges are the right to marry, to adopt or foster children, to receive health insurance and retirement benefits in the name of one's partner, to make important legal and medical and bereavement decisions regarding one's loved one, and so forth. More subtle but equally important are the privilege of seeing one's life reflected in the culture; of having one's relationship recognized and honored by others; of being open about one's identity without fear of reprisal; of being known for one's profession or other role in life without its being qualified by reference to sexual orientation (as in "a gay teacher" or "a lesbian politician"); of not having constantly to consider whether or not to be "out" in each situation.

Homophobia:  Technically, irrational fear of homosexuality (from the Greek, homo, same + phobia, fear). The term has come to refer to an aversion to and prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people, their lifestyles and communities. In reality, homophobia is far more complex than simply an irrational fear. It may spring from many motives and express a variety of forms of discomfort. Further, the word implies an individual psychopathology (in the form of a phobia) and thereby disguises the systemic nature of anti-LGBT attitudes. Similar terms: Biphobia and Transphobia—irrational fears of bisexuals and transgender individuals, even sometimes within the LGBT community.

Homosexual:  From the Greek homo, meaning same. This is, originally coined in 1869, a clinical term for a person who’s affectional and sexual orientation is toward members of the same sex. This term is generally not preferred by LGBT people. First, it is the term employed as a diagnostic category when LGBT identity was seen as a mental illness; hence, it feels pathologizing. Second, it emphasizes the sexual aspects of LGBT identity, reinforcing the common notion that LGBT identity is purely sexual in nature and disregarding the complexity of LGBT experience.

Internalized Homophobia:  Because we all grew up in a homophobic and heterosexist society, we all learned to condemn LGBT identity. For those individuals who later identify as LGBT, this internalized homophobia (IH) can be expressed in many ways, among them overt expressions of self-loathing, substance abuse, depression, suicide, a belief that they are deserving of mistreatment, self-defeating behaviors, or denigration of other LGBs. If LGBs are to achieve a positive sense of self, they must neutralize the negative messages they have internalized, a task that is on-going (and perhaps never completed). Also Internalized Biphobia and Internalized Transphobia.

Intersex:  A person whose anatomical sex is neither male nor female; a person who has both partially male and female sexual anatomy; formerly referred to as “hermaphrodites” (now a derogatory term).

Lesbian:  A woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. The term comes from the isle of Lesbos, where the poet, Sappho, established a community of women in the 7th century B.C. Currently, the term lesbian is popular in many segments of the LGBT community, and is the term deemed appropriate by the APA to designate homosexual women. It is preferred as a term that makes women clearly visible in LGBT issues, acknowledging that lesbian issues are not entirely the same as gay men’s issues. However, some members of the LGBT community do not prefer this term. Some believe it is too political and may be divisive (why separate ourselves from gay men?). Others feel that it sounds too clinical or pathological.

Lipstick Lesbian:  Usually refers to a lesbian with f feminine gender expression.  Can be used in a positive or a derogatory way.  Is sometimes used to refer to a lesbian who is seen as automatically passing for heterosexual.

Life Partner/Partner/Domestic Partner:  The person with whom one shares a committed relationship. Comparable in some ways to “spouse,” “lover,” “significant other,” or “partner” in heterosexual relationships. Many of the differences between these and heterosexual pairings arise from social or cultural institutions that treat LGBT relationships differently from heterosexual ones. Others derive from the absence of prescribed gender roles within LGBT partnerships.

MTF:  Male-to-female transgender of transsexual.

Metrosexual:  Refers to an urban heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

Neutrois:  A non-binary gender identity which is considered to be a neutral or null gender. It may also be used to mean genderless, and has considerable overlap with agender - some people who consider themselves neutrally gendered or genderless may identify as both, while others prefer one term or the other.  Neutrois people may experience dysphoria and wish to transition. Often, neutrois people prefer for their gender expression to be gender neutral or androgynous, although this is not always the case. Some neutrois people wish to medically transition to remove all sex characteristics, but others only wish to remove some characteristics, or do not desire surgery at all. As with many other non-binary identities, neutrois people may not have their gender legally recognized on their documentation. However, an increasing number of places allow for non-binary identities to be recognized, including Facebook, which includes neutrois as a gender option. Neutrois people can be of any assigned sex and have any sexuality.

Out, Out of the Closet:  The state of being aware of and open about one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The term is almost exclusively applied to LGBT people, because straight folks are automatically “out” as a result of heterosexist assumptions (i.e., you are assumed to be heterosexual; only LGBT identity needs to be discovered or revealed). People can be “out” in varying degrees; some are out only to themselves, some are out to their family, some are out in their work, one may be out to some friends and not to others, and so forth.

Outing, To “Out” someone:  Revealing the sexual orientation of someone else without their consent. Some activists have argued that it is important for powerful and important LGBT people to be visible, and that when such people choose to remain closeted, we all suffer. Using this rationale, they publicly expose the sexual orientation or gender identity of people who had chosen to remain closeted. Less blatant forms of outing also occur, as when a person mentions the name of someone she/he knows to be LGBT, thus inadvertently revealing that person's sexual orientation or gender identity to people who might otherwise not be aware of it, and whom the individual might not have chosen to tell. Straight people, of course, are outed regularly; the sharing of information about sexual orientation is only a risk for LGBT, for whom even inadvertent and apparently innocent outing can be damaging.

Pansexual:  A person who is sexually attracted to all gender expressions.

Queen:  Avoid this term. A gay man, especially one who is particularly “feminine” in manner and dress. The term is usually used by others derogatorily, but may be used by gays themselves as an affirmation of their comfort with violating norms for “masculine” behavior.

Queer:  A slang term traditionally used to refer to lesbians and gay men; increasingly it refers to all alternative sexual orientations and identities. Historically a derogatory term, this term has been assumed by LGBT people as a term of pride used among themselves, reflecting their shared freedom to engage in gender bending.

Sex:  Biological classification of being male or female, usually based upon external genitalia. Or the act.

Sexual Behavior:  Refers to actions that a person takes, not always based on the person’s sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation:  One's sexual orientation is defined by who are the objects of one's emotional and sexual attraction. While the term emphasizes the sexual component of interpersonal relationships, in reality any sexual orientation involves a wide range of feelings, behaviors, experiences, and commitments.

Sexual Preference:  Avoid this term. It is misleading as it implies a choice. The majority of LGBT individuals will tell you that being LGBT is not a preference and they do not have a choice over the matter (although some people actually prefer this term).

Stonewall:  The Stonewall Inn tavern, a gay bar in New York City‘s Greenwich Village, was the site of several nights of violent protests following a police raid committed on June 28, 1969. Although not the nation‘s first gay-rights demonstration, Stonewall is now regarded as the birth of the modern LGBT movement.

They/them: Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some gender variant persons.

Transgender:  This term refers to individuals whose gender identity differs in some way from the one they were assigned at birth. They may identify and feel internally as the “opposite” sex or they may feel and identify as another gender altogether. Some of these individuals may choose hormones, surgery, and/or legal name changes to allow them greater ability to express their gender identity externally. Transgender people represent a dimension entirely different from sexual orientation. For example, a male-to-female transgender person may, subsequent to the change, form relationships with men. Such relationships are heterosexual according to heteronormative social roles (gender) and the external genitalia of the partners, although both are genetically male. If the same person formed relationships with women, those would be lesbian relationships according to the external genitalia and social roles of the people involved, even though they are genetically of the opposite sex. Other such possibilities illustrate the complexity of defining sex/gender and sexual orientation.

Transition:  A complicated, multi-step process that can take years as transsexuals align their anatomy with their sex identity; this process may ultimately include sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).

Transsexual:  Refers to a transgender person who has chosen to live as a gender other than what was assigned to them at birth. They may or may not start to dress differently, to seek surgery, to take hormones, as well any number of other things to become more masculine/feminine.

Two Spirit:  The term Two Spirit is often applied to Native Americans who are gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender. Although Two Spirit is felt by some to distort the nuances of culturally and linguistic specific concepts of gender identity and sexuality, it is felt to be a far more culturally sensitive and accurate term than “berdache,” which came from the French via Persian meaning “kept boy” or “male prostitute.”  Use of the term Two Spirit carries the general inference of respect given to the traditional role that a GBLT individual would have played among his or her people prior to colonization and is most useful when referring to Native American GBLT groups comprised of members from different or multiple Native societies (adapted from a statement issued by the Two Spirit Society of Denver).

Ze/Hir – Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some gender variant persons.  Pronounced “zee” and “here” they replace “he”/”she” and “his”/”hers” respectively.