LGBTQ+ Terms You Keep Hearing and What They Mean
Pride 2019 season is here! With millions of folks identifying as LGBTQ+ and only two thirds of Gen Z identifying as straight, the norm is shifting and so is the language used within the growing community and beyond. Whether you personally identify as LGBTQ+, want to be a better ally or have been curious but too shy to ask — here’s a list of LGBTQ+ terms to know about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
The LGBTQ+ terms basics
While we’ve put together a glossary and provided definitions for a number of terms, just remember that at the end of the day, trust the person who may use these terms and their definition. Read: don’t try and correct someone when they tell you who they are.
Now, let’s get into the basics!
LGBTTIQ2SA+; acronym: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, intersex, queer, questioning, 2-spirited, asexual/aromantic/agender (some folks even use the “A” for ally).
LGBTQIA; acronym: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual/aromantic/agender.
LGBTQ+; acronym: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, questioning plus.
LGBT; acronym: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans.
This is an umbrella term for queer (or non-normative) folks who have alternative sexuality or gender identity.
Sex; noun: a medical term that speaks to the biological difference between a male and female.
Gender; noun: a social role or construct we assign to people — often in a binary way: male and female. “Gender stereotypes” is a thing and it refers to how we expect men (and boys) and women (and girls) to behave and/or act.
Queer; noun: though this used to be a derogatory term, it has been reclaimed by the queer community to address folks who reject binary gender and sexual orientations. Individuals who identify as queer use it as a way to own identities and sexual orientations outside of heteronormative ideals.
Sexual orientation terms
Gay; adjective: 1. a sexual orientation term used to describe someone who is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people of their own sex or gender. 2. adj. Commonly used to describe men. 3. adj. Sometimes used as an umbrella term to refer to the queer community as a whole (example: Toronto’s gay community).
Lesbian; adjective: a woman who is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to other women. (example: lady loving lesbians.)
Bisexual; adjective: a person who is into, emotionally and/or sexually, more than one sex and/or gender.
Pansexual; adjective: someone who is attracted to all kinds of people — who don’t limit their sexual choices to biological sex, gender presentation or gender identity. *Sometimes confused with bisexuality.
Janelle Monae and Miley Cyrus have openly identified as pansexual.
Straight; adjective: a person who is primarily attracted emotionally and/or sexually to folks of their opposite sex or gender. A chill way of saying “heterosexual”.
Asexual; adjective: someone who experiences very little or zero sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of sex/gender. A person who lacks interest in sexual activity and behaviours.
Demisexual; adjective: a person who has very low to no capacity to experience sexual attraction until a strong romantic or emotional connection is formed. (They have to feel love or something like it before they can develop sexual desire.)
Aromantic; adjective: an individual who experiences very little or zero romantic attraction to others.
Gender identity and expression terms
Gender expression; noun: the packaging or external expression of our gender identity done through how we opt to wear our hair, clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behaviour, how we speak, etc. It’s basically how we take on socially defined concepts and behaviours of masculine and feminine.
Gender identity; noun: a personal concept of ourselves as female, male or neither. Not to be confused with sexual orientation, people may not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Transgender; noun: someone who does not identify with the sex they were assigned when they were born.
Cisgender; noun: a person whose gender aligns with the sex they were given at birth. Cis is commonly used and can be applied in terms of cis-men or cis-women. Example: KStew is a cis-woman lesbian into gal-paling with other women.
Androgynous; noun: a person who can rock both masculine and feminine characteristics — which can blur our ability to assign a gender. It’s also been used to describe folks who appear female but take on traditionally masculine fashion and/or style. Example: Ruby Rose, Katherine Moenning, Cate Blanchett (when she wants to).
Binary; noun: the notion that there are only two genders ever and every single person on earth falls into one of the only two categories.
Non-binary; noun: someone who isn’t about identifying as exclusively as male or female.
Genderqueer; noun: folks who are all about fluid ideas of gender (and usually — but not always — sexual orientation) and may identify their gender as both male and female, neither male nor female, or sometimes a combination of the two.
Agender; noun: someone who does not take on any particular gender.
Gender fluid; noun: someone who opts out of committing to one specific gender — and may shift their gender identity at different times.
Gender non-conforming; noun: folks who won’t conform to traditional expectations of their assigned genders. Example: women who don’t act like “ladies”.
Transsexual; noun: someone with a gender identity that is not aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth and has taken medical action or hormone therapy to rectify the situation to match their body to their gender.
Transvestite; noun: a person who wears clothing typically identified with the opposite gender/sex. Example: The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Frank-N-Furter.
Trans; noun: an umbrella term for various kinds of gender identities in the trans community.
Drag; noun: usually used in the context of “drag queen” or “drag king” — and speaks to someone who performs hyper-masculinity or hyper-femininity theatrically. Sometimes performed by the straights or cisgender folks. Has zero to do with gender identity.
Top and Bottom surgery; noun: referring to the surgeries for the construction of a traditional male-type chest or breast augmentation for a traditional female-type chest (top); and gender affirming genital surgeries (bottom).
Attitudes and behaviours around LGBTQ+ folks
Ally; noun: a person who isn’t queer or LGBTQ+ — but steps up and uses their privilege to support the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for equality. A good ally knows when to stand up and speak up — and when to stand down in spaces when LGBTQ+ conversations are happening. Example: Tatiana Maslany, Jodie Comer
Heteronormativity; noun: a cultural bias that creates a lens that sees heterosexuality or being straight as the norm. Example: assuming people are straight when you meet them, assuming all families have a mom and dad, etc.
Homophobia; noun: hate, discrimination, extreme bias, prejudice, fear towards gay and lesbian folks.
Biphobia; noun: hate, discrimination, extreme bias, prejudice, fear towards bisexual people..
Transphobia; noun: hate, discrimination, extreme bias, prejudice, fear towards trans individuals and groups.
TERF; acronym: trans exclusionary radical feminist. This speaks to feminists who are transphobic.
Intersectionality; noun: an understanding that identities are many and that people take on multiple at once — including (and always considering) gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Often, it speaks to how these intersected identities can affect the way folks experience oppression and discrimination. Example: queer racialized cis-females experience social situations (example: workplace) differently than queer white trans folks — though they’ll both still experience oppression and discrimination — but differently.
You will make mistakes and that’s OK. Learning takes time and you’ll get there.
This is by no means a complete list of every term ever — but we’ve narrowed down fairly common LGBTQ+ terms you’ll hear around the community and in the media.
Chloe Tse is the Editor for Slice.ca. This gaysian journalist, co-founder of TheFeminismProject.com, media critic and social justice warrior has a background in print and digital magazines — and has been published in Curve, Fashion, S/Style, The Toronto Star, CAA Magazine, Daily Xtra and more. Above all, she’s a mom to a bad beagle. Follow her on Twitter @KChloeTse