The following is a reference guide; a glossary of terms and language commonly used in dialogue regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. It is by no means a comprehensive list and, in every context, the meaning of these words may change and evolve. This glossary and its definitions provide a starting point for engaging in an inclusive, open and honest conversation, and is is intended to create a shared language of understanding.
If there is a term / language that you feel should be referenced in the glossary, please feel free to submit it for consideration.
AFAB/AMAB: Assigned Female At Birth / Assigned Male At Birth.
agender: A person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional gender binary, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender.
ally: Someone who possesses power and privilege (based on ethnicity, class, gender, sexual identity, etc.) and stands in solidarity with, and is supportive of, marginalized groups and communities.
allyship: An active verb; leveraging personal positions of power and privilege to fight oppression by respecting, working with, and empowering marginalized voices and communities; using one’s own voice to project others’, less represented, voices.
androgyne / androgynous / androgyny: Someone who reflects an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, neither or both.
aromantic: Experiencing little or no romantic attraction to other people. Aromanticism exists on a continuum.
asexual: Refers to a person who does not experience sexual attraction or has little interest in sexual activity.
assigned sex: The sex that is assigned to an infant at birth based on the child’s visible sex organs, including genitalia and other physical characteristics.
biphobia: The fear or hatred of persons perceived to be bisexual.
bigender/dual gender: A person who possesses and expresses a distinctly masculine persona and a distinctly feminine persona. Is comfortable in and enjoys presenting in both gender roles either simultaneously or alternately.
bisexual: A person who experiences attraction to some men and women, or identifies as experiencing an attraction to people of varying genders.
cisgender / cis: A term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. The word cisgender can also be shortened to "cis."
cisnormativity: The belief that being cisgender is normal. This belief feeds into a system of oppression that privileges cisgender individuals and denies equality to transgender people.
cissexism: The assumption that all people are cisgender. Because this assumption is so deeply ingrained in our society through socialization, many people say and do things that are cissexist without realizing it or intending to.
civil union: A relationship between a couple that is legally recognized by a governmental authority andas many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
closeted / in the closet: A term used to describe gender and sexual minorities who do not want or cannot reveal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
coming out: The process by which LGBTQI individuals recognize, accept, typically appreciate, and often celebrate their sexual orientation, sexuality, or gender identity/expression. Coming out varies across culture and community.
demigender: Having a partial connection to one or more genders. Often used as demigirl, demiboy, etc.
demisexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction to someone until a greater, often emotional, bond is formed.
domestic partner: Either member of an unmarried, cohabiting, straight and same-sex couple that seeks benefits usually available only to spouses.
drag queen / king: A person who takes on the appearance and characteristics associated with a certain gender, usually for entertainment purposes and often to expose the humorous and performative elements of gender.
female-bodied: A person who was assigned female at birth.
Note: Though still occasionally used this term is very problematic as it genders bodies non-consensually and plays into cissexism (in that breasts or a vulva, for example, are considered inherently female).
femme: A person who expresses and/or identifies with femininity.
fluid(ity): Describes an identity that may change or shift over time between; generally attached with another term, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality.
FTM/F2M/F to M: Abbreviation for a person who was assigned female at birth (AFAB) but identifies as male and transitioned to a masculine appearance that is consistent with their gender identity. This term is problematic to some FAAB trans people as they feel they were never female and because X to Y terms can put too much focus on traditional means of physical transition.
gay: Used to describe people who are emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender.
gender: Refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ.
gendered: Having a distinct association with being masculine and/or feminine, man or woman.
gender affirming surgery: Surgical procedures associated with altering the genitals or secondary sex characteristics to be consistent with a person’s gender identity. What was formerly referred to as a “sex change” (an outdated and often offensive term).
gender binary: The idea that there are only two genders: man and woman. This idea is challenged by individuals who identify as non-binary (e.g., genderqueer, agender).
gender diversity: Refers to the extent to which a person's gender identity, role or expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex.
gender dysphoria: The distress that a person experiences when the sex they were assigned at birth (by way of anatomy) does not match their gender identity. A person may experience various degrees of dysphoria with respect to different parts of their anatomy. For example, a female-bodied person may experience dysphoria with their breasts and voice but not genitalia.
gender expression: External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.
gender fluid: A gender identity characterized by fluctuation between masculine/feminine/other (gender expression) and/or man-ness/woman-ness/other (gender identity). Some gender fluid people experience shifts on a frequent basis (within a day), others may go long periods of time.
gender identity: Refers to a person's internal, deeply held sense of their gender.
gender-neutral / gender-inclusive: Inclusive language to describe relationships (spouse and partner instead of husband/boyfriend and wife/girlfriend), spaces (gender-neutral/inclusive restrooms are for use by all genders), pronouns (they and ze are gender neutral/inclusive pronouns) among other things.
gender neutral pronouns: Pronouns that do not adhere to the he:she and his:her binary, and can refer to a number of different gender identities. Some examples are ze/hir/hirs, and they/them/their but there are many others. Gender neutral pronouns are recognized by the Chicago Style Manual and AP.
gender non-conforming: An individual or identity characterized by traits that do not conform to conventional gendered behavior, expression, or gender roles.
gender normative: A person who conforms to gender-based expectations of society.
gender pronouns: The pronouns that a person prefers and reflects their gender identity (e.g., she/her/hers; they/them/theirs; he/him/his). A variety of gender-neutral pronouns exist, most commonly they/them/theirs.
gender role: Refers to a pattern of appearance, personality, and behavior that, in a given culture, is associated with being a boy/man/male or being a girl/woman/female.
genderqueer: A person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions, but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of masculine and feminine genders. Includes a non-binary gender identity. May use gender-neutral pronouns.
heteronormativity: The societal assumption and norm that all people are heterosexual.
heterosexism: The belief or assumption that everyone is, or should be heterosexual; the idea that being heterosexual is normal, natural, and healthy, and all other people are somehow unnatural, abnormal and unhealthy.
heterosexual: Refers to a person who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to a person of the opposite gender. Also referred to as straight.
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.
homophobia: On a personal level, homophobia is an irrational fear, aversion, or dislike of homosexualities and people who identify as homosexual; on a social level, homophobia is the ingrained structural discrimination against homosexuality and those who identify as homosexual that prevents access to certain resources or opportunities and inhibits individuals from feeling safe or able to be socially recognized as homosexual.
homosexual: A male whose sexual orientation is toward other men or a female whose sexual orientation is toward females.
Note: This is not a preferred term. Homosexual males typically prefer the term gay and homosexual females typically prefer the term lesbian.
- intersex: Refers to people who are biologically between the medically expected definitions of male and female. This can be through variations in hormones, chromosomes, internal or external genitalia, or any combination of any or all primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.
lesbian: An identity term for a female-identified person who is attracted to other female-identified people.
LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIAA+: Acronyms referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, agender, and asexual/ally.
male-bodied: A person who was assigned male at birth.
Note: Though still occasionally used this term is very problematic as it genders bodies non-consensually and plays into cissexism (in that a flat chest or a penis, for example, are considered inherently male).
MTF/M2F/M to F: Abbreviation for a person who was assigned male at birth (AMAB) but identifies as female and transitioned to a feminine appearance that is consistent with their gender identity. This term is problematic to some MAAB trans people as they feel they were never male and because X to Y terms can put too much focus on traditional means of physical transition.
MTM/FTF: A transgender individual who has medically transitioned and feels their birth sex was never an identity to which they could relate. In other words, a person with a birth sex of female may have lived as female for many years, but never identified as a woman. Instead, they always identified as male and transitioned to become outwardly visible as male. The social identity of female (FTM) to male is an inappropriate description of their experience with gender.
- non-binary / gender variant: A spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary.
pangender: Someone whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender identities and expressions.
pansexual: A term referring to the potential for sexual attractions or romantic love toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. The concept of pansexuality deliberately rejects the gender binary and derives its origin from the transgender movement.
passing privilege: There is variation in the degree to which medically and/or socially transitioned people are recognized as their correct gender (i.e., passing) and this comes with various, context dependent, levels of privilege.
pronouns: A pronoun is a word that refers to someone or something that is being talked about (like she, it, them, and this). Gender pronouns (like he and hers) specifically refer to people that you are talking about. You cannot always know what pronoun (she/her, he/him, they/them) someone uses by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s personal pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.
queer: An umbrella term that can refer to anyone who transgresses society's view of gender or sexuality. A term that was used by heterosexuals as an insult that has been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ community.
Note: Some LGBT individuals find the word offensive and some queer-identified people may be offended if non-queer people use the term.
queer theory: A theoretical approach that critically deconstructs and challenges binaries such as male and female or heterosexual and homosexual.
questioning: An identity label for a person who is exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity and is in a state of moratorium in terms of identity formation.
safe space: A place where anyone can relax and be fully self- expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person's self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.
same gender loving: A term coined by activist Cleo Manago as a description for homosexuals, particularly in the African American community. SGL is an alternative to terms for homosexual identities (e.g., gay and lesbian) that can carry negative connotations to some people.
sapiosexual: One who find the contents of someone else’s mind to be their most attractive attribute, above physical or other characteristics.
serostatus: The state of either having or not having detectible antibodies against a specific antigen, as measured by a blood test (serologic test). For example, HIV seropositive mean that a person has detectible antibodies to HIV; seronegative means that a person does not have detectible HIV antibodies.
sex: Binary biological classification of male or female (based on genetic or physiological features); as opposed to gender, which is social in nature (frequently used interchangeably with “gender” despite this difference).
sexism: Refers to the range of attitudes, beliefs, policies, laws and behaviors that discriminate on the basis of sex or gender.
sexual orientation: One's natural (not chosen) preference in sexual partners.
sex assignment: The initial categorization of an infant as male or female.
SOFFA: Acronym for Significant Others, Friends, Families, and Allies of transgender individuals.
stealth: This refers to a person who has socially and/or medically transitioned from their sex assigned at birth and does not disclose their past, presenting only as their true gender. Often this involves disassociating from people who know their history.
- third gender: Someone whose gender identity is not man or woman, but some other gender outside of the binary.
transgender: An umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Trans is sometimes used as a shorthand for transgender. Not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person.
transition: The process trans people may go through to become comfortable in terms of their gender. Transitioning may include social, physical, mental, and emotional components.
transmisogyny: The intersection of transphobia and misogyny. Defined as the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people. Transmisogyny is often directed at transwomen in particular.
transphobia: The fear or hatred of persons perceived to be transgender and/or transsexual.
transsexual: An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed - or seek to change - their bodies through medical interventions, including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term a person prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective: transsexual woman or transsexual man.
Two Spirit: A Native American term for individuals who identify both as male and female. In western culture these individuals are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered.
- unisex: Clothing, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, relationships, etc., which are considered appropriate for members of any gender/sex.
ze: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used instead of he/she.
zir: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used instead of his/her.
Citations and Sources
This document has been adapted from the Diversity and Inclusion Dictionary from Virginia Commonwealth University Division for Inclusive Excellence and using information from:
Cushing, B. B., Cabbil, L., Freeman, M., Hitchcock,. J., Richards, K. (2010). Accountability and white anti-racist organizing: Stories from our work. Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books
Kendi, I. X., (2019). How to be an anti-racist. Random House.
National Conference for Community and Justice, Oregon State University, Arizona State University – Intergroup Relations Center, and The National Center for Transgender Equality