LGBTQIA+ Terminology

LGBTQIA+ Terminology

Select LGBTQIA+ Terms Defined

Below is a list of common LGBTQIA+ terminology used a description as they are currently defined.  These terms are shared in an effort to educate those interested in learning more about the community.  We recognize that as identity is individual, not everyone will agree with every definition presented below.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please reach out to us here.


LGBTQIA+ - An acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning or queer, intersex, and asexual or ally or all.  The + is included for any self-identifying member of the community but not included in the LGBTQIA acronym.

Ally – 1.) Someone who confronts heterosexism, anti- LGBTQ biases, heterosexual and cisgender privilege in themselves and others 2.) Has concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, and other similarly identified people 3.) Believes that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues.

Androgyny – Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman. Some androgyny individuals may present in a gender neutral or androgynous way.

Asexual – Person who does not experience sexual attraction. They may or may not experience emotional, physical, or romantic attraction. Asexuality differs from celibacy in that it is a sexual orientation, not a choice. People who are asexual may call themselves “ace.”

Bicurious – A person who identifies as gay or straight while showing some curiosity for a relationship or sexual activity with a person of a sex they do not usually engage with. [Related terms: heteroflexible, homoflexible]

Bigender – A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman. They may consciously or unconsciously change their gender-role behavior from masculine to feminine, or vice versa.

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 LGBTQ community, as well as in general society.

Bisexual – A person who is 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.

Cisgender – someone who feels comfortable with the gender identity and gender expression expectations assigned to them based on their physical sex. Also known as “cissexual.”

Cisgender Privilege – The set of privileges conferred to people who are believed to be Cisgender. (Examples: having one’s preferred pronouns used, no harassment in public restrooms, no denial of expected access to health care, etc.) 

Cissexism – A pervasive and institutionalized system that others transgender people and treats their needs and identities as less important than those of Cisgender people.

Cross-dressing – To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression, is not necessarily tied to erotic activity, and is not indicative of sexual orientation.

Drag – The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically.

Drag King – A person who performs masculinity theatrically.

Drag Queen – A person who performs femininity theatrically.

Femme – An individual of any assigned sex who identifies with femininity as dictated by traditional gender roles. A femme identity may be intimately connected to assigned sex such as the case of cisgender female femmes who may be read simply as straight or gender normative. A femme gender identity may also be constructed independently of assigned sex.

FTM – Abbreviation for a female-to-male transgender person. This term reflects the direction of gender transition. Some prefer the term MTM (Male to Male) to underscore the fact that though they were biologically female, they never gender identity. [Related terms: transgender man, trans man]

Gay – 1.) 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 [See: Down Low].  2.)  An umbrella term for the LGBTQ.

Gender – 1.) A socially constructed system of classifications that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristic can change over time and vary between cultures. 2.) Someone’s innate sense of being male or female.

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 Dysphoria – Discomfort or distress caused by one’s assigned sex and the desire to change the characteristics that are the source.

Gender Expression – How one presents oneself and one’s gender to the world via dress, mannerisms, hairstyle, facial hair etc. This may or may not coincide with or indicate one’s gender identity. Many utilize gender expression in an attempt to determine the gender/sex of another individual. However, a person’s gender expression may not always match their gender identity.

Gender Identity – A person’s sense of self as masculine, feminine, both, or neither regardless of external genitalia.

Gender Non-Conforming – A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, butch, cross-dresser,etc.). Also known as ‘Gender Variant.’

Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society.

Gender Oppression - The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege Cisgender and subordinate and disparage transgender or gender non-conforming people.

Genderqueer – An individual whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. Sometimes this includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system. Genderqueer individuals may or may not pursue any physical changes, such as hormonal or surgical intervention, and may not identify as trans.

Heteronormativity – The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality, bisexuality, and other sexual orientations.

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 or being perceived as heterosexual that are denied to homosexual and bisexual people. Also, the benefits homosexual and bisexual people receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.

Homophobia – The irrational fear, hatred, or intolerance of people who identify or are perceived as non-heterosexual, including the fear of being read as part of the LGBT community. Homophobic behavior can range from telling gay jokes, to verbal abuse, to acts of physical violence.

Homosexual – An out of date term for a person who is primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Many people view this term as offensive in that it is excessively clinical and sexualizes members of the LGBTQ community.

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.

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(s) – Individual(s) born with the condition of having physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads, or chromosomes) that are neither clearly male nor female. Intersex people are sometimes defined as having “ambiguous” genitalia.

Lesbian – Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people.

MTF – Abbreviation for a male-to-female transgender person. This term reflects the direction of gender transition. Some people prefer the term FTF (female to female) to underscore the fact that though they were biologically male, they never had a male gender identity. [Related terms: transgender woman, trans woman]

Outing – When someone discloses information about another’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their knowledge and/or consent.

Pansexual – A person who has the potential to be attracted to all or many gender identities and expressions.

Passing – Describes a person's ability to be accepted as their preferred gender/sex or to be seen as heterosexual.

Queer1.) An umbrella term which includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex persons, radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive communities.  2.) This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label or gender identity label used to denote a non-heterosexual or cisgender identity without have to define specifics.  3.) A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been reclaimed by some folks in the LGBTQ community. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold ‘queer’ to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexual people is often considered offensive.

Questioning – An individual who is unsure of and/or exploring their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Same Gender Loving (SGL) – A term used by members of the African-American / Black community to express same sex/ gender attraction. Note that it is often used as an alternative to words that do not culturally affirm the history of people of African descent.

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

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.

Sexuality – Refers to a person’s exploration of sexual behaviors, practices and identities in the social world.

Trans – An abbreviation that is used to refer to a transgender/gender queer/ gender non-conforming person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions.  This term is sometimes used to refer to the whole gender non-conforming community that might include (but is not limited to) transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, genderf*ck, transsexual, agender, third gender, two-spirit, bigender, trans man, trans woman, gender non-conforming, masculine of center, and gender questioning.

Transgender – A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on sex or gender assigned at birth. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

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

Transphobia – The irrational hatred of those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, sometimes expressed through violent and sometimes deadly means.

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.

Two-Spirit – A Native American term for people who blend the masculine and the feminine. It is commonly used to describe individuals who historically crossed gender. It is often used by contemporary LGBTQ Native American people to describe themselves.


This terminology sheet was originally created by Eli R. Green and Erica Peterson of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of California, Riverside Ò 2003-2004 and has been revised using resources from the following organizations: University of California, Riverside; MIT; University of California, Berkeley; George Washington University; California State University, San Marco; University of California, San Diego; Bowling Green State University; The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and Wikipedia. Updated May 2015.