LGBTQA Vocabulary: Terms and Definitions
Language is constantly changing, and these definitions are not comprehensive. This vocabulary list provides a basic understanding that supports further discussion and reading. Throughout, please note that identity terms should be chosen by a person for themselves.
Agender – A term people may use to describe their experiences of not identifying with any gender.
Allosexual – An umbrella term used to describe a person who experiences sexual romantic, emotional, and/or physical attractions. Bisexuality, heterosexuality, and pansexuality, for example, can be understood to fall under the allosexual umbrella because these are sexual orientations that experience attraction; asexuality, on the other hand, does not.
Allyship – The practice of self educating about heterosexism and cisgenderism, educating others, and actively supporting LGBTQA+ individuals and causes. Allyship is practiced by cisgender, trans, and genderqueer people as well as straight, and LGBQA+ identified people who support and advocate with LGBTQA+ people across communities. While the term “ally” implies a complete identity, “allyship” is an ongoing process.
Androgyny – A combination of femme/feminine and butch/masculine gender expressions. Any person of any gender identity can describe their gender expression as androgynous.
Aromantic – A term people may use to describe their experience of little to no romantic attraction; romantic attraction is not the same as sexual attraction. Aromanticism is a spectrum, and definitions can vary from one person who self-identifies to another.
Asexual – A term people may use to describe their experience of little to no sexual attraction to people of any gender. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, and is not the same as celibacy or abstinence. There is great diversity in how members of the asexual community experience sexual and romantic attraction, desire, arousal, and relationships.
Assigned Sex – The sex a person is socially considered to be at birth, often based on interpretation of a person’s external genitalia. Assigned sex is not something that “we” need to know – often only only trans and genderqueer people are subjected to questions about their anatomy or assigned sex. Assigned sex is not the same thing as gender identity.
Bi-erasure/Pan-erasure – Denial of the existence of bisexual people, pansexual people, and people of fluid sexualities.
Bi-invisibility/Pan-invisibility – A lack of acknowledgement of the fact that bisexual people, pansexual people, and people of fluid sexualities exist.
Biphobia – The oppression bisexual, pansexual, and other non-monosexual people experience. Occurs both in and outside of LGBTQA+ communities. Includes jokes and comments based on myths and stereotypes that undermine the legitimacy of non-monosexual identity.
Biromantic – A term people may use to describe their romantic attraction to people of more than one gender.
Bisexual – A term people may use to describe their experience of romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of more than one gender; an umbrella term that may include people who identify as nonmonosexual, for example, multisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, and/or queer.
Butch – A description of a person’s masculine gender expression. Any person of any gender identity can describe their gender expression as butch, though this term has been historically used by queer communities to describe queer masculinities.
Cisgender – A term used to describe a person whose gender identity is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth.
Cisgenderism – The system of oppression that reinforces the belief in only two, biologically based genders, thereby negating, punishing, and excluding all transgender and genderqueer people.
Coming out – (1) The process by which people accept their own state of embodiment, which may include gender identity or sexuality. (2) The process by which one shares one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersex status with others (to come out to friends, etc.). (3) Also used by individuals who choose to publicly reject assumptions about their person (i.e. race membership, religious membership, etc.). (3) People in allyship may also come out to publicly announce their commitments.
Demiromantic – A term people may use to describe their experience of little to no primary romantic attraction, but may experience romantic attraction after forming an emotional connection.
Demisexual– A term people may use to describe their experience of little to no primary sexual attraction, but may experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional connection.
Feminism – (1) “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” – bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody, 2000. (2) “Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, lesbians, old women—as well as white, economically privileged, heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement” – Barbara Smith, “Racism and Women’s Studies,” 1979.
Femme – A description of a person’s feminine gender expression. Any person of any gender identity can describe their gender expression as femme, though this term has been historically used by queer communities to describe queer femininities.
Fluid Sexuality – A term people may use to describe their experience of fluctuating romantic and/or sexual attractions over time.
Gay – A term people may use to describe their identity as a man whose romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions are to men. This term is also sometimes claimed as an umbrella term by lesbians and bisexual people.
Gender Binary – The oppressive idea that there are only two genders, woman and man, and that these are socially distinct categories “opposite” to each other, and that a person must identify as one or the other.
Gender Expression – How you express your gender through how you dress, walk, talk, and the language you use for yourself. You can show your femininity, masculinity, androgyny, femme or butch identities, or all or none of these. Gender expression is not dependent on gender identity.
Gender Fluid – A term people may use to describe their experience of their gender identity varying over time, often moving among one or more genders. People who identify as gender fluid are not confused about their gender. (Also genderfluid and gender-fluid)
Gender Identity – Your innermost sense of yourself as a woman or a man or both or neither with identities including agender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit, gender fluid, woman, man, etc. Your gender identity is not dependent on your anatomy.
Gender Nonconforming – A term people may use to describe themselves as a person who does not follow stereotypes about how they should look or act based on the sex assigned to them at birth.
Gender Pronouns & Gender-Inclusive Pronouns – A pronoun is a part of speech that takes the place of other nouns. Gender pronouns indicate gender, for example, she/her/hers, he/him/his. Common gender-inclusive pronouns include they/them/theirs and ze/hir/hirs (pronounced “zee”, “here”, and “heres”). When we use pronouns like she or he to identify a person before we ask, we are making an assumption about that person’s gender that might be different from their identity. We can avoid misgendering people by asking which pronouns they use or using gender-inclusive pronouns.
Gender Role – The qualities, mannerisms, duties, and behaviors culturally expected of a person with a particular gender identity or sex assigned at birth.
Genderqueer – A term people may use to describe their gender identity as neither woman nor man but instead as between, beyond, or a combination of genders. A rejection of the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes, and the gender binary system.
Grayromantic – A term people may use to describe their romantic orientation that is somewhere between aromantic and romantic. What it means to be grayromantic may vary from one person who self-identifies to another.
Heteroromantic – A term people may use to describe their experience romantic attraction to people whose gender identity is within the gender binary and different from their own.
Heterosexism – The system of oppression that reinforces the belief that all people are heterosexual. The basic rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives, that are systematically denied to LGB+ people simply because of their sexual orientation
Heterosexual – A woman or a man whose romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions are to people whose gender identity is different from their own and within the gender binary.
Heterosexual Privilege – The societal assumption and norm that all people are heterosexual. The basic rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives, that are systematically denied to LGBQ+ people simply because of their sexual orientation.
Homophobia – Cultural and personal beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and aggressive behaviors based on prejudice, contempt and/or hatred directed against LGB+ people. Homophobia implies an inherent superiority of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships, thereby negating, punishing, and excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual people and their relationships.
Homoromantic – A term people may use to describe their experience romantic attraction to people whose gender identity is within the gender binary and the same as their own.
Homosexual/Homosexuality – Medical terms describing a person who is attracted to, or attraction to, people whose gender identity is the same as their own and within the gender binary. Although this term is used by some LGBTQA people to describe themselves, it can be derogatory and/or othering and therefore becoming less widespread.
Intersectionality – “Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term. … Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them. Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more” – Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait,” 2015.
Intersex – “Intersex is a term for biologically/ physically not being strictly male or female sex. Having one of over 30 differences of sex development is the reason this can occur. To clarify, intersex or differences of sex development refer to the biology and/ or appearance (phenotype) of an individual, where as gender (how a person identifies) and sexual orientation (who a person is attracted to) are different things.” – http://interactadvocates.org/intersex-definitions/
Latinx – When discussing Latinidad, many people prefer to use “Latinx” (or the plural Latinxs) instead of Latinas/os, or Latin@s to affirm the many genderqueer, non-binary, agender, and fluid people that do not identify as women (Latinas) or men (Latinos); terms like Latinx and Latin@ also interrupts the assumption that “Latino” [man] is an adequate umbrella for the experiences of all gender identities and holds space for them to be valued as themselves.
Lesbian – A term people may use to describe their identity as a woman whose romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions are to women.
LGBTQA+ – The acronym for identities including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, & Allies. The acronym has many variations that include additional identities or varying arrangements of letters that may still leave identities unnamed. Some examples include: LGBTQIA, LGBTTQQIA, QUILTBAG.
Misogynoir – “The intersection of racism, anti-Blackness, and misogyny that Black women experience” – Moya Bailey
Misogyny – A cultural attitude of contempt for, or hatred of women and femininity.
Monosexism – The system of oppression that reinforces the belief that all people are only attracted to people of one gender (that is, that people are either straight or gay), causing exclusion of and discrimination against non-monosexual (including bisexual and pansexual) people.
Monosexual – An umbrella term people may use to describe their primary romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions to people of only one gender (people who identify as lesbian and heterosexual for example, are attracted to individuals of one specific gender).
Non-Monosexual – An umbrella term people may use to describe their romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions to people of multiple genders (people who identify as bisexual and pansexual people for example, are attracted to individuals of more than one gender).
Pan-erasure/Bi-erasure – Denial of the existence of bisexual people, pansexual people, and people of fluid sexualities.
Pan-invisibility/Bi-invisibility – A lack of acknowledgement of the fact that bisexual people, pansexual people, and people of fluid sexualities exist.
Panromantic – A term people may use to describe their experience of romantic attraction to people of multiple genders.
Pansexual – A term people may use to describe their experience of sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of multiple genders.
Pansexuality – An umbrella term people may use to describe romantic, emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions to people of multiple genders.
Queer: An umbrella term used to refer to all LGBTQA people and a self-ascribed term used to describe a person whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity is not confined by heterosexual norms or binary gender. Historically a derogatory term now reclaimed by many in LGBTA communities.
Romantic Orientation – How one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is romantically attracted. Orientation is not dependent on physical experience, but rather on a person’s feelings and attractions. A relationship is romantic when people involved say it is. People describe their romantic orientation using a wide variety of terms including, but not limited to, aromantic, heteroromantic, panromantic, and demiromantic.
Sexism – The systematic, institutional, pervasive, and routine mistreatment of women, feminine, and femme people. This mistreatment creates an imbalance of power in society that renders women, feminine, and femme people disadvantaged. The belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity.
Sexual Orientation – How one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is sexually attracted. Orientation is not dependent on physical experience, but rather on a person’s feelings and attractions, which can be experienced differently, and to different extents. People may describe their sexual orientation using a wide variety of terms including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, asexual, and heterosexual.
They/Them/Theirs – Gender inclusive pronouns like they/them/theirs can be used as a singular pronoun to avoid misgendering someone. Also, some people may use they/them/theirs to affirm their gender identity. For example: “They are going to class,” “I want to give them a thank you note,” and “This lovely blue is jacket is theirs.” It is good practice, when you will be using pronouns, to ask which pronouns a person uses and to share the pronouns you use as well.
Trans – An abbreviation that is used to refer to the many transgender/genderqueer/non-binary identities. People may use this umbrella term to build visibility and community, and because it allows people to identify with a gender variant identity without having to disclose information about their bodies, their assigned sex at birth, or medical history.
Transfeminism – (1) “Transfeminism is primarily a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond. It is also open to other queers, intersex people, trans men, non-trans women, non-trans men, and others who are sympathetic to the needs of trans women and consider their alliance with trans women to be essential for their own liberation. Transfeminism … stands for trans and non-trans women alike and asks non-trans women to stand up for trans women in return. Transfeminism embodies feminist coalition politics in which women from different backgrounds stand up for each other, because if we do not stand for each other, nobody will” – Emi Koyama, “The Transfeminist Manifesto,” 2000. (2) “Trans feminism is a commitment to social justice, rooted in that understanding of power relations and experiences of oppression based on gender identity and expression.” – Pauline Park, “Transfeminism: Speaking My Truth to Power,” 2012
Transgender – An umbrella term people may use to describe their gender identity and/or gender expression as different from the sex they were assigned at birth. People who identify as transgender may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms including genderqueer, non-binary, and transgender. Transgender people may claim/affirm their gender identity through hormones and/or surgery. Transgender identity is not dependent on surgery. Transgender identity is not a sexual orientation.
Trans-Inclusive Feminism – (1) “Our struggle should not focus only on making the feminist movement more inclusive – this is about making trans people and other marginalized members of the feminist movement a central part of it. We can’t just call out transphobic attitudes – we have to allow trans people a non-tokenized voice and space in our movement” – Laura Kacere, “Why the Feminist Movement Must Be Trans-Inclusive,” 2014 (2) “Transphobic feminism ignores the identification of many trans* [sic] and genderqueer people as feminists or womanists and many cis feminists/womanists with their trans* [sic] sisters, brothers, friends, and lovers; it is feminism that has too often rejected them, and not the reverse” – Feminists Fighting Transphobia, “Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism,” 2013.
Transmisogyny – The intersection of transphobia and misogyny which results in systematic, institutional, pervasive, and routine mistreatment of trans women. “When the majority of violence and sexual assaults committed against trans people is directed at trans women, that is not transphobia—it is trans-misogyny” – Julia Serano, “Trans Woman Manifesto”
Transphobia – Cultural and personal beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and aggressive behaviors based on prejudice and/or hatred directed against people who do not conform to societal gender expectations and norms.
Two Spirit – A term adopted in 1990 by some Indigenous LGBTQIA folks as an umbrella term to encompass the diverse gender identities, gender expressions, sexual and romantic orientations across tribes and Indigenous communities. Two spirit is on one hand, a pan-indigenous term with incredible diversity (most tribes have their own distinct terminology in their own language for these culturally-specific identities), and on the other, a specific identity some Native American and First Nations people may use to describe their experiences of their gender and sexuality vis-a-vis their cultural, spiritual, and/or tribal affiliation.
Ze/Hir/Hirs – Some people may use gender affirming pronouns like ze/hir/hirs (pronounced /zee/ /heer/ and /heers/) to affirm their gender identity. For example: “Ze is going to class,” “I want to give hir a thank you note,” and “This lovely blue jacket is hirs.” It is good practice, when you will be using pronouns, to ask which pronouns a person uses and to share the pronouns you use as well.
Definitions are adapted from Carleton College GSC, GLAAD, UC Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center, The Asexual Visibility and Education Network, The UW-Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center , interACT Advcoates for Intersex Youth, and the Two Spirit/LGBTQ Native Americans in Higher Education Resource Guide by Roze Brooks. List of terms provided by the UT Gender and Sexuality Center.