LGBTQ Terminology

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, like other communities facing discrimination, have developed many words to refer to themselves over time.

Different LGBT communities may use different words to describe themselves. This glossary provides an overview of some common terms used by many LGBT people, and is meant to be a general guide. It would be impossible to create a glossary that included every potential word people might use to describe themselves, especially since these terms are always evolving. For that reason, you should refer to any in mind that there are some words which are used within the LGBT community that are okay to use if you’re a member of the community, but can sound offensive when someone outside the community uses them.

Ally: an individual who is not lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender who is supportive of the LGBT community. Allies challenge homophobic and heterosexist remarks and behaviours, and are willing to explore and understand those forms of bias within themselves.

Androgynous: having or displaying characteristics, feelings, or behaviours that are both feminine and masculine.

Bisexual: a person who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to both men and women.

Coming out: the process of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity to others. Because most people in our society are presumed to be heterosexual, coming out is not a discrete event, but a lifelong process. Heterosexual family members or allies of LGBT persons also experience “coming out” when they disclose to others that they have friends or relatives who are LGBT.

Gay: a person whose emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions are primarily for individuals of the same sex, typically in reference to men. In some contexts, still used as a general term for gay men and lesbians.

Gender expression: a person’s expression of their gender identity (see below), including their characteristics and behaviours such as appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions.

Gender identity: a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male or female, or something other or in-between. Everyone has a gender identity.

Gender non-conforming: having or being perceived to have gender characteristics and/or behaviours that do not conform to traditional or societal expectations. Gender non-conforming people may or may not identify as LGBT.

Heteronormative: a belief that assumes that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is inherently normal.

Heterosexual: a person whose emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions are primarily for individuals of a different sex. Sometimes referred to as straight. Homophobia: literally, “fear of homosexuals,” but in recent decades, broadened as a term for prejudice against LGBT people.

Homosexual: a term used to refer to a person based on his or her same-sex sexual orientation, identity, or behaviour. Many LGBT people prefer not to use this term— especially as a noun—because of its historically negative use by the medical establishment.

Intersex: a term used to refer to an individual born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform exclusively to male or female norms in terms of physiological sex (this may include variations of genetics, genital or reproductive structures, or hormones).  An intersex person may or may not identify as LGBTQ.

LGBT: common acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender—persons that despite their differences are often discriminated against in similar ways. Sometimes written to include Q for Questioning and/or Queer, I for Intersex, and/or A for Ally.

Lesbian: a woman whose emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions are primarily for other women.

Questioning: an active process in which a person explores their own sexual orientation and/or gender identity and questions the cultural assumptions that they are heterosexual and/or gender conforming. Many LGBT people go through this process before “coming out.” Not all people who question their identities end up self-identifying as LGBT.

Sexual orientation: a term describing a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction, whether it is for members of the same sex or a different sex. More appropriate than “sexual preference.”

Straight: see heterosexual.

Transgender: an umbrella term that can be used to describe people whose gender expression is non-conforming and/or whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. This term can include transsexuals, genderqueers, crossdressers, and others whose gender expression varies from traditional gender norms.

Transition: The time period when a transgender person starts living as the gender they identify as. Often includes a change in style of dress, selection of new name, a request that people use the correct pronoun, and possibly hormone therapy and/or surgery.

Transsexual: a term for someone who transitions from one physical sex to another in order to bring their body more in line with their innate sense of their gender identity. It includes those who were born male but whose gender identity is female, and those who were born female but whose gender identity is male, as well as people who may not clearly identify as either male or female. Transsexual people have the same range of gender identities and gender expression as non-transsexual people. Many transsexual people refer to themselves as transgender.

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