The queer community uses diverse terms that can be confusing and alienating to people who don’t know the definitions. Here’s our simple guide to help you understand them.
It’s 2023, and thankfully, that means there are plenty of books and animated shows readily available for everyone that features and honours the LGBTQ+ community. But many of us still get confused over the terminology that the queer community commonly uses. This is completely understandable, especially for parents whose kids might be exploring their sexuality or questioning their gender. So, we have gone ahead and compiled all the commonly used terms to help you understand the LGBTQ+ lingo and be an inclusive ally.
Guide to LGBTQ+ terminology
First and foremost, LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning) and others (hence the “+”). The plus may refer to individuals who identify as intersex, asexual, pansexual, genderqueer, two-spirit and others that are not visible in the acronym.
An asexual person generally does not have any physical attraction but may still experience romantic and/or emotional attraction to others. Being asexual, however, does not mean being celibate; some asexuals do have sex.
Someone who is attracted to people of the same gender as well as another gender. Bisexuality does not mean someone has multiple romantic or physical relationships.
Fear, hatred, aversion, and hostility towards bisexuals. People of any sexual orientation can be biphobic, which often transpires due to negative beliefs, prejudices, and stereotypes of bisexual people.
Derived from the Latin root “cis”, which means “on the same side”. This term describes a person whose gender identity matches the physical sex assigned to them at birth.
Slang for people who are not open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. At times, ‘being in the closet’ also means not wanting to admit one’s identity to oneself.
6. Coming out
To voluntarily disclose one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, be it internally, to everyone, or only select persons. This is different from outing, which means exposing and sharing such information with others without the consent of the person.
Someone who partially or fully dresses up as a member of the opposite gender. This is done for various personal reasons. Crossdressing is not an indication of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
To do drag is to dress up and/or present oneself outlandishly differently from their gender identity, usually for public performances. Drag is often associated with men dressing up as women (drag queens), though there are women that dress up as men (drag kings). Dragging is not an indication of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
A person who is attracted to someone exclusively of the same gender. The term is predominantly associated with men, although it has also been used with women.
10. Gender identity
How one sees themselves, be it male, female, both, or neither. Note that gender is not the same as biological sex – the former is determined in the brain, while the latter is determined by genitalia.
11. Gender nonconforming
Someone who does not fit society’s expectations of gender roles and/or expressions.
The belief that everyone is cisgender, i.e. either male or female, and heterosexual. Anything else outside of the belief is considered a “deviation”.
Fear, hatred, and aversion towards queer folks. Homophobia typically leads to intolerance, hostility, and bigotry. Because LGBTQ+ people are raised in a heteronormative society, they become exposed to and pick up the same beliefs and prejudices towards their community. This is internalised homophobia.
Referring to someone who is born with genitals, chromosomes, and/or other biological characteristics that don’t fit the conventional definitions of male or female bodies. Intersex people can have myriad gender identities. The term replaces the inaccurate label “hermaphrodite”.
A woman who is exclusively attracted to other women. As previously mentioned, they can also label themselves as “gay” or “gay women”.
To wrongly address someone using language that does not match their gender identity. Sadly, this largely happens to the transgender community, be it out of spite or for the sake of “humour” (that’s a no-no).
A term to describe those who do not identify as exclusively male or female. Some nonbinary folks identify either with a mix of male and female genders, with a gender beyond male or female, or with no gender at all.
A pansexual individual is attracted to people of all genders and sexes. But this does not mean they are simply attracted to everyone! Rather, the person’s gender and/or sex matters less to a pansexual.
19. (Progress) Pride flag
The rainbow pride flag is designed as a symbol of queer pride. It reflects the diversity of the queer community as well as the spectrum of human gender and sexuality. In 2018, Daniel Quasar redesigned the flag to include more colours and explanations (see above).
These are nouns used to refer to people. This can include the more traditional he or she as well as gender-neutral ones such as they. Preferred pronoun signifies the pronoun that a person wants to be associated with. For example, this writer goes by he/him/his.
An umbrella term to describe a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. In the past, the word was used as a pejorative. Even though the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed the word, there may be those who still find the term offensive. Unless you are certain they are comfortable with the term, it’s probably best not to use queer to describe them.
Refers to an individual in the process of exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
A medical categorisation of a person’s biological status based on their anatomy, which includes their sex organs, hormones, and chromosomes. Sex identifies individuals as female, male, or intersex at birth.
An individual whose gender identity does not align with the assigned sex at birth. They may choose to live their lives by undergoing medical treatment and/or surgery, though it is not a prerequisite. Transgender people may identify as straight, gay, bisexual, or other sexual orientations.
Prejudice, hatred, hostility and aversion towards transgender and gender-diverse people. Misgendering is the most common form of transphobia.
This term refers to folks who prefer not to have their gender, sexual orientation, or any other identity restricted to a specific category. Those who are still unsure of themselves and/or what they like find this term freeing for them.
This glossary is not a definitive list of LGBTQ+ terms used. Plus, not all in the community would feel the same about every word, so it’s always important to be sensitive. Heard a term that you don’t recognise or is being used unfamiliarly? Ask the individual what the term means to them; we’re certain they’ll be open to explaining.
Do your part to spread love and acceptance by acknowledging that love comes in all genders, sexualities, and expressions.