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Language and Terms used by the LGBTQ+ Community

Note: This glossary of language and terms is neither comprehensive, nor accepted as definitive across all groups—and language is always changing.

Androgynous—Partly male and female in appearance; of indeterminate sex

Asexual—Person experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others; not the same as celibacy

Assigned sex at birth (also birth sex, natal sex, biological sex or sex)—Male or female sex given at birth to a child based on external anatomy. Two options (biological male or biological female) might not describe the complex biological, anatomical and chromosomal variations that can occur inside a person’s body, nor necessarily align with how a person’s feels or identifies

Bisexual—Sexual orientation describing a person emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own and other genders 

Cisgender—Person whose gender identity and assigned sex at birth correspond (as opposed to transgender)

Gay—Sexual orientation describing a person emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own gender; can be used for any gender identity, but more commonly used for men 

Gender affirming surgery (GAS)Used to modify a person’s body to be more congruent with gender identity; also called sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or gender confirming surgery (GCS). 

Gender binary—Idea that a person must strictly fit into either the male or female category 

Gender dysphoria—Distress experienced by individuals whose gender identity does not correspond with their assigned sex at birth; can be diagnosed as a clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning 

Gender expression—How a person acts, dresses, speaks and behaves (i.e., feminine, masculine, androgynous) may be consistent with a particular gender role, without necessarily reflecting their gender identity 

Gender fluid—Person with a non-fixed gender identity; feeling a mix of male and female, but more one gender on some days and another on other days

Gender identity—How individuals feel inside; a feeling that begins very early in life

Heteronormativity—Assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities

Heterosexual (or straight)—Sexual orientation describing individuals who are emotionally and sexually attracted to the other sex (men to women, women to men) 

Homophobia—Fear or hatred of lesbian or gay people or those perceived as such, with possibly discriminatory outcomes 

Intersectionality—Idea of identities being influenced and shaped by race, class, ethnicity, sexuality/sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, mental or physical disability, religion/creed or national origin, as well as by the interconnection of all characteristics 

Intersex/disorders of sex development—When someone’s sexual and reproductive anatomy does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female; group of rare conditions with unexpected or undeveloped reproductive organs and genitals; can be used as identity term by some community members and advocacy groups 

Lesbian—Sexual orientation describing a woman emotionally and sexually attracted to other women

LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA— Acronyms pertaining collectively to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or asexual, within a community that continues to grow in its labeling 

Nonbinary gender identity—Umbrella term for gender identities neither male nor female‍, but outside the gender binary; may also identify as genderfluid, agender (without gender) or genderqueer 

Pansexual—Sexual orientation describing a person emotionally and sexually attracted to people regardless of gender

Queer—Umbrella term used by some describing those who regard their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms or as more fluid and inclusive than other categories; due to its history as a derogatory term, not universally embraced or used

Sexual behavior (or sexual acts)—Manner in which people experience and express their sexuality

Sexual identity—How individuals think of themselves in terms of romantic or sexual attractions or in terms of sexual orientation, regardless of in what way

Sexual orientation—Enduring pattern of romantic and/or sexual attractions to those of the opposite or same sex or gender, to both sexes or more than one gender, or to no one

Sexual orientation identity—When people do or do not identify, or choose not to identify, with a sexual orientation

Transgender (trans)—Describing a person with non-corresponding gender identity and assigned sex at birth; gender identities outside male and female

Transitioning (or gender affirmation process)—Process of transgender people recognizing accepting and expressing gender identity; making social, legal and/or medical changes (changing clothing, name, sex designation, using medical interventions) 

Transsexual—Used in medical literature or by some transgender people describing those who have transitioned through medical interventions

Two-Spirit—Connecting contemporary experiences of LGBT Native American and American Indian people with their cultural traditions


Terms now considered outdated and sometimes offensive 

Use intersex/disorders of sex development, not hermaphrodite

Use gay or lesbian, not homosexual (increasingly, the term queer is preferred over gay)

Use sexual orientation, not sexual preference

Use transgender or trans, not transgendered, a transgender or tranny

Use gender affirmation surgery, not sex change


Learn more about LGBTQ+ Mental Health Resources at CFI…


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