Common Definitions1

Below are a list of common LGBTQ terms and definitions.  Please note that each person who uses any or all of these terms does so in a unique way. If you do not understand the context in which a person is using one of these terms, it is always appropriate to ask. This is especially recommended when using terms that we have noted that can have a derogatory connotation.

Ally: “An ally is an individual from an agent or hegemonic group who rejects the dominant ideology and takes action based on the belief that eliminating oppression will benefit both agents and targets of oppression.”2

Biphobia: The discomfort and fear others feel around bisexual people and the myths that exist about bisexuality. Bisexuality is often misperceived as an invalid sexual identity. Biphobia is structurally supported by monosexism, “the structural and cultural privileging of sexuality directed toward only one gender (heterosexuality or homosexuality).” Bisexual people are not only stigmatized by heterosexual people, but also by lesbian and gay people because they “blur the boundaries between insider and outsider.” 3

Bisexual: A person who has an affectional, emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to men and women. Degree of preference and choice of primary relationship partner varies for each bisexual person.

Coming Out: An ever-evolving process of self-acceptance and integration of one’s sexual and/or gender identity. It is an intrapersonal as well as interpersonal process and may include public proclamation of identity as well as political action in the larger society. Some people are “out” in some settings (for example, with friends) and not “out” in other settings (for example, at work or with family).

Gay: A man who forms his primary loving and sexual relationships with other men; a man who has a continuing affectional, emotional, romantic and/or erotic preference for someone of the same sex. A term adopted by the gay male community, though some lesbians and bisexuals use it also, as a sign of pride in their sexual orientation.

Gender: A sociological construct defining the collection of characteristics that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness: gender is to “masculine” and “feminine” as sex is to “male” and “female”.

Gender expression: is how an individual chooses to express their gender. For example, regardless of their body or what they claim as a gender identity, if a person dresses and acts in a manner that is consistent with society’s definition of being female, that person is expressing a female gender.

Gender identity: refers to how a person identifies psychologically (e.g. how they experience themselves to be): as a woman, as a man, as masculine, as feminine, as a combination, or as neither.

Heterosexism: The individual, group, or institutional norms and behaviors that result from the assumption that all people are heterosexual. This system of oppression, which assumes that heterosexuality is inherently normal and superior, negates lesbian, gay, and bisexual peoples’ lives and relationships.

Heterosexist Privilege: “The benefits and advantages heterosexuals receive in a heterosexual culture. Also, the benefits lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity.”

Heterosexual: A heterosexual is a man who forms primary loving and sexual relationships with women or a woman who forms primary loving and sexual relationships with men; a woman who has a continuing affectional, emotional, romantic, and/or erotic preference for men (or vice versa).

Homophobia: “The fear, hatred, or intolerance of lesbians, gay men, or any behavior that is outside the boundaries of traditional gender roles. Homophobia can be manifested out of fear of association with lesbian or gay people or being perceived as lesbian or gay. Homophobic behavior can range from telling jokes about lesbian and gay people to physical violence against people thought to be lesbian or gay.”

Homosexual: A person who is primarily or exclusively attracted to people of the same sex. This term is not used much anymore and is generally considered derogatory as its history is associated with the pathologizing of gayness.

Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to other women. Some lesbians prefer to call themselves “lesbian” and use the term “gay” to refer to gay men; others use the term “gay” to refer to both gay males and lesbian females. Lesbian is generally considered a term of pride.

LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

Pansexual: The state of being sexually attracted to people regardless of gender: e.g. males, females, transgender or intersex individuals, etc. Similar to being bisexual, except bisexual only refers to two sexes and pansexual acknowledges a full spectrum of gender.

Partner, Significant Other, Lover: Examples of terms that lesbian, gay and bisexual people use to identify those people with whom they have romantic or sexual relationships.

Queer: “Originally a derogatory label used to insult lesbians and gay people or to intimidate and offend heterosexuals. More recently this term has been reclaimed by some lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people as an inclusive and positive way to identify all people targeted by heterosexism and homophobia. Some lesbians and gay men have similarly reclaimed previously negative words such as “dyke” and “faggot” for positive self-reference.”

Questioning: An individual who is unsure of his/her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sex: A biological term dividing a species into male or female, usually based on sex chromosomes (xx = female, xy =male); hormone levels, secondary sex characteristics, and internal and external genitalia may also be considered criteria.

Sexual orientation: refers to the gender of the persons that someone is attracted to, emotionally and physically, i.e., gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and others in between, as well as asexual.

Sexuality: The complex range of components which make us sexual beings; includes emotional, physical, and sexual aspects, as well as self-identification (including sexual orientation and gender), behavioral orientations and practices, fantasies, and feelings of affection and emotional affinity.

Transgender: A broad term that covers many aspects of gender identity and expression.  People who identify as transgender feel that their prescribed gender role does not fit with their experience of their gender.  This term refers to those with identities that cross over, move between, or otherwise challenge socially constructed borders between the genders.  While this can include medical or social transition, it may not. Some people decide to redefine themselves by changing their gender expression only and others feel that they also need to change their bodies. Sex hormones, electrolysis, plastic surgery, or sex reassignment surgery can help people make a physical change that feels more congruent with their self-image. Transgender people can be, but are not always, transsexuals.

Transphobia: The fear and hatred of or discomfort with transgender people.

Transsexual: Individuals who do not identify with their birth-assigned sex and who wish, whether successful or not, to realign their gender and their sex through use of medical intervention.

Two-Spirit: A term used in Native American cultures. A two-spirited person is often defined as a person is born one sex but ends up fulfilling the role assigned to both sexes. They are considered to be both male and female and are often revered.

1Adapted from Adams, M., Bell, L. & Griffin, P. (1997). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook. NewYork: Routledge.

2Adams, M., Bell, L. & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge.

3 Girshick, L. B. (2002). The societal context of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. In L. B. Girshick, Woman-to-woman sexual violence: Does she call it rape? (pp. 31-48). Boston: Northeastern University Press.