Why am I encountering all these new words?
Because there is a lot of terminology and slang associated with the LGBTQ community! Many of us have not heard it before or are unfamiliar with the current definitions.
- Keep in mind that terminology is often in flux.
- We don’t learn every LGBTQ term overnight: it’s an ongoing process.
- Stay aware that to many LGBTQ people, the words we use to identify ourselves have enormous meaning and impact.
- Our willingness to ask, listen, and learn can make a huge difference.
How do I learn them all and keep up?
- We explain some of the most basic terms here, based on PFLAG National’s Glossary of Terms, were you’ll find many more definitions
- Check out other online glossaries, too, like GLAAD Media Reference Guide, Transgender Terminology, and Advocates for Youth: Glossary
- We’re happy to define and discuss terminology at our monthly PFLAG meeting, so feel free to ask.
What does LGBT stand for? And why are there other versions of it, like LGBT and GLBT?
- LGBT is an acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
- It is sometimes stated as “GLBT” (gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender). This is simply another usage of LGBT.
- Occasionally, the acronym is stated as “LGBTA” to include people who are asexual or allies or “LGBTI,” with the “I” representing intersex.
- It’s becoming common to see it stated as “LGBTQ,” with “Q” representing queer or questioning.
- Our PFLAG chapter uses LGBTQ where the Q is queer and/or questioning.
What is a lesbian?
A lesbian is woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to other women. People who are lesbians need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
What does it mean to be gay?
- A gay person is emotionally, romantically, or physically attracted to people of the same gender (e.g. gay man, gay people).
- In contemporary contexts, “lesbian” is often a preferred term for women, though many women use the word “gay” to describe themselves.
- People who are gay need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
What does it mean to be bisexual? How does that differ from being pansexual?
A bisexual person is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to the same gender and different genders. Sometimes stated as “bi.”
People who are bisexual need not have had equal sexual experience with people of the same or different genders and, in fact, need not have had any sexual experience at all; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
In contrast, pansexuality encompasses the full binary spectrum. People who are pansexual need not have had any sexual experience; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
What is a transgender person?
- Transgender is a term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth.
- Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.
- Sometimes shortened to “trans.” Other terms commonly used are “female to male” (FTM), “male to female” (MTF), and “genderqueer.”
- This word is also used as a broad umbrella term to describe those who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression. Like any umbrella term, many different groups of people with different histories and experiences are often included within the greater transgender community—such groups include, but are certainly not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous.
- A transgender person can be straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. Remember, gender identity and sexual orientation are two separates entities.
What is a genderfluid, gender queer, gender expansive person?
An individual who identifies as a combination of man and woman, neither man or woman, or both man and woman. It’s sometimes used as an umbrella term in much the same way that the term queer is used, but only referring to gender, and thus should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as genderqueer.
What is “questioning”?
A term used to describe those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or a combination thereof.
Why do some LGBTQ people call themselves queer? Isn’t it actually considered a derogatory term?
- Queer is term used by some LGBTQ people—particularly youth—to describe themselves and/or their community.
- Reappropriated from its earlier negative use, the term is valued by some for its defiance, by some because it can be inclusive of the entire community, and by some who find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities.
- Being comfortable with the word queer is often generational. That is, older people who remember it as a slur might not agree with the reappropration of it by the younger generation. Again, it helps to listen to how a person identifies themselves.
What does it mean to reapporopriate a derisory term like queer?
Reappropriation is a cultural process by which a group (typically one that has experienced discrimination) reclaims a term that was used by others to disparage that group. By taking over the world and using it on their own terms, the discriminated group believe they defuse the power of prejudice from the word and make it their own.
If the acronym “LGBTQ” groups these categories of people together, does that mean sexual orientation and gender identity are the same thing?
- Actually, sexual orientation and gender identity are separate from each other and come together in different combinations, too.
- What unites LGBTQ people is that we experience discrimination based on our sexual orientation and/or gender identity, because we are seen outside the majority heterosexual or gender experience.
- While LGBTQ is a good umbrella term for the community, not all experiences or issues are the same for all us.
- We need to understand the specific needs of each group as well as our commonalities.
So what is sexual orientation?
- Sexual orientation is emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings towards other people.
- People who are straight experience these feelings primarily for people of a different gender than their own.
- People who are gay or lesbian experience these feelings primarily for people of the same gender; people who are bisexual experience these feelings for people of different genders, though not always at the same time, and people who are asexual experience no sexual attraction at all.
- Sexual orientation is part of the human condition, while sexual behavior involves the choices one makes in acting on one’s sexual orientation.
- One’s sexual activity does not define who one is with regard to one’s sexual orientation; it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
- This means, for example, a transgender man might be attracted to other men, and identify as gay, or be attracted to women, and identify as straight. In words, his gender does not determine his sexual orientation.
And what is gender identity?
- Gender is set of social, psychological, or emotional traits, often influenced by societal expectations, that classify an individual as male, female, a mixture of both, or neither.
- While most of us fit into the binary of male or female in terms of our gender, we exclude certain human experiences when we think of gender as only binary.
- If we instead think of gender as a spectrum, rather than only female or male, it helps us understand people who do not see themselves on only one side of the binary, like a genderfluid, gender queer, gender expansive person.
- Similarly it helps us understand someone is pansexual and attracted to people on all spectrums of the binary.
What is the closet/closeted?
- The state where an LGBTQ person does not acknowledge or disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to anyone. In this case, we say the person is leading a closeted life.
- People can be partially in the closet, where they choose only certain people to disclose to. For example, they might only disclose to their close friends but to not their employers, schools, or family members, or any combination thereof.
- Being in the closet can entail outwardly presenting oneself as straight, binary, or gender assigned at birth, and making great pains to hide any facets of one’s life that reveal otherwise.
- In some cases, the closet can also refer to a person who seems in denial about being an LGBTQ person: that is, a person who completely suppresses their true sexual orientation or gender identity even to themselves.
- When someone discloses their sexual orientation and/gender identity, it can be referred to as “coming out of the closet,” which is the origin of the more commonly used phrase “coming out.”
- Coming out is not a one-time act because most people in our society assume people are heterosexual and cisgender.
What is an ally?
- An ally describes someone who supports the LGBTQ community and their movement for social and political equality.
- A straight ally is someone who does not identify as LGBTQ but who is supportive of LGBTQ individuals and the community, either personally or as an advocate.
- An LGBTQ person can also be an ally. For example, at our PFLAG meetings, many LGBTQ people play a central role as allies by supporting and providing insight people new to the LGBTQ community.
- Allies play a huge role in our fight for equality and there many ways to be an ally, too.
- Being an ally does not necessarily mean you have to participate in political protest or become an political activist—though political activism is certainly an option for those of us who are interested.
- Being an ally can also mean every day advocacy. That is, making small but significant changes in our daily conversations with friends, family, colleagues and more, to challenge assumptions and stereotypes of LGBTQ people, raise their visibility, and normalize being LGBTQ.
- PFLAG National and all its affiliates are allies to LGBTQ people—and their families and friends, too. PLFAG National has also created Straight for Equality, to provide extensive information and resources so that straight allies can better support and advocate for the LGBT community.