LGBTQ+ Terminology

A note about the following definitions: Each of these definitions has been carefully researched and closely analyzed from theoretical and practical perspectives for cultural sensitivity, common usage, and general appropriateness. Please note that each person who uses any or all of these terms does so in a unique way (especially terms that are used in the context of an identity label). 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 can have a derogatory connotation.

The Basics – A Guide to Terminology

Being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine, as in dress, appearance, or behavior.  Of indeterminate sex.

Lacking interest in or desire for sex. Not sexually attracted to individuals of any gender.

Type of sexual orientation in which a person is emotionally and sexually attracted to their own gender and other genders.

Coming Out
The process by which a person begins to self-identify as a sexual and/or gender minority. Coming out is a continual and life-long process that may occur to varying degrees (e.g., a person may be out to their friends, but not to their family).

Cross Dresser
A term that is less in use and has some pejorative connotations.  Historically, it referred to heterosexual men who at times would wear clothes, makeup, and/or accessories culturally associated with women. Cross-dressing is usually engaged in for emotional and/or psychological purposes related to gender expression and not for entertainment purposes.   

Cisgender and cissexual describe related types of gender identity where an individual's self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth; an individual whose gender identity by nature or by choice aligns with culturally determined appropriate roles and behavior based on their sex. Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.”

A form of performance art in which a person explores and subverts socially constructed boundaries related to gender expression.  Drag involves performing in clothes, makeup, song, and dance that is associated with the opposite sex or gender. Drag is usually done for entertainment purposes. There are Drag Queens (men dressing up as women) and Drag Kings (women dressing up as men).  Individuals that do drag may identify anywhere on the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation.


A person who transitions from "female-to-male," meaning a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies as a man. Also known as as "transgender man."

A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to others of the same sex. Sometimes lesbian (n. or adj.) is the preferred term for women.  See Sexual Orientation. [Some men who have sex with men do not identify as gay.]

Gender Fluid

A person whose gender identification and presentation shifts, whether within or outside of societal, gender-based expectations.


Gender Identity

An individual’s internal emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual sense of one's gender. For transgender people, their internal gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender Expression
Refers to the way in which people externally communicate their internal, personal sense of gender (e.g., one's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics) to others through behavior and appearance. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match, and they seek to make their gender expression match their internal identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.

Gender Non-conforming                                                                                                     A person who doesn't conform to society's expectations of gender expression based on the gender binary, expectations of masculinity and femininity, or how they should identify their gender. It’s important to note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; likewise, not all transgender people are gender non-conforming.

Gender Queer                                                                                                                                             A person whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. This identity is usually related to or in reaction to the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes and the gender binary system. Some genderqueer people identify under the transgender umbrella while others do not.

Gender Variant
A synonym for "gender diverse" and "gender non-conforming"; "gender diverse" and "gender non-conforming" are preferred to "gender variant" because variance implies a standard normativity of gender.

Considered a pejorative term, referring to a person who is intersex.

Belief that heterosexuality is superior or more valid than other sexual orientations. Gives people who identify as heterosexual greater social privilege, including increased opportunities for legal, medical, and economic assistance and status.

People whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the opposite sex (males attracted to females, females attracted to males).

Another term for homophobia that refers to a fear, hatred, and/or disgust for homoeroticism.  Homonegativity assumes many forms such as acts of violence, verbal assault, overt discrimination as well as other more subtle forms.

Fear and hatred of anyone who identifies as anything other than heterosexual. Can often be internalized by someone who is having difficulty with her/his own gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation. A direct result of heterosexism.  Intolerance or prejudice is usually a more accurate description of antipathy toward LGBTQ+ people. 

People whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex (males attracted to males, females attracted to females). A term originally used by the medical community to "diagnose" people who were not heterosexual. Considered pejorative to many people who prefer the terms "gay," "lesbian," or "queer."

A variety of conditions that lead to atypical development of physical sex characteristics and can involve uncommon and non-binary presentations of the external genitals, internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes or sex-related hormones. Use "intersex" rather than "hermaphrodite." People who identify as intersex may or may not identify as transgender.

A woman whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay or queer.


Common abbreviation for (L)esbian, (G)ay, (B)isexual, (T)ransgender (Q)ueer, (I)ntersex , (A)sexual and (Q)uestioning (+) any identity not mentioned, such as pansexual, gender non-binary, or others.



A person who transitions from "male-to-female," meaning a person who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a woman. Also known as as "transgender woman."



Its own umbrella term used for words such as genderqueer or genderfluid. Nonbinary people have a gender identity that doesn’t fit into the either/or of the male/female gender binary. Each nonbinary person will describe their gender identity in a way that is unique to them. Some will say they are both male and female; others will say they are neither male nor female; and still others will use terms that don’t reference male or female at all. Some people who are nonbinary also call themselves trans, others do not. Many nonbinary people use they/them pronouns (instead of he/him or she/her) as a way to make their identity more apparent.



People whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction can be inclusive of gender identity but not determined or delineated by gender identity



One’s way of referring to themselves in the third person. While the most commonly used are she/her, he/him, and they/them, pronouns are unique to each individual and their gender identity.



An umbrella term used for anything not heterosexual. Historically, it has been considered pejorative. However, the term has recently been reclaimed by many GLBT people as a preferred self-identifier, as well as an adjective (e.g., Queer Politics, Queer Studies).  Queer should only be applied when describing someone who self-identifies that way or in a direct quote. When Q is seen at the end of "LGBT," it typically means queer and/or questioning.



Refers to people who may feel uncertain regarding their gender and/or sexual identity and are in the process of exploring how they identify.


The classification of people as male, female, or intersex. At birth infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the visual assessment of their external anatomy.  However, a person's sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.


Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)

Refers to surgical procedures some transgender individuals pursue as part of their transition (see transition below). Avoid the phrase "sex change operation." Do not refer to someone as being "pre-op" or "post-op." Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to, undergo medical surgeries.


Sexual Orientation
Refers to an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Includes heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and pansexual. *Transgender is not an indicator of a person's sexual orientation.


An umbrella term for people whose anatomy, appearance, self-identification, and/or expression differs from what is stereotypically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth and thus challenges traditional societal gender role expectations and norms.  People under the transgender umbrella may identify themselves as cross-dressers, drag queens/kings, or gender queer.  Can also be the preferred self-identifier for people who feel their gender identity differs from their birth-assigned sex; they may or may not transition.


The process by which a person who identifies as transgender changes to align sex with their gender identity. Transitioning can include some or all of the following: changing name and/or sex on legal documents, using different pronouns, dressing differently, hormone therapy, and/or one or more types of surgery. Not all transgender people choose to transition; those that do may choose some but not all of the options related to transition (an FTM or MTF may choose hormonal therapy but never have Sex Reassignment Surgery).


An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities that still may be preferred by some people who have permanently changed their bodies through medical interventions (including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries). Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.

Considered a pejorative term when used to describe someone who is a Cross Dresser.



Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of male and female articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The term ‘two-spirit’ is usually considered to specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar identity labels vary by tribe and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.

Terminology adapted from the following sources:;,

For a more extensive glossary, please visit the Safe zone website