College is, for many, their first open encounter with LGBTQ+ issues and community. For some it’s a time to explore personal sexual or gender identity in a less restricted environment than before, for others it may be the first time they meet openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans people. Either way, be you a fledgling member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, it’s important to learn some key terms and theories that often come up in LGBTQ+ circles.
Please note: If you’re new to some of this it’s perfectly fine to get things wrong. You’re human, we all make mistakes. What’s important is to be respectful of other people, apologise if you hurt someone’s’ feelings and listen to people with experiences different to you. Willingness to learn is the most important part of any activism or allyship (and arguably life in general).
Gender: A person’s gender is how they identify socially. It is often as male or female but can also be neither, both or a variety of identities in between. Gender is in the mind and is primarily about how a person perceives themselves and would prefer to be perceived by others. People are assigned a gender at birth, usually based on their external characteristics.
Sex: Sex is defined by a person’s body, usually defined by a combination of primary and secondary sex traits, hormonal and chromosomal makeup. It is often thought to be solely male and female but there exist many exceptions to this on hormonal, chromosomal and sex trait basis.
Gender Expression: How a person expresses their gender, often through their clothing, hair or make-up, to name a few. A person’s gender expression is separate from their gender and sex and can be masculine, feminine or androgynous.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender man is a man who was assigned female at birth. Transgender is often shortened to “trans”.
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity does match the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a cisgender woman is a woman who was assigned female at birth. Often shortened to “cis”.
Intersex: A person whose physical sex characteristics fall outside of the norms set for either male or female. These differences might be in external or internal sexual or reproductive organs, chromosomes or hormones. Some intersex people identify as transgender, some do not.
The Gender Binary: The societally mainstream idea that there are two genders (Male and female).
Non-Binary: A person whose gender identity doesn’t fall inside the box of male or female. Non binary often but do not always identify as transgender. Sometimes shortened to “NB” or “enbee”. Non-binary can be an umbrella term for other gender identities r be an identity in itself.
Gender dysphoria: A feeling, often experienced by trans people, of disconnect between how you experience your gender and how other people perceive it, usually causing discomfort.
Pronouns: The way in which people refer to someone other than their name, often associated with their gender. Some common pronouns include “he/him/him”, “she/her/hers” and “they/them/theirs”.
Misgendering: When a person is referred to using pronouns or terms that they don’t identify with. For example, use of she/her pronouns with a male identified person or calling a female identified person “sir”. For trans people being misgendered can be a source of dysphoria.
Transition: The process a transgender person goes through to be seen as their gender. This process can be social, such as changing their name and/or the pronouns they would like people to use for them, or medical, such as undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender affirming surgeries.
Passing: A term used to describe when a person (often trans) is being seen as their identified gender as opposed to the gender they were assigned at birth.
Transphobia: The hatred or fear of trans people. Transphobia can range from hurtful comments about someone’s gender, intentional misgendering, or use of somebody’s old name, to treating trans people as jokes or disgusting, to violence and systemic discrimination.
FTM and MTF: Stands for “Female to male” and “Male to female”. Some trans people like these terms and self identify with them while others prefer other terms, such as:
AFAB and AMAB: Acronyms that stands for “assigned female at birth” and “assigned male at birth”. Some trans people prefer these terms because they don’t refer to the gender they don’t identify with and are also more inclusive for non-binary people.
Now that we’ve outlined some gender stuff, we can move on to sexuality. Please note, a person of any gender can identify as any sexuality. A person can be both transgender and gay, in the same way that a cisgender person can be both cis and gay. Gender and sexuality are separate parts of a person’s life and identity.
Sexuality: a person’s sexual preferences
Heterosexual/Straight: Exclusively attracted to people of the opposite binary gender eg. a man only attracted to women.
Homosexual/Gay: Exclusively attracted to the same gender as themselves eg. a woman only attracted to women. Homosexual women are also known as lesbians.
Bisexual: Attracted to their own gender and other genders. Some define this as “attracted to both men and women”, others prefer this definition as it acknowledges genders outside of the gender binary. Often shortened to “bi”
Asexual: Not sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of gender.
Queer: Not straight. This term can be used as a more inclusive alternative to gay or bisexual and can also be used to mean trans or non-binary. Many like it for its openness and vagueness though, as it’s a reclaimed word and is still sometimes used in a derogatory way, some people aren’t comfortable with it.
LGBTQ+: Stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer plus, the plus standing in for other identities within the community. Some people like the inclusivity of using multiple letters instead of simply saying “queer”, others lengthen it to LGBTQIA+ to include intersex and asexual people. The initials also allow for some letters to stand for multiple identities for example the Q can stand for “queer” but also “questioning” and the A can stand for “asexual” or “agender” (not identifying with any gender). Many, however, find it to be a bit of a mouthful.
Pansexual: Potentially attracted to anyone of any gender. Similar to bisexuality, though some feel that it better includes attraction to non-binary genders.
Ally: A person who does not identify as LGBTQ+ who supports members of the community and stands against their oppression.
Homophobia: The fear or hatred of gay people. This can range from name calling and insulting or shaming, to treating gay people as a joke or disgusting, to violence and systemic discrimination.
Biphobia/Bisexual Erasure: Discrimination against bisexual people. This can come in the form of asserting that bisexuality doesn’t exist, to erasing bisexual identities once they’re in a relationship, to the proliferation of myths that bi people can’t be monogamous, or that they’re secretly closeted, or they’re more sexually promiscuous.
Demisexual: Not feeling any sexual attraction to any person unless a strong emotional bond has already been formed.
There you have it! Those are some terms and identities to start you off when it comes to learning more about different sexualities and genders. Please remember that these are rough definitions and some people may not use the same definitions for themselves. If you meet someone who identifies as something (gender or sexuality) you haven’t heard before it is alright to ask them to define it, as long as you remain respectful and open to learning. It’s alright to ask questions.