Author: Veronica Lichtenstein, LMHC
Nov 26, 2022
When you don’t know about something, you fear it! Five beautiful souls were lost at Club Q in Colorado Springs, due to hatred and ignorance. We are not as likely to hurt each other if we understand more about one another.
Would you love your mother less if you found out she was lesbian? Your mother is still your mother, and her sexual orientation has nothing to do with who she is as a person. In your lifetime, you will meet, or probably already know, people in the LGBTQ+ community. Based on conversations with individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, I put together a quick reference guide to terminology applying to our world.
There is a lot of terminology below to digest, but these concepts have always existed. Please take a look at the links below of two All in the Family television episodes, a 70’s sitcom, which addressed cross-dressing in Archie the Hero in 1975 and the hatred and ignorance behind it in Edith’s Crisis of Faith Part 1 in 1977. That show was 40 years ago, but the character of Beverly Lasalle, still exists today. People continue to hide in shame, fear, depression, and sometimes it results in suicide. As we work to understand each other, our words, expressions, even diagnoses evolve to capture the true meaning behind concepts. The hope is that our enlightenment causes us to change our attitudes.
First, I think it’s important to clarify the difference between Gender and Sex. Gender is an innermost sense of self as male/masculine or female/feminine or both or neither. Sex is an identifier based on a person’s bodily characteristics, usually categorized as male or female before or at birth. Gender is independent from sex, but most people’s genders align with their sexes assigned at birth. We say sex is “assigned” because it is based on a doctor’s observation of a baby’s anatomy, but those observations and categorizations are not always perfect (see “intersex” below) and not always in line with the person’s gender discovered later on.
Sexual orientation/sexual identity – Identity related to a person’s attraction or lack thereof to people of specific genders; straight, lesbian, gay, and bisexual are examples of common ones. Side note: Some people feel emotional or romantic attraction separately and differently from sexual attraction, so some of the terms below have both a sexual and a romantic version given for those who identify with these types of attraction separately.
Personal pronouns – They/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his, zie/zir/zirs, etc. Everyone uses personal pronouns when speaking English (and in other languages, but they may be used differently) to refer to themselves and others. It is becoming more mainstream to identify yourself with your preferred pronouns. You do not need to be a person in LGTBQ+ community to do this. When touring colleges with our daughter, every presentation involved speakers who introduced themselves with their name and their preferred pronouns. Example: Hi, my name is Veronica, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
LGBTQ+ – Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and others. You may see variations of this from LGBT to LGBTQIAAP+ (adding Intersex, Asexual and Aromantic, Agender, and Pansexual).
Lesbian – Adjective for a person identifying as female who has emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings for people identifying as female.
Gay – Adjective for a person identifying as male who has emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings for people identifying as male; sometimes used to refer to any person attracted to people of their own gender.
Bisexual/biromantic – Adjective for a person who has emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity. Shortened to “bi,” informally.
Queer – Adjective for a person with identities or orientations that are not easily categorized within other common terms; formerly a derogatory term for non-heterosexual people and those perceived as such based on the word’s archaic definition: strange. Side note: The word “queer” has been reclaimed by the community as a self-identifier, but it may still be perceived as offensive by some individuals or when non-LGBTQ people use it to refer to someone without that person’s permission.
Pansexual/panromantic – Adjective for a person who has emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to people, regardless of gender. People identifying as pansexual can feel attraction to anyone, including people who do not identify as a specific gender. Side note: This is not the same as being attracted to everyone just as, for example, straight women are not attracted to every man.
Asexual/aromantic – Adjective for a person who experiences little to no sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of any gender. Side note: An individual can lack sexual attraction while still desiring romantic relationships, and some asexual people still do have sex for various reasons.
Transgender – Adjective for a person whose gender identity or expression is different from their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation; you can be transgender and identify as straight, gay, lesbian, etc. Shortened to “trans,” informally.
Cisgender – Adjective for a person whose gender correlates with their sex assigned at birth.
Nonbinary – Adjective for a person not identifying exclusively with male or female. This is a general term that can be an identity in itself or simply refer to a category of identities including genderfluid, agender, pangender, and more.
Gender fluidity – Unfixed gender identity, which may change at varying times based on various reasons or no known reasons. For example, some may alternate between two or more genders on any given week, day, or time of day, based on moods, circumstances, or other factors.
Gender dysphoria – A person’s feeling that their gender identity does not align with their gender presentation or with their gender assigned at birth, causing clinically significant distress. Formerly Gender Identity Disorder.
Gender nonconforming – Not conforming completely with traditional male or female expected roles. Gender nonconforming feelings, behaviors, and even identities are not exclusive to transgender or nonbinary people; they are much more common, can be experienced by all kinds of people at any time in life, and can be temporary or long-term.
Intersex – Category of a wide range of bodily variations that don’t fit typical male or female sex. Some are not necessarily apparent at birth, and some are chromosomal. For more information, visit https://isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex/
Transsexual – Older, less common adjective for a transgender person, sometimes used to specify someone whose bodily characteristics have been altered through surgery or hormone treatment to align with their gender identity.
Cross-Dresser – A person (more commonly male) who enjoys wearing clothes representing another gender identity but who does not intend to present or identify full-time as another gender. This is different from being a transgender person and is independent of sexuality. Side note: “transvestite” is a derogatory and outdated variation of this term and should not be used.
Drag queens – Performers, usually men, who use exaggerated feminine clothing and makeup to play characters, usually on stage with music or other acts. Similarly but less common, drag kings are exaggerated masculine characters usually played by women or nonbinary people. Despite being stereotyped as gay, such performers, queens and kings, can be of any gender and sexual orientation.