LGBTQ+ Terminology List
The NIU Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) has put together this list of terms and definitions relating to gender, sexual/romantic orientation and beyond. This is, above all else, a living document. The definitions are drawn from external sources and lived experience of queer students. If some definitions seem imperfect, it’s probably because they are, and we intend to make adjustments as time goes on. Identity isn’t easy to define, and we hope that this reference makes the journey kinder.
This list is split into three categories relating to:
Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, agender, bigender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, and/or trans feminine.
Anxiety and/or discomfort regarding a person's gender assigned at birth. Dysphoria can be internal (personal discomfort with the body or feelings relating to gender) or external (discomfort with how other people respond to assumed/presented gender).
Not all trans people experience dysphoria, and no two trans people experience it in the same way. For some, the experience of dysphoria may be extremely intense and distressing. For others, the experience of dysphoria may be lighter and more manageable. Often, dysphoria is fluid and complex, and can't always be broadly classified as manageable or not. As with many other parts of life, there are days when managing dysphoria might be easier, and there are days when it might be much harder.
Sometimes trans women identify as male-to-female (also MTF, M2F, or trans feminine) and sometimes trans men identify as female-to-male (also FTM, F2M, or trans masculine). Please use the term and pronouns indicated by the individual.
Refers to individuals who identify as neither man nor woman, both man and woman, or a combination of man or woman. It is an identity term which some use exclusively, while others may use it interchangeably with terms like agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender creative, gender nonconforming, gender diverse, or gender expansive. Individuals who identify as nonbinary may understand the identity as falling under the transgender umbrella, and may thus identify as transgender. Sometimes abbreviated as NB.
Nonbinary people may use any gender pronouns, including singular they/them. Some nonbinary people may use traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns for any number of reasons. It is not uncommon for nonbinary people to use more than one set of pronouns or for that preference to change over time.
Note: Nonbinary is often used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is a nonbinary person or Jesse is nonbinary). Nonbinary is not interchangeable with “gender nonbinary” in the same way that “binary gender” and “the gender binary” are not interchangeable. (e.g. “Jesse is gender nonbinary” is awkward and inaccurate language).
Hormone Replacement Therapy (also known as 'Gender affirming hormone therapy') consists of taking hormones/hormone inhibitors to create more feminine/masculine physical characteristics. The HRT process is different for AFAB (assigned female at birth) and AMAB (assigned male at birth) trans people. There are a few ways people might take these hormones, from pills to injections. In order to maintain the changes that result from HRT, a person must continue to take hormones for the rest of their life.
Not all trans people take hormones, either because of lack of access or because they choose not to. Some trans people might choose to start/stop taking hormones or take a lower dose as an intentional part of transitioning. HRT is not a required process for medical transitioning, and not all trans people choose to undergo medical transitioning. The process of transitioning is deeply complicated and personal, and all trans people approach it uniquely.
Gender-neutral options in place of Latino/Latina. Latinx (La-teen-ecks) is the most commonly used, but has been critiqued by some due to its awkward pronunciation in Spanish. Latine (La-teen-ay) and Latin@ (La-teen-oh-ah) are two other options used by some Spanish speakers.
This term is still used by some although many people prefer the term trans or transgender. As a general rule, transsexual is a term to be avoided unless an individual specifically requests it to be used for them.
These terms refer to the assumption that being cisgender is the norm, which leads to transphobic attitudes and behaviors and limits the range of acceptable gender expression for everyone.
The practice some AMAB (assigned male at birth) people use to hide the crotch bulge of their genitals or make feminine cut clothing fit better. Often used by transfeminine people for gender confirmation, but also used by cis men when dressing in drag.
Training done by trans people to adjust their voice to sound more masculine/feminine. Not all trans people undergo voice training, either because they don’t have access or because they don’t want to. Though any trans person might do voice training, it’s somewhat more common for transfeminine people, since transmasculine people who take testosterone experience a natural vocal drop.
Also called “Gender-Confirmation Surgery”. Surgeries some trans people undergo as part of their transitioning process. This could include top surgery, bottom surgery, facial procedures, laser hair removal, etc. Not all trans people choose to have surgery, whether that’s because they’re physically unable, they cannot afford it, or simply do not desire it. There are different options for AFAB and AMAB trans people. Trans people who are not binary/do not identify as either men or women may or may not still desire surgery. Do not use the term “sex change” or refer to trans people as “pre-op” or “post-op”.
A feeling of comfort, joy, certainty, or excitement about your gender identity or body. This might come from physical changes or from being socially recognized within your gender identity. Sometimes described as feeling “seen” or “when everything just feels right”.
Sexual and Romantic Orientation
While sexual behavior involves the choices one makes in acting on one's sexual orientation, sexual orientation is part of the human condition. A person's sexual activity does not define their sexual orientation; typically, it is the attraction that helps determine orientation.
Note: Pan does not refer to attraction to "men, women, and trans people," as it has sometimes been used in the past. While the trans community does have a lot of diversity in gender identity, trans men and trans women would already qualify as men and women, and trans people who do not identify as men or women cannot be lumped into one category. A potential adjustment might be "men, women, and gender-nonconforming people" but orientation does not require a list of exact gender identities a person is attracted to. Gender and attraction are both complicated, and as such, attempting to put them into neat and specific boxes will likely not work well.
Men who have sex with men/women who have sex with women. These terms are sometimes used in research/public health settings to describe people who engage in same-sex behavior. For example, blood donation agencies in the U.S. follow the FDA regulations which require deferring “a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months.”
These terms do not relate to people’s sexual orientation and often ignore/misplace gender identity. People rarely use the terms MSM or WSW to describe themselves.
Note: "Coming out" is often risky for LGBTQ people and is generally a very emotional and complex experience. Because of this, it is not typically encouraged to use the phrase in other areas of life, especially when the degree of personal risk is low. Examples include: "coming out" as atheist, an ally, a fan of unpopular media, etc. While these things may have risk attached to them, some people see using the phrase outside of the context of the LGBTQ community as making light or belittling a complicated and risky experience.
Controversy or distress can arise, often due to a lack of agency in the passing person. For example, a gay man may pass as straight without intention. This might be distressing because he is then put in a position of either having to clarify that he is not straight, or of allowing people to continue assuming things which are not true.
Another cause of distress might be a person's inability to pass. For example, a trans woman may wish to pass as a cis woman, but due to physical limitations, she is more often perceived as a man. Another example is a nonbinary person who has no opportunity to pass because they are always perceived as either a man or a woman, due to the highly binary social idea of gender.
A term for romantic relationships with more than one person. Also called non-monogamy, consensual non-monogamy, open relationship, etc. The relationship may be between three or more people together or may be one person in multiple separate relationships. Polyamorous relationships are not cheating or infidelity, as all parties involved are aware of the other partner(s) and have consented to the relationship. Some people may identify as polyamorous, which means they do not desire solely monogamous relationships. Polyamorous people can have any sexual or romantic orientation (gay, straight, bisexual, etc.).
Note: Polyamory is not the same as polygamy (the practice of having more than one spouse). For some, polygamy and polyamory may be linked, but polyamorous people do not necessarily marry more than one person, nor do they inherently have links to any religious or cultural practice which involves marrying multiple people. Anyone can identify as polyamorous or be in a polyamorous relationship.
Note: Do not use these terms to describe someone who has transitioned or intends to do so in the future.
Queer/Trans People of Color
Coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 to explain how the aspects of a person’s identity can combine to form unique modes of discrimination. Originally used to explain why black women faced a particular kind of oppression that could not be defined by only their race or their gender. Intersectionality is a common term in discussions on feminism and social justice, particularly when discussing the need to be aware of how identity and experience are never affected by only one aspect at a time.
A term coined by Alice Walker in 1979. Womanism is based on recognizing that all women do not face the same issues. It centers Black women, acknowledges Black men and children, and overall seeks to highlight issues and identities that, historically, were not addressed in mainstream feminism movements.
- American Psychological Association: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender
- Asexual Visibility and Education Network
- APA style for singular "they"
- Gender and gender identity
- Introduction to top surgery, Transmasculine, Transfeminine and Neutrois procedures
- Physical integrity and bodily autonomy
- Sex reassignment surgery
- Sexual orientation
- Transphobia (related concepts)
- Unitarian Universalist: Queer 101