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:

Gender

Cisgender/cis Word that means someone identifies as their sex assigned at birth and is derived from the Latin word meaning on the same side. A cisgender/cis person is not transgender. The term cisgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. In discussions regarding trans issues, one would differentiate between women who are trans and women who aren't by saying trans women and cis women. Cis is not a fake word and is not a slur. Note that cisgender does not have an -ed at the end.
Transgender/Trans Word or prefix used as an abbreviation, derived from the Latin word meaning "across from" or "on the other side of." An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. Note that transgender does not have an "ed" at the end.

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.

Gender A set of cultural constructs describing characteristics that are historically related to notions of femininity, masculinity, women, men, nonbinary people, or social norms.
Sex A set of characteristics associated with reproduction and biology that generally assign individuals into categories of male and female. Also see: Sex Assigned At Birth.
Sex Assigned At Birth The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another sex assigned at birth often based on physical anatomy at birth, ultrasounds before birth, etc. When a person is assigned male or female at birth, they are referred to as AMAB (assigned male at birth) or AFAB (assigned female at birth) rather than biologically/physically/typically male or female.
Intersex Word describing a person with a combination of the hormones, chromosomes, and/or anatomy used to assign sex at birth which does not strictly align with a binary understanding of biology. Parents and medical professionals usually assign intersex infants a binary sex and have, in the past, been medically permitted to perform surgical operations to conform the infant’s genitalia to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults speak out against the practice. The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for transgender (although some intersex people do identify as transgender, either in a binary or nonbinary sense). Intersex people may or may not identify with the LGBTQ+ community and can hold many different identities, such as trans, cisgender, straight, bisexual, gay, queer, etc.
Gender Identity One's internal sense of being masculine, feminine neither of these, both, or other gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same.
Gender Expression/Presentation The physical manifestation of one's gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine or feminine). Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. Someone with a gender nonconforming gender expression may or may not be transgender. For example, a cisgender woman who wears traditionally masculine clothing such as button-ups and ties may have a nonconforming gender expression in her clothing, but if she was assigned female at birth (afab) and still identifies as a woman, she is not transgender, regardless of her clothing choices.
Gender Dysphoria 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 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.

Gender Pronouns Gender pronouns are the pronouns or set of pronouns which an individual personally uses and which others should use when talking to or about that individual. In English, the singular pronouns that we use most frequently use are gendered (she/her and he/him), but some individuals may prefer that gender neutral or gender-inclusive pronouns when talking to or about them. In English, some individuals use they/them as gender-neutral singular pronouns. Others use ze (sometimes spelled zie), zir and hir or the pronouns xe and xer. In the past, "preferred" gender pronouns was commonly used, but many trans people have moved away from referring to their pronouns as "preferred", as that can imply inconvenience or other non-stated options. Gender pronouns are not exclusive to trans people. All people who use pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them, etc.) are using gender pronouns, regardless of their identity as trans, cis, etc.
Gender socialization The process by which an individual is taught how they should behave as a boy or as a girl. Parents, teachers, peers, media, and books are some of the many agents of gender socialization.
Binary Word used to describe the idea of two opposite genders, female/male or woman/man. Both cisgender and transgender people can be binary. Binary genders are considered the default or status quo for most societies, and as such people with a binary gender identity experience some privilege due to that. A common misconception is that the idea of a gender binary is born out of inherent biology. However, human reproductive systems and sex based on chromosomes do not neatly fall into two categories. (See also: Intersex)
Gender neutral Not gendered. Can refer to language (including pronouns), spaces (like bathrooms), or identities (being nonbinary, for example).
Trans Woman / Trans Man The phrase trans woman generally describes someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman. Trans man generally describes someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman. Many trans individuals prefer a space between trans and woman/man. Other do not. A good rule of thumb is to use woman or man unless an individual requests otherwise.

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.

Transmasculine A term to describe a person assigned female at birth (AFAB) who identifies in a masculine way. The person may or may not identify as a trans man.
Transfeminine A term to describe a person assigned male at birth (AMAB) who identifies in a feminine way. The person may or may not identify as a trans woman.
Nonbinary (Also Non-Binary)

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).

Two Spirit An umbrella term indexing various indigenous gender identities in North America. Typically this term is used to describe a 3rd gender category in which there is the embodiment of two genders within the same person. It comes with specific responsibilities within Native traditions. Two Spirit was created as an identity by indigenous people, is sacred to their identity and should not be used by non-indigenous people unless an indigenous person requests to be referred to as such.
Agender An umbrella term encompassing many different genders of people who commonly do not have a gender and/or have a gender that they describe as neutral. As a new and quickly-evolving term, it may be best to ask how someone defines agender for themself.
Bigender Refers to those who identify as two genders. Can also identify as multigender (identifying as two or more genders). This term is not to be confused with Two-Spirit, which is specifically associated with Native American and First Nations cultures.
Genderfluid A changing or "fluid" gender identity. People who identify as genderfluid may identify solely as genderfluid or may identify as nonbinary, bigender, nonbinary man/woman, nonbinary femme etc.
Genderqueer Refers to individuals who identify as a combination of man and woman, neither man or woman, or both man and woman. Is sometimes used as an umbrella term in much the same way that the term queer is used, and thus should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as genderqueer.
Androgynous Typically used to describe a person's appearances or clothing as having elements of both femininity and masculinity, or otherwise being unable to clearly label an appearance as male or female.
Gender nonconforming A term (considered by some to be outdated) used to describe those who view their gender identity as one of many possible genders beyond strictly man or woman. More current terms include gender expansive, differently gendered, gender creative, gender variant, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, gender neutral, bigender, androgynous, or gender diverse.
Transphobia A word used to describe systemic violence against trans people, associated with attitudes such as fear, discomfort, distrust, or disdain. This may include denial/refusal to accept someone's gender identity. Transphobic attitudes and actions are harmful to transgender people both individually and on a broader scale. This word is used similarly to homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, etc.
Transmisogyny Originally coined by the author Julia Serano, this term designates the intersections of transphobia and misogyny and how they are often experienced as a form of oppression by trans women. One example of this is trans women being expected to conform to strict standards of femininity (such as always wearing makeup and skirts or being heterosexual) in order to be considered women.
Cissexism Systemic prejudice in the favor of cisgender people.
Affirmed gender The gender by which one wishes to be known. This term is often used to replace terms like new gender or chosen gender, since those terms often imply that being transgender is a choice or something that only happens later in life.
Misgender To refer to someone in a way which does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify. Often this relates to gendered words or pronouns, such as man, woman, he, she, mother, father, waitress, fireman, etc.
Deadnaming Calling someone by their birth name after they have changed their name. This term is often associated with trans people who have changed their name (either socially or through a legal process) as part of their transition.
Assumed gender The gender others assume an individual to be based on the sex they are assigned at birth, as well as apparent gender markers such as physical build, voice, clothes, and hair.
Stealth A term used to describe transgender individuals who do not disclose their transgender status in their public or private lives (or certain aspects of their public and private lives). The term is increasingly considered offensive by some as it implies an element of deception. The phrase maintaining privacy is often used instead, though some individuals use both terms interchangeably.
Transition The steps a trans person may take to live in the gender with which they identify. Each person's transition will involve different things. For some this involves medical intervention, such as hormone therapy and surgeries, but not all trans people want or are able to have this. Transitioning also might involve things such as telling friends and family, dressing differently and changing official documents.
Top Surgery Chest surgery such as double mastectomy, breast augmentation, or periareolar (keyhole) surgeries.
Bottom Surgery Genital surgeries such as vaginoplasty, phalloplasty, or metoidioplasty.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Hormone Replacement Therapy (also known as 'Gender affirming hormone therapy') consists of either feminizing (estrogen) or masculinizing (testosterone) hormones. Many transgender people take hormone therapy as part of a gender transition to help their bodies and appearance align with their gender identity. 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.
Binding The practice of flattening a person's chest to disguise breasts. Binding is a common practice for many transmasculine people, but can come with serious health risks. Rib or other chest damage may occur that can make top surgery unlikely or even impossible in the future. Though there are ways to bind more safely, any consistent compression of the chest comes with health risks.
Packing Wearing a penile prosthesis.
AFAB and AMAB Assigned Female At Birth/Assigned Male At Birth (See "Sex Assigned At Birth")
Dyadic Not Intersex.
Latinx/Latine/Latin@

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.

Transsexual This was used in the past as a more medical term (similarly to homosexual) to refer to someone whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Transsexual is often used to specifically refer to people who have undergone surgery as a part of their transition.

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.

Gender Identity Disorder / GID A controversial DSM-III and DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender-nonconforming people. Because it labels people as "disordered," Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive. The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don't conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play or behavior. Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and/or institutionalization. This term was replaced by the term gender dysphoria in the DSM-5.
Gender variant A term, often used by the medical community, to describe children, youth, and some individuals who dress, behave, or express themselves in a way that does not conform to dominant gender norms. (See gender nonconforming.) People outside the medical community tend to avoid this term because they feel it suggests these identities are abnormal, preferring terms such as gender expansive and gender creative.

Sexual and Romantic Orientation

Orientation A person's physical, romantic, emotional, aesthetic, and/or other form of attraction to others. Often called Sexual Orientation, though some people split sexual and romantic orientation. In Western cultures, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is exclusively attracted to other women would often identify as lesbian.

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.

A term for people who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to more than one gender. That attraction is often not a 50/50 split. Bi people may be primarily attracted to one or two genders above others, or they may experience an equal level of attraction to all genders. Bi, as it is frequently used today, can act as an umbrella term that encapsulates many identities such as pansexual. However, some people may identify solely as bi or pan. It is important to model the language a person uses for themself.

Gay Used to describe people who are emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender. In contemporary contexts, lesbian is often a preferred term for women, though many women use the term gay to describe themselves. Gay has also become an umbrella term in some common usage for all sexual/romantic orientations which are not strictly straight/heterosexual.
Lesbian Refers to a woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or physically attracted to other women. Some nonbinary people may also identify as lesbians, possibly because they have an attachment to feminine identity.
Same-Gender Loving A term sometimes used by some members of the African-American/Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation (gay/bisexual) without relying on terms and symbols of European descent.
Heterosexual/Straight Romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender. Often refers to a man who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women or to a woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men.
Asexual/Ace Refers to an individual who does not experience sexual attraction. This may be used as an umbrella term for other emotional attractions such as demisexual. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy or sexual abstinence, which are chosen behaviors, in that asexuality is a sexual orientation that does not necessarily entail either of those behaviors.
Aromantic/Aro Refers to an individual who does not experience romantic attraction. This may be used as an umbrella term for other emotional attractions such as demiromantic.
Homophobia An aversion to lesbian or gay people that often manifests itself in the form of prejudice and bias. Similarly, biphobia is an aversion people who are bisexual, and transphobia is an aversion to people who are transgender. Homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic are the related adjectives. Collectively, these attitudes are referred to as anti- LGBTQ bias.
Biphobia The fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about bi people. Biphobic bullying may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, bi.
Heteronormative / Heteronormativity These terms refer to the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm, which plays out in interpersonal interactions and society and furthers the marginalization of queer people. This assumption is found in many parts of life, including wedding planning defaulting to couples always having a bride and a groom; young boys being referred to as "lady killers"; young girls being described as "someday breaking boys' hearts"; pictures of families defaulting to a man and a woman with children; etc.
Homosexual An outdated clinical term often considered derogatory and offensive, as opposed to generally preferred terms like gay, lesbian, or queer.

Both/Uncategorized

Queer Queer is a term used by those wanting to reject specific labels of orientation and/or gender identity. Reclaimed 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 others who find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. Traditionally a negative or pejorative term for people who are gay, queer is still sometimes disliked within the LGBTQ community. Due to its varying meanings, this word should only be used when self-identifying or quoting someone who self-identifies as queer (i.e. "My cousin identifies as queer").
Questioning Describes those who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or a combination thereof.
LGBTQ An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. It is sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender). The addition of the Q is a more recently preferred version of the acronym as cultural opinions of the term queer focus increasingly on its positive, reclaimed definition, which recognizes more fluid identities; and as a move towards greater inclusivity for gender expansive people. The Q can also stand for questioning, referring to those who are still exploring their own identity. Occasionally, the acronym is also stated as LGBTA to include people who are asexual, LGBTI, with the I representing intersex, or LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA to represent all of the above.
Ally A term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBTQ individuals and the community, either personally or as an advocate. Whereas allies to the LGB community typically identify as straight, allies to the transgender community also come from the LGBTQ community. Transgender individuals who identify as straight can be allies to the LGB community as well.
Closeted Describes a person who is not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Coming out For most people who are LGBTQ, the process of self-acceptance that continues throughout one's life, and the sharing of the information with others. (derived from the phrase "coming out of the closet") Some transgender people instead use the term disclosure. Individuals often establish a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender/gender-expansive identity within themselves first, and then might choose to reveal it to others. There are many different degrees of being out: Some may be out to friends only, some may be out publicly, and some may be out only to themselves. It's important to remember that coming out is an incredibly personal and transformative experience. Not everyone is in the same place when it comes to being out, and it is critical to respect where each person is in that process of self-identification. It is up to each person, individually, to decide if and when to come out or disclose.

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.

Out Generally describes people who openly self-identify as LGBTQ in their private, public, and/or professional lives. Sometimes, individuals are outed by others who they may have already come out to. Outing an LGBTQ person without their consent is considered disrespectful and potentially dangerous for the LGBTQ individual.
Disclosure A word that some people use to describe the act or process of revealing one's transgender or gender-expansive identity to another person in a specific instance.
Passing/blending/assimilating Being perceived by others as a particular identity/gender or cisgender regardless how the individual in question identifies, e.g. passing as straight, passing as a cis woman, passing as a youth.

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.

Butch An identity or presentation that leans towards masculinity. Butch can be an adjective (she's a butch woman), a verb (he went home to "butch up"), or a noun (they identify as a butch). Although commonly associated with masculine queer/lesbian women, it's used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.
Boi A term used within the queer communities of color to refer to sexual orientation, gender, and/or aesthetic among people assigned female at birth. Boi often designates queer women who present with masculinity (although, this depends on location and usage). This term originated in women of color communities.
Femme An identity or presentation that leans towards femininity. Femme can be an adjective (he's a femme boy), a verb (she feels better when she "femmes up"), or a noun (they're a femme). Although commonly associated with feminine lesbian/queer women, it's used by many to describe a distinct gender identity and/or expression, and does not necessarily imply that one also identifies as a woman or not.
Queerplatonic relationship (QPR) A descriptor people may use when the bounds of their relationship feel beyond platonic, but they do not identify it as romantic. This term has seen more common use for aromantic people, but anyone might use it. The people in a queerplatonic relationship are sometimes called queerplatonic partners or QPP.
Polyamory

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.

Cross-dressing (also crossdressing) The act of dressing and presenting as a different gender. One who considers this an integral part of their identity may identify as a cross-dresser. "Transvestite" is often considered a pejorative term with the same meaning. Drag performers are cross-dressing performers who take on stylized, exaggerated gender presentations (although not all drag performers identify as cross-dressers). Cross-dressing and drag are often forms of gender expression and are not necessarily tied to erotic activity, nor are they indicative of one's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Note: Do not use these terms to describe someone who has transitioned or intends to do so in the future.

Lifestyle A negative term often incorrectly used to describe the lives of people who are LGBTQ. The term is disliked by some because it implies that being LGBTQ is a choice.