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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
- American Psychological Association: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender
- Asexual Visibility and Education Network
- 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