Sexuality, Gender, and Identity Definitions

It can be difficult to participate in meaningful discussions about gender, identity and sexuality if you feel you don’t have an understanding of frequently used labels. Below are some commonly used gender, sexuality and identity labels, with the understanding that each person has the ability and right to define their personhood in their own terms.

Ally – (noun) a (typically straight- or cis-identified) person who supports, and respects for members of the LGBTQ community.

Androgyny/ous – (adj) (1) a gender expression that has elements of both masculinity and femininity.

Aromantic - (adj) is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others, or a lack of interest in forming romantic relationships.

Asexual – (adj) having a lack of sexual attraction to others, or a lack of interest or desire for sex or sexual partners.

Bigender – (adj) a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders.

Bicurious – (adj) a curiosity about having attraction to people of the same gender/sex.

Biological Sex – (noun) a medical term used to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female, male, or intersex. Often abbreviated to simply “sex”.

Biphobia – (noun) fear or hatred one may have towards bisexual people.

Bisexual – (adj) a person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males and females. Other individuals may use this to indicate an attraction to people who identify outside of the gender binary.

Cisgender – (adj) a person whose gender identity and biological sex assigned at birth align (e.g., man and identify as male), also referred to as “cis”.

Cisnormativity – (noun) the assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is cisgender, and that cisgender identities are superior to transgender identities or people.

Closeted – (adj) an individual who is not open to others about their (queer) sexuality or gender identity. Also known as being “in the closet.”

Coming Out – (verb) accepting and identifies one’s own sexuality or gender identity. The process by which one shares one’s sexuality or gender identity with others.

Cross-dresser – (noun) someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.

Demi-sexual – (noun) an individual who does not experience sexual attraction unless they have formed a strong emotional connection with another individual. Often within a romantic relationship.

Femme – (noun & adj) someone who identifies themselves as feminine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. Often used to refer to a feminine-presenting lesbian.

Fluid(ity) – (adj) describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., male and female, bi and straight)

Gay – (adj) (1) a term used to describe individuals who are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex and/or gender. (2) An umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

Gender Binary – (noun) the idea that there are only two genders – male/female and that a person must be strictly adhere as either/or.

Gender Expression – (noun) how one presents their gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, generally measured on scales of masculinity and femininity.

Gender Identity – (noun) the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Generally confused with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth

Genderqueer - (adj) often a term for a third gender to indicate someone who identifies with a gender identity outside of the cisgender spectrum of man/woman. Many genderqueer people feel they are a gender, it just may be outside of the labels woman/man.

Gender Variant – (adj) someone who does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, gender-queer, cross-dresser, etc.).

Heteronormativity – (noun) the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.

Heterosexism – (noun) behavior that grants preferential treatment to heterosexual people.

Heterosexual – (adj) a person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex.

Homophobia – (noun) an umbrella term for a range of negative attitudes that one may have towards the LGBTQ community. The term can also connote a fear or disgust of being perceived as gay.

Homosexual – (adj) a term used to describe a person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex/gender. This term is considered stigmatizing due to its history as a category of mental illness, and is discouraged for common use.

Intersex – (noun) someone whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Formerly known as hermaphrodite (or hermaphroditic), but these terms are now considered outdated and derogatory.

Lesbian – (noun) a term used to describe females attracted romantically, sexually, or emotionally to other females.

Metrosexual – (noun & adj) a man with a strong aesthetic sense who spends more time, energy, or money on his appearance and grooming than is considered gender normative for men.

Outing – (verb) involuntary or unwanted disclosure of another person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.

Pansexual – (adj) a person who experiences sexual, romantic, or physical attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions

Passing – (verb) (1) a term for transsexual people being accepted as, or able to “pass for,” a member of their self-identified gender/sex identity (regardless of birth sex). (2) An LGB/queer individual who can is believed to be, or perceived as, straight.

Polyamory/Polyamorous– (noun/adj) refers to having relationships with multiple partners and can include open relationships, polyfidelity, and sub-relationships.

Queer – (adj) used as an umbrella term to describe individuals who identify as non-straight. Also used to describe people who have non-normative gender identity or as a political affiliation. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, it is not embraced or used by all members of the LGBTQ community.

Questioning (verb & adjective) when someone is unsure about, or is exploring, their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sexual Orientation – (noun) the type of sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction one feels for others, often labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to (often mistakenly referred to as sexual preference)

Sexual Preference – (noun) the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in.

Sex Reassignment Surgery / SRS – A term used by some medical professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter a person’s biological sex.

Straight – (adj) a person emotionally, physically, or sexually attracted to people who are not their same sex/gender. A more colloquial term for the word heterosexual.

Trans/Transgender – (noun) (1) An umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms. (2) A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex.

Transsexual- (noun) a person that has used medical intervention to align their external and/or internal physical characteristics with their gender identity.  This term is used less frequently as the term “transgender” has become the preferred term.

Transition(ing) – (noun & verb) this term is primarily used to refer to the process a transgender person undergoes when changing their physical appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.

Transphobia – (noun) the fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of trans people, the trans community, or gender ambiguity.

Transvestite – (noun) a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”), should not be confused with transsexual)