Terminology

As our understanding of sexuality and gender expands, many new terms are being used to describe our amazing diversity.  Here is a list of terms often used to describe the diversity of gender and sexual identities. Please do your best to use appropriate terminology and when you make a mistake, correct it and stay happy! We are all in this journey of human discovery together!

 

Please Note: Respecting people’s desired self-identifications is key. Please do your best not to assume another person’s identity based on that person’s appearance. If you are in doubt about someone’s personal identities, respectfully ask them how they identify, including what pronouns they prefer.  Being inclusive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) students, staff, faculty, alumni, family members and community partners by knowing and using appropriate terminology is a diversity promising practice!  If you have any questions, feel free to contact the LGBTQIA Resource Center at lgbt@gwu.edu.  

 

 

Agender

A person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender.

Aromantic

A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others. 

Asexual

A person who does not feel sexual attraction or desire to any group of people. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy (abstaining from marriage and sexual relations).

Ally

Typically any non-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQIA people, though LGBTQIA people can be allies, such as a lesbian who is an ally with a transgender person.

Biphobia

 Aversion toward bisexuality and bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. People of any sexual orientation can experience such feelings of aversion. Biphobia is a source of discrimination against bisexuals, and may be based on negative bisexual stereotypes or irrational fear.

Bisexual

A person who is attracted to people of their own gender and people of another gender. Also called “bi”.

Cisgender

A person whose gender matches the gender that they were assigned at birth based on their biological sex.  The prefix “cis” means “on the same side of.”

Coming Out

The process of acknowledging one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity to oneself and to other people. For most LGBTQIA people, this is a life-long process.

Gay

A person who is attracted primarily to members of the same sex. Although it can be used for any sex (e.g. gay man, gay woman, gay person), “lesbian” the preferred term for women who are attracted to women.

Gender Expression

A term which refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity, femininity, androgyny, etc. Gender expression is usually an extension of our “gender identity,” our innate sense of being a man, woman, genderqueer and other genders. Each of us expresses gender every day – by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behavior, movement, and other factors signal that we feel – and wish to be understood – as masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc.

Gender Identity

 The sense of “being” a woman, man, genderqueer, agender person. For some people, gender identity is in accord with physical anatomy. For transgender people, gender identity may differ from physical anatomy or expected social roles. It is important to note that gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation are separate and that you cannot assume how someone identifies in one category based on how they identify in another category.

Genderqueer

A person who possesses identities which fall outside of the sexual binary (i.e. "men" and "women"). Genderqueer may also refer to a person who identifies as both transgendered AND queer, i.e. individuals who challenge both gender and sexuality regimes and see gender identity and sexual orientation as overlapping and interconnected.

Heterosexual

A person who is attracted to people with a different gender and biological sex than their own.

Homophobia

A range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay and bisexual. It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, may be based on irrational fear, and is sometimes related to and reinforced by religious beliefs.

Homosexual

A clinical term for people who are attracted to members of the same gender/sex. Some people find this term offensive.

Intersex

A person whose sexual anatomy or chromosomes do not fit with the traditional markers of "female" and "male." For example: people born with both "female" and "male" anatomy (penis, testicles, vagina, uterus); people born with XXY. 

In the Closet

Describes a person who keeps their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret from some or all people.

Lesbian

A woman who is primarily attracted to other women. 

Pansexual/Omnisexual

A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions, not just people who fit into the standard gender binary (i.e. men and women). 

Polyamorous

A person who has or desires intimate and sexual relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. 

Queer

 An umbrella term sometimes used by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual people to refer to all sexual and gender minorities. The word queer is an in-group term, and a word that can be considered offensive to some people, depending on their generation, geographic location, and relationship with the word. 

Questioning

For some, the process of exploring and discovering one's own sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. 

Sexual Orientation

The type of sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction someone feels toward others. Sexual orientation is often labeled based on the gender identity/expression of the person and who they find attractive. Common labels: lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc. 

Transgender

This term has many definitions and is frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system. This includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueer, drag kings, drag queens, two-spirit people, and others. Some transgender people feel they exist not within one of the two standard gender categories, but rather somewhere between, beyond, or outside of those two genders.

Transphobia

The fear or hatred of transgender people or gender non-conforming behavior. Like biphobia, transphobia can also exist among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as well as among heterosexual people.

Transsexual

A person whose gender identity is different from their biological sex, who may undergo medical treatments to change their biological sex, often times to align it with their gender identity, or they may live their lives as another sex. 
 

Two Spirit

Contemporary umbrella term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individual spirits were a blend of female and male spirits. This term has been reclaimed by Native American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, or transgender.