Curious about gender and sexuality? We dive into some useful terms and definitions.
Everyone has a gender identity and sexuality. The terms we use to describe our sexuality and gender are always evolving — and a person’s idea of their own gender and sexuality can change over time, too.
Folks with varying sexualities and gender identities have always existed. Tolerance and education have increased in recent times, leading people to feel more comfortable being themselves and asking for the respect they deserve.
The acronym LGBTQIA+ is an umbrella term for folks who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. Too many identities fall under this umbrella to include in one acronym, so the “plus” acknowledges these identities.
You may be familiar with this acronym, but what about the other gender and sexuality terms?
The list below is a non-exhaustive list of terms related to LGBTQIA+ communities. Some terms may mean different things to different people, and that’s OK. It’s important to respect the words someone uses to describe themselves.
The acronym 2SLGBTQIA+ acknowledges two-spirit people, a term some Indigenous people use to describe having a mixture of masculine and feminine sexual, gender, or spiritual identities.
Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people took part in activities associated with men and women, along with unique roles held by two-spirit people. That said, there are over 500 Native American cultures and their attitudes toward sex and gender are diverse.
Not all cultures view two-spirit people the same way, and not all welcome the use of this term in place of their own cultural terms.
Agender is an umbrella term for people who do not have an internal experience of gender or feel they “lack gender.” Agender identities fall under the nonbinary and transgender umbrellas.
Identities in the agender umbrella include:
- gender neutral
An ally is someone who actively supports a certain group of people. Many community members agree that being an ally is about action or behavior rather than identity.
Allies aren’t all cisgender and straight — people of all genders and sexualities can be allies. For example, a gay man who supports transgender people is also an ally.
The asexual spectrum describes a lack of interest in sexual activity. Not every asexual person is completely deterred by sex, though — the specifics depend on the individual. Asexual is sometimes shortened to “ace.”
Identities within the asexual spectrum include:
- Aromantic: Someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction but may experience sexual attraction.
- Demisexual: Someone who feels attraction only when they have an emotional connection with the person.
- Grayromantic: Someone who experiences romantic attraction occasionally.
- Graysexual: Someone who experiences sexual attraction occasionally.
People who experience romantic attraction or occasional sexual attraction may also identify with other sexual identities, such as lesbian, gay, or pansexual.
Assigned male or female at birth
Assigned female at birth (AFAB) and assigned male at birth (AMAB) mean that a doctor assigned the person female or male based on their external anatomy when they were born. People can also be assigned intersex at birth.
There is wide variation in reproductive characteristics — including in those assigned male or female at birth. Significant natural variation exists in genital anatomy, chromosomes, internal reproductive organs, and hormone levels.
In the context of gender, a binary system says that male and female are the only two options for gender and implies that they are opposites.
The gender binary excludes and invalidates the experiences of gender-diverse people, such as many trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer people.
A bisexual person is attracted to people of the same gender and other genders.
“Bi” means two, so there is some controversy about what counts as bisexual, but many people use the term bisexual to describe attraction to more than one gender. As with many identities, how a person identifies is up to them.
Butch is a colloquial term for a lesbian who is masculine-leaning. Some butch people call themselves a stud — a term specific to the Black community — or dyke.
Because the terms “butch” and “dyke” were originally slurs and have been reclaimed, these terms should not be used by folks outside of the community.
Cisgender means that your gender identity matches your sex assigned at birth. For example, someone who was assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman, or someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a man.
The term “cishet” is shorthand for someone or something that is both cisgender and heterosexual.
Femme is short for someone who presents as feminine based on societal or cultural ideas of femininity. People of all genders can be femme.
The term “gay” was historically used for men who are attracted to other men, but it can also describe anyone whose sexuality falls outside heterosexual. This can include anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Gender dysphoria refers to a person’s distress when their assigned gender doesn’t match their internal gender identity.
The main symptom of gender dysphoria is feeling uncomfortable with or wanting to change your gendered characteristics, such as your voice, hair, name, or reproductive anatomy.
Gender dysphoria was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) in 2019 to replace the outdated term “gender identity disorder.” However, many people have trouble with dysphoria even if their experiences don’t match the DSM clinical criteria.
Not every trans person experiences gender dysphoria. Some people don’t feel dysphoric but identify as trans because they feel “right” or euphoric when they align with a certain identity.
Gender euphoria is a person’s joy when their gender expression or presentation matches their internal gender identity. For many trans and nonbinary people, moments of gender euphoria are important milestones in their gender journey.
A person’s gender expression is how they present their gender to the world. This is separate from gender identity and sexuality.
If a person identifies as genderfluid, their gender identity changes over time rather than remaining static. The term falls under the transgender and nonbinary umbrellas.
A person’s gender identity is their personal experience of their gender. There are many types of gender identity, including:
A person’s gender identity may be different from their gender expression. Also, a person’s gender identity is separate from their sexuality.
Are sex and gender the same thing?
People often use the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably, but they have different meanings:
- Sex refers to the physical characteristics that differentiate male, female, and intersex bodies.
- Gender refers to a person’s identity and how they feel inside. Examples include man, woman, nonbinary, and agender. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The term “gender neutral” refers to something that is not inherently gendered. It can be used in many contexts, such as referring to pronouns, clothing, and bathrooms.
Genderqueer refers to all gender identities that exist outside the gender binary (man or woman). The term falls under the transgender and nonbinary umbrellas.
Similar terms include gender diverse, gender variant, and gender expansive.
Gender roles are the societal expectations attached to a person’s sex assigned at birth. For example, in many Western societies, women are expected to stay at home and tend to children while men are expected to do physical work and earn their family’s income.
Intersex means that a person was born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical female or male definitions. This includes natural variations in their genitals, hormones, or chromosomes.
Intersex is sometimes called differences in sex development (DSD).
Intersex identities are separate from sexual and gender identities.
Latinx and Latine
Latinx and Latine are gender-neutral versions of Latina and Latino.
Lesbian refers to a woman who is attracted to other women. Some nonbinary people also identify as lesbian, particularly if they have a feminine identity.
Masc is short for someone who presents as masculine, based on societal or cultural ideas of masculinity. People of all genders can be masc.
Misgendering is when someone gets a person’s gender wrong. This includes using the wrong pronouns or language that implies a different gender identity.
The term nonbinary describes people whose gender identity is outside the gender binary (man or woman). Nonbinary people experience their gender as neither entirely man nor woman.
Nonbinary identities fall under the transgender umbrella.
Sometimes used interchangeably with queer and bisexual, pansexual means the other person’s gender identity does not determine a person’s attraction.
The acronym QTPOC is used to talk about the experiences of Queer, Trans People of Color.
Queer can mean many things depending on the individual. For many, queer means someone or something that is not cisgender and heterosexual.
This term was historically used as a slur and not everyone feels comfortable using this term to describe themselves.
A person’s sexual identity or sexual orientation describes who they are sexually attracted to. Sexuality is separate from gender identity.
Sexual identities include but are not limited to:
Trans or gender nonconforming (TGNC)
TGNC is an acronym speaking directly about people who are trans or gender nonconforming.
Transgender refers to a person whose assigned sex at birth doesn’t align with their gender identity.
Transgender, often shortened to trans, is an umbrella term that includes trans men, trans women, nonbinary people, and other gender diverse people, including genderqueer or genderfluid people.
Transmasculine and transfeminine
The prefix “trans” refers to a shift. Transfeminine refers to an AMAB person who is feminine-presenting. Transmasculine refers to an AFAB person who is masculine-presenting.
There are many terms to get familiar with — but you might be wondering why it’s important to learn the correct language. Here’s why language matters.
Mental health effects
People from LGBTQIA+ communities face recurring discrimination that can have significant mental health effects. These communities are at greater risk of experiencing shame, fear, and trauma.
Even in modern times, people fatally attack trans folks — especially trans Women of Color — at a disproportionate rate.
According to Mental Health America, around 4.5% of people in the United States are LGBT. Of those, over 39% reported mental health conditions in the past year.
Discrimination against these communities had led to higher rates of:
- mental health problems, including depression
- substance misuse
A 2021 survey by The Trevor Project reported that 75% of LGBTQ youth had experienced sexuality or gender discrimination at least once.
Pronouns and using a person’s chosen name
People who don’t have their identities respected can experience lasting effects.
For example, deadnaming — using someone’s previous name instead of their chosen name — is often both disrespectful and harmful. It shows the person that their identity is not being acknowledged and, in some cases, can put them in danger.
The Trevor Project reported that trans and nonbinary youth who were able to legally change their name or gender marker reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
An estimated 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. Youth may become homeless because of family issues, being forced out of their home, abuse, or running away.
LGBTQ adults are more than twice as likely to experience housing insecurity than their cishet counterparts. The impacts of inconsistent shelter, food, supplies, and sleep can majorly affect a person’s health.
People within the LGBTQ+ community are also subject to discrimination, both interpersonally and within the workplace.
According to a 2011 report, around 90% of TGNC people surveyed experienced harassment or discrimination in their job or had to take action to hide who they were for fear of the consequences.
In addition to workplace issues and housing insecurity, discrimination can result in folks within the LGBTQ+ community being at an increased risk of:
- being without health insurance
- substance misuse
These factors can spark the beginning of a cycle, pushing queer folks into poverty, unsafe working conditions, and poor overall health.
LGBTQIA+ people continue to face discrimination from society — but you’re not alone. There are many communities, safe spaces, and resources that can help you feel supported and uplifted, both online and in person.
Here are some resources that can help LGBTQIA+ people by providing information, community, and practical support:
Help to find employment
- San Francisco LGBT Center employment services
- The Center employment resources and support in New York City
- CenterLink LGBT nationwide job and career boards
Coming out resources
- Coming Out: A Handbook for LGBTQ Young People by The Trevor Project
- Coming Out: Living Authentically as Transgender or Non-Binary by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation
- True Colours United resources for preventing homelessness in youth and young adults
Resources for Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color
- Resources for Queer and Transgender Black, Indigenous, People of Color from the LGBTQ+ Center at West Virginia University
- Psych Central’s guide to Mental Health Resources for People of Color and Indigenous People
- The Trevor Project provides crisis support for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Call their hotline at 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678.
- The Trans Lifeline provides peer support, run by and for trans people. Call their hotline at 877-565-8860.
- Use Psych Central’s guide to Support Hotlines for Trans, Nonbinary, and Gender-Expansive Folks.
- Reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988
- Text HOME to the Crisis Textline at 741741
- The National Center for Transgender Equality provides information on your healthcare rights and your legal protection from discrimination
- Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is a justice movement for LGBTQ liberation across race, class, culture, gender, and sexuality
- The Human Rights Campaign works toward equality for LGBTQ+ people