Queer in Action: LGBT A-Z dictionary

By Michael Schramm, Queer in Action Editor
and Lita Brillman, Queer in Action Editor
and Kastriot Osmani, Queer in Action Editor
and Ryan Freeland, Queer in Action Editor
Published January 21, 2015

Welcome to Queer in Action’s “LGBT A-Z Dictionary.” We’re very excited to create this reference point for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of a term or concept related to sexuality and gender.

This section is divided into three sections: relevant concepts, sexuality-related terms and gender-related terms.

While we feel this dictionary is a thoroughly inclusive reference guide, we also recognize the incredible complexity surrounding sexuality and gender. Therefore, we intend to update this list as we find more information needed.

Without further ado, let the dictionary begin.

Relevant concepts or ideas:

Ally: Allies are people who, despite not being queer themselves, aim to help promote and support queer people and causes. It is important to note, however, that a good ally amplifies the existing voices of queer people with lived experiences as opposed to dominating the conversation with their own thoughts and opinions.

Fluidity: The idea that a person’s sexuality is not concretely and definitively set, but rather has the ability to change over time. An example is a heterosexual woman developing a strong enough attraction to women that causes her to identify as bisexual.

Note that sexuality’s fluidity doesn’t imply that everyone has the ability to change their sexuality at will. Rather, fluidity implies that sexuality can shift in ways that we do not always predict or understand.

Homophobia/Queerphobia: Homophobia is a catch-all term used to describe anti-queer sentiment against people who identify as non-heterosexual. It does not just refer to being afraid of queer people, but also includes any prejudices against queers.

Transphobia: Transphobia is a specific sect of homophobia describing anti-queer sentiment against those who don’t identify as cisgender, particularly transgender people. It doesn’t just reference a fear of trans people, but also includes any prejudices against trans-identified people.

Sexual vs. romantic attraction: The idea that attraction is divided into subcategories, as opposed to being one holistic force.

Sexual attraction involves a desire for sexual contact or a sexual interest in another person. Romantic attraction centers on the pleasure or desire to love or be in love with someone.

Not everyone experiences sexual and romantic attraction the same way, and it can be distributed to different genders asymmetrically. Someone could experience sexual and romantic attraction to women while only experiencing sexual attraction to men. Additionally, someone could experience sexual and romantic attraction exclusively toward men, but find an individual man romantically attractive and not sexually attractive.

Heteronormative or Cisnormative: The idea embedded in our society that assumes others as heterosexual and cisgender unless otherwise stated.

The promotion of a heteronormative or cisnormative standard is problematic in that it subtly offsets or undercuts those outside the norm as deviant, different or “other.” A purpose of Queer in Action, much like the current queer movement as a whole, is to elevate queer experiences that are often shadowed by the assumptions of heteronormativity.

Sexualities:

Asexual: Asexuals do not identify as sexually attracted to a gender. Though they do not experience sexual attraction, this doesn’t mean they cannot experience biological pleasure, it just means that they do not receive this pleasure from the arousal of another person.

Bisexual: Bisexual, or bi for short, is the attraction to two or more genders. While many define it as an attraction to men and women only, this is not always the case, as it implies that bisexuals are not or cannot be attracted to non-gender conforming individuals.

It’s also important to note that the attraction to both genders can be asymmetrical, encompassing any or all romantic, sexual or other forms of attraction. A bisexual woman may experience sexual and romantic attraction to men while only experiencing romantic attraction to women. A bisexual man may experience romantic attraction to men while experiencing sexual attraction to women. Since bisexual attraction can vary greatly among individuals, it’s important to pay close attention to how self-identified bisexuals define their specific sexuality.

Demisexual: A demisexual does not develop sexual attraction to someone unless they form a close bond with another person. Note that the bond can be with someone they are not romantically interested in dating.

Gay: A sexuality most often used to describe a person who identifies as male and is predominantly or wholly romantically, sexually or otherwise attracted to other men.

It’s important to recognize the possibility for gays to have a romantic or sexual attraction to women. However, the self-identified gay would typically perceive the attraction as so minimal that it wouldn’t classify his sexual preferences as bi.

Sometimes, this term is used to refer to people with lesbian sexualities, but unless a lesbian expresses interest in identifying as gay, it’s safer to use lesbian.

Gay is also sometimes used colloquially to mean queer, in reference to all non-heterosexual sexualities (in phrases such as “gay rights” and “gay marriage”). However, this can cause identity erasure, leaving some feeling that identities beyond lesbian and gay are ignored or considered ingenuous.

This term can also be extremely problematic when used incorrectly as reference to non-gender-conforming people, as trans does not equal gay.

Heterosexual: A sexuality that most often describes people who are of a different sex to one another and are attracted to each other sexually, romantically or otherwise. However, it is important to note that people can be trans and still heterosexual, in that they are attracted to a sex or gender besides their own.

Additionally, defining heterosexuality exclusively as individuals attracted to the “opposite” sex promotes a false gender binary, excluding people outside of this binary who are identify as heterosexual and attracted to an “opposite” sex.

Lesbian: A sexuality describing an individual who identifies as a woman and is predominantly or wholly romantically, sexually or otherwise attracted to other women.

It’s important to recognize the possibility for lesbians to have a romantic or sexual attraction to men. However, the self-identified lesbian would typically perceive the attraction as so minimal that it wouldn’t classify her preferences as bisexual.

Pansexual: A sexuality that describes an individual who is attracted to others based on emotional, physical and spiritual features, without gender playing a role. A pansexual individual is able to fall in love with someone without the biological sex or gender playing any significant role.

Queer: An umbrella term for any non-heteronormative sexuality or non-cisgender-conforming identity. “Queer” reigns as the current terminology to classify all members in the LGBTQ community.

While previously a homophobic slur, queers have reclaimed this term to take on a positive meaning. If you are not queer and use this term, it’s important that your connotation clearly implies reference to the umbrella definition, as the term does have a violent homophobic history and alternative definition.

Gender-related terms:

Androgynous: An androgynous person is one who draws from masculinity and femininity in terms of appearance, gender and sexual identity. An androgynous person does not identify as masculine or feminine, but rather a nuanced combination of both.

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. The two primary examples are a person who was assigned to the male sex at birth who personally identifies as male and a person assigned to the female sex at birth who personally identifies as female.

Transgender: A person whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if at birth the doctor said, “It’s a boy,” and the individual later identified as a woman, they are transgender.

Note that someone identifying as transgender may or may not choose to undergo surgery to attain the body parts associated with their self-identified gender. Just because someone chooses not to have surgery doesn’t imply that they are any less trans than members seeking gender reassignment.

Gender spectrum: The idea that gender does not exist in a binary of masculine and feminine, but is more accurately perceived as a linear progression from masculine to feminine with infinite points between. Note that a person can still identify as masculine or feminine without existing on the spectrum’s polar ends. For example, a guy with a few predominant feminine traits may still identify as masculine if he believes this is the closest definition to his gender.

Intersex: An intersex person is born with a combination of male and female sexual organs. The hybrid between male and female organs can be nuanced for each intersex person, helping to prove that not everyone is biologically born a man or woman. Rather, biological sex exists on a spectrum.