Common Language


Conversations about LGBTQ experiences involve some terms and phrases that are useful to learn.

Sexual Orientation

  • The state of being homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual

LGBT – Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender

  • Not a phonetic acronym
  • Traditionally placed with the “G” before “L,” but the feminist movement switched placement of letters (GLBT or LGBT are both okay)


  • Was used to demean and outcast homosexuals and perceived homosexuals
  • Adopted in 1980s by homosexuals as an attempt to nullify slander and lay claim to identity
  • Political correctness of this term still up for debate


  • Emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted and/or committed to members of the Same Sex
  • Not an act or behavior but a state of being


  • Used to refer to only female homosexuals


  • Can be used to refer to both male and female homosexuals
  • More commonly used when refer to males only
    • Example: We used to say “Gentlemen” when referring to a group of people, and we now say “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Similarly, we used to say “Gay” when referring to group of homosexuals, and we now say “Lesbian and Gay.”


  • Emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted and/or committed to members of either sex
  • Attraction to both sexes may not be equal, and degree of attraction may vary over time
  • Not an act or behavior but a state of being


  • Individuals with physical characteristics that are neither fully male nor fully female

Sex and Gender

  • People tend to think in either/or terms with regard to sex and gender
  • Sex is polarity of anatomy, and gender is polarity of appearance and behavior

Physical Sex

  • Physical sex characteristics and chromosomal patterns fall along a spectrum. Size, shape, morphology, number, and combination of sex organs can vary. Many babies are born with ambiguous primary sex characteristics, making them neither fully male nor fully female in appearance. Intersex presentation can result from genetic, chromosomal, or hormonal differences.
  • Society makes a distinction between male and female to make communication and understanding of sex easier

Gender (Appearance and Behavior)

  • Society interprets gender cues and then assigns a masculine or feminine gender based on factors such as dress, hair style, tone or inflection of voice, and body posture. The cultural assumption is that men should be masculine and women should feminine.
  • Some historical fluidity of strict gender roles
  • Gender norms are not symmetrical. Women in contemporary society have gained a wider range of accepted expression of masculine traits in the form of dress, hair style, and occupation, but men have less range available in areas such as dress, tone of voice, and body posture. However, men can (arguably) show some traditionally feminine traits in forms of hair style and occupation.


Gender Identity

  • How an individual sees their own gender, masculine, feminine, or some combination along the continuum


  • Societies non-acceptance of free expression along gender range and adherence to strict either/or sex classification creates the definition for transgender
  • Someone whose sex classification or gender expression does not fit societal norms
  • Label of transgender is a personal label, and individuals accept or reject the label on a personal level
  • Transgenderism can take many forms and does not necessarily regard physical sex and perceived gender variations for each individual

Some forms of Transgender identities:


  • Internal sense of being male or female differs from physical sex
  • Male-to-female (MTF) and Female-to-male (FTM)
  • Most do not surgically modify their bodies due to cost, lack of medical coverage, pain, dissatisfaction with results and methods
  • Refer to these individual as the sex they identify as or use the pronoun “ze” in place of he or she
  • Most are not homosexual


  • Person appearing and identifying as neither man nor woman, male nor female
  • They present as a gender either mixed or neutral
  • Do not use pronouns he or she when referring to these individuals use “ze” or use no pronoun


  • Person who enjoys wearing clothes identified with the gender opposite of their physical sex and identified gender
  • Refer to selves as male or female according to physical sex
  • Rarely homosexual
  • Crossdresser/Transvestite does not include Drag Queens or Drag Kings, who are performance artists who bend gender norms for money. Most Queens or Drag Kings are homosexual.


  • A person who is a member of the dominant or majority group who works to end oppression in his or her personal and professional life through support of, and as an advocate with and for, the oppressed population.


  • Irrational fear of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior, belief, or attitude that doesn’t conform to sex-role stereotypes
  • Homophobia is not strictly a heterosexual problem. Within the homosexual community, homophobia can result in self-hatred and internalized oppression.


  • Assumption that everyone is heterosexual or should be

Internalized Oppression

  • Process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate myths/stereotypes applied to the oppressed group

In the Closet

  • To hide one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, usually in order to keep a job, housing, friends, etc., or to survive in a homophobic situation.
  • Many LGBTQ individuals are “Out” in some situations and “Closeted” in others

Coming Out

  • To publicly declare one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which can be either a spoken or a physical act
  • Coming out is not a single event but a life-long process, since each new situation means deciding whether to "come out" again or not. 

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