Language Guide

LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and experiences are complicated. There’s no one way to sum them all up accurately. This list is meant to help people who might not understand certain terms, common slang, and potentially harmful behaviors / terms by providing basic definitions and explanations.

We encourage anyone who wants to know more about a given topic to research it if this guide doesn’t answer all of their questions.

In regards to the LGBTQ+ community, this refers to anyone who shows support for everyone with a LGBTQ+ identity. In addition to supporting their peers, allies also challenge homophobic, transphobic, heteronormative, and other harmful remarks and actions directed at LGBTQ+ people.

Someone who does not experience romantic attraction to others. Aromantic people can experience physical/sexual attraction.

Someone who does not experience sexual attraction to others. Asexual people can and often do experience romantic attraction. As with many identities, asexuality exists on a spectrum and can include identities such as demisexual, greysexual, and aromantic.

Physical structure of one’s reproductive organs that assigns their sex at birth. This includes chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external genitalia. This has potential variability beyond simply “male” and “female” - also review “Intersex”.

Someone who experiences physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender. They do not need to have any sort of intimate experiences with multiple genders, or even any gender, to identify as bisexual. The extent of their attraction doesn’t have to be, and often isn’t, evenly split between genders.

People whose birth sex align with their own gender identity/expression.

The assumption that a person identifies with the sex or gender they were assigned at birth, or that having a cisgender gender identity is the norm.

Used to describe someone who is not open about their gender identity/sexual orientation. People may be in the closet for whatever reason, whether it be confusion about their identity, fear of harassment, an unsafe home environment, etc. People can be out to some and closeted to others at the same time and should never be pressured to come out if they’re uncomfortable doing so.

The process in which someone identifies, understands, and accepts their own identity. This may or may not include publicly coming out to others, but oftentimes does. Coming out is a lifelong process and should not be taken lightly, rushed, or forced.

Someone who only experiences sexual, physical, and/or romantic attraction to people they have formed a strong emotional bond with. In the case of demisexuality, this is most often a long term romantic partner.

People who lean more feminine/masculine in their gender identity/expression. This may fit non-binary people or people who aren’t sure about their gender identity yet as well as people who identify as men or women.

Someone who experiences physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to someone of the same gender. This term is usually used to refer to men/masculine-aligned people, but can also include women. Lesbian is usually preferred for women.

In reference to gender identity, the binary genders are male and female. All gender identities that are not expressly male or female are considered non-binary.

How people perceive themselves in terms of gender - male, female, neither, both, etc. Gender identity and biological sex are two separate things, meaning people can identify as something other than their sex assigned at birth. Some people may choose to alter their physical appearance to better match their gender identity - whether surgically, hormonally, and/or socially.

Referring to both language and resources (such as restrooms) that don’t use gendered terms / don’t specify gender. Common examples include using they/them pronouns to refer to someone if you don’t know their pronouns and using “partner”, ”significant other”, and/or ”spouse” to refer to a romantic partner instead of husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend.

A term used to describe people, places, and things that don’t conform to binary gender roles. Examples include bathrooms, clothing, and branding/products. The term is not strictly used to refer to non-binary people, but to how people in general behave in relation to traditional/modern gender roles.

Someone who experiences very little sexual, physical, and/or romantic attraction to other people. This most often means experiencing attraction to other people “once in a blue moon”, whether it be on and off or exclusive attraction to a single person. The term is a very broad definition for a large spectrum of circumstances.

The assumption that all people should be heterosexual and/or are “heterosexual/cisgender until proven otherwise”. It excludes the needs, lives, and experiences of LGBTQ+ people while aiding and uplifting heterosexual/cisgender people.

The basic civil rights, social resources, and acceptance that cisgender and heterosexual people are born with that are not available for LGBTQ+ people based on their identities.

People physically, sexually and/or romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex / gender identity.

Describes the fear/hatred of people who experience attraction to the same gender/biological sex. More specific terms may be used (i.e. biphobia, aphobia/acephobia, etc.) for more specific issues. Prejudice is often a better term when describing hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

A process through which a person undergoes either feminizing (estrogen) or masculinizing (testosterone) hormones. Many transgender people take hormone therapy as part of a gender transition to help their bodies and appearance align with their gender identity.

When a LGBTQ+ person accepts negative social/cultural/religious/familial attitudes and assumptions about the LGBTQ+ community and themself. It’s believed to be a developmental issue that affects most of the community at some point in their lives due to living and growing up in a heteronormative society/environment.

People whose biological sex (hormones, chromosomes, and/or genitalia) is not distinctly male or female as defined by medical norms. About 1% of people are born intersex in some way. In most cases, doctors and/or families will assign their child as either male or female despite them being in no medical risk.

The acronym that encompasses all of the gender/sexually expansive community (not cisgender and/or heterosexual). The base LGBTQ part stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer, but the acronym includes all other queer identities including Asexual, Pansexual, Two-Spirit, Non-Binary, Intersex, and more.

Other ways to write the acronym: LGBT, LGBT+, LGBTQQIA+, LGBTQIA2S+, etc. Though the entire community is referenced together in the acronym, it is made up of distinctly separate identities that have their own needs.

A woman or feminine-aligned person who experiences physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to other women/feminine-aligned people. Some may prefer to be referred to as gay/gay women.

A term that defines the spectrum of identities that are not strictly male or female. These include people with a third gender identity, fluid gender identities (genderfluid), multiple gender identities, or no gender identity (agender). However, many prefer to simply call themselves “non-binary” if they do not feel like more specific terms describe them. Some non-binary people also identify as transgender, but many do not.

Someone who experiences physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to anyone regardless of gender identity/biological sex. There is often overlap between people who identify as pansexual or bisexual, in which case they may choose whichever term they like better. This does not mean all pansexuals are bisexual or that all bisexuals are pansexual.

Attraction towards someone else that is specifically physical in nature. This can oftentimes overlap with romantic/sexual attraction, but doesn’t have to. It covers appreciation for someone’s physical appearance / features in a nonsexual way.

In a general sense, pronouns are nonspecific words used to refer to a person or group of people (he, we, you, they, etc.) Someone’s preferred pronouns are the gender-specific pronouns they prefer to be referred to as. They may prefer one set (i.e. he/him), multiple pronouns (i.e. she/they), a fluctuation (their preferred pronouns change by day), any pronouns, or no pronouns. It is common courtesy to ask someone for their pronouns when you’re introducing yourself.

A term used to describe the entire LGBTQ+ community. Many people prefer to use this term to express an identity that may be hard to fit into a more specific term. However, many also dislike the term because it has a history of being used as a derogatory term against people in the community. For the most part, it’s agreed upon by LGBTQ+ people that the term should only be used by queer people identifying themselves or when quoting someone who self-identifies as queer.

Attraction towards someone else that is romantic in nature. This is the “emotional” part of attraction that doesn’t necessarily extend to physical traits.

An attraction towards someone else that is specifically sexual in nature. This can overlap with physical attraction, but doesn’t have to. It covers attraction for someone’s physical and/or emotional features / expression in an explicitly sexual way.

An umbrella term that describes a transgender person (generally one who was assigned male at birth), and whose gender is feminine and/or who express themselves in a feminine way. Transfeminine people feel a connection with femininity, but do not always identify as a woman.

Refers to those whose gender identity does not align with their birth sex. These people may choose to alter their physical appearance by wearing clothes/presenting themselves in a way that matches their gender identity, undergoing surgery, and/or undergoing hormone replacement. However, not all transgender people decide to do some or all of these things, and doing so does not necessarily make someone transgender.

The process a transgender or non-binary person takes to establish their true gender identity. This can include changing their name/preferred pronouns, undergoing surgery and/or hormone replacement therapy, and changing their lifestyle/visual expression to better match their gender identity. Transitioning does not have to include all of these - how much people want to do depends on personal preference/resources.

An umbrella term that describes a transgender person (generally one who was assigned female at birth), and whose gender is masculine and/or who express themselves in a masculine way. Transmasculine people feel a connection with masculinity, but do not always identify as a man.

Describes the fear/hatred of transgender (and non-binary) people. As with homophobia, it is often better to use “prejudice” to describe these actions/behaviors.

An umbrella term used by various Indigenous North American cultures to describe people that fulfill a traditional third gender role, both social and ceremonial, in their respective cultures. What this identity specifically means and how two-spirit people are perceived varies across native cultures. For more information on two-spirit identities, visit the Indian Health Service (IHS) two-spirit page.

Slang Terms

Asexual and aromantic respectively. “Aroace” is used to refer to both.



A term used to describe people who are cisgender and heterosexual.

A shortening of “non-binary”. Not to be confused with “NB”, an acronym used to describe non-black people.


Taking testosterone.

Refers to when someone is coming out. Though this can be used to describe someone outing themself, it is almost exclusively used in reference to people being outed without their permission/knowledge (outing by force / forcefully outing).




Terms to Avoid

This can be extremely offensive to transgender and non-binary people because in many cases they either don’t want to fully transition or they don’t have the ability to do so. Transitioning, especially medically, can be extremely expensive and time consuming. It can also be dangerous for people who may have transphobic/non-accepting people in their home lives. Questions like this are also extremely invasive. Whatever the reason, it is important to respect transgender/non-binary people no matter what stage of their transition they may be in.

“The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.” - Merriam Webster Dictionary

The pronoun “they” has been used as a singular/gender-neutral pronoun throughout the history of the English language. Claiming that “they/them” are not valid/singular pronouns makes non-binary people and those who use they/them pronouns in general feel less accepted and safe to be themselves.

Reputable dictionaries including Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and Britannica also acknowledge they/them/theirs/etc. as both plural and singular, neutral pronouns that specify no specific gender.

The idea of a “homosexual agenda” is an invented concept that is often used by homophobic extremists/speakers/organizations to spark fear within people and paint LGBTQ+ people as sinister in some way. This is extremely harmful to the community because in reality, LGBTQ+ people have no sinister motives and are instead trying to secure their rights to be accepted, have accessible resources, and live in safe communities. They share many of the same hopes/desires as the rest of their populations and share the hope for equality with allies and people who may not be LGBTQ+.

Using the word gay to refer to things you don’t like/inherently bad things implies that being gay is wrong or bad in some way. Use “gay” to describe things that are actually gay: people who identify as gay and places or things that relate to gay culture (i.e. gay bar, gay pride flag, etc.). Don’t use it in a derogatory manner, it makes gay people feel like they’re doing something wrong by existing.

Also known as “forced outing” or “outing by force”, this is an extremely disrespectful and dangerous thing to do. Unless you have the explicit permission to do so, it is never your place to out someone to others, regardless of your relationship with them. People may choose to stay in the closet for many reasons, including but not limited to issues of safety. By outing someone without their permission, you may be putting them at risk. In addition, coming out is a really important part of someone’s life. That experience should be left to them, unless they explicitly tell you otherwise.

There is no one lifestyle that describes the entire LGBTQ+ community. The term queer lifestyle implies that there is a specific lifestyle that all queer people live, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It also has implications that being LGBTQ+ is a lifestyle that someone chooses, which is harmful and degrading towards the community.

Instead use “Sexual Orientation”/”Gender Identity”

Referring to sexual orientation/gender identity as a preference implies that it’s a choice that people make, not something that is a part of them. Implying that being LGBTQ+ is a choice implies that people can be “fixed” or convinced to choose to be straight.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are the more accurate terms because they describe being LGBTQ+ in a way that is accurate and inclusive and makes people not feel like they’re “choosing” to be queer.

This kind of behavior is harmful to these kinds of people because it implies that being the way they are is a choice and that they are somehow making the wrong one, even though neither of these things are true.

This term was originally used to separate the transgender community into those who had undergone surgical transitions and those who had not. This term is not only considered exclusive, but also invasive, inappropriate, and unnecessary.