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Why is all this terminology important?
Many people do not realize the harm they are causing when they speak or behave in ways that are offensive to the LGBTQ+ community. Educating ourselves on culturally respectful terminology is an important first step toward understanding how to behave and communicate competently as allies. Below are the most common and important terminology necessary for understanding the LGBTQ+ community.
Sex & Gender
Gender Assigned at Birth
The gender assigned to a person based on the physical appearance of their reproductive organs and genitals at the time of their birth, and which is often mistaken as being the same as their sex assigned at birth.
Sex Assigned at Birth
The anatomical sex (genitals, chromosomes, or reproductive organs) assigned to a person by God/nature/fate, and which is often mistaken as being the same as their gender. Anatomical sex can be male, female, or intersex, and in very rare cases, a person is not born with any kind of sex organs at all.
Biological (or Anatomical) Sex
The chromosomes, physical appearance of genitals, sex hormone levels, and gonads, that comprise the gender expressed by the body. Most people are born as biologically male or female, but some are born intersex: possessing an uncommon combination of chromosomes, hormonal insensitivity, or with genitals that don't meet society's standards for a binary gender (female or male). For many people, biological sex remains constant throughout their lives. For trans people who use hormone therapy and/or gender affirming surgery to alter their sex hormones and/or genitals, biological sex can fluctuate during their lifetimes and become complicated to define.
The personal sense of one's own gender identity. This often, but not aways, matches the sex and gender a person is assigned at birth. Studies show that gender identity develops around ages 3-5, but for many nurture, social, personal, and environmental reasons, many people do not realize their gender identity until later in life.
An adjective referring to someone who identifies as transgender and/or non-binary. Refers to a person who gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth.
Please note that this term is an adjective and should only be used as such; for instance, "John Doe is a trans person" is grammatically correct while "John Does is a trans" is not. Similarly, "John Doe is transgender" is grammatically correct while "John Does is transgendered" is not.
An adjective referring to someone whose gender identity happens to be one of the binary genders (man/boy or woman/girl) and which does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Though many transgender people decide to use hormones and/or one or more surgeries to bring their physical body into greater congruence with their gender identity, some transgender people never medically transition in any way. Some transgender people never even change their gender expression, name, or pronouns.
Please note that this term is also an adjective only.
An adjective referring to someone whose gender identity does not align with either of the binary genders (male or female). Some people who are transgender are also non-binary, but not all non-binary people are transgender. Non-binary people may or may not undergo any form of social or medical transition.
Please note that this term is an adjective only. Please also note that this term is an umbrella term, meaning it is a large overall category within which there are numerous specific identities, such as genderfluid, bigender, pangender, genderqueer, demi-gender, third gender, and more.
An adjective referring to someone whose gender identity matches the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. For instance, a person assigned female at birth and identifying as a woman is cisgender. This gender comprises the majority of the human population.
Please note that this term is an adjective only.
An adjective referring to someone who feels they have no gender identity or who rejects the concept of gender altogether.
Please note that this term is an adjective only.
Putting gender into strictly 2 categories (man and woman) and/or putting sex into 2 categories (male and female) refusing to acknowledge any genders and/or sexes besides man/male or woman/female.
An instructor says, "When one commits murder, he or she should be arrested and stand trial."
The instructor's use of "he or she" implies that the gender of a hypothetical person must fall into 1 of only 2 categories, thereby implying that no one can possess a gender identity, or identify with pronouns, that are outside of those 2 categories. The instructor has failed to acknowledge gender diversity.
Gender Variance (or Gender Diversity)
The existence of gender identities outside of cisgender man and cisgender woman. Sometimes derogatively referred to as "transgenderism."
The clothing, accessories, posture, mannerisms, interests, and appearance (hair style, use of makeup, jewelry) and other behaviors that are associated with a particular gender. A person's gender expression is often defined in relation to location and time period. For instance, in Turtle Island (now referred to as the United States) floor-length gowns or tunics are considered to be feminine gender expressions. However, among dozens of tribes in Uganda, white floor-length gowns/tunics, Kanzus, are considered traditionally masculine clothing. Therefore, a man wearing such an outfit would be perceived as feminine or gender-nonconforming in Turtle Island, and masculine in many parts of Uganda.
The gender expressed by the physical appearance of a person's body and/or the sound of their voice. For many reasons, a person's gender presentation may or may not reflect their true gender identity.
The personal, interpersonal, romantic, societal, economic, religious, and cultural expectations and restrictions assigned to human beings by other people within their environment according to the gender they were assigned at birth, or according to their currently perceived gender presentation or known gender identity.
A reaction of fear, loathing, and discriminatory treatment of people whose gender identity, physical gender presentation, or apparent gender expression (or perceived gender identity, presentation, or expression) does not “match,” in the societally accepted way, the sex they were assigned at birth.
"Ew, is that man wearing a dress and makeup?"
The above comment implies a reaction of disgust toward a physically masculine-appearing individual who is expressing themselves in what is socially constructed in the United States to be a form of feminine gender expression.
"For the field trip, I made the transgender stay in a separate hotel room of their own, rather than with the normal girls."
This faculty member not only segregated the student without consideration for whether they are "out" as transgender or feel comfortable being outed and isolated, but the faculty member's use of the adjective "normal" implies being cisgender is "normal" and therefore this faculty member considers being transgender to be "abnormal." This faculty member also failed to consider that segregating trans people calls attention to their presence, thereby reducing their safety. And if this transgender person identifies with the she/her/hers pronouns, and the faculty member is aware of this, then the use of the they/them/theirs pronouns is a disregard for the transgender person's correct pronouns. Finally, the use of the adjective "transgender" as though it is a noun offensively implies that "transgender" is the student's sole aspect of identity, or the only one of importance.
The belief that heterosexuality is the norm and that sex, gender, sexuality, and gender roles all align.
"I refuse to respect Arien's identity as a man because he keeps wearing pink and even wears dresses sometimes."
This person believes that because Arien's gender identity is male, Arien's gender expression should also always match.
"I don't understand why that trans woman is marrying a woman. The whole point of having a vagina is to put something in it."
This person assumes that because a trans woman has had vaginoplasty and identifies as a woman, her sexuality must match that of a heterosexual woman.
"That trans person still has breasts and has sex with men, so really, she is just a tomboy."
This comment assumes that a person assigned female at birth who is attracted to men cannot identify as a gay, trans man or identify with the male pronouns he/him/his.
The belief that being cisgender is the norm and that sex, gender identity, gender expression, gender presentation, and gender roles all align.
The belief that being cisgender and heterosexual is the norm and that sex, gender, gender roles, gender presentation, gender expression, and sexuality all align. A combination of cisnormativity and heteronormativity, this term has risen in popularity drastically since 2015 because many people who are cisnormative also tend to be heteronormative, and vice versa.
The omission of LGBTQ persons from cultural narratives.
An instructor teaches their students about Second Wave Feminism and Mrs. Rosa Parks, but forgets to mention Stonewall.
This instructor has unintentionally omitted LGBTQ culture from their academic narrative on historical rights movements.
"Welcome to the show, ladies and gentlemen."
This announcer just ignored the presence of all non-binary persons within the audience.
An instructor begins a discussion with their students about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mary Wollstonecraft but when a student mentions Marsha P. Johnson, the instructor ignores the student's comment and redirects the conversation back to the aforementioned figures.
This instructor has erased an important LGBTQ figure from the classroom narrative on historical activists.
The distress (commonly feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and/or sadness) associated with the incongruence of one's biological sex and gender identity.
Using the wrong pronoun to refer to someone, whether by accident or intentionally.
Dead Name (or Birth Name)
Also sometimes referred to as "birth name," the "dead name" is the first name a trans person had before changing it during their social gender transition to one that more accurately represents their true identity. It is called a "dead name" because many trans people consider their old identity to be "dead" to them. Some trans people prefer to call it their "birth name" because they do not experience the same level of negativity with that name, though they may still experience just as much discomfort when referred to by it. The dead name/birth name is usually, though not always, the name a trans person was assigned at birth.
A Trans Ally
Someone who confronts heterosexism, transphobia, and heterosexual privilege in themselves and others because they care about the well-being of trans people and see heterosexism and transphobia as social justice issues.
A Trans Advocate
Someone who investigates their community's culture and facilities for trans-friendliness, inclusivity, and cultural competence, advocates for trans-friendly policy, facility, and law changes, and educates others about trans issues and needs because they see trans inequity, exclusion, and erasure as a social justice issue.
Gender Assigned at Birth
Sex Assigned at Birth
The emotional and physical attraction a person is capable of experiencing for another person.
Being capable only of emotional and physical attraction for someone of the opposite sex. This term is an adjective and should only be used as such. For instance, "John Doe is a heterosexual person" is the correct grammatical usage while "John Doe is a heterosexual" is not.
Being capable only of emotional and physical attraction for someone of the same sex. This term is an adjective and should only be used as such. For instance, "John Doe is a gay person" is the correct grammatical usage while "John Doe is a gay" is not.
A woman who is capable only of attraction to other women. Lesbian is a term inherited from Sappho, a poet who was born and raised on the Isle of Lesbos. All people on that isle were referred to as Lesbians just as all people in America tend to be referred to as Americans. After writing passionate poetry about women, Sappho became well-known over the centuries as "the Lesbian" and that term was later ascribed to any woman who only loves other women. Fun fact, Sappho was actually bisexual; she wrote as passionately about men as she did about women. Today's term "lesbian" is a noun.
Being capable only of emotional and physical attraction for people of the same or opposite sex or gender (males/men or females/women). Some bisexual people are capable of attraction for only cisgender people, while some are also, or exclusively, capable of attraction for transgender men and transgender women. "Bi" the latin word for two, denotes that this term is intended to be used to refer to attraction for people whose gender and/or sex aligns with those of a binary only; this term is not typically used to refer to people who are capable of attraction for androgynous-appearing, or non-binary identifying, individuals. This term is an adjective and should only be used as such. For instance, "John Doe is a bisexual person" is the correct grammatical usage while "John Doe is a bisexual" is not.
Being capable only of emotional and physical attraction for people of all, or many, gender expressions and/or biological sex. Many people who are pansexual describe their sexuality as being more dependent on the nature of a person's personality than their sex or gender. This term differs from bisexual because "pan," the Latin word for "many," denotes the ability to experience attraction to many different kinds of people. This generally includes people who are not only cisgender or whose gender identity and/or gender expression aligns with a binary, but also people who are, or who appear to be, non-binary. This term is an adjective and should only be used as such. For instance, "John Doe is a pansexual person" is the correct grammatical usage while "John Doe is a pansexual" is not.
Not capable of physical and/or emotional attraction to anyone. This term is an adjective and should only be used as such. For instance, "John Doe is an asexual person" is the correct grammatical usage while "John Doe is an asexual" is not.
A reaction of fear, loathing, and discriminatory treatment of people who are, or appear to be, homosexual.
"I refuse to wear a rainbow bracelet because I don't want people to think I'm gay."
The above comment implies there is something wrong with being gay to such a severity that one must avoid the very possibility of being mistaken as such.
The aversion and discriminatory treatment of bisexuality and/or people who are bisexual, including the belief that bisexuality is not a genuine sexual orientation.
"She was a lesbian, then she switched to being heterosexual, and then she went lesbian again. She's clearly confused."
The above comment ignores the possibility that the person being discussed is bisexual.
Assuming that everyone is—and should be—heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior to other sexualities.
Someone who sees two men buying groceries together assumes they must be brothers or roommates and does not even consider they might be intimate partners.
"You identify as a man now? So does that mean you are now attracted to women?"
"Marriage is for men and women only; not men and men, or women and women, or non-binary people."
An LGBTQ Ally
Someone who confronts heterosexism, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexual privilege in themselves and others because they care about the well-being of LGBTQ people and see heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia as social justice issues.
An LGBTQ Advocate
Someone who investigates their community's culture and facilities for LGBTQ-friendliness, inclusivity, and cultural competence, advocates for LGBTQ-friendly policy, facility, and law changes, and educates others about LGBTQ issues and needs because they see LGBTQ inequity, exclusion, and erasure as a social justice issue.
A person who is not cisgender and/or heterosexual. It is considered a fully inclusive alternative to the acronym LGBTQ+ (and its many alternatives). However, it is a reclaimed word, meaning that it was used frequently against many LGBTQ+ people in a derrogatory way, making it potentially triggering for many survivors of queerphobic (homophobic and/or transphobic) harassment and violence.
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