A Gender Spectrum Glossary

The Basics

Birth Sex/Biological Sex A specific set of genetic, chemical and anatomical characteristics that we are either born with or that develop as we mature. Types of birth/biological sex include female, male and intersex.

Gender Identity One's internal, personal sense of his or her own gender. Many people believe in a more fluid gender identity than simply “male” and “female.”

Gender Expression The external manifestation of one's gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics.

Sexual Orientation The nature of an individual's physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans and gender-variant people may identify with any sexual orientation, and their sexual orientation may or may not change before, during or after gender transition.

Transgender An umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.


The Full Spectrum

Assigned Sex The sex/gender one is considered to be at birth based on a cursory examination of external genitalia.

Asexual In its broadest sense, asexual describes individuals who are not sexually attracted to others or are not interested in sex. Those who identify as asexual may still be romantically attracted to others.

Bi-Gendered Describes individuals who identify as having both a “male” and “female” side to their personalities.

Bisexual Describes a person who is attracted to both men and women. Because bisexual assumes a binary, male/female paradigm, many individuals now use the term pansexual.

Closeted or In the Closet Hiding one’s sexual orientation.

Coming Out The process by which lesbians, gay men and bisexual people recognize, acknowledge, accept and typically appreciate their sexual identities.

Gay Describes a person whose emotional, romantic and sexual attractions are primarily for individuals of the same sex, typically in reference to men and boys, sometimes used as a general term for gay men and lesbians.

LGBT An acronym, which stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.” Other versions may add “Q” for Queer or Questioning, “I” for Intersex and “A” for Allied. Some may prefer to list the acronym as TBLG to place transpeople in a position of importance and to rectify the way trans has historically been omitted, devalued or excluded.

Genderqueer Describes individuals who possess identities that fall outside of the widely accepted sexual binary.

Gender Role Clothing, characteristics, traits and behaviors culturally associated with masculinity and/or femininity.

Gender Variant A term that describes individuals who stray from socially accepted gender roles.

Heterosexism The societal/cultural, institutional and individual beliefs and practices that privilege heterosexuals and subordinate and denigrate lesbians, gay men and bisexual/pansexual people. The critical element that differentiates heterosexism (or any other “ism”) from prejudice and discrimination is the use of institutional power and authority to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors in systematic ways with far-reaching outcomes and effects.

Heterosexual Ally Heterosexual people who confront heterosexism in themselves and others out of self-interest, a concern for the well-being of lesbians, gay men and bisexual/pansexual people, and a belief that heterosexism is a social injustice.

Heterosexual Privilege The benefits and advantages that heterosexuals receive in a heterosexist culture. Also, the benefits that lesbians, gay men, and bisexual/pansexual people receive as a result of claiming a heterosexual identity and denying a lesbian, gay, or bisexual/pansexual identity.

Homophobia Literally, the fear of homosexuals and homosexuality; however, this term is generally applied to anyone who dislikes LGBTIQ people, who uses derogatory sexuality- or gender-based terms, or who feels that LGBTIQ people want “special rights” and not “equal rights.” Homophobic behavior can range from telling jokes about lesbians and gay men to verbal abuse and even acts of physical violence.

Intersex Intersex people are born with physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads or chromosomes) that are neither clearly male nor female.

Lesbian A woman or girl whose emotional, romantic and sexual attractions are primarily for other women or girls.

Out or Out of the Closet To be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex.

Outing When someone discloses information about another’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s knowledge and/or consent.

Queer Queer is a term that has been reclaimed by members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities to describe people who transgress culturally imposed norms of heterosexuality and gender traditionalism. Although still often an abusive epithet when used by bigoted heterosexuals, many queer-identified people have taken back the word to use it as a symbol of pride and affirmation of difference and diversity.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) A procedure that physically transforms the genitals using plastic surgery. SRS is a single surgical alteration and is only one small part of transition. Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to, have SRS. While this procedure is often referred to as a sex change operation in popular culture, SRS is the preferred term.

Sexism The societal/cultural, institutional and individual beliefs and practices that privilege men and subordinate and denigrate women.

Straight Slang term for heterosexual.

Trans An umbrella term that describes people who permanently or periodically dis-identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Trans-Friendly Describes organizations or institutions that are open, affirming and accepting of transpeople and their social, political and cultural needs.

Gender Transition The period of time in which a person begins to live in a gender role that is in accordance with his or her internal gender identity. Transition is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition may include some or all of the following cultural, legal and medical adjustments: informing one's family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; undergoing hormone therapy; and/or seeking surgical alteration (see Sex Reassignment Surgery).

Transphobia The irrational fear and hatred of all those individuals who do not conform to dominant gender categories.