Language is indispensable. The words we use when we talk about ourselves and others, and what we say when we want people to know that we support them, matter. So whether you’re looking to be a better ally, you’re exploring your own identity, or you just want to learn, check out our (absolutely not comprehensive) guide to the basics on human sexuality and sexual orientation, and get your knowledge on.
Sex (no, not that kind): The label you’re assigned at birth based on genitals and chromosomes – female, male, intersex (general term for when a person is born with reproductive organs that don’t adhere to typical definitions of male and female)
Gender: The expectations, socially and culturally, in regard to behaviors, thoughts, etc, that come with your assigned sex
Sexual orientation: Who you’re attracted to, emotionally, physically, sexually.
Gender identity: How you feel about and express your gender – think clothing, behavior, appearance.
Cisgender: When your assigned sex at birth matches your gender identity (i.e. you were assigned female when you were born, you identify as a female).
Transgender: When your assigned sex doesn’t match your gender identity. Some transgender folks decide to transition to the sex that does match their gender identity via hormones and/or surgery, and some do not.
Gender non-conforming (GNC): A non-traditional expression of one’s gender (like a man wearing nail polish, a woman who doesn’t shave her legs or remove other body hair). Also, a person who doesn’t identify as either male or female.
Genderqueer: Those whose gender identity doesn’t adhere to the gender binary (the idea that you’re either a man or a woman).
Heterosexual: A person who’s attracted to a person of the opposite gender. Straight is a synonym.
Heteronormativity: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and heterosexuality is superior, i.e – a single woman must be looking for a male partner or husband.
Queer: For some, queer is an umbrella term referring to those who don’t identify as straight. Historically, queer has been and is still used as a slur, and while it’s often used as a means of reclaiming power, that’s not the case for everyone. (Always take your cues from individuals, don’t assume everyone prefers the same term.)
Gay: When you’re attracted entirely or primarily to members of your gender. While some use the term to apply mainly to men who are attracted to men, gay is also sometimes used as an umbrella term for everyone who’s attracted to the same gender as a whole.
Lesbian: Women who are attracted to other women, either exclusively or primarily.
Homosexual: An outdated and now offensive term used in clinical psychology to refer to gay or lesbian people.
Femme: One who identifies with and manifests traditionally feminine behavior and presentation. This term is usually used in the context of feminine-presenting queer women.
Butch: One who identifies with and manifests traditionally masculine behavior and presentation. This term has also historically been used as a slur referring to lesbian women, but, like queer, some folks choose to use it as a means of affirmation.
Bisexual / Bi: A person who’s attracted to both men and women, or people of their gender identity and another gender identity.
Asexual (ACE): One who has a lack of interest in sex or sexual relationships. Asexuality exists on a continuum – some folks have no desire for sex at all, others under certain circumstances, etc.
Pansexual: One who has the ability to love or be attracted to any person, regardless of their gender identity or sex.
Aromantic: One who has a lack of interest in romantic relationships. Like asexuality, aromanticism exists on a continuum.
Polyamorous: One who practices or desires to be involved in consensually non-monogamous relationships (relationships with multiple partners).