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 exploring your own identity, looking to be a better ally or you just want to learn, check out our (absolutely non-comprehensive) guide to the basics on human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender.
Aromantic: One who has a lack of interest in romantic relationships. Aromanticism exists on a continuum and can vary or change under certain circumstances.
Asexual (ACE): One who does not have interest in sex or sexual relationships. Like aromanticism, asexuality exists on a continuum. For instance, some folks have no desire for sex at all, while others do under certain circumstances.
Bisexual/Bi: A person who’s attracted to both men and women, or people of their gender identity and another gender identity.
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 some folks choose to use it as a means of affirmation.
Cisgender: When your gender identity matches the sex assigned to you at birth matches (i.e. if you’re a man who was assigned male at birth).
Deadnaming: The use of the birth or other former name of a trans or non-binary person without the person’s consent. Deadnaming is harmful and dismisses, denies and rejects a person’s gender identity.
Femme: One who identifies with and manifests traditionally feminine behavior and presentation. This term is usually used in the context of feminine-presenting queer people.
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.
Gender dysphoria: The feeling of discomfort or unease when a person’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Not all trans/non-binary people experience gender dysphoria.
Gender euphoria: The act of feeling joy, comfort and certainty that sets in when one’s body and gender identity feels affirmed and aligned.
Gender identity: How one feels about and expresses their gender (e.g. clothing, behavior, appearance).
Gender non-conforming (GNC): An expression of one’s gender that doesn’t conform to traditional gender expressions set by societal standards (e.g. a man wearing nail polish, a woman who doesn’t shave her legs or remove other body hair).
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).
Homosexual: An outdated and now offensive term used in clinical psychology to refer to gay or lesbian people.
Intersex: A general term for when a person is born with reproductive organs that don’t adhere to typical definitions of male or female anatomies.
Lesbian: Women who are attracted to others who identify as women, either exclusively or primarily.
Misgendering: When you intentionally or unintentionally refer to a person or use language to describe a person that doesn’t align with the gender identity.
Non-binary: Similar to GNC, a person whose gender identity exists beyond the traditional male/female binary. California implemented this term as a third gender marker on birth certificates, driver’s licenses and identity cards (yay!).
Outing: The act of disclosing someone’s gender or sexual identity without their consent.
Pansexual: One who has the ability to love or be attracted to any person, regardless of their gender identity or sex. Sometimes used interchangeable with bisexual.
Polyamorous: One who practices or desires to be involved in consensually non-monogamous relationships (e.g. relationships with multiple partners).
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, and don’t assume everyone prefers the same term.
Questioning: A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexuality and gender expression.
Sex (no, not that kind): The label you’re assigned at birth based on genitals and chromosomes: female, male and intersex (general term for when a person is born with reproductive organs that don’t adhere to typical definitions of male and female anatomies). While sex and gender are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Your gender identity is something you get to decide and is allowed to change.
Sexual orientation: Who you’re attracted to, emotionally, physically and/or sexually.
Transgender/Trans: When your assigned sex doesn’t match your gender identity. Some trans people decide to affirm their gender via hormones and/or surgery, and some do not. Not all trans peoples’ experiences are the same.
Transitioning: A series of processes that some trans people go through to affirm their gender identity. This typically includes social transiton, such as changing name and pronouns; medical transition, which may include hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries; and legal transition, which may include changing one’s legal name and sex on government documents. Not all trans people decide nor need to undergo all of these processes in order to identify as trans.