Some disclaimers about the ABC on sexual and gender diversity and sex characteristics. Some of the terms explained in this list are derogatory terms (TW).
This is an acronym to denote sexual, gender and gender diversity. L = lesbian, G = gay, B = bisexual, T = transgender, I = intersex. The explanation for these words can be found in this list. You will encounter nuanced differences in this acronym, surfing the web. Sometimes you’ll see ‘LGB’, other times it will say ‘LGBTIQ+’. The Q stands for Queer. The plus then stands for all persons and groups that fall outside the (cis) gender and hetero norm, but not under another of the letters mentioned. The choice of acronym depends on which target group you are referring to. Sometimes this can be a well-considered choice, sometimes people immediately use the full acronym to address the entire community.
Sexuality and gender terminology is dependent on place and culture. This means that the terminology discussed here might not be applicable elsewhere in the world. Conversely, we are not always aware of the terminology used in other parts of the world. When using this list, keep in mind it was written in Europe, by people who grew up in the participating countries of Safe To Be (Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and the UK).
Language is constantly in flux. Some terms that were extremely popular five years ago, are no longer used today. Terms that are now unknown, might be used en masse within a year. It is therefor good to know that this list reflects the current language and terminology, that of April 2020.
In this list, a term is always given followed by the interpretation of this term. This may suggest that the list wants to stick to fixed definitions or thinking in boxes. However, this is not our intention. Above all, this ABC aims to be a user-friendly tool in which information is easy to find. Bare in mind then that there is room for nuance in the terms explained in this list, depending on your own situation and interpretation.
There are many different ways to identify your sexual and gender identity. Some people choose to not adhere to a label. Others opt for a very specific label. It is important that everyone can make this choice for themselves.
The terms that make up this glossary attempt to clarify concepts related to sexual and gender emotional diversity.
In alphabetical order
Term relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender – someone without gender.
An “ally” is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBTI people. It encompasses non-LGBTI allies as well as those within the LGBTI community who support each other, e.g., a lesbian who is an ally to the bisexual community or a trans woman who is an ally to the non-binary community.
A gender expression can be described as androgynous. Androgynous people are not influenced by a gender norm. They use characteristics of a whole spectrum to express themselves: both masculine and feminine characteristics are used, as well as everything in between or outside of this binary division.
An aromantic person experiences little to no romantic attraction to other persons. They can build emotional and intimate bonds based on deep connections and can certainly feel love for others, just not romantic love. Aromantic people can identify on the LGBTI spectrum if they choose to do so.
Sexual attraction is situated on a spectrum. An asexual person experiences little to no sexual attraction to other persons. Sometimes asexual people simply have no interest in sex, others dislike it. It is certainly possible for asexual people to build intimate relationships based on deep connections. Asexual people can identify as part of the LGBTI umbrella if they choose to do so.
Indicates the assumption that society is made up of opposing pairs. For example: good – bad; man – woman; straight – gay; … Binary thinking is increasingly being questioned when it comes to gender and sexuality. An alternative way of organizing the world is seeing things on a spectrum, with enough space between the two extremes (and beyond) to decide where you belong. That is a more nuanced way of classifying society.
This is a romantic and / or sexual orientation. If you experience the ability to be romantically and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender identity, you may identify as bisexual. What gender identities you are attracted to and the intensity of that attraction can change over time. In addition to “bisexual,” there are other terms that can help express your orientation.
A term that originated in the early twentieth century to refer to lesbian women with a rather masculine expression. The opposite of butch is femme. Starting as a derogatory term, the word has a rich history and has shifted meaning several times. Today the word has been reclaimed and is used not only by lesbian women, but also by gender non-conforming and transgender people.
When your sense of gender identity corresponds with the gender you were assigned at birth.
When your sense of gender identity is male, which corresponds to the male gender you were assigned at birth.
Gender norms are (unwritten) social rules that link social expectations to a gender identity. The view that everyone’s gender identity corresponds to the gender assigned at birth is called the cis norm. In other words, being cis gender is the norm. For example, we’re generally surprised if someone’s gender identity doesn’t match the gender assigned at birth. If a person expresses or behaves in a gender-nonconforming manner, this is easily seen as a “deviation” from “the norm”.
When your sense of gender identity is female, which corresponds to the female gender you were assigned at birth.
The first aspect of coming out is figuring out who you are for yourself, and accepting that you are LGBTI. You might at this point decide to tell (a part of) your environment. Sharing something vulnerable about yourself can be scary, and it might take a long time before you are ready to share this very personal information. Important to know is that there is no right formula to coming out of the closet. It is your choice to decide what is the right right way to come out, and to whom you say it. Coming-out is a continuous process, which means that you will often have to explain your LGBTI identity again in new situations (eg a new job). If you openly express your LGBTI identity in your daily life, you are “out” or “out of the closet”.
Some transgender people choose a new name that better suits their gender identity. If people consciously (or unconsciously) continue to use the previous name, this is called deadnaming. People may be mistaken or have to adjust to a new name. However, if it happens consciously and with bad intentions, it is a form of verbal abuse. This occurs often in online hate incidents directed towards trans or gender non-conforming people.
When people take on a different gender expression in the context of a show or a performance. This is also referred to as “show cross-dressing”. A drag queen is usually a man who performs with a female expression, a drag king is usually a woman who performs with a male expression. It is not just about clothes and make-up, but also about hand gestures, posture or way of walking.
This is short for Disorders / Differences in Sex Development, or congenital disorder / differences in sex development. It is a medical term that mainly refers to the purely physical development and sexual characteristics. Some intersex activists or intersex people criticize this term for not seeing their sex development as a medical problem, but as a normal part of a varied spectrum (see intersex).
A term that originated in the early twentieth century and referred to lesbian women with a rather feminine appearance. The term was popularized in the American queer bar culture of the 1950s. The term has seen some slight shifts in meaning over the years, and today can be used by any LGBTI person with a more feminine expression.
When you are romantically and/or sexually attracted only to the same sex or gender (homosexual).
A set of culturally based characteristics relating to patterns of behaviour and identity on the basis of which the distinction between men and women is socially established. It is neither static nor innate, but is a socio-cultural construct that has varied and can vary over time. In other parts of the world there are societal models with more than two genders. For example, in India you have a third gender, the Hijra. Gender is therefore an unwritten social normative system and can be found in legal systems. These social agreements can change over time and place.
Sex surgery or gender-confirming surgery aims to soothe or even remove discomfort with one’s own body (dysphoria), so that the body more closely matches the gender identity. There are different types of gender affirmative options. For example, one can take hormones, have the Adam’s apple or breast tissue removed, reconstruction of genitalia and more. Every transgender person can choose for themselves whether they want an intervention and which intervention that has to be. In other words, you can identify as transgender with or without medical interventions.
This is a feeling of tension between the gender identity and the body, the feeling that the body does not correspond to the inner gender identity. This feeling of incongruity can be experienced as very unpleasant. Gender dysphoria mainly occurs in transgender people. In some cases, psychological to medical counseling may be available to reduce the feelings of dysphoria so that someone is less or no longer troubled by it, but this does not change your gender identity. You can be transgender without having dysphoria.
Where gender identity is about an inner feeling, gender expression is about the way people express themselves to the outside world. This can be in the form of clothing and make-up, but also through a certain posture, speech or movement. The way in which someone identifies does not have to correspond to how they express themselves. Many people do not express themselves according to the gender norm.
Sense of belonging to a particular gender. It has to do with people’s identification with the role that is socially attributed to men and women, does not necessarily coincide with the person’s biological sex, and has nothing to do with the person’s sexual orientation.
Gender norms are the social agreements and expectations that a society attaches to a gender. The gender norms are binary, so they assume a contradiction between how men and women should behave. For example, men in most European societies are not expected to wear dresses, and women might not be expected to be able to repair a car. When someone goes outside those categories, it can lead to both inner conflict and misunderstanding from the outside world.
Term that falls under the non-binary umbrella. R elating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender – their gender is fluid and can change over time. Someone feels more masculine one day over another, or a variation of both or neither.
Term that falls under the non-binary umbrella. Relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
Term stemming from biology that describes ambiguity, or the ability of an organism to both fertilize and give birth, i.e. to reproduce itself. Intersex persons do have a variation in sex characteristics, but that does not mean that they can both father and give birth to children. Not only is it factually incorrect to label an intersex or transgender person as a hermaphrodite, the term also has very negative, stigmatizing connotations, so it is strongly discouraged to use it. If you come across this term in online contexts, it is considered hateful content and a form of intentional LGBTI negativity.
Term used when someone is primarily heterosexual but occasionally engages in romantic and/or sexual behavior with persons of the sam sex or gender.
If you are romantically and / or sexually attracted to women as a man, or if you are romantically and / or sexually attracted to men as a woman, you can call yourself straight or heterosexual. Heterosexuality is often seen as the norm, but this norm is increasingly being questioned nowadays, and in addition to heterosexuality there is room for other sexual orientations.
As an LGBTI person you grow up in a society in which many negative feelings, implicit and explicit prejudices, and stereotypes still exist. You can “internalize” those prejudices and apply them to yourself involuntarily, unconsciously. This can result in low self-esteem and sometimes self-loathing. For example, people are going to deny their orientation, or behave pronouncedly homophobic so as not to be “discovered”.
The term describes people whose sex characteristics do not fall within the binary division of sex (M / F). Where the term DSD gives a medical definition, the term intersex is more about the social aspect and social consequences that can arise. The term emphasizes the fact that intersex people do not need medical operations to identify with a gender within the gender binary; male or female.
A woman who is romantically and/or sexually attracted only to other women.
LGBTI or trans negativity is an implicit form of LGBTI phobia. This is not about physical violence or legal discrimination, but rather about comments or statements with a homophobic or transphobic side. Often people don’t think about it, or they might even be well-meaning, but they might unknowingly harm LGBTI people.
The term non-binary is used as a term for people who do not find themselves in the binary gender division (male <-> female). At the same time it is also an umbrella term, so there are more ways of gender perception under the non-binary umbrella, such as demigender, gender fluid or polygender.
If you “pass” as a trans person, you will be recognized by your environment as the desired gender identity and not as the gender you were assigned at birth.
Term that falls under the bisexual umbrella. Means someone who can be attracted to all genders because gender is not a factor in why you’re attracted to someone.
The word queer has several meanings:
Gender or sex is determined based on physical differences. The Western binary model assumes two sexes: male and female. However, there is more variety than just male or female. Those with sexual characteristics that cannot be (fully) classified as male or female can appoint themselves as intersex persons. Some individuals will see this as a medical matter in themselves (see DSD), while others find the medicalization of intersex problematic.
Sex characteristics are associated with biological sex. Specifically, it concerns different categories of characteristics: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external genital organs and the secondary sex development during puberty (beard, breasts, lowering of voice). When these characteristics do not (completely) fall within the division of male or female sex characteristics, this is called intersex / DSD.
Sex work is the transaction of sexual acts in exchange for money. This is also known as prostitution. There are different types of sex work. Sometimes the sex worker offers their services outside or from a window, escorts are people who provide their services to people at home. The Internet also has diversified forms of sex work, and sex work now also occurs in online contexts. Sometimes the sex work also applies to persons employed as porn actors or performers.The legal regulations on sex work can vary in different countries.
The tendency of a person to be emotionally and sexually attracted to another person or persons. The best known sexual orientations are: heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.
When your sense of gender identity is male, which does not correspond to the female gender you were assigned at birth.
When your sense of gender identity is female, which does not correspond to the male gender you were assigned at birth.
Trans* has its origins in the online world and aims to be more inclusive. The asterisk (*) is entered to show additions to the term. Trans* is meant that all kinds of identities that deviate from the cisgender norm are included (transgender, genderqueer, agender, etc.) There is criticism on using the asterisk by a part of the transgender community since it is hard to pronounce, and the word “trans” is in itself a widespread and widely used umbrella term.
When your sense of gender identity does not correspond to the gender you were assigned at birth.
If a transgender person decides to go through a transition, that person will take steps towards the gender expression that better reflects or expresses their gender identity. You can go through a transition in many different ways, and choose what suits you best. Some opt for different clothing and hair, others have certain treatments (e.g. hair removal) or medical procedures performed.
This term was formerly used to refer to trans people who specifically chose sex reassignment surgeries and treatments, and often live within binary gender norms. Although several people still choose to identify themselves as ‘transsexual’, the term is less used today because of the great emphasis on the medical aspect.
What are pronouns and why are they important?
Pronouns (‘I’, ‘they’, ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘we’, ‘them’, etc.), are a part of the English language. They are used to replace a name or a noun (a word for a person, place, thing, or idea) to identify or refer to someone.
Pronouns are important because they’re the smallest way to acknowledge someone’s (gender) identity and/or expression. A pronoun is a way for someone to connect with the world.
If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, the best thing to do is to ask them in a respectful way. If you can’t ask them, it’s always safe to use the gender-neutral ‘they’ until you hear otherwise. Especially in an online context where you can think twice about what you write. Using someone’s correct pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.
You may have heard people talk about how children should always be raised by a man and a woman. That all other family forms are inferior. Nothing is further from the truth.
A family is a social unit formed by a group of people connected to each other in one way or another. Family structures are as diverse as the people who make them up: single parents, a father and a mother, two mothers or two fathers raising adopted or foster children, more than two parents in a polyamorous context, co-parenting and so on. All these family forms are real and valid.
Why then is there still a debate going on? The legal recognition of LGBTI families is still an unresolved issue in many countries. This is often reflected in public debate and in political circles, as well as on forums and digital platforms. The heterosexual “nuclear” family, consisting of a father, a mother and a child, is presented as the only “right” model. But don’t let this debate get to you.
Today there is a much greater diversity of successful, healthy and happy families that are just as natural as the “nuclear” family, with the same rights to a happy existence. Sexual orientation and gender identity have no relevance when it comes to successfully raising children. And that’s the only truth.
Responding to online transphobia
Content warning: this article includes transphobic language
The transgender community is one of the most vulnerable groups within the LGBTI community. According to many researches, trans people face higher levels of discrimination, threats and even violence, comparing cis to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. For example, the FRA LGBTI survey (2013) shows that in the five years before the survey, a quarter, 26% of all respondents had been attacked or threatened with violence at home or elsewhere and this figure rises to 35 % among all transgender respondents.
The high levels of intolerance towards trans people are very much present in the online space as well.
Here are some tips on how to react when encountering transphobia online:
1. First and foremost, remember that whenever you encounter transphobia online you are not obliged to respond. Always put your mental wellbeing first and then consider if you have the capacity to react.
2. It’s always a good idea to report. Depending on the case, you can report it to the online platform and/or to the authorities. See more information in the “Where to report” section of this website. Reporting can have many benefits such as removing the hateful content from the web, sending a message to the transphobic person that their actions are not acceptable and showing the platform and the authorities that transphobia is a widespread issue that requires actions from their side.
3. If you engage in arguments with the transphobic person/people, look for national or international resources to support your arguments. You can use some of the resources, recommended on this website.
4. Trans women are not a threat to other women. Sometimes transphobic people use the argument that trans women are just men undercover to take over women’s spaces. This argument only aims to create fear among cis women and create barriers for trans women accessing women’s spaces. Point out that it’s not built on facts, but on speculations.
5. Trans women don’t have male privilege. Some people claim that trans women are not real women because they have male privilege and don’t suffer from sexism. Give a reminder that trans women suffer from sexism as much as cis women or even more. Trans women of colour are even more vulnerable to aggression.
6. Being a man or a woman is not about biology. Very often transphobes use biology as an argument to claim that trans women are not real women and trans men are not real men. Someone’s gender identity has nothing to do with their biology. We must emphasize that the oppression women suffer is not because they have a vulva, but because they are read socially as women. Trans women are also read as women, hence face the same oppression.
7. There are more gender identities than men and women. Not everyone identifies as a man or a woman, gender is a spectrum that goes far beyond this binary. If someone claims that there are only two genders, because there are only two sexes, remind them that: 1 – gender is not about anatomy and 2 – even when it comes to sex there are many intersex conditions that go beyond the male/female binary.
8. Show that transphobia has real consequences. Normalizing transphobic hate speech online leads to normalizing other acts of transphobia. Share statistics that show the high rates of discrimination and hate acts against trans people, for example from the FRA LGBT survey. Trans people and especially trans women experience very high levels of violence, includings sexist violence, and even murder exactly because they are women, living in a sexist and transphobic environment.
9. If you encounter transphobia coming from LGB people remind them that many of the heroes from the LGBTI movement were trans women. For example, today we Pride marches thanks to the brave trans women of color such as Martia P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera who were key figures in the Stonewall riots. Trans women were always some of the most vocal and unapologetic voices who fight for LGBTI equality deserve our respect and gratitude.
10. When people share articles with transphobic information, check the credibility of the sources. Sometimes transphobes go as far as making up fake news that portray trans people and especially women in a bad and predatory way. Show that their resources are not reliable.
11. Science is on your side. In 2018 the World Health Organizations removed all trans-related identities from the list of mental disorders and being trans is no longer considered a mental health issue.
12. Be aware of the trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). This phenomenon emerged in the 1970s in the United States when part of the feminist movement claimed that being trans is a Trojan horse in feminism, where men pretend to be women and occupy women’s spaces. Unfortunately, trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) are very active in some social media platforms such as Twitter and spread transphobic information. If you encounter any of their transphobic content, don’t hesitate to report it. Keep in mind that they can be very well organized and if you engage in arguments with one of them, many others can join and the discussion can become aggressive.
13. Feminism is on your side. Even though there are phenomenons such as the TERFs, remember feminism is on your side. Since the 1990s there have been multiple alliances between feminists and LGBTI activists, especially transgender people, which have resulted in what has been called transfeminism. A feminism in which all women fit. A feminism that is able to see diversity as richness, and therefore speaks about “women”, in plural, to recognize that there is not only one way of being a woman. Intersectional feminism includes all women: lesbias, bisexual, trans women, women of color, diverse abled women, women of all ages and ethnicities and etc. Intersectional feminists say “If your feminism is not trans inclusive, it is not feminism.
14. Remind your opponents that they can’t deny access to being a man or being a woman. There are no requirements to identify as certain gender.
15. Identity is not a choice, it is something that people discover in the process of
human development. People don’t “choose” to be trans. Some people discover their trans identity or come out later in their life because of the circumstances they live in, for example, a hostile environment.
LGBTI topics are a part of a good education
The LGBTI community has been accused of wanting to “indoctrinate” students because many LGBTI associations provide LGBTI diversity education in schools. However, diversity is not an ideology, it is a reality that students must know in order to become citizens with a critical awareness of the world in which they live. We should educate in values such as tolerance, respect or learning from the different and knowing the diversity of the human being, instead of fearing it, so that children grow up respecting and understanding the different realities that make up today’s society.
With sexual diversity education we do not seek to “convince” anyone of anything. Sexual orientation, identity and gender expression cannot be inhibited. The experience of sexuality should be done from a free and respectful approach.
Through educational interventions we help to raise awareness and inform about realities that some of the students and teachers do not live at home, nor in their families. Our presence allows the construction of safe spaces in which young LGBTI people can make themselves visible as they are without fear of rejection, harassment or discrimination. Instead of silencing their realities, the field of education should work on raising awareness and providing scientific information about the diversity of sexual and gender identities. In fact, according to a study by the FELGBTI, in Spain, more than half of young LGBTI people are bullied at school because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and of those bullied, more than half have thought about suicide.
LGBTI Pride is more than ‘just a party’
Pride was not born for people to celebrate being LGBTI, but to claim the right to live freely expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity without persecution, finger pointing, or discrimination. According to data from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, in 2018, there were still 72 countries where belonging to the LGBTI community was still criminalized with prison or death sentences.
Pride can be fun, but it’s also a demonstration about human rights: it empowers LGBTI people to claim the rights and freedoms they are denied, as well as the use of public space from which they are often excluded. Visibility is essential because what is not named does not exist. This is a date when the community stands up for the dignity of people and sends a message to all those members of the LGBTI community who cannot make themselves visible: “there are many of us in your situation and we are with you”.
Everyone has a right to be who they are
Gender identity is the perception each person has about themselves in terms of their own gender. It may or may not coincide with the biological characteristics one is born with. In the case of trans people the gender identity differs from the gender assigned at birth. Unfortunately, many trans people don’t live in an accepting environment and their gender identity is not being respected by others.
Some trans people are not able to live according to their gender identity for different reasons for example fear of rejection or living in a hostile environment.Others discover it throughout theirlives. The social pressure is so strong that sometimes not even transpeople know how to define how they feel. When trans people decide to start a transition process, they have to deal with their entire environment, including loved ones. It is a decision that requires a lot of courage and, given the lack of acceptance by society, can lead to everything from the loss of a job to breaks with family and friends.
In fact, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution calling on the Member States to include in their legislation legal recognition of gender on the basis of self-determination, that is to say, that people’s gender identity should be respected on the basis of their own perception of themselves.
Depathologize LGBTI realities
Pathologization of LGBTI people is one of the root causes behind many human rights violations, negative attitudes, stereotypes and stigmatization that the LGBTI community faces. In 1990, the World Health Assembly stopped defining homosexuality as a mental disorder. In addition, in 2018, it removed all trans-related categories from the list of mental health issues. This means that according to the World Health Organization, no LGBTI identities are considered as mental health disorders. Sexual and gender identity is part of who you are, not a pathology.