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Learn About Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

What does LGBTQ+

stand for?

The Q+ in LGBTQ+ stands for Queer,* an umbrella term meant to encompass diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. On the left side of the umbrella's pole in the opposite diagram are L, G, and B standing for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual; these are sexual orientations. Sexual orientation describes sexual and emotional attraction to people of one's same sex/gender, opposite sex/gender, or multiple sex/gender identities. Sexual orientations include lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, pansexual, and asexual.


On the right side of the umbrella's pole is T which stands for Transgender. Like 'queer,' Transgender is an umbrella term under which various gender diverse identities fall; Trans* with the asterisk is often used to denote the diversity among people who identify as trans. A trans* person is someone whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with.

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Gender Identity

Gender identity is a person's internal sense of being masculine, feminine, agendered, or some other variation of gender. When a person's gender identity matches with the gender assigned at birth, the person is said to be cis-gendered. When a person's sex assigned at birth is different from their internal felt sense of gender, they may identify as trans, nonbinary, agendered, or genderqueer.  


Since gender identity is about a person's internal sense of who they are, gender identity is not visible to others. What is visible to others is a person's gender expression, that is how much a person's personal appearance and mannerisms are societally associated with female-ness or male-ness. 


Sex is a medical term used to describe certain combinations of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. While sex is often split into 'male' and 'female,' this dichotomy does not recognize intersexed people and the diversity of sex among people. 

Gender Identities

           Agendered: A person who identifies as agendered does not identify with any particular gender or they may have no gender at all. Other terms a person who is agendered might use are gender neutral, genderless, and neutrois.


           Bigendered: A person who identifies as bigender has two genders. 

           Genderfluid: A person who identifies as genderfluid has a gender identity and/or expression that shifts between genders. 

           Transgender: A person who is transgender has a gender identity that differs from their gender assigned at birth. It is often understood to be an umbrella term that covers both trans women and trans men but also agendered, bigendered, and genderfluid people. 

Trans woman, MTF, or M2F: A trans woman refers to a person assigned male at birth whose gender identity is female. It is sometimes abbreviated MTF or M2F for male to female.

Trans man, FTM, or F2M: A trans man refers to a person assigned female at birth whose gender identity is male. It is sometimes abbreviated FTM or F2M for female to male. 

Gender Terminology

Cisgender: when a person's gender identity matches with their gender assigned at birth

Gender: A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. 


Gender Binary: The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either male or female.


Gender Expression: The way in which a person expresses their gender identity through clothing, behavior, posture, mannerisms, speech patterns, activities and more. 

Gender Identity: an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may or may not be the same as one’s gender assigned at birth.

Sex: is a medical term used to describe certain combinations of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormonal balances. While sex is often split into 'male' and 'female,' this dichotomy does not recognize intersexed people and the diversity of sex among people. 



Rules of Respect

Gender non-conforming people often experience disrespectful questioning because others are curious or trying to be helpful. We have five basic rule for respectfully talking to gender non-conforming people. 

1. Use their preferred pronouns. If you mistakenly use the wrong pronoun, simply apologize and move on. Often when people feel awkward about using the wrong terminology they over-apologize thus putting the burden of alleviating their discomfort on the person who was misgendered. It is better to simply apologize and move forward.

2. Do not ask about genitals. Unless you are in a situation with a person where you would normally ask about genitalia, do not ask about genitals - it is rude and uncomfortable! Acceptable times to talk about genitals might be between a physician and a patient, with a person you are imminently about to engage in sexual activity with, or when the person brings it up first. If these situations do not apply, do not ask. It is okay to be curious, it is not okay to ask inappropriate questions. 

3. Do not "out" people. A person might disclose to you that they are transgender but that does not mean that they are out to everyone as transgender. Assume that a person who has told you that they are transgender is operating "stealth" meaning that they are not openly telling everyone they are transgender. Outing someone can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. A gender non-conforming person who is outed might be assaulted, lose a job, lose housing, or have other personal and financial fallout. 

4. Do not offer advice on passing. Sometimes people think they are being helpful to a gender nonconforming person, especially a person who is transitioning, by offering advice about how to be more masculine or more feminine. Even when it comes from a place of love and acceptance, it is not okay to offer unsolicited advice to a person who is transitioning about how to walk, talk, or look better. The process of transitioning is difficult and your advice may feel more like criticism about something that a person has struggled with their whole lives. Be respectful, and only offer advice if you are specifically asked. This does not mean that you shouldn't include a trans person in gendered social situations such as 'ladies night' or shopping for make-up or clothes. Just don't give advice. 

5. Treat people like people. Develop a regular relationships with people. Your relationship or topics of conversations should not always surround a person's gender identity or gender expression. Treat gender non-conforming people like you would treat anyone else!

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is a person's deeply felt desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another gender/sex, or multiple genders/sexes. A person's sexual orientation may evolve over time or emerge through a multi-stage developmental process.

It is inappropriate to talk about a person's "sexual preference" rather than their sexual orientation because the term "sexual preference" suggests that a person's orientation is a choice. It is a term that is used by anti-LGBTQ+ activists to try to convince people that a person's sexual orientation can be cured or changed through conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is problematic for LGTBQ+ people but is especially detrimental to the well being of LGBTQ+ youth.

Most people recognize straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual as sexual orientations, but there are a variety of other sexual orientations including pansexual, polysexual, demisexual, and asexual. You may note the bear flag included to the right. Please keep in mind that 'bears' are a subgroup of gay men, but there is no universally used flag to represent gay men alone so we are using the bear flag to represent gay as a sexual orientaiton.

Sexual Orientation Terminology

Asexual (Ace): A person who is asexual lacks sexual interest, desire, and/or attraction to others. Asexuality exists as a spectrum and some people who identify as asexual have differing levels of sexual desires which may be satisfied through self-pleasure or occasional sexual encounters with others. Asexuality is often associated with aromanticism, but a person who is asexual is not always aromantic.

Aromantic (Aro): A person who is aromantic has little or no romantic attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in forming romantic relationships. They may or may not feel sexual attraction. 


Bisexual: A person who is bisexual is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.


Demisexual: A person who is demisexual only feels sexual attraction towards those with whom they have developed a strong personal bond. A person who is demisexual generally will feel sexual attraction or desire to engage in sexual activities far more rarely than the general population. 


Gay: The term gay is sometimes used to encompass both gay and lesbian people and even other sexual orientations. More specifically, a person who identifies as gay is a male identified person who feels sexual and romantic attraction to other male identified people. Keep in mind that not all men who have sexual interactions with other men consider themselves 'gay.' 

Lesbian:​ A person who identifies as a lesbian is a female identified person who feels sexual and romantic attraction to other female identified people. 

Pansexual:​ A person who identifies as pansexual is sexually attracted  to all or many gender identities or expressions.

Polysexual: A person who identifies as polysexual is sexually attracted to most but not all gender expressions. This terminology is falling out of use with a preference for using the term 'pansexual' to refer to a person who is attracted to most but not all gender expressions. 

Same Gender Loving: The term 'same gender loving' is sometimes used by black Americans to express an alternative sexual orientation without relying on terms and symbols of European descent. The term emerged in the 1990s to offer black women who love women and black men who love men a way of identifying that resonates with the uniqueness of black cultural life. 

Straight: A person who identifies as straight is sexually attracted to people of their opposite gender. 

How to talk about
Sexual Orientation

1. Use 'gay' or 'lesbian' not homosexual. When you are talking about male identified people who have sexual relationships with other male identified people or female identified people who have sexual relationships with other female identified people, you should use the terms 'gay' or 'lesbian' respectively and not homosexual

2. Adjectives not nouns. When talking about a person's sexual orientation such as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual, you should use these terms as adjectives, i.e., describing words, and not nouns such as "He is a gay." 

Bisexual Erasure

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