Note: that every term has generational, cultural and geographical specificities. This glossary is not an exhaustive list of the terms people use to describe their identities.
AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, the result of an HIV infection and the collapse of the immune system.
Bisexual or bi – an individual who is physically, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to men and women. Bisexuals need not have had sexual experience with both men and women.
Cisgender – an individual whose gender expression and identity align with the gender the person was assigned at birth.
Civil unions – state-based legal recognition of non-heterosexual couples which offers some or all of the state’s rights, protections, and responsibilities of marriage.
Closet – a metaphorical place in which to hide one’s LGBTQ orientation.
Coming out – process of disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity to oneself, some, or all people. Conversion or reparative therapy – formal attempt to change a person’s gay or lesbian sexual orientation to heterosexual. Illegal in some states due to the danger to the individuals treated.
Cross-dresser – one who wears clothing typically associated with the gender of the opposite sex. Cross-dressing does not indicate sexual orientation or gender identity.
Disorderly conduct – a catch-all ordinance used against LGBTQ people to cite or arrest for any behavior judged as disruptive.
Drag – wearing clothing typically associated with a different gender, often for a performance in which gender is highlighted. Drag kings present themselves as male; drag queens present themselves as female. Drag does not indicate sexual orientation or gender identity.
Entrapment – police tactic in which a suspected gay man is approached for sex and, after agreeing, is arrested on a morals charge.
FTM – female-to-male transgender person.
Gay – term adopted in the early 20th century to denote those whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex. It has been used as an umbrella term for LGBTQ. Since the 1970s, “Lesbian” is a preferred term for women.
Gay-in – a gay version of the 1960s counter-cultural “love-ins,” essentially outdoor festival-type parties.
Gay panic defense – a legal defense that exculpates the perpetrator of a violent crime against a gay or lesbian person if the gay or lesbian person is perceived to have made a sexual advance.
Gender expression – how one outwardly expresses one’s gender identity, via clothing, hairstyles, behavior, etc.
Gender identity – how one places oneself along a continuum between male, female, and other. Gender identity does not necessarily accord with the gender one is at birth and is not always visible.
Gender identity disorder – a controversial diagnostic term [DSM-IV] given to transgender and other people who do not conform to expected gender norms in dress, play or behavior. Gender-variant people consider the term offensive as they are not “disordered.”
Gender nonconformity – when gender expression or identity does not conform to societal stereotypes of male or female.
Genderqueer – a term denoting a person who considers one’s own identity to be outside the binary male/female designations.
Heteronormativity – the assumption that heterosexuality is the sole acceptable sexual orientation.
Heterosexism – attitudes, bias and discrimination in favor of heterosexuality.
Heterosexual – a person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to those of the opposite sex.
HIV – human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS.
Homosexual – a person whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to those of the same sex. Currently considered out-fashioned or even offensive; “gay” or “lesbian” are preferred terms.
Homophile movement – mid-20th century social movement in which gay and lesbian people challenged discriminatory practices and attitudes.
Homophobia – an irrational fear of or aversion to LGBTQ people or to those perceived to be LGBTQ.
Internalized homophobia – accepting homophobic fears and aversion in regards to one’s own LGBTQ identity.
Intersex – term describing a person whose biological sex is ambiguous. Intersex conditions can affect the genitals, chromosomes, or secondary sex characteristics.
Lavender menace – term of antipathy toward lesbians within the early days of second-wave feminism. First used by Betty Friedan to object to lesbians declaring themselves within the women’s movement.
Lesbian – woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to other women.
Lewd conduct – a catch-all ordinance used against LGBTQ people to cite or arrest for any conduct judged to arouse the libido.
LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. This is an umbrella term.
MTF – male-to-female transgender person.
Morals charge – a citation or arrest for any sexual behavior judged to offend public morals.
Outing – the act of publicly declaring someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent
Pansexual – an individual who is physically, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to people of all gender identities.
Patriarchy – a society organized around male privilege and power.
Queer – an umbrella term which includes all LGBT people and anyone who chooses to identify as such. This term is still considered pejorative by some and should be used with sensitivity.
Sex reassignment surgery – formerly known as a “sex change operation,” this can be one step in transitioning from one gender identity to another.
Sexual orientation – an individual’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. This can be fluid and is not to be confused with gender identity.
Sodomy – a biblical term referring to anal intercourse, but broadly construed in the 20th century as any non-procreative sexual activity.
Trans panic defense – a legal defense that exculpates the perpetrator of a violent crime against a transgender person if the transgender person is perceived to have made a sexual advance or has engaged in sexual activity without previously disclosing their transgender identity.
Transgender – an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior differs from those typically associated with the sex they were at birth.
Transition – process of altering one’s birth sex.
Transsexual – older term for a person with a gender different from his or her birth sex. Generally not used today,
transgender being the preferred term.
Two-spirit – an umbrella term for a Native American belief holding that there are several genders. Two-spirited people have more than a single gender within them.
Zap – a political action that utilizes surprise, personal confrontation, and theatrics to make a point.
Terms and basics of definitions were collated from the following sources:
GLSEN, GLAAD, Revel and Riot, National Council of Teachers of English, and UC Davis’ LGBT Center.