Vocabulary is a communication tool that is constantly changing within our society and within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The terms below are in no way comprehensive or representative of everyone within the LGBT community, but are those that are commonly used. These are terms and definitions for sexual orientation as well as gender identity/expression. Please use these terms and definitions as a suggested guideline for appropriate language with people that identify as LGBT and as a starting point to open dialogue with clients, students, staff and families.
Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction.
Bisexuality: A sexual orientation in which a person feels attracted to some members of both genders.
Heterosexuality: A sexual orientation in which a person feels attracted to some members of the opposite gender.
Homosexuality: A sexual orientation in which a person feels attracted to some members of the same gender – commonly, gay or lesbian.
Anatomical Sex: Anatomical sex is a person’s genital sex often as assigned at birth. Anatomical sex is also called biological or physiological sex.
Gender: Gender covers a wide range of issues that affect everyone. Subcategories of gender include:
Some have defined these terms as “groundless irrational fear and hatred.” In actuality, most young people are taught by individuals and institutions to conform to societal notions of “proper gender behavior” and to critically judge those who challenge or transgress these standards. That said, these terms indeed define forms of oppression that occur on personal, institutional and societal levels. These phobias/isms exclude the needs, concerns and experiences of LGBTQQ people and result in disrespect, jokes, harassment, denial of rights and needs, violence and threats of violence.
Transphobia: The fear, dislike and hatred of transgender people and what they do (or of what they are feared to do).
Homophobia: The fear, dislike, and hatred of people who are, or are presumed to be, lesbian or gay.
Biphobia: The fear, dislike and hatred of people who are, or are presumed to be, bisexual.
Internalized Homophobia: The experience of shame, aversion or self-hatred in reaction to one’s own feelings of attraction for a person of the same gender. Most lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals learn negative ideas about homosexuality throughout childhood. These individuals learn that they are members of a group that is often despised, rejected, and stigmatized. Individuals accept and internalize these beliefs, resulting in fear and hatred of themselves.
Heterosexism: The presumption that all people are or should be heterosexual, and the institutionalized assumption that heterosexuality is inherently superior and preferable to other sexual orientations. Heterosexism reinforces silence and invisibility for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, while conferring advantages on heterosexuals.
Transphobia: The fear, dislike, and hatred of people who are, or are presumed to be, gender non-conforming and/or gender queer; display characteristics of personality, dress or mannerisms not consistent with their biological gender.
Coming Out: (Also called “coming out of the closet” or being “out”.) Refers to the process during which a person acknowledges, accepts, and in many cases appreciates their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This often involves sharing of this information with others. The process of coming out to oneself and to others is unique for every individual.
Co-Parent: Refers to adults raising a child together. Sometimes refers to the non-biological or non-adoptive parent raising a child.
Down Low/DL: Refers to people whose public identification is straight, but who have discreet sex with other people of the same sex, sometimes outside their primary relationship. A person who identifies this way would be said to be "on the down low," or "on the DL." Often these people do not consider themselves gay or bisexual. Their primary partners are often not aware that they have same sex relations.
Family of Choice: Persons forming an individual’s social support network and often fulfilling the functions of one’s family of origin. Some LGBTQQ people are rejected when their families learn of their sexual orientation or gender identity or may remain “closeted” to their biological relatives. In such cases it is often their partner/significant other and close friends who will be called on in time of illness or personal crisis. It is important for clinicians to be aware of who clients consider family and who they would like to involve in their care.
Family of Origin: The family in which one was raised (biological, adoptive or foster). These individuals may or may not be part of a person’s support system.
Inclusive Language: The use of gender non-specific language (i.e. “partner” instead of “husband”) in conversation, forms, education materials, and public health campaigns to avoid assumptions which limit the information available to clinicians and to enhance the accessibility of services to LGBTQQ individuals.
Invisibility: The assumption of heterosexuality renders LGBTQQ people (youth in particular) invisible and seemingly non-existent. LGBTQQ youth are rarely discussed or portrayed in the media or in schools, churches, or other institutions. This invisibility results in feelings of isolation for LGBTQQ people, reinforcing internalized homophobia and/or transphobia.
Men who have Sex with Men (MSM): Term is often used when discussing sexual behavior. Is inclusive of all men who participate in this behavior regardless of how they identify their sexual orientation. The acronym MSM is often used in medical literature.
Partner or Significant Other: Primary domestic partner or spousal relationship(s). May be referred to as “girlfriend/boyfriend,” “lover,” “roommate,” “life partner,” “wife/husband” or other terms.
Queer: Term often used in derogatory manner that is being reclaimed by some academics, activists and young people as a source of power and pride. Thought to be inclusive of both gender identity/expression and sexual orientation, its use is controversial, and not uniformly accepted.
SGL: Used most frequently in communities of color. Acronym for same gender loving.
Two-spirit: First Nation lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people. Two-Spirit is a term that can encompass alternative sexuality, alternative gender and an integration of Native spirituality. In many native tribes, these are special and well respected spiritual leaders, healers, and teachers. Native American and First Native peoples see gender along a continuum, not as opposite categories, and enjoy a tradition that respects, honors and reaffirms each being as part of the sacred web of life and society.
Women who have Sex with Women (WSW): Term is often used when discussing sexual behavior. Is inclusive of all women who participate in this behavior regardless of how they identify their sexual orientation. The acronym WSW is often used in medical literature.
Jon Macy signs one of his comic books, “Fearful Hunter,” which features gay characters, in...14 July 2012 Read more...