Wondering what all of those letters mean? Here is a glossary of some of the most commonly used terms. Questions? Email us at or stop by Benson 218.
Ally – An ally is an individual who speaks out and stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against. An ally works to end oppression by supporting and advocating for people who are stigmatized, discriminated against or treated unfairly. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) communities, an ally is any person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQ people. It is important for allies to demonstrate that LGBTQ people are not alone as they work to improve school climate, and to take a stand in places where it might not be safe for LGBTQ people to be out or visible. Any educator, LGBTQ or non-LGBTQ, can be an ally to LGBTQ people.
Asexual – An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexual people still have emotional needs as their peers, and are equally capable of forming intimate relationships. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently.
Bisexual – Bisexuality is the potential to feel sexually attracted to and to engage in sensual or sexual relationships with people of either sex. A bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary over time. Self-perception is the key to a bisexual identity. Many people engage in sexual activity with people of both sexes, yet do not identify as bisexual. Likewise, other people engage in sexual relations only with people of one sex, or do not engage in sexual activity at all, yet consider themselves bisexual. There is no behavioral “test’” to determine whether or not one is bisexual.
Cisgender – The opposite of transgender, a cisgender person is one whose gender identity matches their body and the gender they were assigned at birth, as well as the traditional roles and behaviors associated with that gender. Cisman, Ciswoman
FTM (Female-to-Male) (Transman) – A person born female who transitions to or identifies as male. One of many transgender identities.
Gay – 1. An adjective describing a man whose primary sexual and emotional attraction is to other men. (Usage: “My brother is a gay man,” or “I’m gay.”)
2. An inclusive term encompassing gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, and sometimes even transgender people. The term is still used in the broader sense in spoken shorthand, as in “the Gay Pride Parade is at the end of June.
Gender Identity – A person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual.
In the Closet – Not being open about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Intersex – “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but have mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types, or a mixture of both. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. Literally, “inter”– between– the male and female sexes.
Lesbian – A woman whose primary emotional and sexual attraction is to other women. It is important to note that some women who have sex with other women, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves lesbians.
MTF (Male-to-Female) (Transwoman) – A person born male who transitions to or identifies as female. One of many transgender identities.
Questioning – Someone who is unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity, or is in the process of discovering it.
Queer – This originally derogatory term used to describe gay and lesbian individuals has been reclaimed by some members of LGBTQ communities. Some LGBTQ people find the term offensive, so it should be used with caution and permission. Some people who others would identify as straight claim this term to indicate their rejection of compulsory heterosexuality. It can also be used (along with genderqueer) to describe a person’s gender identity, often by those who feel their gender does not fit either category (male and female).
Sexual Orientation – A person’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional and spiritual attraction to another person, and the resulting sexual identity in relation to the gender(s) to which they are attracted; e.g., heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.
Transgender – Used as an umbrella term for anyone who transgresses or blurs traditional gender categories, inclusive of female-to-male (FTM or transman) and male-to-female (MTF or transwoman) transgender persons, transsexuals, drag kings and queens, genderqueers, gender blenders, two-spirit people, androgyny, and other self-identified gender non-conforming people.
Transsexual – A person who undergoes surgery and hormone therapy to change their physical sex. Please note: It is NOT polite to ask someone whether or not they have had surgery. Many transgender persons do not choose or are not financially able to physically transition.
Two-Spirit – A transgender identity that originated from various Native American cultural practices in which a person is born one gender, but ends up fulfilling roles assigned to both sexes, or other roles reserved for two-spirit people, who are generally considered to be both male and female simultaneously.
Additionally, some LGBTQ people may identify with a myriad of other identities. The following are self-defined: Same gender loving (SGL), Men who have sex with men (MSM), and Women who love women (WLW).
Still have questions? Email us at or stop by Benson 218.