Orientation & Identity

Orientation & Identity

Humans have a variety of sexual orientations (gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, queer, etc.), gender identities (cisgender, transgender, agender, genderqueer, third gender, etc.), and gender expressions. Our society is learning to recognize and respect these different identities, but the resources here should help you get started. Below are some basic questions and definitions to help identify the basics of sexual and gender identity and expression. 

What does LGBTQIA+ mean? 

LGBTQIA+ is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual. The acronym has grown over time and you will often see it as LGBT, LGBTQ+, or LGBTQIAPP+. The plus sign at the end of the acronym acknowledges that the alphabet soup of initials could go on forever when naming terms related to gender and sexualities. You may see other acronyms too, such as MOGAI, or QUILTBAG which choose to focus on different terms based on order, or in the case of QUILTBAG, spell out an easy-to-pronounce real word! 

What is sexual orientation? 

Sexual orientation is defined as a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. This is separate from their gender identity or gender expression.  

What is gender identity? 

The term “gender identity” is distinct from the term “sexual orientation” and refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman, transgender, agender, nonbinary, or other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificate). 

What is gender expression or gender presentation? 

The terms “gender expression” and “gender presentation” are distinct from gender identity. They are the physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. 

Why use the word "queer" when it used to be a slur? 

Sometimes marginalized groups work to reclaim a term, opens a new window used as a slur as a way of feeling empowered and taking power away from bigots. Community opinion on this varies and some people prefer to avoid a term that has caused pain. 

A Short LGBTQIA+ Glossary

The terms below are a partial list of some of the orientations and identities that people may have, but is not a comprehensive list. Identity and orientations are very personal things, and their related terms are changing and evolving to suit the people who utilize them. For more terms and definitions, you can visit TSER, opens a new window [Trans Student Educational Resources (youth-led organization)], AVEN [The Asexual Visibility and Education Network], the APA, opens a new window [American Psychological Association] (PDF), and the HRC, opens a new window [Human Rights Campaign]. The vast majority of these terms are adjectives, so they should be used in a sentence as such. For instance: “That straight man is wearing a red coat” rather than “That straight is wearing a red coat,” or “My child is genderqueer” rather than “My child is a genderqueer”  

Asexual/"Ace": a descriptor for a person that does not experience sexual attraction to any gender.

Agender: A term used to describe someone who does not identity with any gender.

Aromantic/"Aro": Not romantically attracted to or desiring of romantic relationships at all. This may be used as an umbrella term for other emotional attractions such as demiromantic.

Bisexual: Anyone who is attracted to men, women, and/or other genders.

Cisgender/"Cis": A person whose gender identity and expression matches the one they were assigned at birth.

Demisexual: A person on the asexuality spectrum that experiences sexual attraction as a byproduct of a strong emotional connection with their partner.

Gay: A synonym for homosexual. A person who is attracted to someone of the same gender.

Genderqueer: A descriptor for a person who does not conform to either masculine or feminine gender roles or expression.

Gray Asexual/"Gray A": A descriptor for a person that does not normally experience sexual attraction to either gender, but does occasionally experience it.

Heteroromantic: A descriptor for a person that is romantically attracted to people of the opposite (or another) gender.

Heterosexual: A descriptor for a person that is sexually attracted to people of the opposite (or another) gender.

Homoromantic: A descriptor for a person that is romantically attracted to people of the same gender.

Homosexual: A descriptor for a person that is sexually attracted to people of the same gender.

Intersex: A term used to describe a person with any less common combination of hormones, chromosomes, and anatomy that are used to assign sex at birth. Parents and medical professionals usually coercively assign intersex infants a sex and have, in the past, been medically permitted to perform surgical operations to conform the infant’s genitalia to that assignment. This practice has become increasingly controversial as intersex adults speak out against the practice. The term intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym for transgender (although some intersex people do identify as transgender).

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women.

Monogamous/"Mono": A descriptor for a person that experiences or desires a relationship (both romantic and sexual) with one partner.

Non-Binary/"NB": A descriptor for someone whose gender identity does not fit within the binary of male and female. Similar to genderqueer.

Pansexual/"Pan": A descriptor for a person whose sexual attraction is not limited by gender identity or expression.

Polyamorous/"Poly": A descriptor for a person that experiences or desires relationships (both romantic and sexual) with multiple partners concurrently.

Queer: A blanket or umbrella term for any gender expression or sexual orientation considered to be outside the cisgender, heterosexual "norm." Although the term has been reclaimed by some in the community, this term is also still seen as a pejorative by some.

Questioning: A person that is unsure of or exploring their gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or romantic orientation.

Straight: A synonym for heterosexual.

Third Gender: A term describing a person whose gender expression or identity does not conform to what is generally considered to be masculine or feminine.

Transgender: A descriptor for a person whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth. 

List base courtesy Boston Public Library, opens a new window, 2020 

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