Understanding LGBT Terms
Like most subcultures the LGBT community has built up a vocabulary of LGBT terms that have a specific meaning to members of the community where, for many years, oppressive legislation meant that men especially often spoke in a coded language called Polari to enable them to speak openly about gay issues without being overheard by informants.
Throughout the 20th century the academic and medical interest in sexual behaviour, further expanded the glossary of terms in use. Following decriminlasiation of homosexuality in 1967 and the Gay Rights campaign that followed, many terms have moved into common language, though in the process often the meanings of terms have become confused.
This glossary of LGBT terms in a growing project. Unfortunately there is a lack of conformity over the meaning of many terms and therefore whilst we have tried to explain the most common use of terms, it is important to remember that people may use terms differently. The descriptions given on this page are relatively short. I am also adding extended articles on some of the terms and will link them as these articles are published.
If you have any views on any of the descriptions or would like to suggest other terms I might add to this page – please send me your comments using the form at the bottom of the page.
Stereotypes and Labels
One of the greatest difficulties with all terms that describe a group of people is that these labels create a stereotype or generalisation and these stereotypes can often be interpreted negatively. For example the terms Cross Dresser and Transvestite are often uses synonymously, but both terms have negative associations – for example the Oxford English Dictionary defines Transvestism as “the practice of wearing the clothes of the opposite sex, esp. as a sexual stimulus” which causes many to prefer to describe themselves as Cross Dressers because most trans people do not cross dress for any sexual purpose even though they may consider themselves to be transvestites.
LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans(gender)
Let me start with this term. In most countries today Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender people tend to be grouped as a community using the letters LGBT because they are gender variant and do not conform to stereotype expected of men and women.
Not everyone likes this and there is a strong feeling by some that because Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity issues are different, that tacking the T onto the end is wrong. Others have extended the acronym further adding I for Intersex, Q for Queer, F for Friends of LGBT people etc… turning the acronym into an alphabet soup (LGBTQIF…
But it’s not just transgender issues that are different. Whilst all LGBT people share common experiences of discrimination and often socialise in LGBT friendly venues, each sub group within the community has issues unique to that subculture.
In the USA the term GLBT is more commonly used instead of LGBT
All other terms are listed below alphabetically
Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.
Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.
The most common definition of a ‘bear’ is a man who has facial/body hair, and a cuddly body. However, the word ‘bear’ means many things to different people, even within the bear movement. Many men who do not have one or all of these characteristics define themselves as bears, making the term a very loose one. ‘Bear’ is often defined as more of an attitude and a sense of comfort with natural masculinity and bodies.
A generic term used to refer to a third gender person (woman-livingman). The term ‘berdache’ is generally rejected as inappropriate and offensive by Native Peoples because it is a term that was assigned by European settlers to differently gendered Native Peoples. Appropriate terms vary by tribe and include: ‘one-spirit’, ‘two-spirit’, and ‘wintke.’
A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.
Presenting both genders either simultaneously, or separately but without concealing both identities eg Pete Burns of Celebrity Big Brother fame.
The process of flattening one’s breasts to have a more masculine or flat appearing chest.
The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBT community, as well as in general society.
A person 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.
Surgery on the genitals designed to create a body in harmony with a person’s preferred gender expression.
A person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. ‘Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but it can also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.
Describes someone who feels comfortable with the gender identity and gender expression expectations assigned to them based on their physical sex. eg, someone who is assigned as a female at birth and who lives as a woman or someone who is assigned as a male a birth and lives as a man.
To wear the clothes usually associated with the gender opposite to one’s birth gender, usually implying a male wearing female clothing.
Usually a man who dresses as a woman. Often in the closet and married with partners who are unaware of their cross-dressing. They dress as a woman when they get the chance mostly in private at home. Some occasionally venture out, often late at night at high risk, but considered less risky than being spotted in daylight. Through access to online forums many now have joined local groups and may venture out on nights out with other Cross-Dressers.
(In the) Closet
Keeping one’s gender identity secret and cross-dressing at home, i.e. in the closet or wardrobe – Although originating in the trans community this term is used extensively though out the entire LGBT community to describe keeping one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity secret.
Coming out (of the closet)
Disclosing one’s gender identity, or sexual orientation to others – usually a slow steady process of revealing the secret to people – For trans people this often starts by attending trans specific social functions cross dressed.
Usually, but not always a gay man or lesbian women who present stereotypical and larger than life images of the opposite gender for entertainment. The term Drag is reputed to originated from DRAAG – Dressed as a Girl, but that is disputed. DRAG is a highly stylised form of cross-dressing. Some trans people in the entertainment business do DRAG. MtoF (Male to Female)DRAG is often referred to as Female Impersonation.
Derogatory term referring to a masculine lesbian. Sometimes adopted affirmatively by lesbians (not necessarily masculine ones) to refer to themselves.
Derogatory term referring to someone perceived to be gay but usually infers that they are effeminate
A term primarily used to describe women who prefer the social company of gay men. While this term is claimed in an affirmative manner by some, it is largely regarded as derogatory.
Feminine identified person of any gender/sex.
FtM – F2M – Female to Male
Describes someone who presents or plans to present a male gender but was ascribed a female gender at birth.
This term was popularised by the Gay Liberation movement that started after the Stonewall riots. Generally refers to a males who are attracted to males in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Also used as a gerneric term for the entire LGBT community and especially when referring to “Gay Pride” events. In the UK this term has also acquired derogatory conotation eg “OMG that is so gay!” referring to something as being bad or unacceptable.
Describes the perceived or projected masculinity or femininity of a person. A person’s gender is complex, encompassing countless characteristics of appearance, speech, movement and other factors not solely limited to biological sex. The term is frequently used as a synonym for sex. In feminist theory gender is used only to describe socially constructed behaviour, although there is considerable controversy regarding what behaviour is socially constructed and what is biologically essential.
Refers to the indicators of a persons gender – the way a person walks, talks, interacts, dresses, and appears all enables us to determine a persons gender – Male gender attributes tend to carry more weight than female ones. A person may appear to present female gender but acts in a way that makes us attribute male gender.
This is the accepted medical diagnosis within the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health) required before a person can receive hormonal and surgical gender reassignment. To be diagnosed a person must exhibit a strong and persistent cross-gender identification. In children, the disturbance is manifested by six behaviours exhibited for at least a 6-month duration. DSM5-Gender Dysphoria Fact Sheet
What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal inflection, body shape, facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.
The way a person presents themselves to the world through clothing, hairstyles, toys and other preferences. Most people’s gender expression matches up with their physical sex characteristics or birth sex.
A person who is Gender Fluid may feel like a mix of male and female or may feel more boy some days, and more girl other days.
Mixing gender signifiers in an overt way, eg – wearing very feminine clothes with very masculine footwear or wearing a male suit accessorised with high heeled shoes and jewellery.
An Inner sense of self that defines the gender with which a person identifies which may or may not align with the gender ascribed at birth on the basis of genitalia.
A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society.
Coined by Riki Wilkins to describe anyone who transgresses the boundaries of the gender binary.
Signifies all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism. Certain occupations and behaviours are or were socially considered to be appropriate or reserved for specific genders, eg women in the home, men as head of household. These gender roles are increasingly challenged and attitudes are slowly changing.
GIC – Gender Identity Clinic
These are the primary NHS source of professional support and access to surgery for trans women unable to access private treatment.
This is a somewhat contentious issue – Generally the term GRS is used to mean Gender Reassignment Surgery – although this has caused some confusion with the Protected Characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 of Gender Reassignment (surgery is not required for someone to be protected by the act or to secure a Gender Recognition Certificate). I prefer the use of Genital Reconstructive Surgery which more accurately describes the process but that is not popular. Many trans people now prefer GCS meaning Gender Confirmation Surgery implying that the surgery is undertaken to correct the body and match the true gender. The term SRS – Sex Reassignment Surgery – was the original term and is still preferred by some because it is surgery on the sex organs, however this is disputed as it is not possible to “change sex” because sex organs after surgery are not capable of reproduction.
Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA)
Important legislation which allows a Trans person to legally change gender, subject to strict conditions.
A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.). This term is particularity used to de3scribe children who do not confirm to gender expectations when it is not clear how they will identify.
A medical term to describe someone born with both ovaries and testes (one for of Intersex condition) – Sometimes inaccurately used to describe someone who is intersex and as such is not considered a derogatory term.
The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism and there is evidence to suggest that homophobic behavior mask concealed homosexuality.
A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.
Someone born with genitals that doctors are unable to clearly identify as male or female at birth. A person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns. In the past parents were encouraged to agree to corrective surgery. Increasingly now it is expected that a child should have a say in any surgery and intervention is postponed until much later in life when the child’s gender identity is also clear.
Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos.
First used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who coined the term to refer to an urban, heterosexual male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.
MTF – M2F – Male to Female
Describes someone who presents or plans to present a female gender identity but was ascribed a male gender at birth.
Similar to gender queer, this is a way of describing gender as outside the gender binary (male/female) and/or challenging that system.
To have one’s gender identity or sexual orientation publicised to the world by someone else or the media. Within the LGBT community outing someone is considered to be totally unacceptable behaviour.
A term used by Trans men for the wearing of a phallic device under clothing to validate or confirm their masculine gender identity.
Pan means every or all so this is another identity label like gender queer that challenges the binary gender approach by recognising and including a variety of gender identities.
A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender and sexual identity expressions – eg someone who is pansexual may be sexually attracted to men, women, trans men, trans women, gender fluid and gender queer people.
Describes a personal ability to be accepted in their preferred gender identity and be accepted unquestionably by other people and not draw unwanted attention.
The act of gathering up all evidence of female clothing and accessories and destroying them or donating them to charity in an attempt to rid oneself of the temptation to cross dress and suppress the feelings. There is no evidence that this ever works.
Originally a derogatory term to describe members of the LGBT community and is still used by some in that way. However in the 1980’s it was was reclaimed and is now used as an umbrella term to include gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. The term has also been acquired in academia to describe theories of non hetero-normative behavior
To be identified as have a male birth gender when presenting a female gender identity or visa versa.
Real Life Experience (Test) (RLE)
The requirement under the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care that a candidate for genital reconstruction surgery should demonstrate their ability to live in the gender opposite to their birth gender for at least a year – two years for NHS treatment
A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.
The 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 exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, and desire.
Usually describes a transsexual or trans women who has undergone breast enhancement and/or hormone treatment but retains her male genitalia. She-males are a colourful feature of the sex industry especially in Thailand and Brazil and are found on many internet pornography sites.
Preconceived or oversimplified generalisations about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences that are often negative. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact because they involve broad generalisations.
Another term for heterosexual.
Having transitioned, living in an acquired gender without disclosing one’s past gender identity. (Living in Stealth)
This term usually refers to bilateral mastectomy and chest reconstructive surgery or breast augmentation.
This term (or a more derogatory version, TF) describe men who prefer or actively seek trans-women for sexual or romantic relations. While this term is claimed in an affirmative manner by some, it is largely regarded as offensive.
The preferred umbrella term used to describe anyone whose gender identity does not fit with society’s fixed binary view of gender. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.
The political and social movement to create equality for gender variant persons.
This term is used primarily to refer to the growing online community of trans people internationally – It is not a community in the geographic sense because trans people in the main live in a virtual world. In the real world the majority of trans people live to a large degree in the closet or in stealth, however there are a growing number of local trans communities often part of the general LGBT scene were trans women meet and socialise regularly.
Usually someone ascribed male at birth but who comfortably presents both male and female gender identities. They often are out in public as a woman but their male and female social lives may be entirely separate and they may not allow people to know their two identities. Many have personal web sites which can sometimes result in them being outed at work.
Originally coined by Virginia Prince when she began living full time as a woman to describe someone living or planning to live in the gender opposite to that ascribed at birth but not committed to using either chemicals or surgery to change their bodies permanently. This term is also often used as an umbrella term to describe all gender diverse people though there is strong pressure within the community to use Trans as the umbrella term. Trans-Woman
An umbrella term to describe someone who is somewhere on a continuum between male and female and presenting a female gender identity some or all of the time.
An umbrella term to describe someone who is transitioning from male to female or female to male and now presents themselves in their acquired gender some or all of the time.
Transsexual – Pre-operative
Someone who is living or planning to live in the gender opposite to their birth gender and undergo hormone and surgical treatment to change their body to match their gender identity.
Transsexual – Post-operative
Someone who has undergone Gender reassignment treatment and now lives in their acquired gender – they may still be openly transsexual or may now consider themselves to be a woman/man and no longer transsexual.
Help me to develop this Glossary
I am steadily increasing this Glossary of Terms and would welcome and suggestions you have. If you feel there is a term that should be added or would like to suggest alternative definitions of terms already here, please complete this form with the term you would like to see included in this glossary of LGBT terms and a brief definition of what the term means