Glossary of Terms and Usage
Note: This glossary was published in Kulanu: An LGBT Inclusion Guide for Congregations by the URJ Press (2007). Some definitions were adapted from two sources while others were developed from the Editors' research. Sources include: GLSEN for GLSEN Lunchbox Resource (Jan 14, 2003) from: Warren J. Blumenfeld, co-author Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life and ed. Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (, and the Oregon State Pride Center Frequently Asked Questions, Terms and Definitions. (
A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z
Biological Sex: This can be considered our "packaging" and is determined by chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for females, penis and testicles for males). About 1.7% of the population can be defined as intersex (intersexual/intersexed) - born with biological aspects of both sexes to varying degrees and at times, different chromosomal combinations. Biphobia: Irrational fear or hatred of individuals who identify as bisexual. This fear may stem from things a belief the bisexual identity is not an authentic Queer identity, a resentment at the bisexual's heterosexual privileges, or a concern that the bisexual is harbinger of disease from Queer communities into the heterosexual communities. Birthsex: One's birthsex is on their birth certificate, but does not necessarily reflect gender identity. Bisexual: Someone who has emotional, romantic and or physical attraction or behavior with more than one gender/sex (though not necessarily at the same time.) However, since not everyone has had the opportunity or desire to act on their sexual/romantic attractions, some people prefer a looser definition; a bisexual is a person who - in their own estimation - feels potentially able to have such attraction. This could be anyone who has erotic, affectionate, or romantic feelings for, fantasies of, and or experiences with both men and women. A bisexual may be more attracted to one gender/sex than the other, attracted equally to both, or find people's gender/sex unimportant. The strength of their attractions to men and women may vary over time. Bisexuality: The capacity for emotional, romantic and or physical attraction or behavior directed towards more than one gender. Civil Union: Formal recognition of committed lesbian and gay relationships by the state of Vermont. Civil unions confer upon same-sex couples the same rights available to married couples under Vermont law in such areas as state taxes, medical decisions and estate planning. North American Reform Movement organizations have passed resolutions in support of civil marriage/union for gay men and lesbians. Coming out: The process of coming to terms with one's sexual and/or gender identity or identities. It can describe an internal process, describing the internal decisions to take on a sexual or gender identity. It can be an external process, describing the process of disclosing sexual and gender identity to friends, family, co-workers, etc. Coming out is a life-long process-in each new situation a person must decide whether or not to come out. Coming out can be difficult for some because reactions vary from complete acceptance and support to disapproval, rejection and violence. Coming out (of the closet): To be "in the closet" means to hide one's sexual and or gender identity. Many LGBT people are "out" in some situations and "closeted" in others. Cross-dressing: Adopting the dress of another gender. Cross-dressers are mainly heterosexual men, but can also be men of other sexual orientations and gender identities. Cross dressers differ from transsexuals in that they do not necessarily wish to change their sex. Domestic Partnership: A civil or legal contract recognizing a partnership or a relationship between two people which sometimes confers limited benefits to them. Such a partnership can be formed by lesbians or gay men, by unmarried heterosexual life partners, or by others making a home together. DSM-IV: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the handbook used most often in diagnosing mental disorders in the United States. On December 15, 1973, the Board of the American Psychiatric Association voted 13-0 to remove homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders. Drag: The adoption of clothing and roles of another gender for the purposes of play, entertainment, or eroticism. Originally used to refer to "drag queens" who are men dressed as women, there are also now "drag kings" who are usually women dressing as men. Drag performers are not cross-dressers, who adopt the clothing of another gender outside of the context of entertainment or performance. Dyke: A derogatory word for people who are lesbians. This term is sometimes reclaimed in younger generations as a symbol of pride to empower lesbian communities. Fag or faggot: A derogatory term for gay men. Faygele: The derogatory Yiddish word for gay men. Literally, it translates to "little bird." FTM or F2M: Short for Female-To-Male Transsexual. Usually said aloud as "F to M." Most commonly refers to female-to-male transsexuals. A person who was born in a female body but whose gender identity is male. It can also refer to those assigned female at birth, in the case of intersex people, whose gender identity is male. Many but not all female-to-male transsexuals will seek hormonal and/or surgical treatment in order to live successfully as a man in society. This term is sometimes also used by others who are born in female bodies and who move toward masculine or male presentation without hormones or surgery. Gay: Someone who is male-identified who seeks to be emotionally, spiritually and/or physically involved with other people who are male-identified. Is also used as a generic or umbrella term to include both lesbians and gay men. Gender: A person's expression and/or presentation of some combination of socially constructed ideas defining masculine and/or feminine characteristics. Gender Binary: The prevalent construction of boyness and girlness; the concept that there are only two genders. Gender Dysphoria: This term was coined by Dr. Harry Benjamin to describe a symptom of being profoundly uncomfortable with ones birth sex and the belief that one is actually the other sex. In the medical and psychological communities, Gender Identity Disorder is currently used to encompass the larger disorder of which gender dysphoria was one symptom. See the DSM-IV definition for Gender Identity Disorder or the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association's Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders. Gender Expression: Refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and emphasizing, de-emphasizing, or changing their bodies' characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex. Gender expression is not necessarily an indication of sexual orientation. Gender Identity: Our innermost concept of self as male, female or another identity that is neither male nor female -what we perceive and call ourselves. Individuals are conscious of this beginning between the ages of 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological or birth sex. For some however, their gender identity is different from their biological or birth sex. Gender Identity Disorder: This is a mental disorder as determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. According to the DSM-IV definition, there are two components of Gender Identity Disorder, both of which must be present to make the diagnosis. There must be evidence of a strong and persistent gross-gender identification, which is the desire to be, or the insistence that one is of the other sex (Criteria A). This cross-gender identification must not merely be a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex. There must also be evidence of persistent discomfort about one's assigned sex or a sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex (Criteria B). The diagnosis is not made if the individual has a concurrent physical intersex condition (e.g., androgen insensitivity syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia) (Criteria C). To make the diagnosis, there must be evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criteria D) Gender Queer: A mindset of viewing gender as having more than two options, i.e. an understanding of non-binary gender. Individuals who identify as "genderqueer" may prefer not to identify as either 'male' or 'female', may see themselves as outside of the binary gender box, may feel restricted by gender labels, categories, and pronouns, or may be themselves comfortable identifying as 'male' or 'female', while recognizing that these categories do not fit everyone. Gender Role: This is the set of roles and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Western culture recognizes two basic gender roles: masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). People who blur, mix or step out of socially assigned gender roles are often confusing or threatening to those who remain within traditional societally determined gender roles. Hermaphrodite: A medical, mythological, zoological and botanical term describing aspects of ambiguous genitalia and or biological sex. When applied to a person in a social setting, it is now considered antiquated and or offensive. See Intersex. Heterosexual: A person who seeks emotional, physical and or spiritual relationships with a person of the opposite sex or gender expression. Heterosexism: The assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is right, correct, and normal. It is also the power to enforce policies, practices, and structures against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Heteronormativity: A concept whereby practices, social policies and institutions are perceived to support and privilege heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships as the normal and natural state and by extension, rule that anything outside this state is an unnatural varient. Hir: Pronounced "here." Hir is a third person possessive or objective pronoun that is used in lieu of his/his' and her/her's by some people who identify as transgender. Do not use this pronoun to refer to someone unless you have been asked to do so. HIV/AIDS: HIV stands for Human Imunnodeficiency Virus. HIV is communicable only through direct contact with blood, semen, cervical/vaginal secretions, and breast milk. It is not communicable through social kissing, hugging or inanimate objects like toilet seats. AIDS stands for Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome. Per the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Acquired - means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease causing agent (in this case, HIV). Immunodeficiency - means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system. Syndrome - refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS, this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person's immune system. Homophobia: An irrational fear or hatred of people who identify as homosexual. This fear may stem from the out-of-date belief that homosexuality is a mental illness, from personal religious beliefs, from the incorrect belief that homosexuals are responsible for AIDS, etc. Homosexual: A person who seeks emotional, physical and/or spiritual relationships with another person of the same gender/sex. Hormone Replacement Therapy: The process of taking hormones to achieve the secondary sex characteristics of the desired sex. "T" is common short hand or slang for the male hormone testosterone. Intersex: An individual whose biological sex does not correspond with conventional expectations of male or female anatomy or genetics that occurs in appromimately 1.7% of the population. The term is also used to refer to the medical condition, i.e., some individuals with intersex conditions identify themselves as transgender which is a social or gender identity and some do not. Other related terms and usages include: intersexed and intersexual. Internalized Homophobia, Internalized Transphobia, Internalized Biphoba: Self-hatred at one's own identity as result of "believing," or internalizing the negative stereotypes of one's identity. In the Closet: A term used to refer to people who have not revealed their sexual or gender identity/identities either to themselves or others. LGBTQQIA: Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Ally Lesbian: A woman-identified person who seeks emotional, spiritual and/or physical relationships with other woman-identified people. Lifestyle: A term often used in the context of "gay lifestyle" by those who are anti-gay. These propopents of the term "gay lifestyle" then link it to a variety of negative behaviors. The phrase is also used to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice and can be changed. Just as there is no one heterosexual lifestyle, there is no one lesbian or gay lifestyle. MTF: Male-to-Female Transsexual. A person who was born in a male body but whose gender identity is female. MSM (Men who have sex with Men): Men, regardless of their sexual identity or orientation who engage in sexual activity with men. Oppression: A state or experience when one is denied rights and or acceptance based on ones gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or other characteristic. Outing: The act of publicly revealing another person's sexual orientation. Considered inappropriate in the current political and social climate by a large majority of the gay community. Perceived Gender: What another person assumes one's gender is in a given interaction. Some people's gender expressions can be misinterpreted or confused and perceived as different from the person's identity. Prejudice: Inaccurate and negative beliefs about another group and its members without basis in fact. It is often based on stereotypes and can occur on a conscious or unconscious level. Queer: Historically, a negative term used against people perceived to be LGBT. More recently, "queer" has been reclaimed by some people as a positive term describing all those who do not conform to rigid notions of gender and sexuality. Queer is often used in a political context and in academic settings to challenge traditional ideas about identity ("queer theory"). Caution: for older gay men and lesbians, this term may still be considered offensive. Questioning: Refers to people who are uncertain as to their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are often seeking information and support during this stage of their identity development. Someone who is exploring their Queer potential. Rainbow Flag: Historically, there have been several rainbow flags that are unrelated to the gay liberation movement. In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the first Rainbow Flag to symbolize gay pride and diversity. It was originally designed with eight stripes: pink (sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sun), green (nature), blue (art), indigo (harmony), and violet (spirit). However, the colors pink and indigo were eventually taken out, partially for production availability reasons and the current rainbow flag has remaining six colors. Same Gender Officiation: The act of presiding over rituals of union for same-gender couples. In March, 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the rabbinic arm of the Reform Movement, adopted a resolution stating that "the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual" and supporting "those who choose to officiate" at same gender ceremonies and those who choose not to officiate at such ceremonies. Sex: In its biological sense, a concept or classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants's sex is determined or assigned based on a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs and genitals. Sex is generally thought of as dichotomous - male or female but with a greater knowledge of intersex conditions, this understanding is revealed to exclude a number of people who do not conform to the "either or" classification. See also Biological sex. Sexual Behavior: Describes an individual's behavior in sexual attachments or relationships. However, sexual behavior does not determine one's sexual orientation. For example, a celibate lesbian (one who does not have sex at all) is still a lesbian and men who have sex with men (MSM) in prison or in general may not identify their sexual orientation as gay. Sexual Identity: This is a construction of how we perceive ourselves and what we call ourselves regarding who we have as physical, sexual and or emotional partners. Such labels include labels such as "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," "bi," "queer," "questioning," "heterosexual," and "straight." Sexual Orientation: The gender or genders of the people to whom one is attracted and forms romantic/emotional/spiritual relationships and sexual/physical attachments. Sexual orientation is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics as well as unknown environmental factors. The origins of it are not completely understood. Sexual orientation and gender identity are very different, i.e. transgender people can have a sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, straight, queer, or bisexual or other label as they determine it. Sex Reassignment Surgery: (formerly called a "sex change") Surgery for the purpose of having a body more consistent with one's gender identity. There are a variety of sex reassignment surgeries. People in the process of transitioning (see definition) may choose to have some of these surgeries or none at all as part of that transition. These surgeries can be quite costly and not everyone who desires sex reassignment surgery has equal access. Social Privilege: A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by certain people beyond the common advantage of all others. In many cases, it is an exemption from certain burdens or liabilities that those without the privilege must still bear. Sodomy Laws: Term for various state laws against specific sexual acts. Sodomy is not synonymous with lesbian/gay sex, although sodomy laws are usually used to prosecute lesbians and gay men. The legal definition of sodomy is different in each state and often applies to certain sexual acts practiced by non-gay people. See the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Update: Standards of Care (SOC): Organizational professional consensus document about the psychiatric, psychological, medical, and surgical management of Gender Identity Disorders (GID). Professionals use this document to understand the parameters within which they may offer assistance to those diagnosed with GID. People with gender identity disorders and their families use the SOC to understand the current thinking of professionals. See Straight Ally: Any non-LGBT person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBT people. Third Gender: A term used to describe a gender-variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, some combination of genders, or is between or beyond genders. Tokenize: The policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort. For example, you are the only (out) Queer student in your class. Your professor, to create the illusion of a diverse discussion, asks you to fill in the gay parts of a discussion on Oscar Wilde. Transgender: The term was coined or popularized along with "transgenderist" by Virginia (Charles) Prince, PhD (in pharmacology), a married heterosexual, full-time cross-dresser who wanted to differentiate between those individuals like herself, who wanted to live in the opposite gender role without surgery from those that wanted sex reassignment surgery (SRS) who were known as transsexuals. Ironically, given Prince's strong views against SRS and attempts to make separate categories, over time the term has become an umbrella to describe a wide range of identities and experiences including: Female to Male transsexuals (FTMs), Male to Female transsexuals (MTFs), cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, gender queers, and others; each of whom is likely to have a very different experience of their actual gender identity, despite all being lumped into one category. Today, those who embrace a transgender label are those individuals whose gender identity and or gender expression (see above definition) differs from the biological sex they were born as or were assigned at birth. Identifying as "transgender" (sometimes shortened to "trans") says nothing about sexual orientation as gender identity and sexual orientation are different constructs. Transgender people can have a sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, straight, queer, bisexual or none of the above. Transitioning (also called the Transition): is the process of ceasing to live in one gender role and starting to live in another, undertaken by transgender and transsexual people. Transitioning usually happens before any sex reassignment surgery, and in some cases even before any hormone replacement therapy. Transitioning often marks the start of the real life experience which is usually required for sex reassignment surgery. Many people also use the term 'transitioning' to refer to the entire transgender/transsexual process (from living 24/7 in the original gender role to after surgery). The beginning of the real life experience is then often called 'going fulltime' (i.e. starting to live 24/7 in the opposite gender role). Transitioning can involve sex reassignment therapy, name changes, wearing clothing seen as gender appropriate or the use of make-up, and generally coming out of the Closet. It is a complicated, multi-step process that may take years to complete and can start and stop at a variety of places and with different activities along the process. Transphobia: The irrational fear or hatred of people who identify as Transgender. This fear may stem from the incorrect belief that transgender people have a psychological disorder or the incorrect belief that they are confused. Transphobia is manifested in a number of ways, including violence, harassment, and discrimination. Transsexuals: Individuals who do not identify with their biological or birth-assigned sex and who wish to alter their bodies surgically and or hormonally to be congruent with how they experience themselves. (see also transitioning) Transvestite: A person who dresses and acts in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite gender. In some cases, the person derives emotional or sexual gratification from doing this. A transvestite differs from a transsexual in that they do not necessarily want to alter their bodies. In the United States, the older term transvestite is considered by many to be offensive but the usage and connotation vary internationally. See crossdresser. Two-Spirit: A term developed by Native Americans to describe the specific traditional and cultural gender identities in many Native American nations, but not all, of a person where the male and female spirit co-existed in one body and they exhibited the chatacteristics of both spirits. Each nation had their own name for this person based in their native language. The older generic term "berdache" was developed by Europeans and anthropologists and based on its entomological origins many Native Americans now consider it offensive. Zie: Pronounced "zee." Zie is a third person subjective pronoun that is used in lieu of she and he. Do not use this pronoun to refer to someone unless you have been asked to or well understand a person's gender identity.