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  • Writer's pictureSummer Gomez

How to use the right LGBTQ+ terminology

The language we use shapes everything. Both the written and spoken word are incredibly important, especially in current times, when there are fewer opportunities to interact in-person and convey our thoughts via actions or gestures. We’re relying on conversations, texts, and emails to get our points across.

Thus, right now, more than ever, it’s important to review the LGBTQ+ terminology you’re using. The LGBTQ+ community is a culture; to truly understand said culture and address it in respectful, knowledgeable ways, you’ll want to utilize the correct vocabulary.

When it comes to texts and emails, tone is completely lost. You can’t rely on emojis and GIFs to drive home your point, either. The best practice is to learn and understand the proper language to avoid offensive missteps, even if they aren’t intentional.

Here are a few critical terms you should learn:

  • Ally - A person who does not identify with a community or group but publicly supports that group.

  • Assigned Sex - The sex with which a person is assigned at birth, which usually corresponds to the gender identity the person was raised with or assumed to have.

  • Asexual - A person who has limited or no sexual feelings or desires. Like everything else, asexuality is a spectrum.

  • Bisexual - A person who is romantically or sexually attracted to people of multiple genders.

  • Cisgender/Cis - A person whose gender identity corresponds with their assigned sex.

  • Deadname - The birth name of someone who has changed his/her/their name – usually a transgender person. Using someone’s deadname without permission is highly offensive.

  • Gender Confirmation Surgery - The surgical procedure(s) by which a transgender person’s physical appearance and function of existing sexual characteristics are altered to resemble that socially associated with his/her/their identified gender. It can include top surgery and/or bottom surgery. Previously called genital reconstruction surgery, gender-affirming surgery, or more controversially, “sex realignment surgery,” “sex reassignment,” or “sex change.”

  • Gender Dysphoria - The discomfort felt when a person’s assigned sex does not match with gender identity. A diagnosis of gender dysphoria is often required before a trans person can access any form of medical transition.

  • Gender Identity - A person’s internal sense of self as it relates to masculinity or femininity.

  • Genderqueer - An identity that does not feature the gender binary, involving combinations of masculinity or femininity. See also: non-binary.

  • Intersex - A person who is born with variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that don’t fit the typical “male” or “female” definitions.

  • Misgendering - The act of referring to someone as the wrong gender, often by using the wrong pronouns. Similar to deadnaming.

  • Non-binary - A person with a gender identity that is not exclusively male or female.

  • Pansexual - A person who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.

  • Queer - Originally a derogatory slur toward gay men. LGBT community members have reclaimed it as a self-affirming, self-descriptive umbrella term.

  • Sexual Orientation - The gender to which a person is attracted – preferred to the outdated “sexual preference,” which appears to suggest conscious choice.

  • Trans - An abbreviation of transgender. Sometimes used as a broader umbrella term to refer to people with a non-cisgender gender identity.

  • Transgender - A person who has a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex.

  • Transitioning - The process of a transgender person presenting themselves as their gender identity. This can include the changing of appearance, name, and pronouns.

  • Transsexual - A term that is considered offensive by some transgender people. Sometimes used to refer to transgender people who have already undergone gender confirmation surgery. 

  • Transvestite - A person who dresses and acts in a style or manner traditionally associated with another sex. Now seen as outdated and often a slur.

This list is really just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many more specifics and intricacies when it comes to using the correct LGBTQ+ verbiage. Knowing the terminology will help you feel more confident when discussing these matters, and the more familiar you become with this vocabulary, the easier it will be to use the terms seamlessly and correctly.

Keep talking about LGBTQ+ matters, ask questions, and do your research to determine which terms are accepted. With understanding comes meaningful support and clear language, so you won’t need a cute cat GIF to get your point across. That being said, kitty GIFs are typically welcome, too.

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