Despite the political turmoil regarding sexual orientation and gender, we’re living in exciting times: About half of Generation Z identifies as queer, and over a third of the respondents in the same study (conducted by forecasting agency J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group) strongly agreed that gender isn't what defines a person.
So what does it mean to be genderfluid or non-binary, and what about intersex? How does gender differentiate from orientation, and, speaking of orientation, how is bisexuality different than pansexuality? It’s important to learn the language in order to join the discussion—the LGBTQ community has a long and sordid history of people using language against them. Whether you’re queer yourself or just want to be a better ally, it’s crucial to get your terminology straight (but you don’t have to be straight).
Read on to learn 20 sexuality- and gender-related terms you need to know.
Orientation, or sexual orientation, describes who you are attracted to.
Though they're often misunderstood to mean the same thing, there's a crucial difference between gender and sexual orientation. “Sexual orientation is whom you are attracted to romantically, while gender identity is how one perceives themselves such as male, female, non-binary, et cetera,” explains sex educator and trauma specialist Jimanekia Eborn.
Hetereosexuality means being straight. Someone is hetero if they are attracted to their opposite gender.
While gay traditionally refers to men who are attracted to other men, as sexologist Timaree Leigh, Ph.D explains, it also has an umbrella definition to describe anyone who dates their same gender. For instance, many lesbians may refer to themselves as “gay.”
A lesbian is a woman who dates and is attracted to other women.
“Queer is another umbrella term that someone might use to describe themselves as not straight, but not comfortable with the gendered limitations of words like gay or lesbian,” says Dr. Leigh.
Queer is a word that was once a slur, and was reclaimed by the LGBTQ community, and because of this, there's a sense of belonging tied to the term. Most, if not all, queer folks have been shamed for their sexual orientation at some point, especially early on in their youth, before they were able to find others with whom they could relate. Many queer folks may also move to new cities and find chosen families. A sense of community, through blood or bond, is crucial to mental health. For queer folks, finding that community can be one of the most important turning points in their lives. This is why many people will describe themselves as "bisexual and queer."
LGBTQ is an acronym for the broader queer community. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer. Sometimes the "Q" also represents “question" (those questioning their sexuality), or is written out as “LGBTQQ” or “LGBTQ+.” Originally GLBT, the letters may also appear as LGBT or LGBTQI (adding an “I” for intersex).
Bisexuality refers to the capacity for attraction to your own gender, as well as genders that aren’t your own.
There’s a lot of overlap between bisexuality and pansexuality, and some use both to describe their orientation. Pansexuality is defined as attraction to people regardless of their gender identity. For pansexuals, gender is not a determining point in who they are interested in.
Biphobia is fear, hatred, and stigma towards bisexual people. It’s typically rooted in incorrect stereotypes, like an assumption that bi people can’t be monogamous, further perpetuate the gender binary by only dating cis people, or that bisexuality is just a stepping stone away from gay or straight, rather than a legit sexual orientation (which it is).
The gender binary assumes that someone is either “male” or “female,” and relies on the gender assigned at birth, based on genitals. As the gender revolution grows and more is understood about socialized gender roles, the more many people understand themselves and those around them as not just “male” or “female,” but somewhere in between. That could mean both male and female, trans, or both non-binary and trans.
A non-binary person is someone who doesn't identify on the gender binary (male and female), or solely as one of those two genders. Non-binary is an umbrella term—the pronoun someone uses and the way they describe their gender varies from person to person.
In general, being gender fluid describes someone whose gender fluctuates and has different gender identities at different times. Like non-binary people, how a genderfluid person describes themselves and the pronouns that they use vary from person to person. They may feel more male one day and more female the other, both male and female at the same time, non-binary and female at the same time, all at the same time, et cetera, et cetera.
Short for transgender, trans refers to someone whose gender assigned at birth by a doctor does not match their gender identity.
Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which someone is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t match the traditional definitions of female or male. This can refer both to genitals and chromosomes doctors use to mark gender.
Cis is short for cisgender, or a person whose gender matches the gender assigned to them at birth.
Cishet is an abbreviation for someone who is both cisgender and hetereosexual. A cishet person both identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, and is straight.
Put simply, asexuality is about not being sexually attracted to other humans, explains Dr. Leigh. “You may desire close relationships with people, even romantic ones, but the idea of touching each others' genitals is not particularly thrilling. Asexuality is different than celibacy—making an intentional decision to not have sex with others. Asexual folks may still enjoy masturbation, but they may not fantasize about involving another person in it.”
Hypersexuality is exactly what it sounds like. Dr. Leigh defines it as the ability to be attracted to someone based on looks alone, without knowing them personally. As long as there’s communication involved, there’s nothing wrong with being hypersexual, just like there’s nothing wrong with being asexual.
If sexuality is a spectrum, with asexuality at one end and hypersexuality at the other, demi-sexual sits in the middle. “Demisexuality implies that you don't feel attraction for other people innately, but can develop it over time with intimacy and connectedness,” says Dr. Leigh.
For even more guidance on sex and gender vocabulary, check out GLAAD’s Glossary of Terms.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.