Safe Zone Terms & Definitions

LGBTQ communities use various terms, phrases, and words to define and/or identify LGBTQ persons, allies, or concepts. Definitions of these terms and phrases are constantly changing, often contested, and based upon personal preferences and social changes.

Ally: A person who supports equal civil rights and gender equality and challenges the stereotypes associated with the LGBTQ community.

Androgyny/Androgynous: Simultaneously exhibiting masculine and feminine characteristics.

Asexual: A person who is not physically attracted to anyone, but can experience emotional and romantic feelings, and/or does not identify with a sexual orientation.

Assigned Gender: The gender assignment at birth based on the appearance of one’s external genitalia.

Biological Sex: Classification of one’s sex as determined at birth as male, female, or intersex based on anatomical, chromosomal, and hormonal characteristics. Often referred to as sex and used interchangeably—and incorrectly—with gender.

Bisexual: A person who is attracted to and may form sexual and affectionate relationships with either men or women.

Biphobia: Irrational fear and hatred of bisexual people, behavior, and/or bisexuality in general.

Butch: Displaying stereotypically masculine gender characteristics. This is related to the butch/femme stereotype, the idea that in a lesbian relationship one partner portrays the masculine or butch role and the other displays the feminine or femme role.

Cisgender: Describes when assigned gender and current gender identity are the same Cis- is the Latin prefix for ‘on the same side as’.

Closet/Closeted: A person who conceals his or her sexual orientation or gender identity is ‘closeted’ or ‘in the closet’. The closet represents a hiding place for one’s sexuality, gender expression, and/or gender identity.

Coming Out: Process of recognizing and accepting one’s sexual orientation, gender expression, and/or identity. Also refers to the act of disclosing one’s sexual orientation, gender expression, and/or identity to others. Also known as ‘coming out of the closet’.

Cross-Dress: Dressing in a manner considered culturally inappropriate for one’s assigned gender, typically dressing in clothing representing the other gender. This is unrelated to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Sometimes considered to be more of a behavior versus cross-dressing which is considered by some to be more of an identity.

Drag: Refers to individuals who dress in culturally appropriate clothing, typically in a performance role, inconsistent with their assigned gender. King: female dressed in male clothing; Queen: male dressed in female clothing.

Dyke: Reclaimed derogatory slang, referring to lesbians or bisexual women who act stereotypically masculine. Can still be used negatively, and may also include defining one’s progressive-political affiliations as well.

Fag/Faggot: Typically, a derogatory word referring to gay males. In some gay communities, these words are being reclaimed to describe a gay man who acts stereotypically effeminate.

Fag Hag: Generally offensive term describing a heterosexual female friend of a gay male.

Femme: Displaying stereotypically feminine gender characteristics. This is related to the butch/femme stereotype, the idea that in a lesbian relationship one partner portrays the masculine or butch role and the other displays the feminine or femme role.

Flaming/Flamer: Typically, this term is a derogatory word referring to a gay male who behaves in effeminate ways.

FTM: Female to Male. This refers to the direction of a transgender-identified person’s gender change from female to male.

Gay: Describes a male who is attracted to and may form sexual and affectionate relationships with the same-sex. Often gay is used to describe both men and women who partner with the same-sex; this is not universally preferred. Personal preference should define how one is identified.

Gender: A sociological construct defining the collection of characteristics that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness Note that the term gender is not interchangeable with the term sex.

Gender Dysphoria: This is the medical term for the psychological experience for a person whose physical appearance and/or sex organs do not match his or her gender identity.

Gender Expression: The way a person acts to communicate gender within one’s culture; this may or may not be consistent with prescribed gender roles, and may or may not reflect his or her gender identity

Gender Queer: Slang word for one who crosses gender lines through appearance, behaviors, and/or attitudes without necessarily trying to pass as the other gender. May identify as multigendered or genderless. Also known as Gender Bender.

Gender Identity: A person’s sense of him or herself as male, female, both, or neither regardless of assigned gender.

Gender Role: The norms of expected behavior for men and women defined by a particular culture.

Hermaphrodite: An outdated and somewhat derogatory term for someone who has both male and female sex organs.

Heterosexism: Societal and institutional reinforcement of heterosexuality as the privileged sexuality and norm; with the assumption that everyone identifies as heterosexual.

Homophobia: The irrational fear, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people or behavior.

Homosexual: A generally derogatory term to describe individuals who partner with the same sex. It is preferable to use a person’s preferred term (for example, lesbian, gay man, bisexual) and the phrase same-sex as the adjectival form.

Internalized Homophobia: Experience of shame, aversion, or self-hatred in reaction to one’s own feelings of attraction for a person of the same sex. This type of homophobia can be experienced by the LGBTQ community and those who partner with the opposite sex.

Intersex: A term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male; see www.isna.org or www.accordalliance.org for more information.

Lesbian: Defines a female who is attracted to and may form sexual and affectionate relationships with the same sex. Often lesbians are incorporated into the term gay; which is used to describe both men and women who partner with the same sex, but this is not universally preferred. Personal preference should define how one is identified.

MTF: Male to Female. This refers to the direction of a transgender-identified person’s gender change from male to female.

Out (someone): To disclose someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity without permission from that person.

Pansexual: Term used to describe a person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions. Gender and sex are unimportant or irrelevant in determining romantic, emotional, or physical attraction to others.

Partner: Gender-neutral and non-heterosexist method of describing someone’s ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’, or ‘husband/wife’; using this terminology is most often preferred in LGBTQ communities. Another commonly used term is significant other.

Passing: When used by transgender people, means that they are seen as the gender with which they self-identify.

Queer: A term with varied meanings. In the mid-late 20th century this was a derogatory slang term for the LGBTQ community and currently is still used by some in this manner. In the early 1990s many individuals and organizations began to reclaim this term. Some people use it as an all-inclusive or umbrella term to refer to all people who identify as LGBTQ. This usage is not accepted by the entire community. Often used by people who wish to challenge norms of sexuality and/or gender expression as well as to defy identities and labeling of persons.

Questioning: Term used to describe a person unsure, exploring, questioning, and/or concerned about applying labels to their sexuality, gender expression, and/or gender identity.

Rainbow Flag: Designed in 1978 for Gay Pride in San Francisco, the colors symbolize the diversity within the LGBTQ community. Now used to identify LGBTQ persons, allies, and to celebrate diversity and pride with the LGBTQ community.

Sex Reassignment Surgeries: Surgical procedures that change an individual’s body to make it conform to a person’s gender identity. While many use the term in the singular, in fact there are many different surgeries. ‘Sex change surgery’ is derogatory form of this concept.

Transgender (TG): an umbrella term that includes a wide range of identities which includes pre-transition, post-transition, and non-transitional transpeople as well as female impersonators and cross-dressers. It can refer to anyone whose behavior or identity falls outside of the stereotypical expectations of their gender.

Transphobia: The irrational fear, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against people who identify as transgender.

Transsexual (TS): An individual whose gender identity differs from what is culturally associated with their biological sex at birth, typically those who undergo medical procedures such as taking hormones or surgery. This is unrelated to sexual orientation.

Transitioning: The period during which a transperson begins to live as their new gender; common activities during this period may include changing one’s name or legal documents to reflect their gender identity, taking hormones, or having surgery.

Transvestite (TV): Dressing in a manner considered culturally inappropriate for one’s assigned gender, typically dressing in clothing representing the other gender. This is unrelated to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Sometimes considered to be more of an identity versus cross-dressing which is considered by some to be more of a behavior.

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