Here is a glossary of some more common terms relating to the GLBT community that has been compiled over many years by a number of different people working for HATCH. It is not a complete list, but it covers a lot of ground. Some of these terms may be unfamiliar to you, and maybe even a little disturbing. If you do find something offensive, please know that we have done our best to keep the descriptions factual, neutral and devoid of opinion. If you have a suggestion to add or revise this list, please email our webmaster.
A person who confronts heterosexism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexual privilege, and so on, in themselves and others out of self-interest and a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer-related people, and who believes that heterosexism is a social injustice.
In the context of an organized group, such as a church congregation, practice within the group is available for all. There may be a written non-discrimination policy or doctrine that specifies gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members are fully embraced as honored members of the congregation and are not discriminated against because of their sexuality.
Beyond accepting, an affirming group or organization takes additional steps to make all members feel safe and equal. For instance, whereas an “accepting” church may welcome GLBT members without drawing much attention to the issue, an affirming church would acknowledge it openly, have programs/ministries for GLBT members, or advocate or work to elevate equality within the religion.
Androgyny may be physical, presentational, or some combination. An androgynous person, or androgyne, is either very masculine nor very feminine. The push for lesbians to look androgynous came during the 1970s as part of lesbian feminism, and was a backlash against the Butch/Femme social structure of the working class bar scene.
The bear movement developed during the late 80’s in the U.S. and went worldwide in the following decades. Men who call themselves “bears” are almost always gay or bi and may be large or heavy-set with beards or facial hair and a masculine appearance/attitude. None of these characteristics are “required” and there is no formal consensus (though lots of debate) on what a bear is and isn’t. In relation, younger/shorter/smaller-framed men may identify as “cubs” or “otters”. Heavier men are sometimes referred to as “chubs.”
A person who is attracted to people of both sexes. "Bi" is an also an accepted term. Not all people who have bisexual orientation identify as such publicly, due to social pressure from both the heterosexual and homosexual communities. Some may "choose" to identify as either "gay" or "straight" and even suppress their attraction to the other sex. Some homosexual persons may also claim to be bisexual in an effort to gain more acceptance.
A lesbian who dresses and behaves in a masculine fashion. Can be used derogatorily.
A male or female who has strong male characteristics, mannerisms, or behavior. Strong or tough. Displaying traits considered masculine. Describes both physical build and personality, and applied to both genders. Among gay men, some consider being butch the same as being "straight-acting,", although many reject this notion as one can have a combination both butch and femme traits.
Describes a relationship in which one person is femme and one is butch, and describing the dynamic between them. It also refers to the social structure prevalent in working-class lesbian bars up through the early 1970s. One had to be either a butch or a femme, and butches only dated femmes and femmes only dated butches. There was a lot of backlash against this structure in the 1970s when lesbian feminism emerged, and for a long time butches and femmes were absolutely politically incorrect, and were likely to be shunned by the feminist lesbian community. Butch/femme is starting to make a comeback. In its new form, it is not rigidly enforced: women are butch or femme because it is their own personality, and nothing else. Butch-on-butch and femme-on-femme are no longer discriminated against. There is, however, still very strong anti-butch/femme sentiment.
An ironic, often gay-identified approach to life, dress and speech gaining popularity following Susan Sontag's essay, "Notes Toward a Definition of Camp" in the Parisian Review in 1964. Today, when something or someone is described as “campy,” it is usually a reference to the subject’s mostly good-humored but sometimes vicious style of humor – usually ironic, dry-witted, clever, flamboyant, mocking, involving caricature, or exaggerating certain stereotypes in a overtly silly fashion. Drag is a more obvious form of camp.
A young gay male, usually in his teens or early twenties.
A cisgendered person is one whose assigned gender is consistent with the gender they identify with, as opposed to a transgender person (see “Transgender”). The term is used in place of an older term “gender normative,” which implies that to be transgender is abnormal.
First appearing in the 1970s, it refers to a gay man of a certain, somewhat standardized appearance. The classic look includes short-cropped hair, trim mustache, flannel shirt and Levi's brand 501 jeans -- on a relatively well sculptured body. Interchangeable with Castro clone after the main street of San Francisco's gay district. This is a dated term and rarely used today.
The place where gay women and men figuratively hide their homosexuality. "In the closet" means not being open about being gay. This person may be referred to by others as "a closet case" or "closet queen".
A community is a group of people who share a common cause, purpose, identity, or set of ideas/beliefs. The GLBT community consists of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, and allies. In the most ideal sense, it celebrates all sexual orientations and forms of gender expression, and is united in pursuit of equality and justice for sexual minorities. In this spirit, the community can be a global, national or even regional force for social and political change. At the microcosmic level, however, the four sexual minority groups don't always mix well. There is still a fair amount of segregation between gay men and lesbians in social setting. Also, not until the 1980s did bisexual and transgender communities gain recognition and inclusion by the gay rights movement. Transgender persons may still experience discrimination or rejection by their gay/lesbian/bi peers. Despite these collective shortcomings, the GLBT community continues to evolve!
A person who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for pleasure or fun complete with makeup, hair, mannerisms; this does not mean that the person is homosexual and most often cross-dressers are not. This differs from drag, which is a form of entertainment. The term transvestite was once used to describe cross-dressers, but that is considered derogatory and at the very least outdated.
As in “he’s on the down-low,” the terms describes a gay, lesbian or bi person who lives life as a heterosexual but participates in same-sex activity secretly, often unbeknownst to spouses or opposite sex partners. It is used primarily in the African American community, but is gaining usage elsewhere.
To dress in a way usually identified with the opposite sex, often with exaggerated stereotypical characteristics. It differs from cross-dressing in that drag is associated with entertainment and/or creating an illusion of the opposite sex, while cross-dressing is done for general enjoyment and sometimes arousal. "Dressing in drag," "I’m in a drag show," "I'll be going to the party in drag." See also drag queen/king.
A person known to dress in drag on occasion, or who performs in public in drag.
A lesbian. Derived from 19th cent. slang, dike, referring to male clothing. When first used it carried a derogatory connotation of masculine appearance or behavior. The connotation is still present, but many lesbians adopted the word as their term of preference. It may also be pejorative toward lesbians: "What a dyke."
Descriptor for a transgender person who identifies as male but was assigned female gender at birth.
A heterosexual woman who socializes extensively with gay men. The term is sometimes, but not always, pejorative.
A male homosexual. Like dyke, the term was originally an epithet, but may be used casually/affectionately by gay men toward other gay men. In the early years of the Gay Liberation movement, some activists suggested it's derivative was from fagot, kindling used during the Inquisition when heretics, homosexuals and others, were burned at the stake. Others look to fag, the younger boys in British boy' schools used to do menial tasks for the upperclassmen. Also used as a put-down for a gay male. "Hey, you fag!" "He's such a faggot."
A member of the homosexual community; implies that you gain support from the clusters of gay people around you. Also considered an extension of the nuclear family. Usage: "Oh, yes family, for sure!"
A lesbian or gay man who acts or dresses effeminately. A male who has female mannerisms, characteristics, or behavior. A female can also be considered femme if she has overly feminine characteristics or mannerisms. Opposite of butch.
An acronym meaning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender used as a descriptor, as in “GLBT community”. Another variation is LGBTQIA, with the Q for either “queer” or “questioning,” I for “intersex” and A for “allies.” There is persistent debate within the community about how long the acronym should extend for practical purposes, and whether the L or the G should come first as a matter of principle. Regardless of variation, this type of acronym has evolved as representing the solidarity among the different categories sexual minorities as a single movement toward gaining acceptance and advancing civil rights/freedoms.
Homosexual. In the 17th century the term was expanded from its earlier meaning of cheerful to refer to men with a reputation for being playboys (gay Lothario first appeared in 1703). By the early 1800s, it was further expanded to refer to women with a reputation for sexual promiscuity. The term was first self-applied in the early 20th cent. The transition of gay meaning homosexual took off in the 1960’s and was complete by the 1970s. Today, most heterosexuals apply the word "gay" to both gay men and lesbians, whereas, within the GLBT community "gay" is most often applied to men. Some lesbians call themselves gay as well, and some don't.
To verbally or physically attack a person because they are homosexual; other forms are verbal put-downs and epithets such as "fag", "dyke", "lez", "homo", or "that's so gay."
Short for "gay radar," the sense by which GLBT people identify other GLBT people. Some heterosexuals also claim to share this talent.
The expression or behavior of a person often defined as masculine, feminine, androgynous or any combination thereof. Gender roles are the behaviors and activities are directly associated with a person’s sex (determined at birth) and guided by societal norms. These roles evolve over time and vary from one society to another; however, most societies are “gender binary”—whereby social rules dictate that one must identify and present themselves exclusively as male or female, supporting the belief that the world has only two sexes and two correlating genders.
See Gender Identity Disorder.
How one expresses one’s self, in terms of dress and/or behaviors, that society will usually categorize as masculine or feminine but may be any combination thereof.
One’s inner image of one’s self and how a person identifies their gender. Often identifies how a person “presents” to the world.
Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is a clinical diagnosis used by physicians and psychiatrists, characterized by a strong and persistent incongruence between an individual’s identified gender and that which they were assigned at birth. This diagnosis is a basis for an individual to physically and legally change gender (see “Transition”). As of 2010, the American Psychiatric Association has proposed re-categorizing its indicators for GID under the heading of “gender dysphoria” (GD), a term preferred by many as it reflects a treatable condition as opposed to a mental illness.
A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside of societal norms for their sex. Often used by people who deliberately blur the gender binary and the relationship between sex and gender.
An outdated and insulting term used to describe intersexed people.
The belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality or bisexuality, or the tendency to assume that everyone is heterosexual.
Attracted to the opposite sex. Considered the opposite of homosexual, it was used in the late 19th century to identify people attracted to both sexes; what we call today, bisexual.
Synonymous with homosexual, homophile was a term adopted by some gay men and lesbians in the 40’s and 50’s, especially those who were either politically or socially engaged. The “homophile movement” which included The Mattachine Society, gave way to the gay rights/gay liberation movement of the 60’s.
Irrational fear of gay people and homosexuality. Coined by George Weinberg in Society and the Healthy Homosexual. Feelings that homosexuality is not normal, or that homosexuals are bad people, heterosexuals are "normal." A sexual minority may also suffer from internalized homophobia, which is feeling shameful of one's sexuality based on the false notion that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality, or that homosexuality is wrong or amoral.
Attracted physically to the same sex. Coined in 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny. First appears in U.S. medical journals in the 1890s, and in general usage by the 1920s.
Persons who are born with genitals that have characteristics of both sexes. Most intersexed persons are subject to surgery in infancy assigning them a sex of male or female (a decision that is made by their parents and/or their doctor). One in 10,000 children are born intersexed.
The Greek letter which transliterates as L. To the Greeks, it was a symbol of justice and equality, taking its shape from the scales of justice. It was adopted as a gay pride/gay rights symbol by the Mattachine Society in the 1970s, and is an international symbol of gay pride. Mattachine adopted it because of the symbolism of Justice and because they had been told that the army of one of the Greek city-states used to paint the lambda on their shields, and members of Greek armies, because of the male-only environment they lived in, frequently took male lovers.
Gay male leather subculture emerged from post-World War II motorcycle clubs of the 1940’s and 50’s, some of which were gay. Other “leather men” adopted a similar hyper-masculine biker look (minus the bike) as an erotic expression and to distinguish from other aspects of gay culture that were deemed too refined or effeminate. BDSM experimentation was a main theme of leather subculture during the time of the 60’s sexual revolution through pre-AIDS gay liberation. Since the onset of AIDS, most leather clubs shifted their focus from away from sexual adventure to service and fundraising for HIV/AIDS causes, though most still wear the leather vest with their club patch or insignia. Today, “leather” is one aspect of a larger, more mainstream BDSM community consisting of heterosexual and GLBT adults, who share a common interest in a wide variety of “safe, sane and consensual” alternative sexual practices.
A homosexual woman. The ancient Greek poet, Sappho lived on the island of Lesbos. As Sappho became known for her poems celebrating love between women, the term changed from "one who lives on Lesbos" to "a woman like Sappho and her followers." The word derives from the Greek island of Lesbos, where the poetess Sappho ran a school for young women, and often wrote erotic poetry about love between women. She is considered by many lesbians to have been a lesbian, although she was married and had children. Some lesbians also describe themselves as "gay" and may use the two terms interchangeably, whereas other prefer "lesbian" exclusively.
A lesbian who appears and/or behaves in a very feminine manner, perceived by some to be “straight-acting” or “un-lesbian-like.” It may also be used to describe feminine lesbians who prefer other feminine lesbians.
Descriptor for a transgender person who identifies as female but was assigned male gender at birth.
Similar to Femme.
A person who is out, or "out of the closet," no longer attempts to hide being gay, a person who lives life as a known gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person. "Coming out" and "out of the closet"
The symbol gay men were made to wear in the Nazi concentration camps. It became a symbol of gay pride, and was first used to remind some homophobic Jews that homosexuals were in the concentration camps, too.
As in "gay pride," or "GLBT pride," the term is used mostly in conjunction with annual pride marches and celebrations across the globe and is associated with the Pride Flag and rainbow colors; however, one can have and show "pride" every day by coming out to someone, wearing pride colors, or supporting a GLBT cause. When you Google the word "pride" by itself and click Images, the GLBT Pride flag appears.
Effeminate gay man, from the 16th century, quean, a disparaging word for an unpleasant or promiscuous woman. A gay male who has dignity while being nelly. "Screaming Queen" is a queen with far less dignity and composure. "Raging Queen" is similar but with an added level of cynicism and acerbic personality.
Used as a noun or adjective to describe a sexual minority without resorting to a definitive label. Instead of describing oneself as a lesbian, transsexual, or bisexual male, a more general term would be queer. Once a pejorative term used against homosexuals, it was “reclaimed” by the GLBT community as a term of empowerment. Use reached a peak in the late-80’s/early 90’s during the height of gay activism driven by the AIDS crisis, embodied by groups like Queer Nation and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). However, fewer GLBT persons identify with the word today and some actually find it offensive.
Used in the context of sexual orientation, someone who is challenging inner beliefs and feelings toward homosexuality, dealing with their own homophobia.
The first rainbow flag, or GLBT pride flag, was designed in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker. Today it appears as a series of six solid stripes (in order): red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Variations of the rainbow symbol are used widely in logos and graphics, and on signs, decals and clothing to express pride and solidarity with the GLBT community. Some assert that it also symbolizes diversity within the community.
The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the late 1960s on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York, which was raided by police on the night of June 28th, 1969. The queers in the bar (mostly butches, femmes, leathermen, leatherdykes, and drag queens) fought back, trapping police inside, breaking windows, and setting fire to the bar. Rioting continued for five days. These riots are generally considered to be the birth of the gay pride movement, although there were groups before that, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis.
We're going to break our own rule for this one and take the editorial approach... Why would a lovely, happy, beautiful, talented, kind, quirky, totally amazing person—who is anything but heterosexual—want to describe themselves as "straight-acting," like it's a good thing? We get it, some people are obsessed with perception, and many of us grew up taking abuse from people who perceived that we were different, too feminine, too masculine, or whatever. It's easy to see how we came to believe that the straighter we act, the better off we are. But, is that really true? Will all the jerks of the world like us more? No. Because if you're gay, lesbian or bi, the thing that makes you that way means that you, at some point in your life, are not going to act straight. That also happens to be the part those jerky people don't like. So, let's make this the decade where we drop that term for good. You in? Be butch. Be femme. Be both. Be neither. Be yourself. And don't let anyone tell you it's not good enough! The end.
The biological anatomy of a person as determined at birth by a doctor, which can be altered by sex reassignment surgery. Sex is determined by this society in terms of male or female.
From Wikipedia: “Transgender is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to vary from culturally conventional gender roles.”
It is often used synonymously with transsexual(ism), however, the broader meaning also covers genderqueer and intersex individuals, as well as persons who identify more with the opposite of their assigned gender/sex but who may not have immediate plans of transitioning, or who intentionally undergo a partial transition (resulting in having both male and female “parts.”) “Tranny” is derogatory when used to put a person down, but it may be used casually/affectionately by persons who identify as transgender and their allies.
Fear and intolerance of transgender people who persons who break societal gender norms. A significant amount of transphobia comes from within the GLBT community, however, this is changing as TG people become more understood and accepted.
Changing self-presentation so that one can better live and/or identify as their self-prescribed gender and/or sex. This may involve taking hormones and/or having surgery.
Transsexuals are individuals who feel that they are a member of the opposite sex or that they were assigned the wrong sex/gender at birth. These individuals may simply alter their image at times to appear as opposite to their assigned sex or they may live their life as the opposite sex. Some use hormones to develop aspects of the opposite sex; i.e., to develop breasts, or grow facial and body hair. Some individuals undergo sex reassignment surgery to permanently alter their reproductive organs to match their identified gender.
Opposite of a “bear” in gay male culture, used to describe gay men who are young, skinny, hairless, or effeminate in behavior or appearance, or a combination of those traits. It is mostly used by men in the Bear and Leather communities, sometimes as a criticism but not always.