Your Essential Guide To The LGBT Acronym, So You Can Use Each Term RESPECTFULLY

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Your Guide To What Each Letter In The LGBT Acronym Means

Knowledge is power.

Nobody wants to put their foot in their mouth. Especially with queer friends or colleagues.

But have you ever wondered why it's so important to us that you get the words right? Why people like me, an extremely active, political and vocal member of the queer community, corrects people? Why the terminology seems overly complicated — tedious even — but matters so deeply?

For example, LGBTIAAQQPP+. You might think OMG, why can't we just say "gay" and leave it at that? (The long alphabet-soup acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexed, Asexual, Androgynous, Queer, Questioning, Pansexual, and Polyamorous, by the way.)

These are the words we use to describe the most important things about ourselves: our identity. The difference between two words that might sound similar can be vast.

So just listen. I'll try not to make your head spin. But these definitions are important because they're important to us. And really, they're not so complicated.

So here are the essentials:



The oversimplified version would be to say a lesbian is a woman that loves and is sexually attracted to women. The more technically correct version is a female identified* person that loves and is sexually attracted to other female identified people.

*See Transgender for clarification


A male identified person that loves or is sexually attracted to male identified people. Gay has come to describe the LGBT community as a whole, but in proper terminology, it should be queer**. 

This term, believe it or not, is incorrectly used in the phrase "gay marriage." It implies that marriage is only for gay cis-men, or potentially lesbian couples, while "same sex marriage" is correct because people may be of the same sex, but different genders**.

**See Queer for more information


Any gendered person that loves or is sexually attracted to both binary genders. This can be a man or woman attracted to men 50% of the time and women 50% of the time, but the balance is often uneven, such as a man or woman attracted to men 30% of the time and women 70% of the time.


This is an umbrella term that can be loosely defined as someone whose gender identity does not match the one that they were designated at birth by their sex organs.

To fully understand this, we need to know the difference between sex, gender, and gender expression. Sex is biological, determined solely on the genitals that you have, generally making you man or woman. Gender is how you see yourself, as male or female. The closest description is that you feel male, but the truth is you ARE male — you just were classified as female when born, based on the genitals.

Gender expression is the outward characteristics one can put out in order to be perceived as the gender of their desire, following masculine or feminine traits. Hair length is a common indicator of masculine or feminine identity. Long hair is considered feminine, while short is masculine. While there is never an absolute when it comes to masculine and feminine, this type of gender expression is fairly common.

Say that you are designated female at birth, but identify as male. This would make you a Female to Male transgender man or transman for short. Even shorter, Female to Male can be reduced to F2M. If you are designated male at birth but identify as female, you are a transwoman, Male to Female, or M2F.

While most people believe there are only two genders, there is a lot more diversity in the world. Native Americans, Hindu Indians, and people from the Philippines all have a third gender. There are people who feel like both male and female, at the same time or depending on the day, called bi-gender, or genderfluid. There are people without gender, either because they have genitals from both sexes (more on that in a minute), or because they do not feel a part of masculine or feminine identity.  They are called agender.

There are many ways transmen and women perform and change their gender expression to match who they are. This could be changing clothes, haircuts, body language, or speech patterns. Some transpeople are content with that, such as a transvestite, who is a male lesbian. Others will undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and surgery to make changes to their secondary sex characteristics and more closely conform to their gender. They are called transsexuals. Not everyone who is transgender is transsexual, but every transsexual is transgender.

If your gender matches the sex you were given at birth, you are called cisgender.

Note: Gender and sexuality are not the same. Just as a cisgendered girl can be a lesbian, an M2F could be one too. To clarify that example, someone designated male at birth can be attracted to women then transition to BEING a woman, still find women attractive, and then identify as a lesbian transwoman. Lesbian is the sexuality, woman is the gender. Sexuality = who you love; gender = who you are.


When people are born, the doctor will look between their legs, and say what the baby is. 1 in 1,000 babies has ambiguous or both sexes’ genitals. This means the doctor looking has no way of knowing which box to check on the birth certificate. These children (and the adults they grow into) are called intersexed.

What often happens is the doctors will choose a sex and then operate on the baby and give them genitals that match. Sometimes the treated involves removing an “extra” sex organ and putting the child on hormone therapy. All this is usually done almost immediately after the child is born. The child cannot consent, or tell anyone what gender they are. It is completely forced upon them, and doctors make mistakes.

There are support groups for intersexed people, and a big issue they focus on is preventing surgery and genital mutilation before the children can choose for themselves.


Literally “non-sexual.” While many people are attracted to others sexually, asexual people do not get that feeling. They are still capable of having sex, it’s just compatibility of sex organs has no priority draw for them.

Asexual people are still capable of love romantically, visually, emotionally (demisexual), or intellectually (sapiosexual).


A person that’s gender expression is not clearly masculine or feminine, regardless of what gender they actually are.


Considered everything that is non-straight and non-cisgendered. Queer is the umbrella term for this entire acronym. Everything under it is queer, but there is more to queer than the other letters.

Many people use the word to describe themselves if two or more letters apply, or if their identity is more gray than black and white.


Sometimes people aren’t sure whether or not they belong to the queer community. The fact that they have considered this earns them a place in the acronym because every other letter starts from someone questioning their self-identity.


“Pan” meaning “all,” pansexuals are capable of loving any person regardless of gender identity. Men or women, trans or cis, everyone and neither, they all work. No, they are not attracted to a frying pan.


From Greek and Latin roots, it translates to “many loves.” A polyamorous person can be in love with many people at the same time. This is hard because society pressures everyone to be happy with one person alone, but some people are capable of more.

This is not the same as cheating. Cheating is sleeping with multiple people behind their backs. Polyamory is about open communication and trust, sharing and loving, just with more than one person.


Sexuality and gender are always changing. The plus sign symbolizes a holding place, waiting for the next letter to arrive.