As times change, each generation grows up with different things being normalized. US culture as a whole still has a lot of conflict and acceptance to work out, but within our culture are eddies that lead the world in championing queer rights and setting examples for acceptance: Acceptance of those who look, or think, or feel differently or in ways that are hard to categorize within traditional boxes. For some this is still scary and hard to accept. The queer community is a niche culture that has had to hide for a while, so it’s had plenty of time to create and refine a language. To be a positive ally, you should know the lingo. Here is a simple guide to the current, but ever-evolving, terminology of “the gays.”
Heterosexual: a person who only has sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex/gender
Homosexual: a person who only has sexual relations with a person of the same sex/gender
Asexual: a person who has no sexual feelings toward people (they might have sexual feelings toward a scenario, however); this one can be complicated because it does not mean the person has an aversion to the act of sex, it just means that they don’t feel interested in it
Bisexual: a person who only has sexual relations with people who identify as male or female
Pansexual: a person who feels sexual attraction toward all sexes and genders, including but not limited to female and male
Now we tread into gender identity, which is not the same as medically identified sex (ie, male or female). Gender is how a person feels about their own femininity or masculinity, and the ways they decide to show people how they feel about that identity. For some people, this is a fixed feeling and for others it is a sliding scale that changes from day to week to month.
Cisgendered: a person who adheres to the gender that matches the sex they were assigned at birth; “cis” is Latin for “on the same side,” the opposite of “trans.”
Transgender: a person who identifies as a gender that does not correspond with their assigned-at-birth sex; key phrases here are afab and amab (assigned female at birth and assigned male at birth)
Nonbinary: a person who does not identify with the male/female binary of genders; pronouns here are important, and when in doubt use “they/them.” A relationship between nonbinary people is a ceterosexual relationship.
Genderqueer: a person who identifies as sometimes neither, one of, or both of the binary; be conscious of preferred pronouns because misgendering someone is extremely disrespectful and may be perceived as an act of violence
Agender: a person who does not identify with any gender or genders
Intersex: a person born with some degree of both sets of genitalia (1.7% of people are born intersex); unfortunately, the medical field really is the issue with this one. Doctors and/or parents have been known to decide which set of genitalia is more predominant and remove the less predominant parts of the neonate.
Pronouns can be tricky and may require some practice to navigate. Discussing preferred pronouns is a very personal conversation. Depending on the person’s comfort levels and the social setting, it can be a casual chat, or raising the subject may be completely inappropriate. So be respectful and mindful of someone’s comfort, and if the situation allows, the best phrasing is gentle and to the point. If you are unsure, just stick to nonbinary pronouns. In most social situations, a person will correct you.
He/His/Mr.: male identifying
She/Her/Mrs/Ms.: female identifying
They/Them/Mx.: nonbinary gender identifying
Ze/Hir/Mx.: non-gendered or gender-inclusive identifying
Something that often gets lost in translation is that relationships between any of the aforementioned types of people are not purely sexual. Queer people fall in love! Some even argue that because these identities are realized through self-discovery, that the relationships formed are extremely emotionally involved. So we also have terms for the feelings we feel toward others.
Heteroromantic: tendency to fall in love with the opposite sex/gender
Homoromantic: tendency to fall in love with the same sex/gender
Biromantic: tendency to fall in love with people expressing male and female sexes/genders
Panromantic: a person who feels romantic attraction toward all sexes/genders or people who identify as agender
Polyamorous: a person who falls in love with multiple people and has relationships with those people in consenting triads, quads, etc.
Aromantic: a person who does not typically — or perhaps ever — feel romantic love
Queer: a blanket term for all non-cisgendered or heterosexual minorities; problematic in its use as a derogatory term, but in the process of being reclaimed. Some people still feel triggered by it.
In an ever-evolving society, it can be hard to keep up with the new terms and phrases used to identify. Just remember, it is your responsibility to self-educate. Take the time to research some of these terms; Google is a damn good search engine. And remember that the ways people identify are deeply personal. It’s not your right to know: It’s at their discretion to share these sometimes intimate intricacies.