Words that you can & cannot use to describe the LGBTTQQIAAP community
Let’s talk about sex! And Gender, sexuality, pronouns and what is and isn’t okay.
There’s so much terminology for those who don’t fall into the heterosexual/cis-gendered categories. After centuries of being outcasts, we’re finally moving into a world of acceptance for those of us considered “other” outside of the parameters of “straight”, “male”, or “female”.
“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I’m shortchanging myself.” – Zanele Muholi
With a plethora of terminology out there, we see why folks need clarification. Lexicon evolves as society does. What was once an acceptable term could now be considered derogatory. At the same time, the community has now appropriated terms once used as insults.
Some people (usually the older generation to speak broadly) accidentally tend to get the terminology wrong and cause hurt. Ignorance is not bliss, people!
The vast range of terms means it’s easy to get confused. If your intentions are good, we’ll correct you and forgive you. So I’ll break the rainbow down for you, step by step. This handy guide will let you know what’s hot and what’s not, what is acceptable and what could cause hurt.
LGBTQQIAAP (OFTEN REFERRED TO AS LGBT+)
L IS FOR…LESBIAN!
Lesbians identify as women and are only interested in other women. Like all other groups of people, lesbians present themselves differently.
Some are more masculine presenting. Some are very feminine presenting. Some are androgynous. Regardless of appearance, lesbian is your go-to term for a woman who is into other women. Some lesbians may refer to themselves (within safe spaces/people they know well) as a butch or a dike. (See Lea DeLaria –Boo in Orange is the New Black.) Some may refer to themselves as femme or “lipstick”.
Your safest bet is always Lesbian. Or, you know, just their name, because why does it even matter?
Terms that are not acceptable: lezza, dike (in general reference to someone who looks like a stereotype of a lesbian), homo etc. These aren’t fun and should not be used.
G IS FOR…GAY!
Gay refers to people who identify as men and are only attracted to other men. The stereotype of gay men indicates a feminine man, usually well groomed, high a pitched voice, very camp and all a bit silly. Yes, some gay men are that, and we love them. However, some gay men are the inverse; very masculine, deep-voiced, and sensible. Everything in between those two, you can be there’s a gay man like it. Believe it or not, there might be one who looks just like your grandad. Or your neighbour. Your doctor.
When in doubt, use the word from the umbrella. Gay. It’s the only safe option. A gay man may refer to himself as a bear or a host of other sentiments, but I’d stick with gay. You could also use the term to refer to a woman who likes other women.
It’s not okay to use it as an insult, though. “Don’t be so gay” is a phrase people use if someone doesn’t want to do something they want, for example. That’s not okay. Being gay is not an issue, so let’s not use it as an insult. Homo/faggot/fairy/bender – these aren’t cool. Ever.
B IS FOR…. BISEXUAL!
A bisexual person is a man or a woman who is attracted to both men and women. If I had to put myself in a patch in the rainbow, this is where I would fall. I have dated both men and women. My only serious relationship has been with a woman.
Some people, both within and outside of the LGBT+ community, cannot comprehend being bisexual. Bi-erasure in the LGBT+ community is real. We’re not gay enough, apparently. Some straight people think we’re just gays who are only half out of the closet.
Some people will just call us plain old greedy. It’s not about greed; being bi can be confusing as hell sometimes. We’re not greedy; we’re just lucky. Believe me, it doesn’t double the size of the dating pool.
Many bi-sexual people will refer to themselves as gay in the LGBT+ community. It’s just easier. If your friend is bi and refers to themselves as gay, that’s okay.
T IS FOR…TRANSGENDER!
A transgender person – or trans person – is someone who was born one gender but identifies as another. Some trans people undergo a very long process of medication and surgery to become the gender they identify with. Others will live outwardly as their identified gender while keeping their original form. The process of becoming the gender they identify with (from their birth gender) is called transitioning.
A trans person’s gender and sexuality are two very different things and not to be confused. There are trans-women (born with male genitalia) who will identify as a lesbian and are only attracted to other women. A trans-woman may only be attracted to men, too. Generally speaking, this does not make them gay, though they may choose to identify as this before their transition. Synonymously, there are trans-men (born with female genitalia) who are only attracted to women. Some trans-men identify as gay and are only attracted to men. Of course, to throw another colour into the rainbow, some bi-sexual trans people are attracted to cis-gendered men and women.
This is a very deeply personal topic, and each trans-person’s situation differs from the next. If you are lucky enough to know a trans person personally, if they are happy to talk, ask them how they identify. Many trans people have spent much of their life being confused by “outsiders” who recognise them as the incorrect gender. They have had a deeply personal struggle to become who they are. Many find it comforting and respectful when you take an interest in them and their identity.
What is not acceptable is calling a trans-person a tranny. This term was once derogatorily used to refer to the people we now proudly name Drag Queens or Drag Artists. Though most drag queens are gay men, they are not all transgender. A man dressed as a woman for fun or for a show is not the same as a trans person born male and identifies/lives as a female.
The LGBTTQQIAAP acronym reminds everyone that love and acceptance should be extended to all, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. – #WWR
Q (NUMBER 1) IS…QUEER!
Many people in the rainbow will identify as Queer. This generally means anything outside of the heteronormative. I often refer to myself or my peers as Queer. Rather than identifying with one label or feeling that none of the traditional profiles ticks their own personal boxes, Queer is an easy umbrella term for us to live under.
The word was once used to describe strange people. It has been historically used as a derogatory term for those not brave enough to use the term gay to refer to someone else. At some point in recent history, we have reclaimed this word. Taking ownership of the word and choosing to use it for yourself took away the insulting power it once had.
Q (NUMBER 2) IS FOR…QUESTIONING!
This term can be used in terms of both gender and sexuality. You may be a woman or girl (teens through to old age) who has only been sexually and romantically involved with men. However, you’ve always thought that you might be attracted to women. Sometimes you might see a beautiful woman in the street and not be able to decide whether you want to be her or be with her. It’s the same for men, too, in this instance.
A person who is questioning their sexuality may never act on it. They may have a drunken kiss in a nightclub and leave it that. Perhaps they go on to have a relationship with a person of the same gender. Life’s full of opportunity!
A person questioning their gender may have been born one gender but have felt they might want to be the other. Again, they might never act on it. They might try dressing in the other gender’s clothes once or twice. They may go on to transition to the other gender, both outwardly and physically.
While the questioning period can be exciting, it can be profoundly confusing and emotionally stressful. If someone you know is questioning, be kind. Give them space to talk or just be whomever they want to be.
I IS FOR…INTERSEX!
An intersex person is one who, physically, does not fall into the traditional male/female gender. Intersex people may have both (or neither) genitalia at birth. Most likely, their parents will have assigned them a gender at birth and prescribe that they live their life to that gender. They may choose later in life to change their gender to the one they identify with rather than the one parents or doctors assigned them.
In Greek history, an Intersex person was considered someone with superhuman powers!
Whichever gender an intersex person identifies with is the only option you should choose. This issue only relates to their gender and not their sexual preference.
Once upon a time, intersex people were referred to as hermaphrodites. This term has been thrown out for use regarding humans and can now only be used to describe certain animals. This is never a word you should use about another person.
A (NUMBER ONE)…IS FOR ASEXUAL!
Asexuality is a broad term for someone (of any gender) who is not physically or sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of sexuality or gender. This is not a person to be pitied. They may live their life in romantic, non-sexual relationships. Some asexual people may never have a romantic relationship and will live happily.
There is a significant difference between someone who is asexual and celibate. A celibate person has sexual attractions and feelings but abstains from them. An asexual person has little or no sexual attraction or desire. Don’t get it confused, people!
A (NUMBER TWO) IS FOR…ALLY! (Although different perspectives exist within the LGBT+ community regarding this inclusion.)
You guys are great. You gorgeous allies identify as straight and cis-gendered but love all of us in the rainbow. You believe in equality. You know that everyone has the right to live as they want to be and love whoever they want to – regardless of any physical or sexual alignments.
You’ll turn up to your local Pride parade dressed brightly and cheering the queers with love and support. Without allies, we wouldn’t have come as far as we have with LGBT+ rights worldwide. We thank you for your continuous support and will always love you.
P IS FOR…PANSEXUAL!
The last letter in our rainbow acronym is possibly the broadest of all. A pansexual person is a person who is attracted to people of all genders, including trans and non-binary people (people who identify as neither gender).
A pan person may go from sex with a woman to a relationship with a post-transition man. They may be in one long-term, heterosexual relationship their whole life but still be attracted to all gender types.
There is no link to Peter Pan here. These aren’t people who haven’t grown up; they’re just people who don’t conform to certain types!
KNOWING A PERSON UNDER THE RAINBOW
If you’re lucky enough to know or love someone under the LGBTQQIAAP rainbow, just ask them how they identify and how they would like to be referred to. Some people may not want to be boxed and may not choose a term. For those who do, getting their pronouns correct is imperative. Whether a person identifies as he or she, gay or lesbian, non-binary or trans, is their place to tell you, not for you to decide.
*Originally published in 2019 on KikiBlahBlah.com. Written by Holly, a Queer, intersectional feminist and former Blogger.
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