Glossary of common terms
Understanding and using the language/terminology associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) communities helps to ensure that services and organisations are inclusive and respectful. This resource sheet provides a glossary of terms for practitioners and service providers to help them to better understand the terminology and to use inclusive language in service provision.
This resource sheet provides information on terminology and phrases used within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) communities. This information is intended to help service providers and practitioners create safe spaces for members of these communities to access services.
Improving access to services is important due to the higher rates of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and suicide (Rosenstreich, 2013) that are experienced by members of LGBTIQ+ communities compared to their non-LGBTIQ+ peers. Research also indicates that pressures faced by same-gender attracted young people, such as bullying, homelessness and feelings of shame, fear and confusion, do not stem from the nature of their sexual or gender diversity. Rather, they are driven by experiences of marginalisation via institutions that are important in the lives of young people, including schools, health services and welfare services (Dyson et al., 2003).
It is acknowledged that issues of gender identity are different to issues of sexual orientation; however, for ease of reference, both are included in this resource sheet. Further, it is acknowledged that some terminology is contested (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015) and language in this area is evolving. Therefore, practitioners and service providers are encouraged to use this resource sheet in conjunction with other sources of information (e.g., see the “Further reading” and “Resources and organisations” listed at the end of this resource sheet).
There is a great deal of diversity within the LGBTIQ+ communities and a wide range of terms and language related to:
- sexual attraction;
- experiences; and
- legal and medical classifications (Fileborn, 2012; National LGBT Health Alliance , 2013a).
It is important to acknowledge the complexity of people's lived experiences and recognise that the above aspects may apply to individuals in different ways and different times across the life span (National LGBT Health Alliance, 2013a).
This glossary is organised around the following categories:
- bodies and gender;
- sexual orientations; and
- societal attitudes /issues.
Bodies, gender and gender identities
Sex: a person's sex is made up of anatomical, chromosomal and hormonal characteristics. Sex is classified as either male or female at birth based on a person's external anatomical features. However, sex is not always straight forward as some people may be born with an intersex variation, and anatomical and hormonal characteristics can change over a lifespan.
Intersex: an umbrella term that refers to individuals who have anatomical, chromosomal and hormonal characteristics that differ from medical and conventional understandings of male and female bodies. Intersex people may be "neither wholly female nor wholly male; a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male" (Sex Discrimination Amendment Act (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) 2013 (Cth)).
Intersex people may identify as either men, women or non-binary (see below).
Gender: Gender refers to the socially constructed and hierarchical categories assigned to us on the basis of our apparent sex at birth. While other genders are recognised in some cultures, in Western society, people are expected to conform to one of two gender roles matching their apparent sex; for example, male = man/masculine and female = woman/feminine.
Gender norms define how we should dress, act/behave, and the appropriate roles and positons of privilege we have in society, for example the power relationships between men and women. Failing to adhere to the norms associated with one's gender can result in ridicule, intimidation and even violence (Aizura, Walsh, Pike, Ward, & Jak 2010).
Many people do not fit into these narrowly defined and rigid gender norms. Some women may feel masculine, some men may feel more feminine and some people may not feel either, or may reject gender altogether (see below).
Gender identity: refers to an inner sense of oneself as man, woman, masculine, feminine, neither, both, or moving around freely between or outside of the gender binary.
Gender binary: the spectrum-based classification of gender into the two categories of either man or woman based on biological sex, as described above.
Transgender/Trans/ Gender diverse: umbrella terms to refer to people whose assigned sex at birth does not match their internal gender identity, regardless of whether their gender is outside the gender binary or within it. Transgender/trans or gender diverse people may identify as non-binary, that is: they may not identify exclusively as either gender; they may identify as both genders, they may identify as neither gender; they may move around freely in between the gender binary; or may reject the idea of gender altogether.
Transgender/trans or gender diverse people may choose to live their lives with or without modifying their body, dress or legal status, and with or without medical treatment and surgery. Transgender/trans or gender diverse people may use a variety of terms to describe themselves including but not limited to: man, woman, transwoman, transman, transguy, trans masculine, trans feminine, tranz, gender-diverse, gender-queer, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, poly gendered, pan gendered and many more (see Aizura, Walsh, Pike, Ward, & Jak 2010).
Transgender/trans or gender diverse people have the same range of sexual orientations as the rest of the population. Transgender/trans or gender diverse people's sexuality is referred to in reference to their gender identity, rather than their sex. For example, a woman may identify as lesbian whether she was assigned female at birth or male.
Transgender /trans or gender diverse people may also use a variety of different pronouns including he, she, they, ze, hir. Using the incorrect pronouns to refer to or describe trans people is disrespectful and can be harmful (see misgendering below).
Cisgender/cis: term used to describe people whose gender corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender questioning: not necessarily an identity but sometimes used in reference to a person who is unsure which gender, if any, they identify with.
Sistergirl/Brotherboy : terms used for transgender people within some Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities. Sistergirls and Brotherboys have distinct cultural identities and roles. Sistergirls are Indigenous women who were classified male at birth but live their lives as women, including taking on traditional cultural female practices (Sisters and Brothers NT, 2015a). Brotherboys are Indigenous transgender people, whose bodies were considered female at birth but "choose to live their lives as male, regardless of which stage/path medically they choose" (Sisters and Brothers NT, 2015b).
Sexual orientation refers to an individual's sexual and romantic attraction to another person. This can include, but is not limited to, heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual or asexual. It is important to note, however, that these are just a handful of sexual identifications - the reality is that there are an infinite number of ways in which someone might define their sexuality. Further, people can identify with a sexuality or sexual orientation regardless of their sexual or romantic experiences. Some people may identify as sexually fluid; that is, their sexuality is not fixed to any one identity.
Lesbian: an individual who identifies as a woman and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other people who identify as women.
Gay: an individual who identifies as a man and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other people who identify as men. The term gay can also be used in relation to women who are sexually and romantically attracted to other women.
Bisexual: anindividual who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to both men and women.
Pansexual: an individual whose sexual and/or romantic attraction to others is not restricted by gender. A pansexual may be sexually and/or romantically attracted to any person, regardless of their gender identity.
Asexual: a sexual orientation that reflects little to no sexual attraction, either within our outside relationships. People who identify as asexual can still experience romantic attraction across the sexuality continuum.
Heterosexual: an individual who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to the opposite gender.
Queer: a term used to describe a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Although once used as a derogatory term, the term queer now encapsulates political ideas of resistance to heteronormativity and homonormativity and is often used as an umbrella term to describe the full range of LGBTIQ+ identities.
Societal attitudes /issues
Homophobia and biphobia refer to negative beliefs, prejudices and stereotypes about people who are not heterosexual.
Transphobia refers to negative beliefs, prejudices and stereotypes that exist about transgender and gender diverse people.
Heterosexism is the set of beliefs that privilege heterosexuality, heterosexual relationships and cisgendered identities over non-heterosexual relationships and non-normative gender identities (Leonard, Mitchell, Patel, & Fox, 2008). Heterosexism provides the "social backdrop" for homophobic and transphobic prejudices, violence and discrimination (Fileborn, 2012).
Heteronormativity is the view that heterosexual relationships are the only natural, normal and legitimate expressions of sexuality and relationships. These assumptions are reinforced through cultural beliefs and practices and through social and political institutions such as the law, family structures and religion (Fileborn, 2012).
Homonormativity: a term that describes the privileging of certain people or relationships within the queer community (usually cisgendered, white, gay men). This term also refers to the assumption that LGBTIQ+ people will conform to mainstream, heterosexual culture, for example by adopting the idea that marriage and monogamy are natural and normal.
Cisnormativity assumes that everyone is cisgendered and that all people will continue to identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Cisnormativity erases the existence of trans and gender diverse people.
Misgendering is an occurrence where a person is described or addressed using language that does not match their gender identity (National LGBT Health Alliance, 2013b). This can include the incorrect use of pronouns (she/he/they), familial titles (father, sister, uncle) and, at times, other words that traditionally have gendered applications (pretty, handsome, etc.). It is best to ask a person, at a relevant moment, what words they like to use.
There is significant difference within LGBTIQ+ communities. Having an understanding of LGBTIQ+ terminology and using language that is inclusive demonstrates respect and recognition for how people describe their own genders, bodies and relationships (National LGBTI Health Alliance, 2013b). Inclusive language also makes people feel welcome in organisations including schools, workplaces and services. Further reading and resources are listed below.
Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting People of intersex, Trans and Gender Diverse Experience. National LGBTI Health Alliance.
Writing themselves in 3: The third national study of the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
From blues to rainbows: Mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
Resources and organisations
National LGBTI Health Alliance: the national peak health organisation in Australia for organisations and individuals that provide health-related programs, services and research focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) and other sexuality, gender and bodily diverse people and communities. They also provide training to health and other professionals to improve the quality of services for LGBTI communities.
Is your service LGBTI friendly? Resource available from ACON.
Minus18: A national youth-led organisation for LGBT young people.
QLife: National counselling and referral service for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex (LGBTI).
queer space: provides a safe and supportive space to obtain information and support services aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing by specialist queer and queer affirmative mental health practitioners.
Safe Schools Coalition: Safe Schools Coalition Australia is a national network of organisations working with schools to create safer and more inclusive environments for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.
Sisters and Brothers NT: An advocacy and support group that celebrates gender, intersex and sexuality diversity.
Rainbow network: Resources for young people and services that work with them.
Sex Discrimination Amendment Act (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) 2013 (Cth).
Aizura, A. Z, Walsh, J., Pike, A., Ward, R., Jak. (2010). Gender Questioning. Melbourne: Trans Melbourne Gender Project, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, & Rainbow Coalition. Retrieved from <www.glhv.org.au/files/GQv3.pdf>.
Australian Human Rights Commission. (2015). Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Rights. National Consultation Report. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission.
Dyson, S., Mitchell, A., Smith, A., Dowsett, G., Pitts, M., & Hillier, L. (2003). Don't ask, don't tell. Hidden in the crowd: The need for documenting links between sexuality and suicidal behaviours among young people (Monograph Series No. 45). Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.
Fileborn, B. (2012). Sexual violence and gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer communities. Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault (ACSSA) Resource Sheet. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from <www3.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/sheets/rs3/>.
Leonard, W., Mitchell, A., Patel, S., & Fox, C. (2008). Coming forward: The underreporting of heterosexist violence and same sex partner abuse in Victoria. Bundoora, Victoria: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
National LGBTI Health Alliance. (2013a). LGBTI Cultural Competency Framework: Including LGBTI people in mental health and suicide prevention organisations. Newtown: LGBTI Health Alliance. Retrieved from <www.lgbtihealth.org.au/sites/default/files/Cultural%20Competancy%20Framework.pdf>.
National LGBTI Health Alliance. (2013b). Gender inclusive language guide. Newtown: LGBTI Health Alliance.
Rosenstreich, G. (2013). LGBTI people, mental health and suicide. Retrieved from: Sydney: National LGBTI Health Alliance. Retrieved from <www.lgbtihealth.org.au/sites/default/files/Biefing_Paper_FINAL_19_Aug_2-11.pdf>.
Sisters and Brothers NT. (2015). Sistergirls. Retrieved from <sistersandbrothersnt.com/sistergirl/>.
Sisters and Brothers NT. (2015). Brotherboys. Retrieved from: <sistersandbrothersnt.com/brotherboy/>.
 There is no single LGBTIQ+ community, rather a plurality of identities and experiences (National LGBTI Health Alliance, 2013a).
Authors and Acknowledgements
This paper was written by Monica Campo and Jessica Smart, Senior Research Officers with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The authors consulted with Lottie Turner of cohealth, Starlady of the Zoe Belle Gender Collective Youth Project and Ari Dunphy, counsellor/psychotherapist.
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