Confused About LGBTQ Terms? Me Too


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I’ve been confused as to what exactly transgender, nonbinary, queer, cisgender, etc means as I know so many of you are too. When I read about the unprecedented wave of anti-trans legislation across America (400+ anti-trans bills last year), I knew it was coming from a wave of hate and fear. The lack of understanding combined with the misinformation from people trying to turn this into a political issue is creating real damage to our communities and people everywhere. 

So, I’m sharing information that I found helpful. Yes, there are still many questions we need to figure out, but the answer isn’t to start by attacking what you don’t know, it’s to ask questions and try to understand.  Let’s lead with love and compassion instead of hate and fear. These are our sisters, brothers, children, and friends. And just like you, they want to be able to live their lives in peace and harmony.

“Being gay or straight is about who you want to go to bed with. Being trans—or cis—is about who you want to go to bed as.” – Mad Honey by Jody Picoult 

I think most of us understand gay/lesbian/bisexual (homosexual is the outdated term) vs straight. It’s who you’re sexually attracted to. It’s the newer terms that have me confused.   

Transgender, cisgender, queer, gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, etc.

Below are definitions of many of the terms I’ve been confused about. Turns out, those are all about gender, male and female traits, which are arbitrarily decided by society. 

“In our society, a person’s sex is based on their genitalia. That decision is then used to assume a person’s gender as a boy or a girl rather than a spectrum of identities that the child should be determining for themselves.  

What if parents were given instructions to nurture their baby by paying attention to what the child naturally gravitates toward? What if parents let their child explore their own gender instead of pushing them down one of the only two roads society tells us exists?”  – All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson

Why, in 2023 are we still railroading people into male and female traits? Why are people so upset about others not following arbitrarily set gender norms? Why aren’t we allowing people to exhibit whatever traits feel right for us? Why are we so afraid of people who are just trying to live their life the way it feels best for them? 

There are many questions and concerns that need to be addressed. Such as concerns about the number of people who are identifying as trans. Questions about bathrooms, pronouns, and what sports teams they should be on. About when the medical transition should be allowed for those who want it. Asking if they are getting enough professional guidance from psychologists. Wondering how to discuss this with our kids, and more.

It’s when we don’t ask questions and we make decisions based on fear and hate that we get into trouble. Start with love and compassion – it’s always the place to go – then dig in and try to understand and find answers to your questions. 

Below are some definitions. Note that none of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female. This is what everyone is so upset about. Gender norms. This is what all the hate and fear is about.

From NPR:
Gender identity is one’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither, or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others. 

Gender expression is how a person presents gender outwardly, through behavior, clothing, voice, or other perceived characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Cisgender, or simply cis, is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender, or simply trans, is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male.

As GLAAD notes, “Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.”

(Some transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.

The term used to be “transsexuals” but that word is offensive and dated – “Because that word makes it sound like it’s all about sex—which it’s not. It’s about fitting into the body you live in.” – Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult)

Nonbinary is a term that can be used by people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of man or woman. A range of terms are used to refer to these experiences; nonbinary and genderqueer are among the terms that are sometimes used.

Agender is an adjective that can describe a person who does not identify as any gender.

Gender transition is a process a person may take to bring themselves and/or their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. It’s not just one step. Transitioning can include any, none, or all of the following: telling one’s friends, family, and co-workers; changing one’s name and pronouns; updating legal documents; medical interventions such as hormone therapy; or surgical intervention, often called gender confirmation surgery.

Gender dysphoria refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, and those who do may experience it at varying levels of intensity.

From LGBT Life Center:
Pronouns – In English, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to a person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and can cause stress and anxiety. Having trouble understanding why this would upset someone? Think about your pronoun (it’s probably “he” or “she”). Now imagine someone calling you the one you don’t think of yourself as. Imagine them doing it over and over and over, even after you’ve corrected them.

Gender: Gender is complex: It’s a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts. Gender identity is the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be.

Genderfluid: Applies to a person whose gender identity changes over time or changes at different times.

Two-spirit: Used by some indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender, or spiritual identity. Refers to an individual who has a feminine and masculine spirit.

Queer – if you have sexual or gender identities that do not follow the traditionally understood “heterosexual” or “cisgender” model.  Anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community might consider themselves queer.

I hope this clears up some confusion and allows compassion for anyone dealing with gender identity issues.  There are still questions to be answered, but let’s start from a place of love when asking them.  

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4 thoughts on “Confused About LGBTQ Terms? Me Too”

  1. Jackie, this was actually very helpful. I’m going to save it so I can re-read it and retain it too much information for me to retain in one reading!

    1. so glad it was helpful louise. amazing how things get politicized, creating hate and fear without understanding.

  2. Jackie – it is a lot to try to retain and you have described this in easy language but as with Louise, I will keep this so I can refer back to. Thanks for the clarification and happy 4th of July to you and Ron!

    1. thanks bev, glad you found it helpful. taking the time to understand it is the first step to stopping the hate and fear.

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