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LGBTQ+ For Dummies

Illustrations by Dayna Patel.

If you don't know, now you know.

As someone who thinks of myself as a pretty clued-in millennial, I have to admit when it comes to LGBTQ+ terms I am, or was, somewhat perplexed. I don’t know about you, but this intricate acronym has expanded a bit since my last high school health lesson, and as someone who identifies as a straight cisgendered female it can be hard to keep up with the ever-increasing list of letters. But, y’know what? It’s 2017 and we should all know what each and every one of these terms means – so here’s your chance to get educated:

First, let’s cover the basics:


While most often used in reference to what goes on between the sheets, ‘sex’ is actually a mass noun that includes the two* primary categories we humans fall into, and is determined by the reproductive functions we’re born with.

*Some cultures have more than two categories.


Once your sex is identified, society essentially hands you a manual on how to behave: how to dress, speak and act so people around you can identify your sex. This manual is called gender; a set of behavioural expectations informed by society and culture.

Cisgender (cis)

A cisgendered person is someone who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth based on their sexual reproductive organs.

Genderqueer (Non-Binary)

A person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders (including agender and genderfluid).

Now on to the letters themselves:

L is for Lesbian

Simply put, a lesbian is a cis woman who is sexually and/or emotionally orientated towards other women.

G is for Gay

Gay is an umbrella term that, like lesbian, describes people who are sexually and/or emotionally attracted to members of their own sex/gender. The term ‘gay’ is traditionally used as the male equivalent to lesbian, but there’s no hard and fast rule. Technically women can be gay too, and the term can be used to refer to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

Wait! Is ‘gay’ okay? While historically the word ‘gay’ has carried negative connotations, it’s now recognised as an acceptable term for a homosexual person. Simple rule: Describing someone who identifies as homosexual? Yes. Describing something you think is effeminate, inferior or otherwise? No.

B is for Bisexual

You’ve probably heard your fair share of bisexual slang (‘swings both ways’, ‘bats for both teams’ etc), and bisexual people tend to cop a lot of misguided flak about being indecisive. Well, I’m here to tell you that attitude is stupid and wrong; ‘bisexual’ refers to a person whose primary sexual orientation is towards both men and women. Simple as that.

T is for Transgender

Here’s where things get a little trickier, but stick with me – you got this. Transgender, in its most basic form, is an umbrella term that describes people who don’t identify with the gender that matches their sex. If someone identifies as transgender, essentially their relationship with gender is unconventional and complex. Whether it’s because their gender doesn’t match their sex, it doesn’t exist inside the male/female binary, or they have multiple/no gender(s).

Q is for Queer

Queer is an umbrella term that includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons and radical sex communities. If someone tells you they are queer, you can likely assume that either their gender or their sexuality doesn’t conform to societal norms. Like the term ‘gay’, queer was historically used as a slur against gay men and lesbians, but was more recently reclaimed by activists as a term of self-identification.

I is for Intersex

An intersex person is someone who is born with primary or secondary sex traits that do not fit typical definitions of male or female, whether this is a combination of abnormal chromosomes, internal sex organs, genitals or hormones.

A is for Asexual

When we talk about sexual orientation, we’re referring to the feeling of sexual desire or attraction towards performing a sexual act with another person. However, those who identify as ‘asexual’ are not sexually attracted to anyone, nor do they have a sexual orientation.

P is for Pansexual

Pansexual people have the capability of sexual and/or emotional attraction to others regardless of their gender identity or biological sex, including transgender, intersex, or agendered/genderqueer people.

Got it? Okay, so it may take a while for you to get your head around this non-exhaustive list of terms, but it’s important to learn them so you know how best to address LGBTQ+ members of your community. Go forward with your new found knowledge, but be aware that it’s always best to ask rather than assume someone’s identity.

*The terms defined in this piece were based off the all-knowing Internet. Curious to know more about the resources I used? Check out: and

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