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Sexuality Terminology 101

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

A unicorn with information about gender termsWritten by: Esmé Rodríguez, MA, PhD; School Equity Director, OutFront MN

Click here to download this information in a PDF.

Who You Are Attracted To

Sexual Attraction

An affinity for someone that evokes the want to engage in physically intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, sex), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction or emotional/spiritual attraction.

Sexual Orientation

Describes a person’s enduring sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to any other person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or any other sexual orientation. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would identify as a straight woman.

Heterosexual

A person exclusively attracted to member of the opposite gender. Also known as “straight.”

Homosexual

A term rooted in the medical community used to describe people who have the same gender attraction, but the term is considered stigmatizing by some due to its history as a category of mental illness.

Gay

A term used to describe a person who is sexually attracted to people of the same gender exclusively.

Lesbian

A term used to describe women who are sexually attracted to other women exclusively.

Bisexual

A term to describe a person who can be sexually attracted to people of their same gender or people of another gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.

Pansexual 

A term for those who have the potential to be attracted to people of all genders, regardless of sex, gender identity, or expression.

Queer

A word that has different meanings for different people. It was originally a derogatory word for gay and gender nonconforming people, and it can still be used that way, depending on the tone. But it’s been largely reclaimed by the community as a positive term of self-identity.

Queer can be used as an umbrella term that includes everyone who’s not straight or cisgender.

Queer can also be its own identity, distinct from the other letters in the acronym. Some people describe queer as more of an approach to gender and sexuality that challenges binary thinking in general, as well as heteronormative expectations about sex and gender. So queer tends to imply something more countercultural than gay, for example.

*Don’t forget: Although many people feel that their gender identity is fixed and unchanging, for many others, it will grow and evolve throughout their lives. There are no rules about how you must identify. Always be true to yourself.

**Please note: Language is fluid, constantly changing, and open to interpretation, so this list is by no means perfect, exhaustive, or inviolable. Identity terms can be tricky and therefore it would be impossible to make a list that pleases every single person. We’ve done our best and are always welcome to comments and constructive critiques.

OutFront Minnesota’s mission is to create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination. OutFront MN envisions a state where LGBTQ individuals have equal opportunities, protection and rights. OutFront MN is working toward the day when all Minnesotans have the freedom, power and confidence to make the best choices for their own lives.

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