It’s utterly essential in today’s world to recognize and understand that there are an infinite amount of ways for someone to identify and express themselves; whether that’s their sexuality, sex, or gender.

This article is meant to help educate and give a basic overview of some of the most common terms used in our society to express sex, gender, and sexuality.

Relevant Definitions to Know

  • Sex:  The biological and physical characteristics that define men and women (example: penis or vagina?)
  • Gender & Gender Roles: Our socially constructed roles. (Example: Men go to work, and women stay home to clean + cook). Roles also refer to the dress, behaviors and traits and our culture expects of members of a particular sex.
  • Gender Identity: A person’s sense of being a man, woman, gender queer
  • Gender Queer: A gender identity when someone doesn’t feel they fit a male or female gender.
  • Gender Dysphoria: Discontent with the biological sex and/or gender assigned at birth
  • Gender Identity Disorder (GID): Formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe individuals who experience significant gender dysphoria (see above)
  • Sexual Fluidity: The idea that there are more sexual identities than just straight, lesbian, gay, and bisexual. That’s terribly boring and puts millions of people into four pretty narrow boxes. If you want to learn more about sexual fluidity, check out our podcast episode where we discuss this & the research done by Alfred Kinsey.
  • Sexual Orientation: The physical, romantic, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to another person.lgbtq-lgbt-lgbtqi-gender-sexuality-wright-wellness-center

The Letters

Technically speaking, these letters are actually LGBTTPQQIAA+! And you thought LGBTQI was long! It’s a combination of letters meant to represent identities in the queer community. For the sake of ease, I’m going to be as simple as possible with the descriptions, so don’t hesitate to ask more in-depth questions in the comments below, or in our free Facebook Group. Oh, and when the word attracted is used, it’s not just about physical attraction. The word attraction encompasses physical, emotional, romantic, and/or spiritual attraction.


Lesbian – a woman who is attracted to another woman

Gay – a man who is attracted to another man

Bisexual – a person who is drawn to both men and women

Transgender – an individual whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. This is an umbrella term. However, a transgender person may or may not have medically changed their bodies through surgery or hormones.

Transsexual – a person whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth and undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Pansexual – an individual who is attracted to all gender identities.

Queer – represents people that fall outside gender and sexuality ‘norms.’

Questioning – a term used to help an individual explain when they’re exploring their sexual orientation.

Intersex – “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. (

Asexual – a term used to describe an individual who isn’t sexually attracted to anyone, of any gender.

Ally – a heterosexual person who supports the LGBT community 🙂 Do you want to learn more about what you can do as an ally in this incredible community? Check out UC Davis’ Ally Tips – they rock!!

+ – This plus sign represents the infinite number of possibilities when it comes to sexuality and who we fall in love with or have an attraction towards.


It’s imperative to remember that the terms above have different emotional charge and could have slightly even different meanings. That’s okay! It’s also important to note one other gender term that you may see:

Cisgender – this term refers to someone whose gender identity matches the sex given at birth. You may even hear “Cisfemale,” or “Cismale,” meaning that they were born female, or born male and identify that way.

The Spectrum

If you want to read more about spectrums surrounding sexual identity, check out this blog post.

Find Your Why

In the title of this blog post, I suggest that I am going to tell you why you need to know these letters. However, I can inform you that in 2017 ignorance is no longer an excuse, but I can’t tell you why these letters and definitions are important for you to know. Why do the letters LGBTQI etc. mean something to you? So, rather than preaching, I thought I’d briefly tell you why these letters and definitions felt extra essential to share.

Imagine being at a coffee shop, local or Starbucks; You’re sitting there, doing work on your laptop and your friend calls you. You answer the phone, and your friend says, “Dude, I think this human/guy/girl likes me. I’ve heard he’s a transvestite though.”


How do you respond? One, your friend is assuming someone likes them, why? And second, you didn’t read that word above… uh oh! Well, that’s because it’s not an identity. A transvestite is a person, typically a man, who derives pleasure from dressing in clothes primarily associated with the opposite sex.

Transvestites are typically happy with their gender and just enjoys dressing up as another gender — think about a drag queen, that’s a great example. Now, knowing this, what questions would you ask your friend? Here are some that I can think of:

  • He is a transvestite, transgender, or transsexual? (Remember, transgender can include transsexual, it’s an umbrella term)
  • What is his sexual orientation? Cause now you know that’s entirely separate!


My Why?

To diminish hate based on ignorance. Period. Did you know that in 28 states, someone who identifies as LGBT can be and are denied employment, housing, healthcare and other basic services and protections?

Fuck that. 

Things to Remember:

Don’t assume heterosexuality. Just don’t assume.

Even if they want to, it can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, for poor, transgender people to access the health care they need to “transition.”

LGBT people suffer high rates of social isolation as they age, and this has a direct adverse effect on their health.

When it is safe to do so, research has shown that people who disclose their sexual orientation to others have better health outcomes than those who do not.

Source: WUM Social Services


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