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Terms and Definitions Specific to Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

What is the meaning of LGBT?

As with many other populations, there are terms and definitions that are specific to LGBT populations. Creating awareness and understanding of these terms is essential to promoting cultural competence among prevention specialists and healthcare providers, as well as ensuring sensitivity toward LGBT individuals.

sunsetWhile not exhaustive, the following is an overview of terms and related definitions related to gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation that people use to self-identify. When addressing LGBT individuals, prevention specialists and healthcare providers should always ask clients how they identify and/or wish to be addressed. Note: Language is dynamic and evolves over time. Therefore, terms, definitions, and how LGBT individuals identify varies based upon a number of factors, including geographic region, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, among others.

Terms and Definitions Specific to Gender Identity

  • Bigender - person whose gender identity encompasses both malepresent.female genders.
  • FTM - A person who transitions from female-to-male, meaning a person who was assigned the female sex at birth but identifies and lives as a male. Note: Also known as a transgender man.
  • Gender identity - A person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
  • Gender non-conforming - A person whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to their perceived gender.
  • Genderqueer - A term used by persons who may not entirely identify as either male or female.
  • MTF - A person who transitions from male-to-female, meaning a person who was assigned the male sex at birth but identifies and lives as a female. Note: Also known as a transgender woman.
  • Transgender - A person whose gender identity and/or expression is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Note: The term transgender has been used to describe a number of gender minorities including, but not limited to, transsexuals, cross-dressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.”
  • Transgender man - A transgender person who currently identifies as a male (see also “FTM”).
  • Transgender woman - A transgender person who currently identifies as a female (see also “MTF”).
  • Transsexual - A person whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.
  • Two-Spirit - A contemporary term that references historical multiple-gender traditions in many First Nations cultures. Many Native/First Nations people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or gender non-conforming identify as Two-Spirit. In many Nations, Two-Spirit status carries great respect and leads to additional commitments and responsibilities to one’s community.

Terms and Definitions Specific to Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation

  • Bisexual - A person who self-identifies as having an emotional, sexual, and/or relational attraction to men and women.
  • Coming out - The process through which a person identifies, acknowledges, and decides to share information about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others.
  • Gay - A man who self-identifies as having an emotional, sexual, and/or relational attraction to other men. Note: The term gay may be used by some women who prefer it over the term lesbian.
  • Lesbian - A woman who self-identifies as having an emotional, sexual, and/or relational attraction to other women.
  • MSM - An acronym used to identify men who have sex with men. MSM is a term used to identify and describe a behavior among males and is not the same as a sexual identity or sexual orientation.
  • Outing - The act of exposing information about a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity without their consent.
  • Queer - A term usually used to refer to specific sexual orientations (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual). Note: Some individuals use queer as an alternative to gay in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term queer does not convey a sense of gender. However, depending on the user, the term can have either a derogatory or an affirming connotation.
  • Sexual orientation - A person’s emotional, sexual, and/or relational attraction to others. Sexual orientation is usually classified as heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual (i.e., lesbian and gay).
  • WSW - An acronym used to identify women who have sex with women. WSW is a term used to identify and describe a behavior among females and is not the same as a sexual identity or sexual orientation.

Sourced from:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Top Health Issues for LGBT Populations Information & Resource Kit. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4684. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012.