Gender and Sexuality Terms: A Sensitive Glossary for Parents


May 4, 2016


Have you ever wondered what it means to be cisgender? Or what LGBTQ stands for? Or how many types of sexuality there are? Or if there’s a list of genders somewhere that will help you understand what your kid is talking about? I’m here to help you update your gender and sexuality terms.

Only a week after I’d won Mr. Gay World India, I received a call from a television channel. During the interview, I was asked whether I was okay with being referred to as the son of Jagannath Sahoo (my father), or whether I was more comfortable being identified as his daughter.

I was taken aback and, to be honest, befuddled. Here was an educated journalist, from a leading news channel, with absolutely no knowledge of the terminology he ought to use to refer to a gay man. The journalist might have thought he was being courteous by letting me choose how I wanted to be identified. But his sheer lack of awareness was insensitive and offensive. I am a gay man. Why would I identify as someone’s daughter?

This man had a stereotypical and outdated idea of what it means to be gay, and that limited the words he could use to describe me. That lack of awareness is not just a problem for a professional reporter, but a problem for everyone.

Our understanding of gender and sexuality has evolved and expanded dramatically in the past 20 years. We now use gender terms and sexuality terms that stretch far beyond the gay-straight divide, words that describe a person’s sexuality with far more fluid and dynamic words. As I grew up — very different from my classmates — and my sexuality evolved, I forged an identity and reality of my own. But I couldn’t have defined my own set of norms without the gender and sexuality terms that accommodated them.

Like the journalist, parents of today’s teens may often apply yesterday’s gender and sexuality terms to a world that has moved past them. But it’s not too late to catch up by building a new vocabulary.

The glossary below is abridged, and no person necessarily must identify with any of its gender and sexuality terms singularly or forever. But these words are a good starting point for thinking about the way gender types and sexuality are described today and will be understood by your teens as they move into adulthood. You might be surprised by their acceptance of these concepts; but your acceptance is essential to understanding the world your children inhabit.

A Parent’s Guide to Today’s Gender And Sexuality Terms

Ally (n)

A heterosexual person who is a friend/supporter of LGBTQI individuals and rights.

Example (n): You won’t get any hate from him; he’s an ally.

Asexual (adj)

Describes a person who doesn’t experience sexual desire, but may experience romantic longing. One of several sexuality types.

Example (adj): She is asexual.

Bisexual (n and adj)

A person who is sexually attracted to both men and women. One of several types of sexuality.

Example (n): He is a bisexual.

Example (adj): Bisexual people are attracted to both men and women.

Cisgender (adj)

The state in which the gender you identify with matches the one you were assigned at birth.

Example (adj): She is a cisgender woman.

Gay (adj)

Homosexual, used to describe men only.

Example: He is in a committed gay relationship.

Gender fluid (adj)

Describes a gender identity in which a person identifies with different genders at different times.

Example (adj): He is gender fluid.

Gender identity (n)

A person’s individual experience of gender – as a man, woman, both or neither – which may or may not match the sex assigned to them at birth.

Example (n): Gender identity is a lot more complicated than most people think.

Genderqueer (adj)

Describes a gender identity outside the traditional binary, that is, whose gender identity is not exclusively man or woman. Different from gender fluid (see above) in that this gender identity does not change.

Example (adj): She is genderqueer.

Graysexual (adj

Describes a person with limited sexual desire, but more sexual desire than an asexual person. One of many sexuality types.

Example (adj): He is graysexual.

Heterosexual (and adj)

A person who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. One of several sexuality types.

Example (n): She is a heterosexual.

Example (adj): A heterosexual couple went on a date.

Homosexual (and adj)

A person who is sexually attracted to people of his or her own sex. One of several types of sexuality.

Example (n): He is a homosexual.

Example (adj): Homosexual relationships are as normal as heterosexual relationships.

Intersex (adj)

A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy, hormones, or genes that don’t fit singly into one of the typical biological sexes, that is, female or male.

Example (adj): Intersex individuals often face social discrimination.

Lesbian (and adj)

Homosexual, used to describe women only. One of several sexuality types.

Example (n): A lesbian is a woman who likes other women.

Example (adj): His parents are lesbian.

LGBTQI (adj)

A common acronym to describe the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex individuals.

Example (adj): The LGBTQI community is seeking equal rights.

Pansexual (adj)

Describes a person who is sexually interested in anyone of any gender or sexuality. One of many sexuality types.

Example (adj): She is pansexual.

Queer (adj)

Describes a person who doesn’t consider him or herself heterosexual or cisgender. Also sometimes used interchangeably with LGBTQI to describe the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community.

Example (adj): Many members of the queer community will be marching in the parade.

Questioning (adj)

Describes when a person is unsure of, or is exploring, his or her own sexuality or gender identity.

Example (adj): He is gay or straight; he’s questioning.

Sex (n)

The physical characteristics – generally reproductive or sexual anatomy, genes and hormones – recognized as female or male.

Example (n): Her sex is male, but she identifies as a woman.

Sexuality (n

Sexual or romantic attraction.

Example (n): Only an individual can determine his or her own sexuality.

Straight (adj)

Describes a person who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex. A heterosexual.

Example (adj): He is a straight man.

Transgender (adj)

Describes a person whose gender identity is the opposite of the sex assigned to them at birth. Often used as an umbrella term to describe transsexual and genderqueer people as well.

Example (adj): She is transgender.

Transsexual (n and adj)

A person whose gender identity is the opposite of the sex assigned to them at birth and who desires or has undergone medical assistance to transition to the sex that matches their gender identity.

Example (n): A transsexual is considering gender reassignment surgery.

Example (adj): He is transsexual.

Ze (pro)

A gender-neutral pronoun that has gained some popularity. (An important note on pronouns: Individuals should be referred to by the pronouns of their identity and/or choice. A transgender woman (formally a man) should be referred to as ‘she’ or, if she prefers ‘ze.’)

Example (pro): Ze went to the movies with friends.


Written By Anwesh Sahoo

Anwesh Sahoo is a voracious writer, optimist and a lover of old-school Indian art, music and fashion. While he’s a firm believer in practicality, a part of him loves living in a world of possibilities. He blogs at The Effeminare, a parallel universe where he gets to illustrate the Utopian world he wants to be a part of. He looks at life as a thrilling mystery novel written by God and, since his novel has only started, he’d go with: ‘I am still evolving!’


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