Sexuality and Gender for the Well-Meaning Ally or Questioning Queer

The LGBTQIA+ community is as diverse as it is colourful - but have you ever found yourself wondering what all those letters actually stand for? Grace Joseph has put together a queer lingo cheat sheet, answering all those questions you've never asked.

If you were one of the 500,000 spectators who lined the streets of last weekend's Mardi Gras Parade, you were lucky enough to experience the whirling colours and sparkling shades of the LGBTQIA+ community up close and personal. Regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, Mardi Gras virgins may find the parade both intoxicating and overpowering - after all, it's the only night of the year that you can (probably) see Oxford St. from space! It's therefore understandable that people are similarly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of identity labels that exist within the LGBTQIA+ community and may inadvertently put off unpacking the meaning and importance of each of these labels.

But now your bluff has been called! I've done the hard yards for you and collated a comprehensive-but-not-exhaustive list explaining the significance and symbolism of all those colours and flags at Mardi Gras. Whether you're a well-meaning ally or a questioning queer person (or confused about what ally, questioning and queer mean - you don't know what you are), this is a great source of basic information that can drive further research.

Sexuality

Homosexuality

Let's start with the basics! Homosexuality is sexual attraction only to people of your gender. Although same-sex relationships have been recorded throughout history (apparently, there were homosexual rock carvings found in Zimbabwe in 8000 BCE!), the term was coined in 1868 by Austrian-Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

Gay: generally refers to men who are sexually attracted to men, or sometimes women who are sexually attracted to women.

Lesbian: refers to women who are sexually attracted to women.

Famous Homosexuals: Leonardo da Vinci, Hayley Kiyoko

Bisexuality

Bisexuality is sexual attraction to more than one gender. It is often referred to as bisexual+, as bisexuality is diverse, and includes people who are attracted to others regardless of gender, because of gender differences, or to different genders in different ways. The use of 'bi' is often misinterpreted to suggest that bisexual people are only attracted to two genders, however it actually signifies attraction to both people of your gender and at least one other gender. I'm bi, and I interpret it in the words of Joe Lycett: 'that means you're all at risk'!

Pansexuality: often used interchangeably with bisexuality, it means sexual attraction to people regardless of gender

Famous Bisexuals: Freddie Mercury, Halsey

Image credit: Joe Lycett

Image credit: Joe Lycett

Aromantic

Refers to experiencing no romantic attraction to any gender.

Asexuality

Asexuality is not experiencing sexual attraction to anyone. Like bisexuality, it is not black-and-white, and asexual people may experience other sorts of attraction, such as romantic and aesthetic attraction. Asexual people often use the 'split attraction model', for example homoromantic asexuality suggests romantic attraction to the same sex but no sexual attraction.

Famous Asexuals: Nikola Tesla, Caitlyn Jenner

Demisexuality

Demisexuality is experiencing sexual attraction to someone only after forming a strong emotional bond with them.

Polyamory

Polyamory is the practice of simultaneously having many sexual and romantic partners, all of whom are aware and accepting of the others. Technically, this isn't a sexuality, but polyamorous people again use the split attraction model and may identify as a certain sexuality as well.  

Famous Polyamorous People: Courtney Act, Will Smith


Gender

Gender and sex are often used interchangeably; however they are actually distinct from each other. Essentially, sex is based on biology, for example having two X chromosomes will mean you are assigned female at birth, while gender is the social extrapolation of that, for example the clothes and physical presentation expected of females.

Transgender

Transgender is an all-encompassing term for those whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. For this reason, the transgender experience is diverse, and may involve people medically transitioning, changing how they dress and act, or simply just acknowledging their gender. There is no right or wrong way to be transgender!

Famous Transgender People: Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono

Gender Non-Binary

As they are under the transgender umbrella, gender non-binary people do not have a matching gender identity and assigned sex. As opposed to identifying as either male or female, their gender identity falls outside of this binary. In other words, they are not a woman or a man. The terms genderqueer and off the binary are often used by gender non-binary people.

Gender Fluid

Gender fluid people do not have a fixed gender, and may identify as female or male in some instances, or another gender in others.

Gynosexual and Androsexual

Gynosexuality is sexual attraction to women, while androsexuality is sexual attraction to men. These terms are often used by people who identify outside of the gender binary, as it does not imply one's gender.

Famous Gender Non-Binary People: Asia Kate Dillon, Tash Sultana


Agender

Agender people do not have a gender and are again included in the transgender umbrella. They may present in a gender-neutral manner, or may present very feminine or masculine - again, there is no right way to be agender! Other terms used by agender people include gender neutral and genderless.

Famous Agender People: Angel Haze, Grimes


Intersex

Intersex people are those who have sexual and reproductive anatomy that is not classified as typical. For example, some people may have XX and XY chromosomes, or genitals that are not typically male or female.

Famous Intersex People: Hanne Gaby Odiele, Caster Semanya

Other Terms

Pronouns

Pronouns are words that refer to a specific person, for example she/her, he/him, they/them. It is very important that you use the correct pronouns for a person, as they can form an important part of their gender identity. Gender non binary people often use they/them singular pronouns, for example 'Have you seen Ange? They were just here!'

Queer

An all-encompassing term for people who are not heterosexual and/or cis-gendered. The term used to be considered derogatory, but has been largely reclaimed by the LGBTQIA+ community.

Questioning

An identity label for people who are currently unsure of their gender and sexual identity.

Butch/Femme

Presenting as masculine and feminine, respectively, and often used to describe females.

Cisgender

The opposite of transgender, referring to people whose assigned sex matches their gender identity.

Disclaimers

Above all, it is vital to remember that what a person identifies as is what they are. You must take their definition above any one of these definitions, because that is how they have formed their identity and that is who they are. Moreover, some people reject labels entirely, which is their personal choice and therefore completely valid. Alternatively, some people embrace their label, as they likely have struggled to understand themselves and are delighted to now belong to a community that shares their experience.

Finally - I am a cis-gendered white woman, so I've experienced very few of these labels personally. Additionally, race, gender and sexuality intersect and affect some people very differently to others, and, as I haven't experienced this, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on them.

Grace is a second-year Communications/International Studies student, who majors in Creative Writing because she wants to be a barista for the rest of her life. She's probably the only uni student alive who'd rather wake up at 5:30 am than still be awake at 10:30 pm - an early bedtime each day keeps the doctor away (maybe).