LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah

LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah 

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Deborah” is a pseudonym.

I grew up hearing a great deal about how evil gay people were and how the whole world was going to be destroyed either directly by them or by God because “the righteous” didn’t murder all of “the gays”.  So I thought I knew what it meant to be gay and really didn’t care if that was different from transgender, queer, or any number of other terms I heard.  In fact, none of these terms mattered all that much to me because (forgive my even using the term) I just lumped them all together and called them “sodomites” and figured that they were all pedophiles as well.

Then one day I began to realize that these were real, live people I was talking about in such hateful terms and would have treated like trash if I had met them.  These same people with hopes and dreams and feelings were really just as human as straight people were.  At that point, I decided to meet some of these people, do some research, and see what was really going on with them.  It was very awkward at first.  I knew I had to put away the offensive words, but I really didn’t know what was or wasn’t offensive or what the non-offensive words meant.  Thankfully, I had some patient friends who walked me through all of that.

If you relate to this dilemma, let me help you out.  Here is my little friend, The Genderbread Person 2.0


I know it is confusing at first.  You may notice that each category is on a continuum.  That is because these things are not completely black and white.

Gender Identity: Here we have the most commonly known terms “male” and “female” as well as other possibilities.  This is a person’s truest gender and can only be determined by that person.  Always, when referring to people, use words that line up with their gender identity. If that is unknown or they identify as something like “genderqueer” or “genderless” then gender neutral pronouns  such as “ze” or “zir” may be appropriate.  It is never ok to call a person “it”.

Gender Expression: Not to be confused with biological gender or gender identity, gender expression refers to outward things such as clothing, hairstyle, and mannerisms.

Butch: gender expression that is toward the masculine side

Femme: gender expression that is toward the feminine side

Androgynous: gender expression that has characteristics of both the masculine and the feminine

Gender Neutral: gender expression that is neither characteristically masculine nor feminine

Biological Gender: This is a person’s physical gender. While we generally refer to people in terms of male and female, some people don’t fit very well into either category.   We are not all born with clearly male or female genitalia.  Those who have both male and female physical characteristics at birth are said to be “intersex”.   (Here is where I discourage use of the term “hermaphrodite”, which is no longer appropriate.)

Attracted to: (Also often referred to as “sexual orientation”) Just like the heading says, it really is all about who you are attracted to.   Please don’t question someone’s sexual orientation.  If you say you are hungry for tacos, it would just be silly to tell you that you really want lasagna.

Straight: a person who is generally attracted to people of the “opposite” gender.

Lesbian: a woman who is generally attracted to women.

Gay: a man who is generally attracted to men.  (“Gay” is also used when referring to lesbians.  Lesbians are gay, but gay men are not lesbians.)

Bisexual: a person who is attracted to both men and women.

Pansexual: someone who can be attracted to people of any biological gender or gender identity.

Asexual: someone who has little to no sexual attraction to anyone.  Again, please do not question this.  If you say you are not hungry, it would be rude of me to say that you have just never tried good food or don’t know what you like or want.  Also, do not say that most women are asexual.  This is untrue and offensive.

And now for some other terms that you may be wondering about.

LGBTQ: This refers to the subset of humans who do not fit the mold of  “cisgender person who is only attracted to persons of the opposite gender”. The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning. There are other acronyms such as QUILTBAG, and sometimes people will leave out a letter or two that they don’t like. I hate to say it but there are some in the LGBTQ community who, in spite of everything they have experienced, have a hard time accepting those unlike themselves. Personally, I think the entire culture is becoming more accepting and that includes the queer community. GLBT is the same as LGBT, just with a couple letters switched. I’m sorry I can’t cover the whole queer alphabet soup, so if you hear something and wonder about it, there is always Google.

Cisgendered: a person whose biological gender and gender identity match from birth.

Transgender: a person whose biological gender at birth is different from their gender identity. Transgender persons may be Male to Female (MTF) meaning that their biological gender at birth was male, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is female; or Female to Male (FTM) meaning that their biological gender at birth was female, but their gender identity and therefore true gender is male.  “Gender dysphoria” is the term for the negative feelings a transgender person has toward their biological gender before transitioning.  This feels much the same way a cisgendered person would if they woke up one day and found that their gender had changed while they slept.  The difference would be that the transgender individual would be expecting to wake up in the wrong body – so there might be somewhat less screaming from shock involved.

When referring to a transgender person, always use terms associated with their gender identity, not their biological gender.  Terms like “he-she” or “shemale” are completely unacceptable in this context.  They tend to imply that the person is a sex-worker.  Transgender persons often dress based on their gender identity, take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and have surgery so that their body matches their gender identity.  It is impolite to ask them where they are at in the process or for details on how these things work.  If you want information on what transgender individuals go through physically, look it up.  Would it be appropriate if I asked you what your genitals look like and what hormones you have in your body?

Queer: used as an umbrella term to cover anyone who is not exactly straight and cisgendered.  Some people still feel negative vibes are associated with this word, so I personally would not use it to refer to an individual unless they first used it to refer to themselves.   It can be used to refer to the whole community when alphabet soup gets tedious.

A: This is another letter that is sometimes added to the alphabet soup.  It stands for Allies.  If you are straight and cisgendered, but support equal rights for all, you are an Ally.  Wear the title proudly.  (Just please don’t try to make yourself sound cool by using this title if you don’t actually support anti-discrimination laws and gay marriage. Many in the community can respect you for being on the fence or even not wanting these laws, but don’t try to pretend you are doing us favors simply because you don’t use cruel language or don’t tell people we should be killed.  It shows that you have no idea what it is like to be us.) If you are an ally, we welcome you to the community and thank you for your support.

If you are still a little worried that you will use the wrong word at the wrong time, take heart.  The important thing is that people know you are trying to choose kind and appropriate words. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you make a mistake or ask if you are not sure about something. If you don’t insist on using offensive language, most people are more than willing to overlook a few mistakes.

Ok, wow! If you made it through all of that, you deserve a little fun.  A friend showed me this. Maybe you will like it.  If you have an iphone, take it out, press and hold the button, then ask, “Siri, are you a boy or a girl?”  Siri will likely say something along the lines of, “Animals and nouns have genders.  I do not.”  It is easy to imagine Siri as a woman because ze has a “woman’s voice”  in English (American).  If, however, you  switch to English (United Kingdom) ze suddenly has a “man’s voice”.  While I have a tendency to prefer thinking of zir as a woman, ze is genderless. I now respect Siri’s gender identity and use gender neutral pronouns.

15 thoughts on “LGBT, Queer, And Other Things That Make Us Say, “What Does That Mean?”: Deborah

  1. Andrew R. May 20, 2013 / 12:17 pm

    Deborah, this is an amazing post…thank you so much for writing it.


  2. Headless Unicorn Guy May 20, 2013 / 12:57 pm

    Gender Identity: English lacks a gender-neutral or both-gender personal pronoun. As an old, old SF fan with Furry Fandom experience I have seen attempts to create one — “hir”, “s/he”, “sahn”, you name it. None of them have ever caught on. “Ze” and “zir” are just the latest attempt, and judging from the track record of previous attempts, the odds are against them.

    Biological Gender: This is a person’s physical gender. While we generally refer to people in terms of male and female, some people don’t fit very well into either category.

    I would like to stress that among humans, intersexes (and biological gender differing from genetic gender) are actually pretty rare. The majority of humans are physically male or female, with the genotype matching the phenotype.

    Attracted to: Just some observations:

    First, when I first encountered a non-straight in the Eighties (and the guy was a real doozy), “Bisexual” had more prestige than “Homosexual”. This may have been a local or subcultural thing; I don’t know. I’m just a weirded-out straight.

    Asexual: My mental image of asexuals are that they are just on the other end of the sexual attraction bell curve than the nymphos. As you have some on the high end of the bell curve whose sexual drives dominate their lives, so you’ll have others on the low end who have little or no sexual drive.

    LGBTQ: I thought the Federal Government and Microsoft documentation had cornered the market on alphabet-soup acronyms. After seeing four or five variations from “LBGT” to “QUILTBAG”, I’m for calling the group so defined “The Unpronounceables”.


    • tsara May 20, 2013 / 11:28 pm

      I’m an asexual person, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject.
      [potential TMI warning]
      General consensus seems to be (and my experience confirms this) that sex drive and sexual attraction are separate categories as well. I have a low to moderate sex drive (I masturbate every couple of weeks), but I know a few asexual people who have fairly high sex drives (masturbating daily or almost daily).
      I think that people on the lower half of the bell curve for sex drive might be slightly more likely to ID as ace just by default: ‘my sex drive isn’t saying much or very loudly, so who cares what it says’ (though, judging from experience, people with low sex drive are actually more likely to assume hetero because it’s the cultural default).
      The difference is in where your sex drive points, not how often or how loudly it reminds you it exists. My sex drive is completely undirected, and resists attempts to point it at people — i.e., I find the idea of masturbating to orgasm quite nice, the idea of partnered sex (generally) completely neutral, and the idea of myself having sex with another person actively repulsive.
      Additionally, I’ve been told that I have no concept of what people mean when they say “sexual attraction.” Some of them have suggested that this means I can’t judge whether or not I have it. I’m of the opinion that not understanding this supposedly universal feeling… means that I don’t actually feel it.

      I have no idea how much sense I’m making right now, but I hope this helps.


  3. Shaney Irene May 20, 2013 / 12:59 pm

    This is excellent. I didn’t even know “ze” and “zir” were words that existed. Thank you for writing this!


  4. Tambra Galid May 20, 2013 / 3:56 pm

    I hate that they have changed the term to ‘intersex’. It’s so clinical. Hermaphrodite is a perfectly acceptable pagan term that has classical overtones. Why is it wrong? I just don’t get it.

    I also have NEVER gotten why the RWC of the world are so upset about homosexuality. It’s a natural state. Anyone who has been around animals knows this. If their monotheistic god didn’t create them, who did?


    • Headless Unicorn Guy May 21, 2013 / 7:36 am

      In Furry Fandom “Herm” refers to a particular type of pornography fad whose “hermaphrodites” bear no resemblance whatsoever to real-world intersexes. (Trust me, you DON’T want to know — “I wish I had never heard… I wish I had never seen… Ia, Ia, Cthulhu, Fthagn…”)


  5. Nicole Resweber May 20, 2013 / 10:17 pm

    Fantastic 101 post!

    One nitpick – generally the “A” in the alphabet soup refers to “asexual” not “ally,” although I’ve seen it defined both ways. As asexual persons are often (as you point out!) invisibled or assumed not to exist, it is my understanding that it is preferred to include them in the QUILTBAG with the A.

    We straight allies don’t particularly need a letter. 😉


  6. Deborah May 21, 2013 / 1:09 am

    Nicole, thank you for bringing that up. I am still learning new things all the time with this, and I certainly don’t want to gyp my asexual friends. 🙂 Still, I appreciate our allies very much.

    Tambra, I really have no idea why that has been changed. Perhaps someone can explain it who knows. I just know I’ve been told that “hermaphrodite” was not a good word to use anymore.


    • Headles Unicorn Guy May 21, 2013 / 7:34 am

      George Carlin had a monologue on the phenomenon. How “Shell Shock” became “Combat Fatigue” became “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” became whatever, becoming more longwinded bureaucratspeak (with the rhythm of Marxspeak) with each iteration.

      And it doesn’t matter that “Cripple” becomes “Disabled” becomes “Physically Limited” becomes “Differently-Abled” becomes “Handi-Capable” — within ten seconds, every kid on the schoolyard knows it means “Cripple”.


  7. Hännah May 21, 2013 / 9:19 am

    Oh no.

    Gender =/= sex. Please don’t use it interchangeably. And gender dysphoria isn’t what you’re defining it as…

    And “gyp” is a racial slur.


  8. Fia May 21, 2013 / 8:56 pm

    Unicorn Guy, “differently abled” and “handi-capable” are really used more by non-disabled people, as is “person first” language. Disabled is what the majority of actually disabled people use, at least in my circles. Also, terms may change because they’re used as slurs and become painful for people to use–ie “crippled,” which is a word that has been used by people/organizations that have oppressed disabled people and treated them as sub-human. However, as long as a word isn’t a slur or something that attempts to stress, say, personhood, (ie person with a disabilities) which actually comes off as more dehumanizing than anything else (the idea that the fact that disabled people are human needs to be stressed) it’s probably fine.
    And this applies to anyone who’s queer, or mentally ill, or disabled: Some people who fit the criteria of “queer” might not like the label queer. Some people who fit the criteria of “mentally ill” might not like that term either. When in doubt, ask! 🙂


    • Headless Unicorn Guy May 28, 2013 / 9:17 am

      Unicorn Guy, “differently abled” and “handi-capable” are really used more by non-disabled people, as is “person first” language.

      Tip: If you’re terminology ends up on South Park, that’s not a positive sign. Problem is, when the Kyle’s Moms (who are NEVER from the group they turn into The Cause) get hold of it, things go south pretty fast. A “can’t decide whether to laugh or cry” example of this is the South Park episode “Conjoined Fetus Lady” where Kyle’s Mom’s takes over the school nurse’s rare birth defect as her New Righteous Cause.


  9. Deborah May 22, 2013 / 7:31 pm

    Hannah, I’m sorry about the racial slur. I didn’t catch that. If I didn’t say this before, I am still trying to filter out a lot of bigoted stuff that I was taught. Thank you for talking to me about it.

    As for the other things, I did the best I could and I don’t claim to know everything. I did, however have several people proofread who know what they are talking about, so perhaps there differing definitions or something? I am interested in your perspective though.


  10. Deborah May 22, 2013 / 7:34 pm

    Thank you, Fia, for addressing that.


  11. A M August 15, 2015 / 6:01 am

    yo, you got a few things wrong, sometimes to the point of being downright offensive.

    transgenderism is not a binary thing. its not an either or proposition. non binary people (gender queer, agender etc) do exist, i would know, because i am one of them. stop ignoring us that is erasure and not cool

    “he-she” and “shemale” (urgh) are not offensive bc they imply you are a sex worker. there is nothing wrong with being a sex worker. they are offensive because they are disrespectful, and reduce trans women to their genitals. not cool.


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