Gender diversity has existed since the beginning of time. Prior to colonization, gender expansive people in North America were highly regarded in their communities and were often mediators, healers, frontline warriors, peacemakers and teachers.
Outside of North America, divergence from the gender binary has been celebrated in many cultures. PBS even made this map of historical gender diversity across the world!
With increased visibility and more conversations about homo-bi-trans-phobia, record numbers of people are coming out as LGBTQ every year. A Gallup poll in 2021 estimates 15.9% of Gen Z — and 5.6% of all U.S. adults — identify as LGBTQ.
LGBTQ terms to know
Learn these terms and how they interact with each other if you want a deeper understanding of gender diversity.
LGBTQ is an acronym that’s been developing since the early 20th century to encompass diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. Variations of the acronym have developed since the 1990s to be more inclusive, including LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA, LGBTQIA2S and LGBTQIA2+. The letters in the acronyms stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and Two Spirit; “plus” attempts to encompass the diverse array of gender and sexual identities not explicitly named.
Queer is used by some folks within the LGBTQ community as an umbrella adjective to describe anyone who identifies with a gender or sexual orientation other than cishet (cisgender and heterosexual, often referred to as “straight”). The term’s meaning is highly individual. It’s often used interchangeably with LGBTQ to refer to the community as a whole; only use it to describe an individual if that person self-identifies as queer.
Sex assigned at birth refers to the sex a doctor assigns to a child before or shortly after birth based on looking at the child’s genitals. Assigned sex may be male, female or intersex.
Gender identity is someone’s internal sense and knowledge of who they are in reference to gender. Common gender identities are man, woman and nonbinary.
Nonbinary is an umbrella term for identities that aren’t exclusively male or female. Identities like agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, demigirl and demiboy often fall under the nonbinary umbrella.
Two-Spirit is a contemporary umbrella term that unifies gender expansive identities in Indigenous communities on Turtle Island (North America). Other Indigineous nations use unique terms for gender-expansive identities.
Gender expression is the outward presentation of gender. This can be shown through things like clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms.
Sexual orientation is the label a person uses to describe their romantic and sexual attractions. Common orientations are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. Sexual orientation isn’t contingent on gender identity, or vice versa; both cis and trans people may identify with all sexual orientations.
Straight (or heterosexual) refers to a romantic and sexual attraction to people who identify with a different gender than your own. The term most often refers to romantic attraction between men and women.
Gay and lesbian (or homosexual) are gendered terms that refer to romantic and sexual attraction to people who identify with the same gender as your own. “Gay” is sometimes used as an umbrella term by folks who identify with any non-straight identities.
Bisexual (or bi) refers to romantic and sexual attraction that isn’t exclusive to any one gender but may include all or mutiple genders.
Pansexual (or pan) refers to romantic and sexual attraction to people of more than one gender or regardless of gender. “Pansexual” and “bisexual” are sometimes used interchangeably; what these labels mean to those who identify with them is highly personal.
Asexual (or ace) is an adjective that describes a person who experiences limited or no sexual attraction. People who identify as asexual may experience romantic, aesthetic, sensual, platonic or emotional attraction to people of a single or multiple genders. To describe this attraction, they might use terms like heteromantic, biromantic or panromantic.
Transgender (or trans) is an adjective referring to someone whose gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth.. The Latin root “trans” refers to movement or change.
Cisgender (or cis) is an adjective referring to someone whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth. The Latin root “cis” means static or on the same side.
Gender expansive is an umbrella term that includes folks who don’t fit into society’s expectations of their assigned sex at birth. It can include trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals.
Transitioning is the process of changing characteristics to align with gender identity. There is no roadmap to transitioning, because everyone’s relationship with gender is different. For some, passing (a term that refers to being assumed to be cisgender) is the goal. For others, it’s not. Each person has the autonomy to do what they want with their body and decide what being trans means for them.
A transition might be social, medical or legal, or any or all three.
Social transitioning refers to changing gender expression to better match gender identity. It can involve using a new name and/or pronouns, getting a new wardrobe, and using gender affirming binders and shapewear.
Medical transitioning refers to transitioning through medical interventions, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and gender affirmation surgeries.
Legal transitioning refers to getting name and gender marker changes on legal documents like IDs, passports and birth certificates.
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