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Sexuality and gender terms

Here are some useful terms relating to sexual and gender diversity.

Definitions and terms

Sexuality: A central feature of being human that is deeply individualised. It includes sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions, preferences and sometimes behaviour.

Gender: Is a social and cultural construct of what constitutes being a 'man' or a 'woman'. Based on the characteristics that a society or culture percieves to be 'masculine' or 'feminine'.

GLBTIQ+: A commonly used acronym to encompass people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questionning or asexual. It is preferable to vary the order of the letters. 

Rainbow flag: A symbol celebrating the uniqueness and diversity within the GLBTIQ+ community. In 1978, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed a flag for the city's Gay Freedom celebrations. The flag since has since been adopted nationally and internationally. It has six stripes, each a different colour, ranging from purple to red, used to symbolise equality and diversity among all people. Sometimes a black stripe is added to the bottom to honour those who have died from AIDS.

Closeted: A person who is keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret from others.

Sexuality-related terms:

Biological sex/sex: Refers to the biological features of a person such as penis, vagina, breasts etc. Sex is determined by a complex relationship of genes, hormones and anatomy. Your sex can be divided into 3 categories (or some argue a spectrum): female, male and intersex.

Sexual orientation: Your sexual orientation is who you are emotionally, mentally and physically attracted to based on their sex/gender in relation to your own. This may be same-sex orientation, male-female orientation or a bisexual orientation (all sexes).

Sexual preference/expression: the type of intercourse, stimulation or gratification that you like to receive or participate in. The way you like/do not like to be sexually intimate. This is not to be confused with sexual orientation.

Sexual identity: How a person identifies with their sexual orientation. Eg. "I identify myself as straight/gay". This may not necessarily align with the person's sexual expression or sexual orientation.

Homosexual: A clinical term first used over a century ago, often used inaccurately, to label people who are emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to and/or committed to members of the same sex. Used appropriately, it refers to affectional and/or sexual behaviour between people of the same sex. Also known as 'gay'.

Heterosexual: A person who is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to persons of the opposite sex. Also known as 'straight'.

Gay: Happy; also a common and acceptable term for male homosexuals. It is often used for both genders, as well as for the gay community in general. 

Lesbian: One of the most common and most preferred terms for female homosexuals.

Bisexual: A person who is attracted to people, regardless of their gender and/or sex. Once viewed primarily as a phase of gay or lesbian development, bisexuality is now regarded as a valid, independent sexual identity.

Intersex: People born with reproductive organs, genitalia and/or sex chromosomes that are not exclusively male nor female, or is considered (by the medical establishment and heterosexist society) to be biologically "ambiguous".

Hermaphrodite: An outdated medical term used to describe someone who is 'intersex'.

Queer: An inclusive term for people who are non-heterosexual – includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For many GLBT persons, the term 'queer' has negative connotations, however, many GLBT persons have 'reclaimed' it as a symbol of pride. It is sometimes recommended that non-GLBT people do not use this term.

Asexual: A person who is not sexually attracted to people of any gender/sex.

Pansexual: A person who experiences sexual, romantic and/or physical attraction to people of all gender/sexual identities or expressions.


Gender-related terms:

Gender identity: The sense that one is a man or a woman. How you, in your head, define your gender based on how much you align (or don't align) with what you understand to be 'masculine' or 'feminine'.

Gender expression: The ways you express gender through your actions, dress and demeanour and how those presentations are interpreted based on gender norms. Generally measured on a scale of masculinity and femininity. It is important to recognise that individuals do not always express their masculinity/femininity in a manner that is consistent with their biological sex.

Cisgender: a person whose gender identity, gender expression and biological sex all align. E.g. man, masculine, male.

Genderqueer: a person who identifies as both a man and a woman or as neither a man nor a woman.

Trans: This term is a shortening of the terms 'transgender' and 'transexual'. This does not include 'transvestites'.

Transgender: Someone whose gender identity differs from their biological sex assigned at birth. Transgender people may identify as 'men' or 'women' or decide that neither label fits them. In order to express their chosen gender, transgender people may transition from the gender that they were given at birth (biological sex). Many transgender people have heterosexual identities.

Transexual: A term used by many older transgender people to describe themselves. The term often refers to transgender people who have physically transitioned to their choice of gender.

Trans-man: A person who was assigned a female sex at birth but identifies as a man.

Trans-woman: A person who was assigned a male sex at birth but identifies as a woman.

Transvestite: Someone who adopts the dress, and sometimes behaviour, typical of the 'opposite' gender for a variety of reasons including emotional and/or sexual pleasure. Transvestism is often a fetish for heterosexual men.

Transitioning: In order to express their chosen gender, transgender people may 'transition' from the sex that they were assigned at birth (biological sex) with the help of medications or surgery. This process is referred to as 'transitioning'.

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