All About LGBTQ at a Glance
- LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning.
- Sexual orientation — gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual — describes which gender identities you’re attracted to.
- Gender identity is the way you feel about and express your gender (male, female, both, neither).
What’s Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation describes which gender(s) you’re attracted to, sexually and/or romantically. Sometimes a person’s sexual orientation changes over time, but people can’t choose or decide to change who they’re attracted to.
• A woman who is attracted to other women often calls herself gay, a lesbian, or homosexual.
• A man who is attracted to other men often calls himself gay or homosexual.
• People who are attracted to both women and men often called themselves bisexual.
• People who are attracted to people of any gender identity, including cisgender, transgender, and genderqueer people, often call themselves pansexual.
• People who are attracted to people of opposite genders often call themselves heterosexual or straight.
• People who don’t have any sexual attraction to anybody often call themselves asexual.
Why do we say "often" instead of “always”? Because some people don't think these labels are true to who they really are, and use other labels that we haven’t talked about here (there are a lot of them). And a lot of people don't use labels at all.
It can take many years for people to understand their sexual orientation, and it can change over your lifetime — so a lot of people call themselves questioning, which means they aren’t sure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is common — especially for teens.
What’s the Difference Between Sex and Gender?
A lot of people think that sex and gender are pretty much the same, but there’s actually a big difference.
• Sex is biological — it’s about your body. It includes your genes, hormones, and physical parts (like genitals) that people use to determine if our bodies are female, male, or intersex (people whose bodies aren’t clearly female or male).
• Gender is how society thinks we should look, think, and act as girls and boys, women, and men.
• Gender identity is how we feel about our sex and gender and how we express those feelings by the way we dress, act, speak, etc.
What Do Transgender and Cisgender Mean?
Transgender is the "T" in LGBTQ. Some people have a gender identity that doesn’t match up with their biological sex — for example, they were born with “female” sex organs (vulva, vagina, uterus), but they feel like a male. People in this community sometimes call themselves transgender or trans. Don’t use terms like transgendered, tranny, or, he-she — they’re old-fashioned and hurtful.
Most people who have female bodies feel like girls or women, and most people who have male bodies feel like boys or men. These people are often called cisgender (or cis).
Trans can also include people who don’t identify with the strict male/female gender roles the world tells us we should fit into. Sometimes people who don’t feel either male or female call themselves genderqueer.
What Does Queer Mean?
Queer is often used to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people — but queer is not the same as LGBTQ. “Queer” is sometimes used to express that sexuality and gender can be complicated and change over time for lots of people.
If you’re still confused about what queer means, that’s okay. It can be hard to understand. Something to keep in mind though: the word “queer” has some history to it that’s sensitive or hurtful — “queer” used to be (and sometimes still is) used to put down or disrespect LGBTQ people. So don’t call someone else “queer” unless you know they’re cool with it.
People who identify as asexual don’t feel sexual attraction to anyone. They may think of other people as physically attractive, or want to be in relationships with people, but they’re not interested in having sex or doing sexual things.
Asexuality also has nothing to do with romantic attraction. Because many people who are asexual often experience romantic attraction, they may also identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Sometimes people go through times when they don’t want to have sex, but that doesn’t always mean they’re asexual.
There is nothing “wrong” with people who are asexual. And it’s actually kind of common — some research says that 1 out of 100 adults is asexual. You can find more information about asexuality at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.