Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language
A note about these definitions: Each of these definitions has
been carefully researched
and closely analyzed from theoretical and practical perspectives
for cultural sensitivity,
common usage, and general appropriateness. We have done our best
to represent the
most popular uses of the terms listed; however there may be some
definitions depending on location. Please note that each person
who uses any or all of
these terms does so in a unique way (especially terms that are
used in the context of an
identity label). If you do not understand the context in which a
person is using one of
these terms, it is always appropriate to ask. This is especially
using terms that we have noted that can have a derogatory
– Person is internally ungendered.
– Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia,
transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in
themselves and others;
a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans,
and intersex people;
and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and
transphobia are social
– Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman,
presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.
– Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not
– A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same
- A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man
The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals,
often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can
be seen within
the LGBTQI community, as well as in general society.
– A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to
males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be
between genders and there may be a preference for one gender
– May refer to the process by which one accepts one’s own
sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersexed person
(to “come out” to
oneself). May also refer to the process by which one shares
gender identity, or intersexed status with others (to “come out”
to friends, etc.).
This can be a continual, life-long process for homosexual,
transgendered, and intersexed individuals.
– Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.
– Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more
powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a
social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both
of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges
normally accorded to
other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of
oppression for the
- See ‘In the Closet.’ Also referred to as ‘D/L.’
- The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically.
– A person who performs masculinity theatrically.
– A person who performs femininity theatrically.
FTM / F2M -
Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual
– 1. Term used in some cultural settings to represent males who
attracted to males in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense.
Not all men who
engage in “homosexual behavior” identify as gay, and as such
this label should
be used with caution. 2. Term used to refer to the LGBTQI
community as a
whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does
not identify as
– The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or
man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as
either/or. (See also
– What human beings use to attempt to tell the gender/sex of
another person. Examples include hairstyle, gait, vocal
inflection, body shape,
facial hair, etc. Cues vary by culture.
– A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, or other
– A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender
based expectations of society. (Also referred to as
– A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform
to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender,
genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.).
– A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male
nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination
Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender
stereotypes and the gender
out-of-date and offensive term for an intersexed person.
(See ‘Intersexed Person’.)
assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that
everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior
– Prejudice against individuals and groups who display
behaviors or identities, combined with the majority power to
such prejudice. Usually used to the advantage of the group in
attitude, action, or practice – backed by institutional power –
people because of their sexual orientation.
–Those benefits derived automatically by being
heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also,
homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming
or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.
– The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality,
any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role
stereotypes. It is
this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.
– A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually
attracted to members of the same sex.
– The idea that gender identities and expressions do not fit on
linear scale, but rather on a sphere that allows room for all
weighting any one expression as better than another.
In the Closet
– Refers to a homosexual, bisexual, transperson or intersex
person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality,
sexual orientation or
gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or
society. An intersex person
may be closeted due to ignorance about their status since
practice is to “correct,” whenever possible, intersex conditions
early in childhood
and to hide the medical history from the patient. There are
varying degrees of
being “in the closet”; for example, a person can be out in their
social life, but in
the closet at work, or with their family. Also known as
‘Downlow” or ‘D/L.’
– A person whose gender identity is between genders or a
combination of genders.
– Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group
at the expense of another through the use of language, media,
religion, economics, etc.
– The process by which a member of an oppressed
group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes
applied to the
whose sex a doctor has a difficult time
categorizing as either male or female. A person whose
chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads,
differs from one of the two expected patterns.
– Term used to describe female-identified people attracted
erotically, and/or emotionally to other female-identified
people. The term lesbian
is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as
sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not
represent the identities of African-Americans and other
groups. This being said, individual female-identified people
from diverse ethnic
groups, including African-Americans, embrace the term ‘lesbian’
as an identity
A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
and intersexed community.
male-bodied person who identifies as a lesbian. This differs
from a heterosexual male in that a male lesbian is primarily
attracted to other
lesbian, bisexual or queer identified people. May sometimes
identify as gender
variant, or as a female/woman. (See ‘Lesbian.’)
- First used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who
the term to refer to an urban, heterosexual male with a strong
who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and
This term can be perceived as derogatory because it reinforces
all gay men are fashion-conscious and materialistic.
MTF / M2F –
Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual
– The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another
with access to social power, the result of which benefits one
group over the other
and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.
– Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender
– A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many
– A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender
– Describes a person's ability to be accepted as their preferred
gender/sex or race/ethnic identity or to be seen as
– Refers to having honest, usually non-possessive, relationships
multiple partners and can include: open relationships,
polyfidelity (which involves
multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted
to those), and sub-
relationships (which denote distinguishing between a ‘primary"
relationships and various "secondary" relationships).
– A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group
people and its individual members.
– 1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual
orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively-
majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals,
persons, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually
(underworld) explorers. 2. This term is sometimes used as
a sexual orientation
label instead of ‘bisexual’ as a way of acknowledging that there
are more than
two genders to be attracted to, or as a way of stating a
orientation without having to state who they are attracted to.
3. A reclaimed word
that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been
by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of
defiant pride. ‘Queer’
is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades
‘queer’ was used
solely as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in
the 1980s the term
began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of
Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included
lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a
percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold
‘queer’ to be a
hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered
Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the
in-group when used
by outsiders, so extreme caution must be taken concerning their
use when one is
not a member of the group.
Same Gender Loving
– A term sometimes used by members of the African-
American / Black community to express an alternative sexual
relying on terms and symbols of European descent. The term
emerged in the
early 1990's with the intention of offering Black women who love
Black men who love men a voice, a way of identifying and being
with the uniqueness of Black culture in life. (Sometimes
abbreviated as ‘SGL’.)
- A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads,
chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex
hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and
category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.
– How a person identifies physically: female, male, in between,
beyond, or neither.
Sexual Orientation –
The desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual
relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another
Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) –
A term used by some medical
professionals to refer to a group of surgical options that alter
a person’s “sex”. In
most states, one or multiple surgeries are required to achieve
legal recognition of
– A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation,
pleasure, and desire.
– This term refers to when a person chooses to be secretive in
public sphere about their gender history, either after
transitioning or while
successful passing. (Also referred to as ‘going stealth’ or
‘living in stealth mode’.)
– A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an
group of people without regard for their individual differences.
negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes
can have a
negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad
that ignore individual realities.
– Another term for heterosexual.
– A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as
heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that
gay men should
act that is significantly different from heterosexual men.
Straight-acting gay men
are often looked down upon in the LGBTQ community for seemingly
- An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender
person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant
having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This
term is sometimes
used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.
The political and social movement to create equality for gender
– A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that
expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and
dependent on gender identity.
Transgendered (Trans) Community
– A loose category of people who
transcend gender norms in a wide variety of ways. The central
ethic of this
community is unconditional acceptance of individual exercise of
including gender and sexual identity and orientation.
– The irrational hatred of those who are gender variant, usually
expressed through violent and often deadly means.
– This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender
person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to
congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or
to be in
harmony with their preferred gender expression.
identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male
transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming
their history as
females. Also referred to as ‘transguy(s).’
– The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the
inability to deal with gender ambiguity.
– A person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other
than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals
often wish to
transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their
inner sense of
– Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the
opposite gender/sex. While the terms ‘homosexual’ and
‘transvestite’ have been
used synonymously, they are in fact signify two different
groups. The majority of
transvestites are heterosexual males who derive pleasure from
“women’s clothing”. (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but
‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)
An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female
transsexuals to signify that they are women while still
affirming their history as
– Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have
distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often
mystical rituals (shamans). Their dress is usually mixture of
male and female
articles and they are seen as a separate or third gender. The
term ‘two-spirit’ is
usually considered to specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar
identity labels vary by tribe
and include ‘one-spirit’ and ‘wintke’.
This terminology sheet was created by Eli R. Green (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and Eric N. Peterson at the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside “
2003-2004 , with additional input from www.wikipedia.org and many kind people who helped use
create and revise these definitions.
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Symbols of Pride
These are some symbols that have been adopted by LGBTQ
people and their allies.
The Double Women's Sign
Also known as "the mirror of Venus,"
this symbol represents the planet Venus, metal, copper and
femininity. It also represents women loving women.
The Double Men's Sign
Derived from the astrological symbol of Mars who was the Greek
God of War and patron of warriors. The arrow is a phallic
symbol. A double man's symbol represents men loving men.
The Rainbow Flag
The Rainbow Flag was adopted by the LGBT community as its own
design. It depicts not the shape of the rainbow but its colors
in horizontal stripes. Created in 1978 for
San Francisco's Gay Freedom Celebration by local artist, Gilbert
Baker, it was inspired by the "Flag of the Races," which had
five stripes-one each for the colors of humankind's skill, flown
at the 1960's college demonstrations. Major gay and lesbian
parades in New York, Houston, Vancouver and Toronto began to fly
the six-stripe Rainbow Flag. It is prominently displayed at most
gay and lesbian events. In New York, the flag drapes coffins of
people who have died of AIDS, and is frequently displayed on
hospital doors. The AIDS ward of a Sidney, Australia hospital
flew the flag as a symbol of hope. A gay yacht club in the
Netherlands uses a burgee based on the Rainbow Flag. In a few
short years, the flag has spread world wide to represent a
movement. Its success is not due to any official recognition,
although it has been recognized by the International Flagmakers
Association as the LGBT Freedom Flag, but to the widespread
spontaneous adoption by members of the community it represents.
The double-bladed ax comes from myth as the scepter of the
goddess Demeter (Artemis). It may have originally been used in
battle by female Sythian warriors. The Labrys appears in ancient
Cretan art and has become a symbol of lesbianism.
Chosen by the Gay Activist Alliance in 1970 as the symbol of the
gay movement, the lambda is the Greek letter "I." A battle flag
with the lambda was carried by a regiment of ancient Greek
warriors who were accompanied in battle by their young male
lovers and noted for their fierceness and willingness to fight
to the death. It is also the symbol for justice.
Designed by David Spada with the Rainbow Flag in mind, these six
colored aluminum rings have come to symbolize independence and
tolerance. The rings are frequently displayed or worn as jewelry
and maybe found as necklaces, bracelets, rings and key chains.
The Pink Triangle
The pink triangle is easily one of the more popular and
widely-recognized symbols for the LGBT community. The pink
triangle is rooted in World War II times, and reminds us of the
tragedies of that era. Although homosexuals were only one of the
many groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime, it is
unfortunately the group that history often excludes. The pink
triangle challenges that notion, and defies anyone to deny
The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during
Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German
law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in
1935 to include kissing, embracing, and gay fantasies as well as
sexual acts. Convicted offenders - an estimated 25,000 just from
1937 to 1939 - were sent to prison and then later to
concentration camps. Their sentence was to be sterilized, and
this was most often accomplished by castration. In 1942 Hitler's
punishment for homosexuality was extended to death.
Each prisoner in the concentration camps wore a colored inverted
triangle to designate their reason for incarceration, and hence
the designation also served to form a sort of social hierarchy
among the prisoners. A green triangle marked its wearer as a
regular criminal; a red triangle denoted a political prisoner.
Two yellow triangles overlapping
to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner. The pink
triangle was for homosexuals. A yellow Star of David under a
superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners -
a homosexual Jew.
Stories of the camps depict homosexual prisoners being given the
worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a
proportionally large focus of attacks from the guards and even
other inmates. Although the total number of the homosexual
prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates were an
Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime
range from 50,000 to twice that figure. When the war was finally
over, countless many homosexuals remained prisoners in the
camps, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until
its repeal in 1969.
In the 1970's, gay liberation groups resurrected the pink
triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. Not
only is the symbol easily recognized, but it draws attention to
oppression and persecution -then and now. In the 1980's, ACT-UP
(AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle
for their cause. They inverted the symbol, making it point up,
to signify an active fight back rather than a passive
resignation to fate. Today, for many the pink triangle
represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow
another Holocaust to happen again.
The Black Triangle
Like the pink triangle, the black triangle is also rooted in
Nazi Germany. Although lesbians were not included in the
Paragraph 175 prohibition of homosexuality, there is evidence to
indicate that the black triangle was used to designate prisoners
with anti-social behavior. Considering that the Nazi idea of
womanhood focused on children, kitchen, and church, black
triangle prisoners may have included lesbians, prostitutes,
women who refused to bear children, and women with other
"anti-social" traits. As the pink triangle is historically a
male symbol, the black triangle has similarly been reclaimed by
lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride and solidarity.
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IDENTITY CONFUSION "Could I be gay?" Person is beginning to
wonder if "homosexuality" is personally relevant. Denial and
confusion is experienced.
am I? - Accept, Deny, Reject.
Responses: Will avoid information about lesbians and gays;
inhibit behavior; deny homosexuality ("experimenting," "an
accident," 'just drunk"). Males: May keep emotional involvement
separate from sexual contact; Females: May have deep
relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.
Needs: May explore internal positive and negative judgments.
Will be permitted to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May
find support in knowing that sexual behavior occurs along a
spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore
sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity,
and social identity).
IDENTITY COMPARISON: "Maybe this does apply to me." Will accept
the possibility that she or he may be gay. Self-alienation
with social alienation.
Responses: May begin to grieve for losses and the things she or
he will give up by embracing their sexual orientation. May
compartmentalize their own sexuality. Accepts lesbian, gay
definition of behavior but maintains "heterosexual" identity of
self. Tells oneself, "It's only temporary;" I'm just in love
with this particular woman/man," etc.
Needs: Will be very important that the person develops own
definitions. Will need information about sexual identity,
lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about
loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep
some "heterosexual" identity (it is not an all or none issue).
IDENTITY TOLERANCE: "I'm not the only one." Accepts the
probability of being homosexual and recognizes sexual, social,
emotional needs that go with being lesbian and gay. Increased
commitment to being lesbian or gay.
Decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.
Responses: Beginning to have language to talk and think about
the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not
preclude other options. Accentuates difference between self and
heterosexuals. Seeks out lesbian and gay culture (positive
contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact
leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). May try out
variety of stereotypical roles.
Needs: Be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from
heterosexism, as well as external heterosexism. Receive support
in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is
particularly important for the person to know community
IDENTITY ACCEPTANCE: "I will be okay." Accepts, rather than
tolerates, gay or lesbian self-image. There is continuing and
increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture.
with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society's norm,
attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of
Responses: Accepts gay or lesbian self identification. May
compartmentalize "gay life." Maintains less and less contact
with heterosexual community. Attempts to "fit in" and "not make
waves" within the gay and lesbian community. Begins some
selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming
out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women
that are identified as "gay." More realistic evaluation of
Needs: Continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life
expectations. Continue exploring internalized "homophobia"
(learned shame for heterosexist society). Find support in making
decisions about where, when, and to whom he or she self
IDENTITY PRIDE: "I've got to let people know who I am!" Immerses
self in gay and lesbian culture. Less and less involvement with
heterosexual community. Us-them quality to political/social
with incongruent views of heterosexuals.
Responses: Splits world into "gay" (good) and "straight" (bad).
crises with heterosexuals as he or she is less willing to "blend
in." Identifies gay culture as sole source of support; all gay
friends, business connections, social connections.
Needs: Receive support for exploring anger issues. Find support
for exploring issues of heterosexism. Develop skills for coping
with reactions and responses to disclosure of sexual identity.
Resist being defensive!
IDENTITY SYNTHESIS: Develops holistic view of self. Defines self
in a more complete fashion, not just in terms of sexual
Integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the
identity, it is on
Responses: Continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with
decreased intensity. Allows trust of others to increase and
build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects
of "self." Feels all right to move out into the community and
not simply define space according to sexual orientation.
V. Homosexual Identity Development, 1979.
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