11 Overlapping, Complex Aspects of Sexuality
Created by Safe Schools Coalition - All Rights Reserved
1. Biological Sex = your chromosomal, hormonal, and/or anatomical sex: you might be male; intersex; transitioning; female.
2. Gender Identity = your emotional, spiritual sex: you might be a boy, a man; two-spirit, third gender, transsexual, bi-gendered, multi-gendered; a girl, a woman.
3. Gender Expression = your gender presentation, chosen or not (your walk, way of sitting, speaking, hobbies, haircut, clothes, body art, etc.): you might be masculine, butch; transgender (gender-queer, gender-variant, cross-dresser, drag king/queen); androgynous; feminine, femme.
4. Sexual Orientation = who you get aroused by, who you are able to fall in love with: you might be heterosexual; bisexual; asexual; lesbian; gay.
5. Sexual Behavior = what you do, erotically: you might masturbate, kiss, make out, be sexually inexperienced or same-sex experienced or multiple-sex experienced or other-sex experienced; be monogamous or non-monogamous, be abstinent or sexually active with men, women or both.
6. Social Behavior = how you fit in to a family and a community: you might be single, dating, cohabitating, civilly united, or married; someone’s child, parent, partner, friend, sibling, co-worker or classmate.
7. Physical Appearance = the whole “package” you are in: your height, abilities & disabilities & glasses & braces, skin, hair; blemishes; the shape and condition of your body: you might be short, brunette, and a wheel-chair user and competitive swimmer, for example.
8. Body Image = your attitude, feelings, beliefs about your gender expression and physical appearance: you might be confident, self-conscious, ambivalent, self-loathing.
9. Reproductive System = the organs and processes that have to do with making babies: you might be pre-pubertal, fertile, infertile, post-menopausal.
10. Sexual Response System = the organs and processes that have to do with sexual feelings (desire, sensation, arousal, physical pleasure, and orgasm); you might find touch pleasurable and comforting or painful or not have sensation at all; you might be easily aroused and orgasmic or you might lack desire, have difficulty getting or keeping erections or reaching orgasm.
11. Sexual Value System = your core beliefs about the ethics of romantic and sexual behavior and your identity relative to that: you might believe in waiting to kiss until marriage, you might be pro-life or pro-choice, you might follow a particular religious doctrine; you might feel casual sex is acceptable or believe in commitment, you may believe in the importance of using contraception or that contraception is wrong.
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 variation in 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.
Ally – 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 justice issues.
Androgyne – Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.
Asexual: An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community, each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Click here for a glossary of terms relating to asexuality.
Biphobia - The fear of, discrimination against, or hatred of bisexuals, which is often times related to the current binary standard. Biphobia can be seen within the LGBTQI community, as well as in general society.
Bisexual – A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to some males/men and some females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.
Coming Out – 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 one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersexed status with others (to “come out” to friends, etc.).
This can be a continual, life-long process for homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, and intersexed individuals.
Cross-dresser – Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.
Discrimination – Prejudice + power. It occurs when members of a more powerful social group behave unjustly or cruelly to members of a less powerful social group. Discrimination can take many forms, including both individual acts of hatred or injustice and institutional denials of privileges normally accorded to other groups. Ongoing discrimination creates a climate of oppression for the affected group.
Drag - The performance of one or multiple genders theatrically; Drag King – A person who performs masculinity theatrically; Drag Queen – A person who performs femininity theatrically.
Gay – 1. Term used in some cultural settings to represent males who are attracted to some 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 heterosexual.
Gender Binary – The idea that there are only two genders – male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.
Gender Confirming Surgery – Medical surgeries used to modify one’s body to be more congruent with one’s gender identity. (See “Sex Reassignment Surgery.”)
Gender Cues – 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.
Gender Identity – A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, or other gendered.
Gender Normative – A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender-based expectations of society.
Gender Oppression - The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege cisgender (gender-typical people) and subordinate and disparage transgender or gender variant people. Also known as “genderism.”
Gender Variant – A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.).
Heteronormativity—The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality and bisexuality.
Heterosexism – Prejudice against individuals and groups who display nonheterosexual behaviors or identities, combined with the majority power to impose such prejudice. Usually used to the advantage of the group in power. Any attitude, action, or practice – backed by institutional power – that subordinates people because of their sexual orientation.
Heterosexual Privilege –Those benefits derived automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals and bisexuals. Also, the benefits homosexuals and bisexuals receive as a result of claiming heterosexual identity or denying homosexual or bisexual identity.
HIV-phobia – The irrational fear or hatred of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Homophobia – The irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.
Homosexual – A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.
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 standard medical
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.
Institutional Oppression – Arrangements of a society used to benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.
Internalized Oppression – The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.
Intersexed Person—Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.
Lesbian – Term used to describe female-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to some female-identified people. The term lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos and as such is sometimes considered a Eurocentric category that does not necessarily
represent the identities of African-Americans and other non-European ethnic groups. This being said, individual female-identified people from diverse ethnic groups, including African-Americans, embrace the term ‘lesbian’ as an identity label.
LGBTQI – A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersexed community.
Oppression – The systematic subjugation of a group of people by another group with access to social power, the result of which benefits one group over the other and is maintained by social beliefs and practices.
Outing – Involuntary disclosure of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status.
Prejudice – A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.
Queer – 1. An umbrella term which embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, intersex persons, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive (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 non-heterosexual 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 semantically overturned 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 self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Nevertheless, a sizable 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 offensive. 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.
Sex - A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies.
Sex Identity – 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 gender/sex, or multiple genders/sexes.
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 gender variance. Also known as “Gender Confirming Surgery.”
Sexuality – A person’s exploration of sexual acts, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, and desire.
Stereotype – A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. A broad generalization that ignores individual realities.
Straight-Acting – 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.
Trans - An abbreviation that is sometimes used to refer to a gender variant person. This use allows a person to state a gender variant identity without having to disclose hormonal or surgical status/intentions. This term is sometimes used to refer to the gender variant community as a whole.
Transactivism- The political and social movement to create equality for gender variant persons.
Transgender – A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not 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 freedoms including gender and sexual identity and orientation.
Transhate – The irrational hatred of those who are gender variant, usually expressed through violent and often deadly means.
Transition – This term is primarily used to refer to the process a gender variant person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression.
Trans Man—An 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).’
Transphobia – The irrational fear of those who are gender variant and/or the inability to deal with gender ambiguity.
Transsexual – 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 gender/sex.
Transvestite – 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 dressing in “women’s clothing”. (The preferred term is ‘cross-dresser,’ but the term ‘transvestite’ is still used in a positive sense in England.)
Trans Woman-- An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.
Two-Spirited – Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with 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. This sheet is always a work in progress so please be sure to check the Instructional Materials section of Trans-Academics.org for updated versions. Please feel free to alter, use or pass on as needed but be sure to give credit to the original creators. Any updates or corrections can be submitted to email@example.com.