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An Introduction to Key LGBTQUA+ Terms

This resource provides an introduction to key terms relating to LGBTQUA+ identities, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, asexuality and aromanticism, trans identities, and intersex people.

A glossary of LGBTQUA+ terminology is also available.

The Acronym

LGBTQUA+ is an acronym used at Warwick to refer to the community of people who identify as one or more of the following:

Elsewhere, you may have seen the community referred to via other similar acronyms, such as LGBT, LGBT+, LGBTQ+, or LGBTQIA+.

Sexual Orientation

Many identities within the LGBTQUA+ acronym relate to a person's sexual orientation, which denotes the set of people they may be sexually attracted to. For example:

  • Lesbian denotes attraction between women,
  • Gay denotes attraction between people of the same gender,
  • Bi denotes attraction to people of at least two genders,
  • Asexual denotes an absence of sexual attraction (or as an umbrella term which also includes those which experience sexual attraction weakly, rarely, or only under limited circumstances)

Some individuals may choose not to label their sexual orientation, and may refer to themselves as undefined. This might be because they resist the use of labels, or cannot find one which adequately represents their experience.

The term questioning may be used by, or in relation to, individuals who are unsure about or exploring an aspect of their identity.

Often, it is assumed within society that being heterosexual and being in a relationship with someone of the 'opposite' binary gender is the norm or default. We call this assumption and its consequences heteronormativity. This results in a tendency to, for example, assume the gender of someone's partner, and a lack of representation of LGBTQUA+ people in TV, film, and other media.

People are often subject to negative attitudes and behaviours as a result of their sexual orientation, including hate speech, harassment and discrimination. We refer to action (or inaction) that harms, insults, or erases LGBTQUA+ people, their identities or experiences as homophobia when it refers to lesbian and gay people (or sometimes the LGBTQUA+ community more broadly), and biphobia when it relates to bi people.

Romantic Orientation

In addition to their sexual orientation, individuals have a romantic orientation which denotes the set of people they may be romantically attracted to.

The naming conventions for romantic orientations closely follow those for sexual orientations. For example:

  • Heteroromantic denotes romantic attraction to people of a different gender.
  • Homoromantic denotes romantic attraction to people of the same gender,
  • Biromantic denotes romantic attraction to people of at least two genders.
  • Panromantic denotes romantic attraction to people of all genders.
  • Aromantic denotes an absence of romantic attraction (or as an umbrella term which also includes those which experience romantic attraction weakly, rarely, or only under limited circumstances)

Asexuality and Aromanticism

People on the asexual spectrum do not experience sexual attraction, or experience sexual attraction weakly, rarely, or only under limited circumstances. Some identities which sit on the asexual spectrum include:

  • Asexual, which denotes an absence of sexual attraction towards others.
  • Demisexual, which denotes sexual attraction to others only after a strong emotional connection has been formed.
  • Graysexual, which denotes sexual attraction to others which is weak, or rarely experienced.

The term for those who are not on the asexual spectrum is allosexual.

Similarly, people on the aromantic spectrum do not experience romantic attraction, or experience romantic attraction weakly, rarely, or only under limited circumstances. Some identities which sit on the aromantic spectrum include:

  • Aromantic, which denotes an absence of sexual attraction towards others.
  • Demiromantic, which denotes sexual attraction to others only after a strong emotional connection has been formed.
  • Grayromantic, which denotes sexual attraction to others which is weak, or rarely experienced.

The term for those who are not on the aromantic spectrum is alloromantic.

Often, it is assumed within society that being allosexual and/or alloromantic, and experiencing sexual and/or romantic attraction to others, is the norm or default. We call this assumption and its consequences allonormativity. This results in a tendency to, for example, assume that everyone wants a sexual and/or romantic partner.

Queer

Queer is sometimes used as an alternative umbrella term for the LGBTQUA+ community. Some individuals also use queer as an individual identity label also.

The use of queer as an umbrella term for the LGBTQUA+ community should be done with caution, since the term is still considered derogatory by some LGBTQUA+ people. Referring to another individual as queer should only be done with their explicit consent.

More recently queer has also been used as a verb in academic discourses to mean 'troubling the norms'.

Trans Identity

Not all identities within the LGBTQUA+ acronym relate to a person's sexual orientation. A trans person is someone whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. Being trans is not a sexual orientation, and does not dictate a trans person's sexual orientation; trans people can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bi, asexual, or another orientation.

A trans man is a man who was assigned female at birth (AFAB), and a trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth (AMAB). Non-binary people identify their gender between or outside of the binary of male and female. Non-binary is both a specific gender identity and an umbrella term, which may be used to refer to many other gender identities including:

  • Agender/genderless, which denotes an absence of gender.
  • Bigender, which denotes a gender identity which is characterised by a combination of two of more genders (such as male and female).
  • Demigirl, which denotes a partial identification with the identity of girl or woman.
  • Demiboy, which denotes a partial identification with the identity of boy or man.
  • Genderfluid, which denotes a gender identity which changes or shifts over time.

Genderqueer is another non-binary gender identity, though it is more commonly used as an alternative umbrella term to non-binary.

Outdated terms for the trans community, or parts of the trans community include trans*, transgender, and transsexual. These terms should no longer be used.

Trans people are subjected to negative attitudes and behaviours as a result of their trans identity, including hate speech, harassment, physical and sexual violence, and discrimination. We refer to action (or inaction) that harms, insults, or erases trans people, their identities and experiences as transphobia.

Often, it is assumed within society that being cis, identifying as the gender you were assigned at birth, is the norm or default. We call this assumption and its consequences cisnormativity. This results in a tendency to, for example, assume someone's gender based on their appearance, which can result in them being misgendered (where incorrect gendered language is used in relation to them, such as male pronouns being used for a trans woman).

Trans people may choose to change their legal name, legal gender, the forms of address people use for them (title, pronouns etc.), their appearance, and social role to be more congruent with their gender identity. This process is called transition, or transitioning. This process may involve elements of medical transition, such as hormones and/or surgery, though there are no necessary elements for transition and each trans person's transition is unique and personal to them.

You may see the term 'gender reassignment' used in relation to trans people also. This is a term used in UK legislation to refer to trans people, and is one of the nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. This term should only be used in the context of relevant legislation, and not as an alternative to 'trans'.

Intersex

Being intersex is not a sexual orientation, or a trans identity, but intersex people often face similar forms or prejudice and discrimination to LGBTQUA+ people.

Intersex people possess innate anatomy or physiology which differs from contemporary cultural stereotypes of what constitutes typical male and female bodies.

In contrast, those whose innate anatomy and physiology are in alignment with contemporary cultural stereotypes of what constitutes male and female bodies are referred to as endosex people.

Outdated and offensive terms to avoid for intersex people include hermaphrodite and hermaphroditic.

This resource was created as part of the Queering University programme.