University of Memphis Photo

"Windows to Wisdom"

Defining a Common Language:  Every thorough discussion about the GLBTIQ community begins with some basic, but often confusing, terms. You may be surprised by some of the terms in this section. Please do not be afraid to ask for clarification. The definitions of many of these terms continue to change as the climates for GLBTIQ communities change. The examples/illustrations  in parentheses help to provide a context for how the word is used. If, after reading the phrases in parentheses you still have questions or concerns, please ask a member of Safe Zone for clarification.


Affectional Orientation: A recent term used to refer to variations in object of emotional or sexual attraction. This term is preferred by some over “sexual orientation” because it indicates that the feelings and commitments involved are not solely, or even primarily, for some people, sexual. The term stresses the affective emotional component of attractions and relationships, including heterosexual as well as GLBTIQ. (The word “bromance” is a word that can be used to describe the affectional orientation between the two heterosexual men involved.)


Ally: Any person, usually heterosexual, whose attitude and behavior are anti-heterosexist and who is proactive and works toward combating homophobia and heterosexism, both on a personal and institutional level. (Jenny is certainly not a lesbian, but she is an ally.)


Androgyny: Displaying characteristics of both/neither male or female. (The character Pat, from Saturday Night Live, can be described as androgynous.)


Asexual: Describes feelings of a person who does not experience sexual attraction, but may be emotionally attracted to any gender or biological sex.


Biological Sex: Sex is the dichotomous distinction between male and female based on physiological characteristics, especially chromosomes and external genitalia. (Most doctors determine the biological sex of a child as male or female based on whether the external genitalia are either a vagina or a penis.)


Biphobia: Irrational fear or hatred of those assumed to be bisexual. (Similar to homophobia but toward bisexual people instead.)


Bisexual/Bi: A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to persons of both sexes, sometimes referred to as “Bi.” (Jonathan likes to kiss boys and girls. He could be bisexual .)


Butch: Describes a gay woman who prefers stereotypically masculine dress, style, expression, or identity. Use caution with this term as it can still be taken offensively, mainly because it is still used offensively. (Marcy dresses and acts like a boy. She’s really butch,you know?)

Camp: In GLBTIQ circles, people (especially gay men) may be described as “camp” or “campy” if they behave in a manner that exaggerates stereotypical gay mannerisms. Such exaggeration is often powerful in its ability to reveal the absurdity of gender expectations. It is often used in a humorous fashion. (The way Jack flits around like Tinkerbelle is really campy.)


Civil Union: The legal recognition of committed same-sex relationships by various states in America. (The state of Vermont allows gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersexed couples to enter into a civil union.) Civil unions are more commonplace in Europe where the marriage typically takes place in church after the civil union is granted by the court.


Closeted/In the Closet: The confining state of being secretive about one’s true sexual identity or orientation which may be done to keep a job, housing situation, friends, or in some other way to survive. Many GLBTIQ individuals may be “out” in some situations and “closeted” in others. (Scared of losing his friends, Sean decided to remain in the closet.)


Come Out (of the Closet): A term used to describe the acknowledging of one’s true sexual identity or orientation, either to oneself or to others. Most often it is used in terms of “publicly coming out.” (Sean’s friends all know he’s gay. They want him to be comfortable enough so that he could come out of the closet.)

Domestic Partnership: The civil or legal recognition of a relationship between two people (domestic partners) that sometimes extends limited protections to them. (John and Chris are both covered under John’s insurance because the company he works for recognizes domestic partnerships.)


Down Low/On the DL: A term describing the phenomenon of men (usually but not always men of color) who secretly have sex with other men while publicly identifying as heterosexual and maintaining sexual relationships with women. (Jerome is scared of what his friends and family will think of him being attracted to men as well as women. Jerome is said to be “on the DL.”)


Drag: Wearing the clothing of another gender, often exaggerating stereotypical characteristics of that gender. “Drag queen” refers to men dressing as women while “drag king” refers to women dressing as men. To be a drag queen or king is not the same as being a transsexual, though some may be in the process of gender reassignment. Dressing in drag is often meant to be a pun on gender stereotypes and to be comical. (My friends Leonard and Sheila are both gay and they perform at local gay bars on the weekend in drag. Leonard is a drag queen while my friend Sheila is a drag king.)


Dyke: Once known to be a derogatory term for lesbian, the word dyke was reclaimed by lesbians in the 1970’s as slang, and many lesbians now refer to themselves as dykes. However, the term can still be offensive, especially when used by heterosexuals, as its intent is to be offensive. (Sam, short for Samantha, is a very masculine-acting lesbian. She and her like-minded friends refer to themselves as dykes.)

FTM: Female to Male”  A term used in the GLBTIQ community that refers to male-identified people who were categorized as female at birth.  (FTM, Female-to-Male, means that someone who was physically born a female is going to begin the process, or is already involved in the process, to change their external physical male characteristics to match their internal male gender identification


Fem or Lipstick Lesbian: A gay woman who prefers stereotypically feminine dress, style, expression, and identity.


Flaming: This adjective is used to refer to stereotypically effeminate gay men whose mannerisms, speech, and other forms of expression  are generally considered stereotypically feminine. (Mike has moments when his behavior and speech are considered very girly. He has been referred to as a flaming homosexual.)


Gay: Preferred term for men who are primarily emotionally and/or physically attracted to men. Gay                 is also used as a blanket term for homosexuals and bisexuals, both  male and female. (Robert is        attracted to and has sex with other men. He is referred to as gay.)

Characteristics of masculinity or femininity that are learned or chosen. A person’s assigned sex does not always match their gender (see Transgender), and most people display traits of more than one gender. Gender is different from sexuality. (I identify as masculine and I have a penis. My gender matches my birth-assigned sex.)


Gender Bending/Gender Bender: Blurring the binary gender roles. (Avoid using either of these terms because they are considered to be offensive.)


Gender Expression: This is the external manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine” or “feminine” behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, or body characteristics. Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex. (Sandra, my transgender friend from Australia, made her gender expression match her gender identity despite being born a male.)


Gender Identity Disorder (GID): A controversial DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender-variant people. Because it labels people as “disordered,” Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive.  The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don’t conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play, or behavior. Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification, and/or institutionalization. GID replaces the outdated term “gender dysphoria.”

 [Even though Gender Identity Disorder has replaced “gender dysphoria,” you should avoid using this term because it is also considered offensive.]

Gender Recognition:
Recognizes only two genders and regulates behavior. The idea is that all males should be male-identified and masculine, and all females should be female-identified and feminine. (Gender recognition says that girls should wear dresses and play with dolls and boys should act tough and play with toy trucks.)


GLBTIQ: This is an acronym for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexed, and Queer or Questioning. The acronym is often used because it is more inclusive of the diversity of the community.  This acronym can be used interchangeably: GLBT, LGBT, GLBTQ, LGBTQ, LGBTIQ, etc. (The Stonewall Tigers is currently the only GLBTIQ student organization at the University of Memphis.)


Heterosexism: A bias toward heterosexuality or the exclusion of homosexuality. Also, it is the presumption that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality. (Jennifer doesn’t fear or hate gay people. She just thinks that straight people are better than gay people. Jennifer is not homophobic, but she is heterosexist.) [Heterosexism is no more acceptable than homophobia. We should work with those who display heterosexism to help them see that it is wrong and can be just as damaging as homophobia.]


Heterosexual: A person who is mostly physically and/or emotionally attracted to the opposite gender. (Chris’s friend Jarred is emotionally and physically attracted only to girls and that makes him a heterosexual.)


Homophobia: Irrational fear or hatred of those assumed to be GLBTIQ and anything connected to their culture. It is when a person fears homosexuality, either in other people or within themselves. Homophobia can range from mild discomfort to hateful speech and violence. (Clint said hateful things about gay school children because they are gay which made those children feel inferior to Clint. His actions are homophobic in nature.)

A person who is mostly physically and/or emotionally attracted to the same gender. (Tami is attracted emotionally and physically to other women. (Tami is a homosexual female because she is attracted to and has sex with other females. She is also referred to as a lesbian.)[Some people consider the word homosexual to be offensive. You should be careful using this word so as to not to offend anyone.]


Internalized Homophobia: The fear and self-hate of one’s own homosexuality or bisexuality that occurs for many individuals who have learned negative ideas about homosexuality throughout childhood. One form of internalized oppression is the acceptance of the myths and stereotypes applied to the oppressed group. (Even though Evan knows inside that he himself is gay, he was raised to believe that being gay is an abomination. When he says hateful things toward gays, he is expressing his internalized homophobia.)

A person who is born with “sex chromosomes,” external genitalia, or an internal reproductive system that is not considered medically standard for either male or female. The gender identity and sexual orientation of these individuals may vary. Although intersexuality is fairly common, intersexed people and infants are often considered “deformed” or “monsters” and are subjected to surgery while still infants. (The word “hermaphrodite” was changed to intersexed because it was considered too offensive by other people who are transgender.)

[Avoid using the term hermaphrodite.]

The pervasive assumption of a population that is exclusively heterosexual renders gay and lesbian people, youth in particular, invisible and apparently nonexistent. GLBTIQ people and youth are usually not seen or portrayed in society, and especially not in schools and classrooms. (Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adolescents feel invisible because they have not yet established a personal identity and because others frequently assume they are heterosexual.)


Kinsey Scale: A continuum model devised by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 that plotted homosexuality or heterosexuality on a scale from 0 to 6, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. It was the first scale to account for bisexuality (p. 49). According to a 1954 survey using the scale, 70% of people fell between 1 and 5. It has been criticized for being too linear and only accounting for behavior and not sexual identity.  (The Kinsey Scale is not relied upon as much anymore in terms of measuring sexuality in people because it is believed to be inaccurate and not accommodating for all forms of sexuality.)


Lesbian: Preferred term for women who are primarily physically and/or emotionally attracted to women. (Edith is a lesbian because she is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women.)


Lifestyle: A term often used to denigrate the lives of lesbians and gay men and how they live their lives.

You should avoid using this term because it is offensive. Just as there is no one heterosexual lifestyle, there is no one gay or lesbian lifestyle.


MTF: Male to Female. A term used in the GLBTIQ community that refers to female-identified people who were categorized a male at birth. (MTF, Male-to-Female, means that someone who was physically born a male is going to begin the process, or is already involved in the process, to change their external physical male characteristics to match their internal female gender identification.)


Openly Gay: This term describes people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersexed  in their public and/or professional lives. Also used: openly lesbian, openly bisexual, openly transgender, and openly intersexed. (The openly gay city councilman voted against a measure denying civil rights to gay people.)

Outed  or Outing:
Public revelation of the sexual orientation of an individual who has chosen to keep that orientation a secret. Some activists, political groups, and media believe outing is justified and/or newsworthy when a person involved works against interests of lesbians and gays. Others oppose it entirely as an invasion of privacy. (Russell was outed by a co-worker. As a result, he lost his job.)


Passing: With regards to sex, gender, and sexuality, passing means being read as a sex, gender, and sexuality other than the one you were assigned or with which you identify. (This word is usually used when a male has soft features like a female, or vice versa. We would say, “He can pass for a girl or she can pass for a boy.”) The term “passing” is also used in the context of a gay man or lesbian who “passes” as a heterosexual person to avoid confrontation.


Poof: A gay man who is seen as stereotypically effeminate and may prefer stereotypically feminine    styles and expressions. This typically British term has been in use there for a long time.       However, those who identify as straight should use caution when using this term. (The term poof or poofter is primarily used in a disparaging manner. Discourage the use of these words whenever possible.)


Pride: A healthy, safe respect which, in the context of the GLBTIQ community, promotes empowerment, education, safe living, and the sense that it is “okay to be GLBTIQ” to members of the community. (Most cities have pride activities that occur before and after those cities'           pride parades. These pride marches are usually long and last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours and coincide with National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11.)


Pride March/Pride Parade

A public procession or parade to proclaim the pride, solidarity, and unity of the GLBTIQ community.


Queen:  See Poof. (Interchangeable with poof, queen is also a term that can be used negatively depending on context.) While “flaming queen” is obviously derogatory, “drag queen” is primarily descriptive.


Queer: Originally a derogatory label used to refer to lesbian and gay people or to intimidate and offend heterosexuals. More recently this term has been reclaimed by some lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people as an inclusive and positive way to identify all people targeted by heterosexism and homophobia. (The word queer, like dyke, used to offend the GLBTIQ community, is now worn proudly like a badge of honor.)


Questioning: Refers to individuals who are unsure about their sexual orientation. (Reggie knows that he likes girls but also thinks he likes boys the same way. He is considered to be questioning his sexuality.)

The biological traits used to categorize someone as either male or female. The meaning we impose upon sex is called gender. (If someone is born with a vagina, their categorized sex is female. If born with a penis, their sex is male.)

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS):
This term refers to genital alteration, which occurs during transition (see Transition). Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have Sex Reassignment Surgery. This is the preferred term to “sex change operation.” (Ashley is going to undergo sex reassignment surgery next month.) [Journalists and others should avoid overemphasizing the importance of sex reassignment surgery.]


Sexuality: Refers to the labels we assign to sexual desires and practices: homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc. Sexuality is different from gender identity and sex. (Gay, lesbian, bi, and straight are words used to distinguish the sexuality of a person.)


Sexual Identity: How you identify your sexual desires and feelings, not necessarily your practices. Sexual identification, depending on a person’s sexual relationships or affinity is innate sexual attraction. In all instances, use this term instead of sexual preference or other misleading terminology. (I sexually identify myself as gay because I am a man who is attracted to men.)


Sexual Orientation: A person’s emotional, physical, and sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction. Although a subject of debate, sexual orientation is probably one of the many characteristics with which people are born. (Matthew is romantically and physically attracted to both men and women. This is his sexual orientation, while his sexual identity is that of being bisexual.)


Sexual Preference: This term implies an element of choice or preference in attraction to a certain sex. Please avoid this term as it is misleading.


Straight: Slang for a heterosexual person. (My friend Scott is only attracted physically and emotionally to females, therefore, he is considered straight.)


Transgender: An “umbrella” term for someone whose self-identification, anatomy, appearance, manner, or behavior challenges traditional societal definitions of male and female. Transgender people include transsexuals and others who do not conform to traditional gender boundaries or consider their gender blended to any degree. (At the moment, Robin is dating a lovely transgender person and he is very happy with her.)


Transition: Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure. It is a complex process that takes place over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following cultural, legal, or medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; engaging in hormone therapy; and/or possibly (though not always) engaging in some form of chest and/or genital alteration. Transition is the preferred term to “sex change operation.” (Tamara felt as though he was supposed to be born male instead of female. He is in transition at the moment to become a male culturally, legally and medically. Once he is done, Tamara will become Thomas.)

Transphobia: The irrational fear, hatred, and/or discrimination against people who break or blur gender roles and sex characteristics. Like biphobia, it is present in both straight and gay/lesbian communities. (Being transphobic is just as unreasonable as being homophobic or biphobic.)


A person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. The newer term is transgender. Some individuals may take hormones to aid in transitioning from one sex to another, and some individuals will undergo sex-reassignment surgery. (My friend Ruth is a pre-operative Female to Male transsexual. Once the surgery is complete, Ruth will be able to physically identify as a male. Then he will drop the name Ruth and be known as Rudy.)


(Compiled by Michael Parker, BA, Journalism, University of Memphis;

Edited/formatted by Lorna Horishny, MS, Leadership&Policy Studies, U of M

Adapted from Western Carolina University Safe Zone Manual;

Clemson Safe Zone Program; Rhodes College Safe Zone Manual;


A list of allies is provided and can be accessed by clicking on the word "SafeZone" above.


Allies may receive a CD with the information in the manual, a SafeZone logo sticker to post, and will be able to add their names to the list accessed through the "Certified SafeZone Allies" button above.

We will be posting scheduled certification sessions below on a regular basis.

Certification is available to
all University of Memphis
Staff, Faculty and Student Allies.

Participation is strictly voluntary.

NEXT Available Certification Sessions: 


 Safezone Sessions are held in Wilder Tower 206 (by the elevators), unless otherwise noted.

You are also welcome to call Dr. Rich Scott to schedule Certification sessions...faculty and departmental groups welcomed.

Please call 901-678-2068 for more information.

LINKS to related sites and organizations.

Text Only | Print | Got a Question? Ask TOM | Contact Us | Memphis, TN 38152 | 901/678-2000 | Copyright 2015 University of Memphis | Important Notice | Last Updated: 
Last Updated: 1/10/13