Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Terms

In order to understand a discussion of LGBT health, it is necessary to understand common terminology. Here are some common terms:

Bisexual Gay Gender Heterosexual Homosexual Lesbian Queer Sex (noun) Sexual orientation & preference Transgender Intersexual/Intersex


Bisexuality is the capacity to be romantically and/or sexually attracted to individuals of more than one sex. The term "bisexual" may be used to describe self-identity, behavior, or both. It may be used to describe a person's past, present, or potential range of romantic and/or sexual attraction. Bisexual people may be monogamous, nonmonogamous, or celibate; and may never have had sex with men, with women, or with anyone at all.


Gay is often used interchangeably with homosexual to describe sexual orientation and practice between people of the same sex. It is also used to refer inclusively to the LGBT community (e.g., gay pride day). However, gay is used more commonly to describe men whose predominant or sole attraction is to men, but some women also use the term for themselves as an alternative to the word lesbian. Someone who identifies as gay may have sex with someone of the same sex, the opposite sex, or may not have sex.


Gender is a social role that is mandated by society and culture; it is an identity. Gender, because it is usually associated with sex, is frequently assumed by the dominant culture to be certain and unchangeable. The practice of thinking and behaving outside of a socially proscribed gender, like man or woman, is common in the LGBT community and the reasons are typically social and/or political.


Heterosexual, or "straight," people are attracted primarily or exclusively to people of the opposite sex. Some heterosexual people are attracted to people of the same sex but have sex only with the opposite sex. Others who consider themselves heterosexual may have sex with men and women, and still others may not have sex.


Homosexual people are attracted primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex. The term may be used to refer to gay men, lesbian women, or bisexual men and women. Some homosexual people are attracted to people of the opposite sex but have sex only with the same sex. Others who consider themselves homosexual may have sex with men and women, and still others may not have sex.


A lesbian woman is primarily attracted to women. She may have sex with only women, with men and women, or with no one. Some women who have sex with only women resist the term lesbian due to stigma. Alternatively, some bisexual women may use the word lesbian in order to identify with the lesbian community for political reasons.


Although queer is used frequently as a derogatory term for homosexual people, some members of the LGBT community use it positively to refer to themselves or their community. It can refer to the whole spectrum of sexuality/gender experiences, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. "Queer" is sometimes a preferred label for those who feel that other sexuality/gender labels are not suitable. However, not everyone finds the term empowering; some resist it because of its derogatory use among homophobic people.

Sex (noun)

Terms like "male" and "female" are related to one's sex. Unlike gender, which is social, sex is biological. Some people change their sex by removing or altering the penis, vagina, and breasts, or by taking sex hormones.

Sexual Orientation and Preference

Sexual orientation refers to one's sexual response to others. It may be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or lesbian. Some people prefer to say "sexual orientation" over "sexual preference," because preference implies that attraction is a choice instead of an innate characteristic. For others, sexual preference is acceptable or preferred, because it implies that primary sexual attraction is a choice. In either case, a person's preferred term may be fueled by social or political reasons. Regardless, sexual orientation is a component of character and is different than sexual behavior, as some people are psychologically attracted to both sexes but have sex with only one.


Transgender (TG) refers to people who for various reasons adopt a gender identity that is incongruent with their physical anatomy or with the gender status imposed on them by dominant culture (i.e., man, woman). Transgender also refers to people who alter their sexual anatomy, through surgery, hormone use, or natural methods. The term, therefore, includes non-, pre-, and post-operative transsexuals (people are transition to another sex) and transvestites (people who wear clothes conventionally associated with the opposite sex).

Transgender people may consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, heterosexual, or none of these. They may identify explicitly with being male or female, a man or a woman, or they may not identify with any of these. A related word used by some people in the LGBT community is genderqueer which generally refers to someone who resists male or female labels.


The terms "intersexual" or "intersex" refer to those who possess biological characteristics of both sexes or sexual anatomy that is indeterminable.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 01 Aug 2001

Last Modified: 26 Jan 2015