A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Important Gender and Sexuality Terms

by Inda Lauryn In 8th grade, I was part of a teen panel that traveled across the state promoting abstinence. If this group had any value, i...

by Inda Lauryn

In 8th grade, I was part of a teen panel that traveled across the state promoting abstinence. If this group had any value, it began my understanding of the differences between gender and sexuality. During this time, I was taught that gender is how a person identifies as male or female; and sexuality is how a person identifies as a sexual being, either heterosexual or homosexual. While this helped me understand the difference between gender and sexuality at a young age, I came to see that this is a woefully inadequate and incomplete look at gender and sexuality.

I have since come to understand the there is a lot more to sexuality than binary gender identity and sexual orientation. Many cisgender, heterosexual (definitions below) people do not realize that both gender and sexuality fall on a spectrum and are often fluid. Accepting this is crucial to being a better ally to LGBTQ (or QUILTBAG) sisters who face unique experiences, oppressions, and issues due to how they identify in regards to their gender and sexual identities.

Below, I have included a few terms to describe orientation, attraction, identity, and relationship status. This is not an exhaustive list, as there are subcultures within many identities—and still, many people reject formal labels altogether—but it may work as a primer for those unfamiliar with the various types of sexual and gender identities throughout the spectrum. Also, please know that I welcome any corrections, clarifications and additions.

First, it is important to give more comprehensive definitions of gender and sexuality, than what many of us were taught in sex-ed classes:

Gender is how a person identifies and expresses themselves as male or female, or—for many—somewhere in-between. This relates to social and cultural norms, expectations, values, attitudes, and behaviors. Gender is not the same as biological sex, but many conflate the two.

Biological sex describes the kind of sex organs, chromosomes, and hormones a person has, and thus how they are often described: male, female, or intersex. Gender and biological sex are separate from each other.

Intersex refers to someone born with genitalia or sex characteristics not classified as male or female. It may also refer to someone born with genitalia or characteristics classified as both male and female. An intersex person may identify with any gender on the spectrum as well as intersex.

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), sexuality is defined as:
encompass[ing] the sexual knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of individuals. Its various dimensions involve the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the sexual response system; identity, orientation, roles, and personality; and thoughts, feelings, and relationships. Sexuality is influenced by ethical, spiritual, cultural, and moral concerns. All persons are sexual, in the broadest sense of the word.
Queer refers to when a person identifies as non-heteronormative. This can be gender or sexual identity, so I include it as a standalone term as an identity here.

Types of Attraction

An aesthetic attraction means a person has an impersonal attraction based on an appreciation of someone’s physical attributes or demeanor.




A romantic attraction means a person has an attraction based on a desire to experience a romantic relationship with someone.

A sensual attraction means a person has an attraction based on the desire to touch someone, but not necessarily in a sexual way.

A sexual attraction means a person has an attraction based on a desire to participate in sexual acts with someone.

Sexual Orientation and Romantic Attraction

(Note: Some people use the "-sexual" term to indicate both romantic and sexual attractions.)

Aromantic means a person does not experience romantic attraction.

Asexual means a person does not experience sexual attraction.

Autosexual means a person experiences self-gratification rather than other types of sexual activities.

Biromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to their own gender and a different gender(s).

Bisexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to their own gender and a different gender(s).

Gray-romantic means a person rarely experiences romantic attraction. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for demi- and lithromantic.

Gray-sexual means a person rarely experiences sexual attraction. This means a person identifies in the gray area between asexuality and sexuality. It is also called semisexual, asexual-ish and sexual-ish. It is also sometimes used as an umbrella term for demi- and lithsexual.

Demiromantic means a person experiences a romantic attraction after developing a strong bond. This type of attraction usually occurs more often in romantic than sexual relationships but it occurs in both.

Demisexual means a person experiences a sexual attraction after developing a strong bond.

Heteroromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to gender(s) different than their own.

Heterosexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to gender(s) different than their own.

Homoromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to the same gender as their own.

Homosexual (most commonly referred to as gay or lesbian) means a person experiences sexual attraction to the same gender as their own.

Lithromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to others but does not desire reciprocation.

Lithsexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to others but does not desire reciprocation.

Panromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to all genders or regardless of gender.

Pansexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to all genders or regardless of gender.

Polyromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to multiple genders but not necessarily all genders.

Polysexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to multiple genders but not necessarily all genders.

Skolioromantic means a person experiences romantic attraction to non-binary gender individuals.

Skoliosexual means a person experiences sexual attraction to non-binary gender individuals.

Relationship

Monogamous means a person desires or seeks having an intimate and/or sexual partnership with one person.

Polyamorous means a person accepts, desires, or seeks having more than one intimate and/or sexual partnership with the consent of all individuals involved in the relationship.

Gender Identity

Agender refers to a person who does not identify with any gender.

Androgyny means a person has characteristics and/or a gender identity regarded as both masculine and feminine.

Bigender refers to a person who identifies as a combination of both binary genders.

Cisgender refers to a person who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth.




Genderqueer refers to a person who identifies outside the gender binary and may include different genders like agender, bigender, pangender, and third gender.

Gender non-binary refers to a person who does not identify within a gender binary.

Neutrois refers to a person who does not identify with gender and falls neutrally between male and female.

Pangender refers to a person who identifies as all genders including non-binary genders.

Third Gender refers to someone who identifies as a gender part of a ternary gender system.

Transgender refers to a person who identifies as a different gender than the one assigned at birth.

Trigender refers to a person whose gender changes among female, male, and third gender.

Two Spirit refers to someone in an Aboriginal or indigenous culture who takes on multiple gender roles within that specific culture. Non-Aboriginal people may not identify as Two Spirit.

We should never assume a gender identity or sexual orientation for anyone and definitely should not use being cisgender or heterosexual as a default identity. It is important to respect the identities of non-heteronormative people and refer to them by the names and pronouns with which they identify. We must also accept and respect that gender identities and sexual orientations may change over time as they are fluid, but remain valid.

Photo: Shutterstock

Inda Lauryn has previously been published in Blackberry, A Magazine, Interfictions, The Toast, and Callaloo, as well as had her work featured on blogs such as Black Girl Nerds, Bitch Flicks, and AfroPunk. She is currently working on a novel and countless other unfinished writing projects, occasionally blogs at Corner Store Press and shares music playlists at MixCloud.

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