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  • Developing a shared language increases understanding and facilitates better communication
  • For people whose experiences have largely been defined by others, having the ability to define their own experience is powerful
  • Some terms (especially ones that have been reclaimed) may not be appropriate to use unless an individual has self-identified with that label.

Biological Sex: Refers to a person’s biology in terms of anatomy, chromosomes, and/or hormones, i.e. XX (female), XY (male). There are many combinations of these physical characteristics. Sex is also a prediction assigned at birth by doctors, parents and others based on characteristics developed by science and social constructs.

  • Intersex: A person born with biological characteristics (anatomy, chromosomes, and/or hormones) that exist outside the current system of sex assignment. Approximately 1.7% of the population.

Gender: Social construct and process of roles and expectations assigned based on biological sex.

  • Gender Identity: How a person feels inside about who they are in relation to social definitions of gender.  Everyone has a gender identity and for most people gender identity aligns with their biological sex.
  • Gender Expression: How a person expresses their gender to the outside world.  Refers to an individual’s characteristics and behaviors, such as appearance, dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, and social interactions that are perceived as masculine or feminine.
  • Trans/Transgender: those who transgress societal gender norms; often used as an umbrella term to mean those who defy rigid, bipolar gender constructions, and who express or present a breaking and/or blurring of cultural/stereotypical gender roles. A Transgender person may or may not modify his/her/hir body through hormones or surgery.
    • Transsexual: (also Female to Male (FTM/F2M), Male to Female (MTF/M2F), Pre-Operative, Post- Operative, Non-Operative) – a person who, through experiencing an intense long-term discomfort resulting from feeling the inappropriateness of their assigned sex at birth and discomfort of their body, adapts their gender role and body in order to reflect and be congruent with their gender identity.

Sexual orientation: is defined by a person’s enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people.  Again, this “scale” can be thought of as a continuum whereby most people fall somewhere between “attracted to women” or “attracted to men.”

  • Lesbian:  a woman or girl whose primary sexual and romantic feelings are for people of the same sex.
  • Gay:  a man or boy whose primary sexual and romantic feelings are for people of the same sex.  While many people use this term only to refer to gay men, others use it as a general term to include both men and women: for example, “the gay community.”
  • Bisexual:  a person who has the ability to be emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to more than one sex.
  • Queer:  an inclusive term which refers collectively to bisexual people, lesbians, gay men, trans folks, and others who may not identify with any of these categories but do identify as queer. While “queer” has often been used as a hurtful, oppressive, term, many people have reclaimed it as an expression of power and pride. It is also preferred by many because of its inclusiveness. However, there are others who do not identify with this term and still experience it as insulting.
  • Heterosexual:  a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of a differing sex.

Homosexual:  a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of a similar sex. A clinical term that originated in the late 1800’s. Some avoid using the word because it contains the base word “sex” and/or because the label originally was used to diagnose a mental illness. The orientation has more to do with the issue of love than of sex, and it is believed that the use of “homosexual” devalues the orientation of individuals. The terms “gay, lesbian, and bi” are preferred by the majority of the community.