Got figuring out what your sexual orientation might be on your brain? No matter what your sexual orientation might be, being familiar the terms can make it easier for you to make educated decisions. Photo Credit: javieruiz via Adobe Stock.

Michael Jackson once sang “A-B-C. It’s easy as 1-2-3.” However, the King of Pop did not take into consideration the broad array of sexual orientation profiles that have proliferated over the years.

So, let’s take a look at the basics. For the “gay” community, this is like going back to kindergarten. But, for the un-initiated or those who are newly out or exploring, this will be a quick study on how the whole identity thing plays out.

To begin with, according to the LGBT Resource Center at the University of California at Riverside (UCR), there is a process when someone either publicly or privately “comes out.” This may refer to the process by which one accepts one’s own sexuality, gender identity or status and shares one’s sexuality, gender identity or intersex status with others. This can be a continual, life-long process. Additionally, one’s gender identity is how one perceives of oneself as far as being masculine, feminine or another gender.

Someone who has relationships with someone of the same sex, but hides this from one’s family and/or friends is said to be on the “DL” or down low. This is a cousin to being “in the closet” which basically refers to one’s decision not to tell anyone about their sexual orientation. A person may be “out” with friends and family, but not at work, for instance. Those on the “DL” shield their circumstances from everyone with the exception of those with whom they are having sexual relations.

In any case, having an understanding of the differences between sexual identity and orientation is important. Sexual identity is how a person identifies oneself physically. Sexual orientation has to do with one’s desire for intimate emotional and/or sexual relationships with people of the same gender/sex, another gender/sex or multiple genders/sexes.

Now, this one is easy-peasy: homophobia. It is defined as “the irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior or belief that does not conform to rigid sex role stereotypes. It is this fear that enforces sexism as well as heterosexism.”

“Outing” someone is disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity without that person’s permission.

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Easy List:

L  —  lesbian. A female individual who prefers to have intimate relationships with women.

G  —  gay. A male individual who prefers to have intimate relationships with men.

B  —  bisexual. These individuals do not have a single preference in whom they choose for intimate relationships and are just as comfortable with both women and men alike.

T  —  transsexual (trans, trans*). No, these are not drag queens or kings. Trans individuals are people who are biologically either male or female, but identify as the opposite of how they were biologically born (Jane feels more like John and Jack feels more like Jill).

Q  —  queer or questioning. This one can be really confusing, even for those in the LGBT community. Queer people are those who, according to UC Riverside, “embrace a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively-heterosexual-and-monogamous majority; “used as a sexual orientation label;” or “is a reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride.” Questioning folks are simply that — they are unsure of their sexuality in terms of identity and preference and are in the process of exploration to determine the outcome of their findings.

A  —  ally, agender or asexual. Allies are individuals who do not fall into any of the LGBT subgroups, are straight and are supportive of the community. Agender individuals are people who are internally ungendered. Asexuals are those who are “not sexually attracted to anyone or lacks a sexual oriention.”

I  —  intersex. These people are ones who are biologically “bi” in the most direct way in that they possess both genitalia of both sexes and/or other biological markers.

P  —  pansexual. Someone who is attracted sexually to all or a variety of gender expressions.

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Digging deeper

These are other expressions of ones sexuality, so says UC Riverside, but some may not be as familiar as the ones stated above:

Androgne  —  Person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.

Bicurious  —  A curiosity about having sexual relations with a same gender/sex person.

Bigender  —  A person whose gender identity is a combination of male/man and female/woman.

Cisgender – Someone who feels comfortable with the gender identity and gender expression expectations assigned to them based on their physical sex.

Cross-dresser — Someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex. This has typically been applied to men who dress up as women, but can certainly be applied to women who dress up as men.

Gender Binary — The idea that there are only two genders: male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or.

Gender Variant — A person who either by nature or by choice does not conform to gender-based expectations of society (e.g. transgender, transsexual, intersex, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc.).

Genderqueer — A gender variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders or is some combination of genders. Often includes a political agenda to challenge gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.

Intergender — A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.

Intersexed Person — Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.

MTF/M2F or FTM/F2M — An abbreviation for male-to-female or female-to-male transgender or transsexual persons.

Pangender — A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions.

Polyamorous — Someone who has honest, usually non-possessive, relationships with multiple partners and can include: open relationships, polyfidelity (which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to those), and sub-relationships (which denote distinguishing between a “primary” relationship or relationships and various “secondary” relationships).

Straight — Another term for heterosexual.

Transvestite — Someone who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex.

Two-Spirited — Native persons who have attributes of both genders, have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes, and are often involved with mystical rituals (shamans).

Ze/Hir – Alternate pronouns that are gender neutral and preferred by some gender variant persons. Pronounced /zee/ and /here,/ they replace “he”/”she” and “his”/”hers” respectively. There are others in the list like “they,” “e/ey,” “eir,” “eirself” and “em.”

Every day, the community expands its methodology in how it defines itself. These are the major ones and the list could be expanded much more.

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director. She can be reached at and 704-531-9988,...