Terminology Related to Gender and Sexuality

Note: We at Nazariya have tried our best in this document to carefully research and present to you definitions of terms related to gender and sexuality.These definitions are just suggestive pointers to understand gender and sexuality terms. It is difficult to capture the essence of identities in a few sentences. The definitions may vary from place to place or individual to individual since we all have our unique ways of defining ourselves which should be respected.

This list does not claim to be comprehensive but we hope you will build on this list and continue to reflect on your beliefs and attitudes about people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientation.

Term Definition
 

Asexual

A person who does not desire sexual activity, either within or outside of a relationship.

Asexuality should not be confused with celibacy i.e. the conscious decision to not act on sexual feelings, usually due to religious reasons. While asexual people are physically non-sexual-type folks, they are nonetheless quite capable of loving, showing affection, and establishing romantic ties with other people.

 

Bisexual

 

A person who can have sexual and/or romantic attractions towards those of their own gender as well as those of other genders.

There is a myth that bisexual people are promiscuous or indecisive. But being attracted to multiple genders does not imply being attracted to more than one person at a time. A person may be monogamous (engaging with one person) or polyamorous (engaging consensually in multiple relationships) regardless of their sexual orientation.

 

Butch

 

Butch is a term used to describe a woman who presents her appearance and other behaviour in a traditionally masculine way.

 

Cisgender

 

A cisgender (often abbreviated to cis) person is the one who has a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their gender identity. In other words, those who have a gender identity or perform a gender role that society considers appropriate for their sex. It is a complement to the term ‘transgender’.

 

Closeted

 

A gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person who does not disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation to people around them. They often do so for fear of persecution, rejection, and/or negative reactions from others.

There are some people who may remain closeted or may not want to ‘come out’ because they do not see a point in disclosing their gender identity or sexual orientation.

 

Femme

 

A traditionally feminine-appearing and -behaving woman. Mainly used to refer to a feminine lesbian or bisexual woman.

 

Gay

 

A person who identifies as a man and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to others who identify as men.
This term can also be used to describe any person (man or woman) who experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of the same gender.

 

Gender

 

Refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.

Behaviour that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviours that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.

 

Gender expression

 

The ways in which we present ourselves to the outside world. This can be in terms of our behaviour, clothing, hairstyle, or voice. This manifestation or expression may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine. There is no wrong or right way to present yourself.

 

Heterosexual

 

An individual who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to people of a sex other than their own.

 

Homosexual

 

An individual who is sexually attracted to people of the same gender as their own.

 

Intersex variations

Human bodies have many variations, and these could be at multiple levels – reproductive, hormonal, physical, etc.

Intersex variations are congenital differences in reproductive parts and/or secondary sexual characteristics, and/or variations invisible to the eye such as chromosomal and/or hormonal differences.

Since human bodies are so diverse, there is no absolute standard of a ‘normal’ male or female body.

 

Lesbian

 

A person who identifies as a woman and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to other women who identify as women.

 

Queer

 

It is an umbrella term for people who have diverse sexual and gender identities.

 

Sexuality

Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life, and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles, and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious, and spiritual factors.
 

Trans*

 

This term refers to all persons whose sense of their gender does not match the gender assigned to them at birth. The star/asterisk in ‘trans*’refers to all non-cisgender gender identities. These will include transwomen, transmen, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, gender non-binary, etc.

 

Transman

 

 

 

 

A transman is a transgender person who was assigned gender female at birth but whose gender identity is that of a man.

Some transmen may choose to undergo surgical or hormonal transition, or both, to alter their appearance in a way that aligns with their gender identity more appropriately. And some transmen may choose not to undergo surgical or hormonal transition.

 

Transwoman

 

A transwoman is a transgender person who was assigned gender male at birth but whose gender identity is that of a woman.

Some transwomen may choose to undergo sex or gender reassignment surgery to alter their appearance in a way that aligns with the gender identity they identify with more appropriately. And some transwomen may choose not to undergo sex or gender reassignment surgery.

Adapted from:

  • Breaking the Binary (2013), LABIA
  • Basics and Beyond (2006), TARSHI
  • Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation Among Students, American Psychological Association
  • Glossary of Terms, Human Rights Commission
  • Gender and Human Rights, WHO
  • LGBT Terms and Definitions, International Spectrum, University of Michigan
  • LGBTIQ Terminology, LGBT Center, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Queertionary – A Guide to LGBT Terminology, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center, Baker University Center, University of Ohio
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Myths and Facts about LGBT People

A note: Our attempt is to present to you myths and facts about and around LGBT people. Not only will this document help demystify myths we tend to gather about LGBT people and counter them with facts, it will also help readers reflect on the tendency to create myths about any practice that goes beyond what is considered normal.

This list does not claim to be comprehensive. We hope you will build on this list and continue to reflect on beliefs, practices, and attitudes.

*

Myth: LGBT persons are mentally ill.

Fact: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders brought out by the American Psychiatric Association is considered a universal authority for psychiatric diagnoses. In 1973, they removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and declared that homosexuality is as healthy as heterosexuality.

The World Health Organisation’s ICD-9 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) had also listed homosexuality as a mental illness in 1977, but it was removed from the ICD-10, endorsed by the Forty-Third World Health Assembly in 1990.

However, LGBT people, along with people who have diverse gender identities and sexual orientation or whose behaviours that are not considered normal, can become maladjusted when they are treated with hostility.

 

Myth: Being LGBT is unnatural and abnormal.

Fact: This myth is pinned on the belief that all sexual relationships are formed for the procreation of children. The fact is that while there are heterosexual couples who decide to have children, there are many who do not choose to do so, and instead choose to engage in sexual activities that do not lead to procreation. There are also some couples who, for some reason, cannot have biological children.

Moreover, we need to question what we consider natural and unnatural. Are the cars we drive or the air conditioners we use natural?

There is no fixed definition of normal. What one person considers perfectly normal might be found to be extremely abnormal in another city, culture, country, by a different group of people, or in a different era. For instance, 50 years ago, girls pursuing higher education was not considered entirely normal in many cultures, but in 2017 it is perfectly normal for girls to be high school graduates or even be a PhD.

Myth: Men who act in a feminine manner must be gay. Masculine women with short haircuts and deep voices must be lesbians. Transmen are secretly lesbians, and transwomen are actually gay men.

Fact: These stereotypes confuse the concept of sexual orientation (whether you prefer the same or another sex as sexual partners) with gender roles (exhibiting masculine or feminine behaviour). There are many homosexual men who are masculine, and many homosexual women who are feminine. Besides, some heterosexual men have feminine traits, and some heterosexual women have masculine traits.

Transmen are people who were assigned the female gender at their birth but their gender identity and expression is that of men. They prefer to be addressed as men, and this is because they are men. As for their sexual orientation, they may like women or they may like men. Similarly, transwomen are people who were assigned male at birth but their gender identity and expression is that of women. They prefer to be addressed as women because they are women. And they may be attracted to men or women.

 

Myth: It is very easy to spot LGBT people. They flaunt their sexuality when they talk about their partner, hold hands, or kiss one another in public (especially gay men). You can always tell homosexuals by the way they look or act.

Fact: Human beings come in all shapes and sizes and have diverse preferences. There is no easy way to determine who likes whom or what. For instance, we can find out about someone’s food preferences or taste in films only by their choosing to share that information. Similarly, there is no accurate way to find out someone’s sexual orientation or sexual desires except for when they share with us about it.

However, because of homophobia, not many lesbian, bisexual, or gay people come out about their sexual orientations in the open. Besides, some who are not LGBT might also choose to look or act in ways that are not considered normal.

 

Myth: LGBT persons are promiscuous.

Fact: Same-sex desiring persons or those who deviate from sexual and gender norms are neither more nor less sexually promiscuous (engaging with multiple partners) than those who do not. Like heterosexual people, many LGBT people are involved in monogamous relationships and are committed to each other. Some LGBT people may also choose to remain celibate or might be asexual, and others may have multiple partners. This is similar to heterosexual people whose sexual life and preferences we cannot know about till they tell us.

 

Myth: Bisexual people have multiple partners.

Fact: By definition, bisexual individuals have romantic and/or sexual feelings towards persons of another gender as well as towards persons of the same gender as them. This does not automatically imply involvement with more than one partner at a time any more than a heterosexual person’s ability to be attracted to more than one person automatically implies multiple partners.

 

Myth: If a friend tells you they are LGBT, then that friend is coming on to you/hitting on you.

Fact: When friends or someone who trusts you ‘comes out’ (reveals their sexual orientation, or gender identity in case of trans people) to you, they are essentially inviting you to know them better. If an LGBT person chooses to come out to you, that person has decided to share a part of their identity with you. Such a disclosure only means that this friend trusts you.


Myth: Having LGBT people in your friend circle or workplace will make you LGBT.

Fact: Liking or loving someone is not contagious. Spending time with people who are LGBT does not make you LGBT any more than liking someone who is left-handed or is tall or short.


Myth: Early sexual experiences are indicative of one’s sexual orientation as an adult, and LGBT people are abused in their childhood.

Fact: Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in pursuit of their sexual orientation may have heterosexual experiences, similar to many heterosexual people who may have homosexual experiences. Sexual activity per se does not make you lesbian, bisexual, or gay. Feeling comfortable with and identifying with that sexual activity, identity, or orientation may determine it.


Myth: We know what causes homosexuality and transgender identity, and working on that can reverse these.

Fact: Many LGBT people may know that they are attracted to members of their own gender, or that they identify as another gender, at an early age. Sometimes they may know when they are older, or when they are much, much older and well into their lives. There is no appropriate/right age to start identifying as LGBT.

There are various studies, research, and opinions to determine what causes someone to be homosexual or identify as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth but these are all possibilities. There is no definitive theory or text that can tell us what causes particular orientations or makes your gender identity.


Myth: Gay men hate women and lesbian women hate men.

Fact: Gay men and lesbians, like heterosexual people, have friends and acquaintances who vary in gender identity and sexual orientation. Like anyone else, lesbian and gay people have personal preferences concerning those individuals they like to be around and choose as friends, and most people prefer being together in groups and communities with others who share their own values and identities. Preferring to have certain types of people as friends, or to have a romantic attraction to a particular type of person does not mean that one hates or dislikes those who are outside that circle. In other words, if you really like rice, it does not mean that you dislike or hate chapatis!

 

Myth: In a same-sex relationship, one partner (usually the one who is more masculine) plays the role of the husband and the other (more feminine) partner plays the role of the wife.

Fact: Within the heterosexual community, there are all types of relationships, and people perform all kinds of domestic/romantic/sexual roles in a relationship. This is true in same-sex relationships as well.

Some people, both heterosexual and homosexual, perform roles that are commonly associated with their gender identity, and it could take precedence over what they may actually prefer doing. There are, however, many couples and people of all sexual orientations and gender identities who believe that people should have the freedom to live roles or do things they like doing rather than what’s associated with their gender identity.

 

Myth: Same-sex relationships/marriage will lead to polygamy, pedophilia, people wanting to marry their dogs, or the end of the world.

Fact: Homosexual relationships/marriages are no more likely to lead to such issues than heterosexual marriages. There is no logical link between same-sex relationships/marriage and pedophilia or polygamy. Marriage/people deciding to love or be with other people should be an association between consenting people (and not forced).

 

Myth: LGBT culture is a non-Indian, Western concept, and we must oppose it.

Fact:  There are several instances of sexual relationships mentioned in our own Indian culture – be it in old architecture or in literature. For instance, there are mentions of same-sex relationships in the Kama Sutra and in architecture like Khajuraho.

When we are accepting of Western or other cultures in certain aspects of our lives such as food, clothes, and language, it isn’t logical that when it comes to issues of beliefs and attitudes with regard to desire and sexuality we struggle in accepting other worldviews.

Here we should also note that Indian law is Western; i.e. the British introduced Section 377 (and related laws deeming homosexuality an unnaturaland punishable offence) in penal codes of their colonies such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in 1860.


Adapted from:

  • ‘Sexual Orientation Myths + Facts’, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center at Case Western Reserve University
  • ‘Myths and Facts about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Communities’, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence
  • ‘Chapter 4: Myths and Facts About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’, Lippincott Nursing Center
  • ‘Myth Busting: LGTB Myths & Facts at Positive Space’, Vancouver Island University
  • ‘Myths and Facts about Sexual Orientation’, University of Missouri – St. Louis
  • ‘Top 7 claims for why homosexuality is “unnatural” refuted’, Patheos

You can also refer to these sources for more information.

Nazariya Guidelines on LGBTQIA Reporting

While the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) movement was largely underground during the 1980s and 1990s in India, the 2000s saw a very strong emergence of LGBTQIA voices, and reportage on these issues underwent a sea-change. However, alongside empathetic reporting and self-aware journalism, yellow press and tabloid-style coverage of these sensitive issues with serious ramifications has always dogged the media.

People with diverse gender identities and sexual orientation have the right to fair, accurate and inclusive reporting of their life stories and concerns. The following guidelines have been drawn up by journalists, editors and activists who identify as LGBTQIA and work on issues of sexuality and gender. These guidelines are intended for all media workers creating and handling editorial material on LGBTQIA issues:

  • Before any reporting of LGBTQIA people and issues, consider whether labels such as “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual”, or “transgender” are appropriate. If they are not necessary and relevant to the story, they must not be included. A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity status should only be mentioned if it is relevant to the story.
  • In the case that mentioning someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation is necessary, it is important to always ask rather than to assume someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • If gender identity is not clarified, it’s best to stick to neutral terms like “them” instead of “he” or “she”.
  • It is dangerous to pick up photographs from people’s social media accounts if they identify as LGBTQIA. They might not feel safe about their gender expression or sexual identity being published.
  • Always ask for permission before disclosing the names, photographs, home or work addresses of those who identify as LGBTQIA in any form of publication.
  • Before photographs of people who identify as LGBTQIA are printed, they must be double-checked to ensure that those whose photos are being published are aware of it. Not many LGBTQIA people are ‘out’ about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. And even those who are ‘out’ only feel safe about it in certain contexts.
  • It is not ethical to take people into confidence in order to use their private details (i.e. to ’pull a Capote’).
  • LGBTQIA people often have complicated if not troubled relationships with their families, and must not be pressured into introducing journalists to them.
  • Note that the term “alleged” should not be used when describing LGBTQIA identities and relationships (such as “alleged transgender person”, or “alleged relationship”), which are all as real and valid as any other.
  • It’s important to build a network of members of the LGBTQIA community. Many journalists tend to return to the same people time and again for quotes. This limits journalists’ access to the diversity of the LGBTQIA community, and also limits the voice of the community in representing themselves.
  • Use umbrella terms like “LGBTQ” or “LGBTQIA” rather than “LGBT” or “the gay community” which are not inclusive terms; “trans” rather than “transgender” or “transsexual” or “hijra” or “kothi”, etc.
  • Avoid headlines like, “Let the Gays Marry”. This is a sweeping statement and limits gender identity to one identity (i.e. gay), whereas gender is really a spectrum that enjoys many expressions. (For instance, LGBTQIA.) Try and be as inclusive as possible while giving headlines and captions. It should be made possible to come up with a catchy headline that is also politically correct.
  • If you are a beat reporter, insist on seeing a playback of your story to ensure that the desk editor has not slipped in some politically incorrect statements.
  • “She Was Not Ashamed of Her Lesbianism”: Avoid such headlines since calling something an ‘ism’ reduces it to a fad or trend rather than an identity.
  • Do not mix up transgender with transexual. While the former refers to gender identity, the latter focuses only on sex change. Many trans-identified individuals do not undergo gender reassignment surgery.
  • “Transgendered” is a wrong usage of trans identity since it is reductive and consigns gender to the past tense.
  • “He was a She”: One does not always have to focus on a transgender individual’s previous gender identity, their process or transitioning operations. Too often, it reduces and ridicules the trans experience and their struggle to live a life free of prejudices.
  • Care should be taken to be sensitive; just as one would not report about a cancer survivor’s breast implants or silicone breasts, it is equally demeaning and insensitive to speak of the trans body just in terms of pre-op and post-op and focus only on genitals. It’s important to let the trans individual decide what they want to share.
  • When talking about women’s issues, ask if it pertains to trans women or to people assigned female at birth.
  • Make sure you consider the class, caste, religion, ethnicity, and other social markers. These also affect gender and sexuality.
  • If you are doing a story about a certain community, ensure sure you have voices from that community as quotes, reading material, artwork, featured images, etc.
  • Try as much as possible to bring diversity into your writing. It’s good to consider questions like, say, whether you can include the perspective of a minority group.
  • Avoid ‘saviourism’: persons from marginalised communities must not be treated as victims, as it further disempowers them. Avoid ‘top-down’ statements with a “we must save them” tone.
  • Look for stories on the LGBTQIA community that does not focus on their identities as ‘victims’. To increase the visibility of LGBTQIA people, look at queer people in business, in art, activists, scientists, sports persons.
  • Ensure to put the onus where it belongs—identify the person/group with the most power/privilege, and ask what they can do to change the situation: How can heterosexual people change things? How can cisgender people change? What should upper class/uppercaste queer people do? What should English-speaking queer people do?

Download a copy of the guidelines: Nazariya Guldelines on LGBTQIA Reporting