What does LGBT+ stand for? Or is it LGBTIQA+? Or LGBTQIA+? What do all those letters in the full acronym even mean?
If you’re unsure about the identities represented under the acronym LGBTIQA+, Let's Talk About X has prepared a handy cheat sheet for you. It’s a glossary of some of the most common labels people might use to describe themselves and what they usually mean.
Labels help people make sense of themselves and others. They can be a powerful tool that helps people find common ground and communicate aspects of who they are to others. When someone tells you how they identify, it can help you to understand them better.
However, labels can also be damaging, especially when they are ascribed to people and used to marginalise other. Take care not to force labels on other people and instead respect and listen to how they describe themselves.
Why did you say what they ‘usually’ mean?
As you read, keep in mind that the list isn’t exhaustive and that many of these identities will mean different things to different people.
Language grows and changes constantly, as do people's identities, so labels will mean different things to different people.
Some people might identify with certain labels, but not fit these definitions. For instance, Mel might still describe themself as lesbian, despite not identifying as a woman.
So how do I know what labels to use?
Respect the labels people choose for themselves. Don’t challenge other people's labels. Don’t stress about every little thing and what it means.
It’s ok to ask people what a label means to them, but maybe check if they have the space to explain first.
Asking something along the lines of “When you’re up to it, I’d like to hear more about how you identify and what that label means to you, if you’re willing to tell me?” shows that you are interested and you care, but are respectful of a person’s boundaries and comfort level.
A little bit of background
Before we get stuck into definitions related to LGBTIQA+ communities, here are a few terms you should also know:
A person’s sex is defined by their anatomical, hormonal and chromosomal characteristics. There are biological differences between males, females and intersex people.
Differing from sex, gender is socially constructed. In Western society, we assign people a gender based on their sex, e.g. if a baby is born with a penis, it is deemed a boy and expected to look a certain way, be dressed a certain way and act a certain way.
Cisgender is used to describe anyone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. E.g. a female who identifies as a woman, or an intersex person raised as a man, who identifies as a man. Often shortened to ‘cis’, e.g. He’s a cis man.
Cishet is short for cisgender and heterosexual.
What about the +?
The plus represents the many other identities that fall outside of cishet normativity. A few of these labels are listed below.
Used by those who are attracted to all genders.
An umbrella term for anyone who is not cisgender. This includes transgender people, as well as the following:
Used by those whose gender identity doesn’t fit within the boundaries of ‘male’ or ‘female’.
A term used by those who don’t identify with any gender.
Used by those who experience little or no romantic attraction.
Keep in mind that this list isn't exhaustive. There are so many more labels out there that people use and their meanings are constantly evolving.
It's important to listen to people when they talk about their identities, so that you can understand what their chosen labels mean to them.
But aren’t some of these the same thing?
If you’ve noticed that some of these definitions seem pretty similar, you’re not alone. Even as somebody from within a queer community, I often find myself questioning what the difference is between between bisexual and pansexual.
If you look closely at each of the definitions, you’ll notice slight distinctions between some of the terms that seem similar. Some people who identify with those labels may hold firmly to those distinctions, others may not.
Labels can cross over, and people can use multiple labels. But don’t worry - as long as you respect the labels people choose for themselves and listen to what that means for them, you’ll be fine.
Frank discussions. Meaningful change.