Written by DiveThru Team

    Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW

    Definitions Matter: Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

    Published Mar 24th, 2021 & updated on Mar 24th, 2021

    When it comes to knowing about sexual orientation and gender identity (and the Queer Community as a whole) — we’re going to be honest — there’s a lot to learn! There are a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities that heterosexual people might not be aware of. It can be intimidating when you’re just beginning to learn them all and dip your toes into the Queer waters.

    Perhaps your friend just came out to you, or your child, and you want to try and learn as much as possible to understand who they are. First, congrats on being such a great person and working to create a welcoming space for them. Second, we are so glad that you’re here with us to learn more!

    You’re prob reading this article because you’re not sure of what you need to know and where/how to start learning it. Don’t fret, we’ve got your back! Below is a little glossary of our own that’s full of definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and a liiiiiiittle bit of Queer history, to help you out. 

    Also, we know that we aren’t perfect! So, if we’ve missed any terms or have misrepresented an identity, please let us know. Shoot us an email and we’ll happily fix our mistakes!

    Sexual Orientation

    A person’s sexual orientation relates to the gender(s) of the people that they’re attracted to. This can also include sexual attraction, as well as feelings of romantic, spiritual, and emotional attraction to another person or people. Sexual identity can also depend on varying levels of sexual and romantic attraction. For example, some people only feel a sexual attraction, while others only look for a romantic attraction. It really depends on the person and their preferences. So, here’s what you need to know:


    Having no, or very little, sexual attraction towards other people regardless of their gender.


    A person who feels sexual attraction towards other people. This term was created by asexual people to identify, and refer to, those who are not asexual.


    Being mainly attracted to masculine qualities, men, or masculinity.


    A lack of desire for romantic activities or little, or no, romantic attraction to others.


    Being sexually and romantically attracted to men and women.


    This is when a person has little, or no, romantic feelings towards someone else until a sexual connection is established.


    This is when a person has little or no sexual feelings until a romantic connection is established.


    This is when people of the same gender are sexually and romantically attracted to each other. For example, men attracted to men, and women attracted to women.


    Being mainly attracted to feminine qualities, women, or femininity.


    Also know as a straight person, a heterosexual is attracted to the gender opposite them. For example, a man and a woman in a relationship would be considered a straight couple.


    A term used to describe a person attracted to the same gender as their own. The term once referred to a person believed to be mentally ill. Because of this it’s not widely used anymore.


    A woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women.


    A person who is attracted both romantically and sexually to people of all sexual orientations and genders.


    This is when a person is in a relationship with more than one consenting romantic, or sexual, partner. Polyamorous relationships can take many different shapes, and each has its own specific dynamic. Polyamory is not the same as polygamy.


    A generalizing term used for those who do not identify as straight or cisgender.


    When a person is attracted to transgender people (this includes people who identify as agender, non-binary, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, etc.).

    Gender Identity

    A person’s gender identity is what someone expresses as their gender. This is different than a person’s sex (their biological attributes). A person’s sex does not always indicate their gender because, let’s be honest, gender is just a social construct!


    A person who does not subscribe to identifying within the traditional gender binary. Agender people can sometimes see themselves as without gender.


    A person who embodies both masculine and feminine qualities within their gender expression.


    A person who moves back and forth between the genders of female and male.


    A person whose sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity.


    This is a term for people who feel a partial connection to a gender but don’t totally identify with it. This identity typically falls under the non-binary umbrella.  


    This is the shortened form of Non-Binary. A Non-Binary individual expresses their gender outside of the typical gender binary of feminine and masculine.


    This is when a person’s gender identity changes every now and again. These changes can occur daily, weekly, monthly, or whenever!

    Gender non-conforming

    This is a term used to describe people who don’t conform to the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.


    Similar to the term gender non-conforming, genderqueer is an umbrella term used to describe people who don’t identify with the binary labels of masculinity and femininity.

    Gender variant

    Similar to the term gender non-conforming, this is when a person doesn’t conform to society’s idea of gender (i.e. transgender, intersex, genderqueer, non-binary, agender…).


    This is a term for when a person is born with a reproductive system or sexual organs that aren’t traditionally male or female. This can present in a variety of ways and each intersex person’s experience, or identity, is different. One example could be a person born with male genitalia and a female reproductive system. 


    When a person experiences more than just one gender identity.


    This is a non-binary gender that falls under the genderqueer and transgender umbrellas. Common alternative terms include: neutral-gender, null-gender, neither male nor female, genderless, agender. 


    When a person’s gender is neither male nor female. Non-binary includes a person with no gender at all, a person with a third gender, or a person connected to the two binary genders. Each non-binary person expresses their gender in individual and unique ways.


    A person who does not limit themselves by identifying with just one gender, and can even express all genders at once.


    A person whose gender identity does not align with the gender they were assigned at birth.

    2 Spirit

    When an Indigenous person identifies as having both masculine and feminine energies. Indigenous people can use this to express their sexual, spiritual, and gender identity.

    What is the Meaning of “Queer”?

    The term Queer describes someone that is part of the LGBTQIA2S+ Community. Anyone whose sexual orientation and gender identity are not straight and cisgender can use this term to describe their sexual and/or gender orientation if they want to!

    A lot of people use this term as a kind of general blanket to describe themselves because sexual orientation and gender identity are complex concepts and can change over time. They are fluid, ever-changing and layered. “Queer” represents that complexity.

    Queer is sometimes a slur towards anyone who doesn’t identify as straight or cisgender. But now, people in the LGBTQIA2S+ Community have taken back their power by using that word as a descriptor for themselves. Many people now use the term Queer Community to refer to the LGBTQIA2S+ Community as well. It encompasses more, and helps to include the identities and orientations left out of the LGBTQIA2S+ acronym. Some people still see this term as a negative word, so be sure that you ask someone how they identify before calling them Queer. Juuuust in case!

    Gentle Reminders

    We also want to remind you that you can’t assume someone’s gender just by looking at them. Ask for people’s pronouns when you first meet them, and include your pronouns in your email signatures and in your bios. These efforts make a BIG difference. 

    And please, please, please work to dismantle your own ideas of what gender and sexuality “should” look like, because there is no right or wrong way for someone to express themselves. If you’re wanting to create a truly welcoming space, you have to do a lot of internal work on yourself and deconstruct the heteronormative mindset you might have been raised with.

    We hope that this article has given you a good starting point to understand, and learn more about, the many complex identities of sexual orientation and gender identity! There are a lot of definitions here, but we know you’ll become familiar with them all in no time! We also want to encourage you to do some more research of your own to help you learn more. The more you learn, the more you’re able to become a fantastic ally to the Queer Community!


Loved this article? Pin it to share with friends or save for later? iconicon