Speaking LGBTQ: The Language of Love

Is it OK to use the word "queer?"

Well, it's tricky. Only since the beginning of the 20th century has queer been used to refer to people who identify as gay or lesbian. And for much of that time, it was used in a derogatory manner.

More recently, queer has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community (hence, the Q) and functions as both an umbrella term and as a specific identity. But, for some, queer may still conjure feelings of being different, ostracized, or not accepted. Since the term is not universally accepted, some people recommend avoiding it unless quoting someone or describing someone who self-identifies that way.

What does the "T" stand for?

Transgender. This is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who was assigned the male sex at birth but who identifies as female could consider themselves transgender.

So, how do you know if someone identifies as transgender? It often doesn't matter. But, if you're in a situation where you need to refer to someone's gender identity, it’s best to ask what they prefer. (Keep in mind, some transgender people use the shorthand trans, but it’s not always acceptable for a non-trans person to use the term.)

Is "homosexual" still in use?

The standard definition of homosexual is a person sexually attracted to people of one’s own sex. But it’s typically applied to men, and lesbian is the term for a female homosexual. GLAAD prefers that we don’t use the term homosexual because it’s “aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered.”

Do you have a sexual preference?

You may have a sexual preference (who you find sexually attractive) for men, women, or both. But sexual preference also means how you self-identify, so in the LGBTQ community, it's a no-no term. Why? Because it suggests that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is a choice and the person can be “cured.” You won’t offend anyone if you use the term sexual orientation or just orientation.

It’s not a gay lifestyle

The word gay refers to a homosexual man, but it also means lighthearted, joyful, and carefree. In the 17th century, a gay woman was a prostitute and a gay house was a brothel. And, the Gay Nineties refers to the decade of the 1890s, regarded nostalgically as a time of optimism and a leisurely lifestyle, at least for the wealthy and for professionals. Today, gay lifestyle is a commonly used—and misused—term.

In the LGBTQ community, gay lifestyle, as well as homosexual lifestyle, are sometimes frowned upon. Our best advice is to avoid using the terms because it might perpetuate negative stereotypes, including promiscuous behavior.

Coming out

It’s okay to describe someone you know who publicly self-identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual as out. Coming out of the closet is slang for LGBT people who self-disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s also okay to describe someone as openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual. But never out someone, or expose their lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identity, without permission.

Homosexual agenda

Of course, members of the LGBTQ community have fought for equal justice under the law. But, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender also care about a wide variety of other political, social, and cultural issues. The term homosexual agenda is used by anti-gay extremists to create a climate of fear and mistrust. It’s sometimes used as a disparaging way to describe the recruitment of heterosexuals into a homosexual lifestyle. All to say, let’s banish homosexual agenda from our vocabulary.

Drag queens and drag kings

Drag, as you probably know, is slang for wearing the clothing of the opposite sex. A drag queen is a man who, for enjoyment or performance, prefers to dress in women’s clothing. While most drag queens are gay, a small minority are straight. Drag kings are female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes. Keep in mind that unless they're drag performers, most transgender people would be offended if you confused them with drag queens or drag kings.

Ze and zir

Ze and zir are gender-neutral pronouns preferred by some transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable being addressed with masculine or feminine pronouns. Ze, also spelled zee or zie, replaces he or she. And zir, or hir, replaces his and her. Many U.S. colleges and universities across the country allow students to select their own identifiers. They is also becoming a popular pronoun for those that don't identify as any gender.

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