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Orientation Dictionary

These are words that are useful for facilitators to know and be able to use fluently in activities about sexual orientation. Some of this language may be unfamiliar to you, particularly because it evolves quickly. Some will be familiar to you, but you may not have had a specific definition to use if a participant were to ask what exactly it meant. Some of these terms are not appropriate to use; the details of why are explained. Some have meanings that are very close to each other and it is not always immediately clear what the differences are. Nevertheless, it is critical to honor the language that people choose for themselves rather than assuming a term with a similar definition will work just as well.

+
noun
An indicator that sometimes comes after the initialism LGBTQ to indicate additional sexual and gender identities not explicitly included in the letters LGBTQ.

Advocate
noun
A person who is heterosexual and works and campaigns for the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Ally
noun
A person who works and campaigns in alliance (note the connection to the word ally) with people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Androsexual
adjective
A person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to men, masculinity, and/or males.

Aromantic
adjective
A person who does not experience romantic attraction.

Asexual
adjective
A person who does not experience sexual attraction.

Bicurious
adjective
A person who is interested in bisexual romantic or sexual attraction. This term is most commonly used by people who have historically identified as heterosexual and are exploring same-sex romantic or sexual attraction.

Biphobia
noun
A feeling or reaction to bisexuality that delegitimizes bisexuality as a sexual orientation or assumes that bisexual people are promiscuous. These reactions may come from both straight and gay communities and often leave bisexual-identified people feeling like they are rejected by everyone. Some bisexual people choose not to disclose their sexual identity because of biphobia.

Biromantic
adjective
A person who experiences romantic attraction to a range of gender identities rather than only one. Some people use the term to mean romantic attraction to only two genders (women and men) rather than a range.

Bisexual
adjective
A person who experiences sexual attraction to a range of gender identities rather than only one. Some people use the term to mean sexual attraction to only two genders (women and men) rather than a range.

Bottom
noun
A word with two potential meanings: 1) a person who is penetrated during sex or 2) the person with less power in a relationship with consensual psychological or sexual power dynamics.

Coming out
verb
Commonly understood as the first time that someone discloses their sexual orientation (or gender identity), coming out is actually something that sexual minorities do throughout their lifetimes. For example, for some LGBTQ+-identified people, sharing details of their social lives with new coworkers often discloses their sexual orientation.

Conversion therapy
noun
An extensively discredited therapeutic attempt to alter a person’s sexual orientation so that they experience romantic and sexual attraction to the “opposite sex” in a gender-binary framework. Conversion therapy techniques range from ineffective to harmful to abusive.

Down low
adjective
A phrase to describe a person who is having same-sex sexual encounters and lying about that in their heterosexual relationship. This phrase is often used to discuss sexual contact between Black men but is not considered respectful. “MSM” (men who have sex with men) is the preferred language.

Dyke
noun
Can be an offensive term for a woman who is (or is assumed to be) romantically and/or sexually attracted to women. It is sometimes used by lesbians with more masculine gender expressions to describe themselves.

Emotional attraction
noun
A feeling of connection with another person that makes them want to be physically close together, to share intimate details of their thoughts and feelings, and to learn more about the other person.

Fag
noun
Can be an offensive term for a man who is (or is assumed to be) romantically and/or sexually attracted to men. It is sometimes used affectionately among gay men.

Fluid
adjective
A person whose sexual and romantic attractions shift and evolve over time, or a person whose romantic and sexual attractions include a range of identities.

Gay
adjective
This word initially began as a secret, in-group way to ask whether someone primarily experienced same-sex romantic and sexual attraction. Over time it became an umbrella term for anyone who experienced primarily same-sex attraction. It has more recently evolved to refer to a man who primarily experiences romantic and sexual attraction to other men, although many lesbians still identify as gay.

Grey-romantic
adjective
A person who develops romantic attraction only after a close emotional bond has been formed; this term refers to the space between aromantic and romantic. (Sometimes spelled “gray-romantic,” sometimes also called demiromantic.)

Grey-sexual
adjective
A person who develops sexual attraction only after a close emotional bond has been formed; this term refers to the space between asexual and sexual. (Sometimes spelled “gray-sexual,” sometimes also called demisexual.)

Gynesexual
adjective
A person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to women, femininity, and/or females.

Heteronormative
adjective
A culture that supports heterosexism.

Heterosexism
noun
The assumption that a person is heterosexual until they have disclosed otherwise. Heterosexism is harmful for people who are not heterosexual because it requires them to come out and challenge new people’s assumptions about them.

Homophobia
noun
A feeling or reaction to same-sex attraction that delegitimizes any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

Homosexual
adjective
A term for a gay person that was initially intended as a descriptor but has come to be associated with negative emotional resonance for many people, and so the words gay and lesbian or the initialism LGBTQ+ is preferred.

Lesbian
noun
A woman who primarily experiences romantic and sexual attraction to other women.

Lipstick lesbian
noun
A lesbian who expresses herself in stereotypically feminine ways. Some people find this label offensive while others embrace it.

Love
noun
A deep feeling of connection for another person. Love can be sexual, romantic, platonic, intellectual, and many other things. Our culture most commonly recognizes love when it is sexual, romantic, or familial.

Men who have sex with men (MSM)
noun
Men who engage in sexual activities with other men but who do not identify as gay or bisexual. This umbrella term for men who are gay, bi, pan, etc., is often used in research and by health professionals.

Outing
verb
When a person discloses another person’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) without their permission. Sometimes this is done accidentally and sometimes it is done intentionally. It is never okay to out someone.

Pansexual
adjective
A person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to people across a wide range of gender identities, expressions, and biologies.

Polyamorous
adjective
A person who falls in love with more than one person at a time. It often includes the desire to be in open, honest, and committed romantic relationships with more than one person at a time, with the knowledge and encouragement of all involved parties.

Polysexual
adjective
A person who is sexual with more than one person at a time. It often includes the desire to be in open, honest, and committed sexual relationships with more than one person at a time, with the knowledge and encouragement of all involved parties.

Queer
adjective
An umbrella term that describes many sexual identities outside of heterosexuality. This term has historically been used in negative contexts but has been reclaimed by many who feel that it is more descriptive of them and their communities and experiences than “LGBTQ+.”

Questioning
verb
The experience of considering one’s own sexual orientation as potentially different from heterosexuality. This is an increasingly common experience among all young people, including those who end up identifying as exclusively or primarily straight.

Romantic attraction
noun
Desiring a certain type of relationship with another person that involves emotional closeness and caring for each other in an intimate, fulfilling, and supportive way. Many people consider romantic attraction to be the same as sexual attraction, although others experience the two independently.

Same-gender loving
adjective
A term primarily describing Black men who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to men but who are not culturally comfortable with the terms “gay” or “bisexual.”

Sexual attraction
noun
Feelings of physical connection, desire, and arousal. Most people have patterns of sexual attraction that may stay consistent or may evolve over time. People are not in control of who they are sexually attracted to.

Sexual behavior
noun
The ways in which a person engages physically with themselves and/or others that engages the genitals and/or involves pleasure and orgasm. People are in control of their sexual behaviors. Engaging in sexual behavior that goes against a person’s attractions or identity may be psychologically and emotionally harmful.

Sexual identity
noun
The way(s) in which a person thinks of themselves and their patterns of sexual attraction and behavior. This is not the same thing as sexual orientation because sexual identity is a private consideration rather than a public declaration. It is often healthy for people to be out of the closet regarding their sexual identity, but it is not always possible because of a wide range of circumstances, including family dynamics, cultural considerations, and personal responsibilities.

Sexual orientation
noun
The public composite of three private aspects of sexuality (attraction, behavior, and identity).

Sexual preference
noun
The decision about who a person is romantically or sexually attracted to. This terminology diminishes the reality that sexual orientation is not a choice, but something that is innate and cannot be consciously changed.

Skoliosexual
adjective
A person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to people who are gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming. The origin of this word (skolio = crooked) is problematic and the use of the term is being reconsidered by many.

Spiritual attraction
noun
A connection with another person that is related to and encompassing of religious beliefs and practices.

Straight
adjective
A person who primarily experiences romantic and sexual attraction to people of a different gender than themselves, sometimes described as heterosexual.

Top
noun
A word with two potential meanings: 1) a person who does the penetrating during sex or 2) the person with more power in a relationship with consensual psychological or sexual power dynamics.