Glossary

AFAB

“Assigned Female at Birth”

AMAB

“Assigned Male at Birth”

Asexual/Asexuality

a sexual identity reflecting an absence of sexual desire for others. Asexual people often have romantic attractions, desires and relationships; they can desire and experience intimacy with others.  Some asexuals experience arousal, pleasure and/or orgasm (through masturbation); others may remain virgins and/or find sex disgusting. Asexuals can have a general “sex drive” but do not connect those feelings to other people.  Some asexual people choose to have sex for reasons other than sexual arousal or desire, such as expressing feelings of love or intimacy with a partner.

Benevolent Sexism

a form of sexism that may be communicated via comments or behaviors presented as compliments or positioned as positive and protective (i.e. men holding doors open for women or believing men should put women on pedestals), but that are rooted in and reinforce gender stereotypes of women’s inabilities or assumed weaknesses compared to men.

Bisexual

a sexual identity that a person may claim if they experience emotional, physical, and/or sexual attractions towards men and women. Someone does not have to act on their attractions to identify as bisexual. Similarly, someone could engage in sexual behaviors with, and/or experience attraction towards, men and women, but choose not to identify as bisexual. Some attractions may be stronger for one sex than another, and attractions and behaviors can also vary over time. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Bodily Integrity

the right of all people, including children, to self-determination, the ability to make their own decisions, over their own bodies. Practices that violate one’s bodily integrity range from torture, surgeries which are not consented to (i.e. gender corrective or reassignment surgeries performed on infants, genital mutilation), to all kinds of physical and sexual violence.

Boy/Man

A male-identifying person who may or may not express traits associated with masculinity.

Celibacy

to be celibate is to choose not to engage in sexual behavior or express sexual desire with others or at all. Celibate people can and do experience sexual arousal and are actively deciding not to act on those feelings for a variety of reasons. Celibacy is distinct from asexuality in that celibacy is not a sexual identity; it is a choice, whereas asexuality is a form of sexual orientation in which people do not have and have never had feelings of sexual desire.

Cisgender

A person whose gender identity corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Demisexual

a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong   emotional connection with someone first.

Femininity

Refers to social conventions and expectations of how women are expected to look and to act.  Traditional norms of femininity dictate that women aspire to a narrow vision of beauty that are based on whiteness and thinness and appealing to heterosexual men’s desires, and that women should act in stereotyped ways such as being emotional, polite, quiet, heterosexual, and not feel or act on their sexual desires. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.

Feminism

bell hooks said that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (2000). Intersectional feminism acknowledges that women (and people) experience oppression in different ways based not only on sexism, but on race, ethnicity, culture, class, sexual identity and ability status. It maintains that oppression and discrimination must end for all people.

Gay

refers to people who are primarily romantically, physically, and/or sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender. It tends to be refer specifically to men who are attracted to and have romantic and sexual relationships with other men, but it can also be applied to women. It is umbrella term used to refer to the LGBQ community as a whole, as well as an individual sexual identity label that someone may choose to use for themselves. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues Overview.

Gender

A set of cultural identities, expressions, behaviors, expectations, performances and roles, thought of as feminine or masculine, that are assigned to people based on biological sex. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.

Gender Binary

The classification of people’s sex and gender as either masculine or feminine. Masculinity and femininity are considered opposite and based in biology. This binary works to excludes and punish anyone who does not conform to conventional gender roles and appearance. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.

Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to the many ways that someone may choose to express their gender. Gender expression includes things like the way one dresses, the way one carries themselves, and the choices one makes regarding their physical appearance (like hairstyle, etc). This means that gender expression is also highly influenced by cultural norms and expectations. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.  

Gender Identity

One’s gender identity is the gender one identifies with internally, psychologically, and in one’s sense of self. Developing a gender identity is a natural process in the brain that starts around age 2.  While gender identity in the brain is natural, the language and labels we use to describe these feelings are socially shaped. Some examples of gender identities are girl/woman, man/boy, trans, trans man, trans woman, genderqueer, non-binary, agender- amongst many others. These labels identify how someone’s internal feelings fit in with cultural expectations about gender.

Gender Nonconforming (GNC)

A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth.  Someone may choose to label their gender identity as gender nonconforming if their culture’s gender expectations and categories are too rigid.  See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Gender Roles

A set of norms that dictate what is and is not acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on their actual or perceived sex or gender.  These norms fall into many different categories like: physical appearance, thoughts, emotions, behaviors.  A couple examples of common gender roles are “boy’s don’t cry” and “girls should smile.” See our Toxic Masculinity overview.  

Girl/Woman

A female-identifying person who may or may not express traits associated with femininity.

Heteronormativity

Expectations that exist on many levels, from institutional policies to everyday assumptions about people’s behavior that insist people are going to be in one of two distinct gender categories, and will also be heterosexual.  For example, if a form at your school asked for the name of your legal guardian(s) by only having a box for Mother and a box for Father to fill out.  Or in the extreme, adoption policies that prevent two parents of the same gender from adopting a child.

Heterosexual

A person who is either a male attracted to females, or a female attracted to males, often referred to as “straight.”

Homonormativity

refers to the belief that sexual minorities can and should conform to heteronormative expectations in as many ways as possible in order to be seen as normal. For example, the belief that gay men should get married and have children if they want to be accepted by their neighbors.

Homophobia

A fear, dislike, bias or prejudice towards LGBQ+ people.

Imposter Syndrome

A psychological pattern in which a person doubts their achievements and holds a continuous fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Imposter syndrome is typically discussed in reference to people who are women and/or racial minorities and/or from low-income backgrounds who are in positions of power or success in academics or career.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality describes how oppressive institutions of power are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Though this idea was not new (e.g. Sojourner’s Truth Ain’t I a Women speech), Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced this term in 1989 to address the ways in which the experience of multiply marginalized individuals intersect and cannot be adequately explained through the sum of race and gender. First introduced through legal context to address the ways in which laws fail to address discrimination against black women and other women of colour in the U.S., the term has since been taken up by different disciplines and organizing spaces.

Intersex

This is a term to refer to people who have any combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and/or genitals that differs from the two normative expectations of male or female. It is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variations. Some people may only become aware of their intersex anatomy in puberty, adulthood or never. Intersex is not interchangeable with or a synonym to trans identities. Although the term hermaphrodite was used in the past, this is now considered a derogatory term for intersex people. For more information: http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex

Intimate Justice

A framework developed by Sara McClelland (2014), that links people’s feelings and experiences of their sexual lives and bodies to conditions of inequality. Intimate justice draws attention to how inequality impacts experiences and the development of entitlement to justice in people’s sexual lives – including both freedom from harm and coercion, as well as experiences of pleasure and satisfaction.

Lesbian

A sexual identity label for a woman who’s physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are towards other women. These attractions do not have to align. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

LGBTQ+

A term that reflects a collection of identities referring to people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Masculinity

Refers to a constellation of human behaviors, qualities, roles and characteristics that have been socially deemed to be masculine and to constitute “manliness.” Boys are taught to demonstrate these attributes and adopt behaviors and roles that are stereotypes of what it means to be a “real” or “normal” man. Prevailing conceptions of masculinity, which reflect Western values, include personal qualities, such as being disciplined, physically strong and muscular, physically active, rational and in control. Men are also assumed to be heterosexual, interested in sex at all times, and sexually assertive. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.

Microaggressions

Verbal or behavioral slights, insults, and invalidations, which may be indirect, subtle, or unintentional forms of discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ+ people, and/or people with disabilities. Although they may be subtle, they have harmful psychological consequences for those who experience them. Microaggressions can also be environmental, such as living in a community with statues of Confederate soldiers. These kinds of cues which may seem subtle or harmless, can actually communicate to people who are racial minorities that they do not belong or that they are not valued.

Misgendering

Occurs when you refer to a person in a way that does not align with their gender identity. If someone refers to a woman as “he” or as a “guy,” this is an example of misgendering. Similarly, someone who identifies as gender queer or non-binary and uses the pronouns “they/them,” is misgendered if you refer to them as “he” or “she.” Misgendering can be intentional or unintentional.

Pansexual

A sexual identity that describes a person’s attraction (e.g. sexual, romantic, emotional) to people of many different gender identities and expressions. Used increasingly more as people recognize that gender is not binary (http://www.transstudent.org/definitions/).

Patriarchy

Patriarchy is a social system that privileges men as primary authority figures in social organizations as well as in political, economical, moral arenas. It implies an institution of ‘male’ rule and privilege, and entails ‘female’ and other genders’ subordination. It operates beyond the individual (e.g. family structures) and into institutions (e.g. ‘male’ Congress members  making policies about ‘female’ bodies) and cultural (e.g. satisfying the white male gaze (audience) as a standard for movies). Supporters of patriarchal ideologies need not be ‘male’ or ‘men.’ For more information: https://decolonizeallthethings.com/learning-tools/patriarchy-gender-lesson-plan/

Polyamorous

Polyamorous people can love, and have romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attractions/desire for more than one person at a time. People engaged in polyamorous relationships have relationships with multiple partners; all partners are aware and consenting participants.

Positive Sexuality

Refers to seeing sexuality, in all of its forms and dimensions, as a good part of our humanity that is present in different forms over the lifespan; believing that people have a right to know, identify, express and have rights to their sexual desires and to resources that support their ability to do so (i.e., reproductive health, sex education, and policies that enable rather than thwart sexual expression.  People can be described as being “sex positive.” See our Positive Sexuality overview.

Pronouns

She/her, He/him, and They/them are common pronouns you might see on this website but not the only pronouns people use. They/them, Ze/zir, or Ze/hir are other gender neutral pronouns that gender non-conforming people may use. When in doubt, you can always use someone’s name! Or ask them what their preferred pronoun is, and share yours.

Queer

While queer used to be an insult towards those who were gender atypical in their appearance, roles, or desires, it has been reclaimed by these same communities as an identity label and politics that rejects the idea that gender is only two rigid poles (feminine and masculine) and that sexuality is only heterosexual.  Because queer is both an identity label and a political/theoretical view of the world, queer people may also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, gender fluid, asexual, etc. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Racism

Refers to a variety of individual, social and institutional practices and beliefs that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and yield superiority, power, and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others. In the United States, racism works to perpetuate superiority and privilege for white people, and discrimination against people of color.

Rape Culture

The normalization of sexual assault in society. Read our Rape Culture overview.

Sex Assigned at Birth

Refers to biological status, typically dichotomized as male or female, but also intersex, which is assigned to infants at birth. There are many indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia, but generally only the genitalia are used to determine which sex an infant should be categorized as. Not all children, adolescents or adults end up identifying with the sex they were assigned at birth.  

Sexism

Refers to a variety of individual, social and institutional practices and beliefs that work to reproduce a gender hierarchy and yield superiority, power, and privilege for men, and subordination and discrimination for women.

Sexual Agency

The ability to define yourself sexually, whether than means along the heterosexuality/homosexuality spectrum, along the spectrum that runs from asexual to highly interested in sex, or both. It is also the ability to choose whether and how you want to experience sexual activity.

Sexual Double Standard

The notion that boys and men should have a lot of sexual desire for women whereas girls and women should not have strong sexual desire of their own. Boys’/men’s sexual pursuits are encouraged (i.e. they are applauded for promiscuity) and girls/women must be gatekeepers against their supposedly uncontrollable sexuality; they bear the onus of denying men’s sexual advances. Girls/women are at risk of being called a “slut,” or one of any number of derogatory names for girls and women who evidence and act on their sexual desires.

Sexual Fluidity

The idea that sexual desire, attraction and/or identity are not necessarily static but can change over time and in different relationship situations. For instance, a woman can be sexually and romantically attracted to women at one point in her life and then at another time have those feelings for men or people of similar or different genders.  Sexual fluidity can be marked by a specific identity that a woman may experience as changing (i.e., from lesbian to bisexual or heterosexual) or she may identify outside the conventional “categories” of sexuality. Not all people experience their sexuality as fluid (i.e. a bisexual woman may identify as bisexual for her whole life).

Sexual Identity

How someone chooses to describe themselves based on their sexual feelings, attractions, behaviors and desires. Sexual identity can change throughout one’s life. It also does not have to reflect sexual behaviors. For instance, someone can identify as bisexual without ever having sex with men, or you could identify as straight even if you have had  same-sex sexual experiences. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Sexual Minority

Refers to anyone who has a sexual identity, sexual orientation, desires, attractions and/or sexual behaviors that is not strictly heterosexual. People who identify as LGBQ are sexual minorities because heterosexual people are the numerical majority in the U.S., and because the U.S. is a heterosexist society in which heterosexuality is valued over other sexual orientations identities.

Sexual Objectification

The act of treating/reducing someone else to a body for one’s own sexual pleasure, without regard to their humanity. In a patriarchal society in which men hold power and privilege over women, girls and women experience sexual objectification by boys and men. This may take the form of sexualized gazes experienced interpersonally or in media (i.e. sexualized advertising), sexual harassment (e.g. catcalling or unwanted sexual attention), and sexualized violence, such as coercion to rape. Sexual objectification is one way in which gender inequality and rape culture are reproduced. See our Rape Culture overview.

Sexual Orientation

Refers to the gender(s) a person is oriented to in their sexual attractions, identity and/or behaviors. There are many sexual orientations people may identify as, including “asexual,” “bisexual,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “pansexual,” “queer,” and “straight.”  See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Sexual Rights

Refers to the recognition that all people have the right to pursue a safe and satisfying sexual life, to have control over and decide freely on all matters related to their sexuality, and to have access to the services, education, and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so. Sexual rights have also referred to the individual civil rights that ensure women’s ability to have control over, make choices about, and access the appropriate health care having to do with reproduction and the reproductive parts of their bodies. See our Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice overview.

Sexual Subjectivity

A girl or woman’s experience of herself as a sexual being, her feeling of entitlement to sexual pleasure and sexual safety, and her ability to make active sexual choices which include her own embodied feelings.

Slut-Shaming

The action of stigmatizing a girl or woman for engaging in behavior that is judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative. There are a number of derogatory terms for girls and women who evidence sexual desire or act on their sexual desires (see the sexual double standard).

Stereotypes

Refers to widely held, but oversimplified, assumptions or beliefs about a group of people. They can be positive or negative, but because they are applied to a whole group of people, they lead to faulty ideas and judgments, and can also lead to engaging in prejudice and discrimination.

Systematic Oppression

When mistreatment and inequality for people in a particular social identity group is systematic, it is supported and enforced by a society and its institutions (e.g. state policies, educational systems, criminal justice systems). There has always been systematic oppression in the U.S., beginning with the enslavement of Black Africans. Systematic oppression continues to exist based not only on race, but also gender, class, sexual orientation, and ability in the U.S. For instance, it is legal to discriminate against and refuse services to LGBTQ+ people in some states.

Toxic Masculinity

Reflects an increasing recognition that aspects or manifestations of masculinity are bad for boys and men and for society. For instance, a large body of research has shown that being highly invested in masculinity is connected to lower self-esteem and depression, believing myths about rape. Conventions of masculinity keep men from living up to their full humanity.  In denigrating and avoiding all things traditionally considered feminine, they are denied parts of themselves that are what it means to be human, such as fulfilling and meaningful relationships. See our Toxic Masculinity overview.

Transgender / Trans

An identity of a person whose gender expression or identity expression differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. “Transgender” or trans is often used as an umbrella term encompassing many identities related to gender nonconformity. See our LGBTQ+ Lives and Issues overview.

Transphobia

A fear, dislike, hatred, or prejudice towards people who identify or are perceived as transgender, or anyone who violates or blurs the dominant gender categories (i.e. is gender nonconforming).  

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