As a gay guy, I often see reference to various identities: LGBT or LGBTQ or LGBTQI, etc. But I don’t often stop to think about the true meaning of the letters that represent the rainbow of identities that so many of us have. So what do the letters mean?
A brief history of LGBTQIA+ initialism
What used be ‘LGBT’ has grown and morphed into various other initialism (or acronyms) over time. Originally standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, became LGBTQ when ‘Queer’ was added.
One expanded version of the acronym in use is LGBTQQIP2SAA, which stands for: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, two spirit, asexual, and ally.
MOGII, which stands for marginalised orientations, gender identities, and intersex is a whole separate initialism that is in use in various circles.
L – Lesbian
A homosexual woman, i.e. a romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between women.
Interestingly, the word lesbian is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos, home to the 6th-century poet Sappho. Historians believe that a group of young women were left in Sappho’s charge for their instruction or cultural edification. Sappho’s poetry reflects women’s daily lives, their relationships, rituals, and erotic experiences. She focused on the beauty of women and proclaimed her love for girls.
G – Gay
A homosexual man, i.e. a romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behaviour between men.
The term gay is sometimes used to refer to homosexual women as well, i.e. covering both gay men and lesbians. The reverse does not hold true for the term lesbian (except when gays make jokes about their friends).
The term was originally used to mean “carefree”, “cheerful”, or “bright and showy”, but in modern language is generally exclusively used to refer to homosexual people.
B – Bisexual
Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behaviour toward both males and females or to more than one sex or gender.
It may also be defined as romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity, which is also known as pansexuality.
Unfortunately, bisexuals are sometimes marginalised within the gay communities as people who haven’t made up their minds, or are just overly sexually charged or promiscuous. This is simply not true, as a bisexual identity is just as valid as any other identity, and does not refer to the frequency of sex.
T – Transgender
Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual. Transgender – often shortened as trans – is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are non-binary or genderqueer, including bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or agender).
Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation: transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, or may decline to label their sexual orientation.
Q – Queer (or Questioning)
Queer is an umbrella term for anyone who is not heterosexual and cisgender. It is quite a broad term, allowing people to have an identity that doesn’t feel like any of the other labels.
Questioning is for people who are questioning or reflecting on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It acknowledges those who don’t quite know yet where they are on the gender or sexuality spectrum.
I – Intersex
A term for someone born with biological sex characteristics that aren’t traditionally associated with male or female bodies. Intersexuality does not refer to sexual orientation or gender identity.
The term “hermaphrodite” is often used but is outdated and an offensive term so avoid using it in future.
A – Asexual (or Ally)
Asexual – someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction, but not to be confused with people who experience little or no romantic attraction (“aromantic”).
Ally: A cisgender-heterosexual person who supports the rights and actively fights and defends the LGBTQIA+ community.
The plus ( + )
The addition of the plus sign means that you are not limiting your reference to those labels covered by the other letters. Anyone who feels that they fall somewhere on the sexuality or gender spectrum is included. It could also include allies to gay rights, or sexualities or identities that words can’t describe.
Choose your own identity
What’s important is that people self-identify, and have some identity to identify with. It is not our job to add labels to other people or assume that they belong in a particular category, but rather for them to make that identification themselves.