Have you been questioning your gender and/or sexuality? Realised you like another guy or girl at school and unsure what that means for you? Had a friend recently come out to you as agender and want to know the difference between it and asexuality? Wondered what it means to be ace, pan or bi, or even, the difference between non-binary and non-conforming?
Well, we’re here to tell you it’s okay not to know everything! Dw, we’ve aaalll been there.
Anyway, may we present to you Syrup‘s guide to the wonderful and welcoming world of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Here you’ll find definitions, advice and personal experiences from people from all walks of the queer spectrum, and ultimately, answers to some of the questions about gender and sexuality that are keeping you up at night. We’ll be updating this post with articles related to each letter in the queer alphabet and beyond, so stay tuned for more.
But, uhh, before we begin, what exactly is the “LGBT,” how do I know if I am one and how do I support my friends who are one?
So, like, what even is an LGBTQIA+? Some kinda sandwich?
The LGBTQIA+ community refers to the various different sexualities and gender identities outside cis-heterosexuality.
According to Pink News, the community was first referred to as the LGB or GLB (depending on who wrote it) alliance in the 1980s, after the term “gay” was used to refer to anyone not heterosexually conforming. In some universities during this period, it was known as the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Friends society. While they all differed, it eventually became the LGBTQIA+.
At the end of the day, how you connect to the community is different for everyone. As long as you’re respecting other people’s gender identities and sexualities, you can be whoever you want to.
ARE GENDER IDENTITY AND SEXUALITY DIFFERENT?
In short: yes. Gender refers to your identity, the way you see yourself and present yourself to the world. They include cisgender, transgender, agender, non-binary, non-conforming, intersex and queer.
Sexuality on the other hand refers to the way you experience sexual and/or romantic attraction, AKA who you’re interested in, why and how. They include heterosexuality, male or female homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, pansexuality, demisexuality and more.
Your experience with gender and sexuality can be related to each other or they can be completely separate, but ultimately, they are not the same thing. You can be straight and be part of the LGBTQIA+ community through your experience with gender just as you can be a cisgendered or transgendered gay man.
So, uh, what do each of the letters in LGBTQIA+ mean?
L Stands For Lesbian
The ‘L’ in LGBTQIA+ refers to the lesbian community, made up of women loving women, or female-identifying people who are sexually or romantically attracted to other women exclusively.
It sits at the beginning of the acronym to honour the brave lesbian nurses who helped treat the decimated gay male community during the HIV outbreak in the 1980s. As lesbian scholar Lillian Faderman told The Huffington Post, lesbian women “started food banks in cities all over the [U.S.] for people with AIDS.”
“It was very important here that women with nursing backgrounds, with any kind of medical backgrounds, sort of run interference for men who had AIDS with the medical establishment.”
G Stands for Gay
Gay refers to men loving men, or male-identifying people who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to other men exclusively. It was originally used as a blanket term for people who did not conform with heterosexuality, either in their sexuality or gender, but now generally refers to male homosexuality (although lesbians and bisexuals can and have used the term to describes themselves!).
B as in Bisexual
Bisexual refers to people who are attracted to more than one gender. For a perfect example of bisexuality, please turn to Mulan‘s bisexual icon Li Shang, who was interested in both Mulan and her male alter-ego Ping.
A bisexual person can be interested in one gender more than the other or genders equally. It really depends on the person.
T for Transgender
Q stands for Queer AND/or Questioning
The Q refers to both queer and questioning people.
‘Queer’ has been used historically as a slur against LGBTQIA+ people, but now serves as an umbrella term (much like gay once was) to refer to any gender and sexuality that’s not under the heterosexual norm.
Questioning refers to people who are experimenting and questioning ideas about their gender and sexuality. Someone can be questioning whether they are trans, or even, if they’re bisexual or pansexual. Either way, it’s another blanket term used to help represent people who don’t know who they are yet (and how that’s a-okay!)
I is for Intersex
Intersex refers to people whose biology doesn’t fit what we traditionally understand as male or female. It’s a broad term that applies to 1.7 percent of the world’s population and has only been used in the last 100 years.
As them.’s Maria Tridas explains in the video below, intersex people “can appear to have one genitalia on the outside and another internally. They can have some XY chromosomes and some XX chromosomes, ambiguous genitalia and can know at birth they’re intersex or find out later on.”
A is for Asexuality, not Ally
Contrary to common misunderstandings, the A in the acronym stands for asexuality, not ally. Asexuality refers to people who have a lack of sexual or romantic attraction, or low interest in either. It does not refer to who someone likes but how they experience attraction, and someone can be asexual and also identify as straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual.
Its cousin, graysexuality, is a term used for people who sometimes experience sexual desires and don’t feel they fit in the asexual or sexual spectrums.
The degrees in which someone is asexual or graysexual differs between each person. There is no one golden rule.
FYI, if you’re not ace and thought the A meant ally, we have a great little MardiGras explainer on how to be a good ally to your queer brothers and sisters just for you.
The plus sign in the acronym refers to anything not related to the core letters in the community.
Agender, Non-Binary and Non-conforming gender
Agender and non-binary refer to the spectrum of gender identities and those without a gender.
Agender are people who identify as “without gender,”. Again, it means something different to different people, but agender people may not have defined their identity, their identify can be a gender different from the mainstream definitions or be gender neutral.
Non-binary folks are people who don’t identify exclusively as either male or female. To put it best, they don’t align with the binary definitions of gender (either/or), can be a mix of genders or, like agender, be genderless.
Non-conforming genders are, much like agender, one’s that don’t conform with mainstream interpretations of gender. People who identify as non-conforming can experience gender and present behaviour that’s neither traditionally masculine or feminine.
If you feel like any of these represent you, know that how you identify is entirely up to you.
An aromantic is someone who experiences little to no romantic attraction. Again, like asexuality, the degrees to which this applies vary from person to person.
Someone can identify as aromantic and fall in love, just as an aromantic can be disinterested in romance because of past experiences, a general repulsion to romance or other ways feel disconnected by societal norms about romance.
Again, like asexuality, it does not refer to who someone likes but how they are interested and someone can be both aromantic and straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or pan.
A demisexual is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with the other person.
Pansexual refers to people who are attracted to people of all genders. While it may seem confusing that there’s both bisexuality and pansexuality, people can identify as either and be attracted to more than one gender.