Part 1: Terms related to sex
Sex: Sex refers to the biological make-up of a person, based on external or internal body parts, hormones, sex chromosomes, etc.
Sex characteristics: ‘Sex characteristics’ refer to an individual’s physical sexual/reproductive features that are formed on the basis of their sex. This includes genitalia (vagina/uterus or penis/testicles etc), sex chromosomes (XX, XY, XXY, XYY, XO, etc), dominant sex hormones present in their body (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone etc), secondary sexual features (breasts, facial hair, deep voice etc), among others. Sex characteristics may influence a person’s gender identity, expressions, sexual orientation or sexuality, but are not the cause of it.
Intersex: Intersex people have innate sex characteristics that do not fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies. These can include external or internal reproductive parts, chromosome patterns, and/ or hormonal patterns. Being intersex can create risks or experiences of stigma, discrimination and harm.
Note: It’s wrong to assume that all intersex persons are transgender. Intersex persons also have diverse intersections of gender identity, gender expression and sexuality. Like any individual, intersex persons are the only ones who can determine their gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation.
Note: Several intersex children are forced into surgical procedures by doctors and parents/guardians, to make their bodies ‘conform’ to a binary sex. This is unethical and should be called out in stories. These enforced and non-consensual surgeries can also result in trauma, health conditions and more later.
Part 2: Terms related to gender
Gender: ‘Gender’ is how society perceives persons, based on the norms, behaviours and roles associated with the sex assigned at birth. For instance, a person assigned male is expected to grow up to be a ‘man’ and be powerful and assertive; a person assigned female is expected to grow up to be a ‘woman’ and to be sweet and nurturing. It is a social construct, and what each gender is ‘expected’ to do changes from society to society, and over time.
Gender Identity: ‘Gender Identity’ refers to how an individual defines their own gender. It depends on a person’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. It need not correspond to the sex assigned to the person at birth, and the expectations that society has from this assigned sex or associated gender. ‘Gender Identity’ is self-determined — that is, only an individual has the right to determine what their gender identity is. There is no ‘medical test’ for gender identity. For instance, a transgender man, or transgender woman, or a non-binary person, are the only ones who can say what their gender is.
Gender expression: Gender expression is how a person expresses or presents their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice.
A person’s chosen name and pronouns are also common ways of expressing gender.
Gender expression does not automatically correspond to one’s gender identity. For instance, a woman may dress in pants and shirts and have short hair – generally related by society to a ‘man’s’ gender expression.
Another example: a person assigned male at birth who wears a saree isn’t automatically a transgender woman. They may still identify as a man, or as non-binary, or any other gender identity.
Gender non-conforming person: People (adults or children) who do not conform to either of the binary gender definitions of male or female, as well as those whose gender expression may differ from standard gender norms.
In some instances, individuals are perceived as gender non-conforming by other people because of their gender expression. However, these individuals may not perceive themselves as gender non-conforming.
Gender expression and gender non-conformity are clearly related to individual and social perceptions of masculinity and femininity.
Transgender person: A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not match with the sex they were assigned at birth. People assigned male or female at birth, and intersex persons, can be transgender.
A person is transgender whether or not such a person has undergone gender affirmation procedures like hormone therapy or surgery. This is re-affirmed in the Supreme Court NALSA verdict (2014) and Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act.
Note: Do not use the term ‘transgenders’ or ‘a transgender’, i.e. as a noun. The word has to be used as an adjective. The correct usage is transgender person, trans person, transgender woman, trans woman, transgender man, trans man, etc. depending on the context.
Trans woman or transgender woman: ‘Transgender woman’ refers to a person who was assigned male at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a woman. ‘Transgender woman’ can be shortened to ‘trans woman’ (two words).
Trans man or transgender man: ‘Transgender man’ refers to a person who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is that of a man. ‘Transgender man’ can be shortened to ‘trans man’ (two words).
Gender non-binary person: ‘Non-binary’ refers to a gender identity that doesn’t ascribe to the woman-man binary. A ‘non-binary’ person is someone who does not identify as a man or a woman.
Gender dysphoria: The psychological distress that results from an incompatibility between a person’s self-perceived gender identity, and the gender they are associated with by society based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
Not all trans persons may experience gender dysphoria. Many may experience gender dysphoria from childhood, while others may experience it later – such as after puberty.
Gender incongruence: A marked and persistent incongruence between the gender felt or experienced by a person, and the gender associated by society with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender affirmation procedures: Procedures that help an individual affirm their gender identity, including social (wearing clothes perceived to be closer to gender of choice, attempting to “live as the gender”, medical (surgery, hormone, laser), and legal (changing their name and gender on paper) procedures.
Gender Affirmation Surgery: Surgery of external sex characteristics that help an individual affirm their gender identity, or ‘look how they feel on the inside’. It is recommended to use this term instead of sex reassignment surgery (SRS), which was used in the past.
Deadname: The name that was given to a transgender person by their family, and one by which they were identified. However, the transgender individual may no longer use that name.
The name a transgender person has ‘left behind’ or ‘killed’, Usually, this refers to the name they were given by their parents/guardians.
Note: While reporting, do not ask for a person’s ‘old name’ or ‘original name’ or deadname. It is not an important detail the society needs to know, and mentioning a person’s deadname in a story is disrespectful. Similarly, descriptions like “the man became a woman” or “the woman became a man” should be avoided. You must stick to the name they give you in all published reports.
Genderfluidity / Genderfluid person: ‘Genderfluidity’ refers to a person’s experience of not having a ‘fixed’ gender. A ‘gender fluid’ person may identify with all genders, multiple genders, or with two genders (bigender). (Also see: non binary.)
Cisgender: A person whose gender identity conforms with the gender corresponding to the sex assigned at birth. A person who is not transgender or non-binary is cisgender.
Part 3: Terms relating to sexuality
Sexuality: Sexuality refers to a person’s behaviours, desires, identity and attitudes related to sex and physical intimacy with others.
Sexual Orientation: ‘Sexual orientation’ refers to which person(s) and/or gender(s) an individual is attracted to — physically, emotionally, and/or romantically. For instance, ‘heterosexual’ orientation refers typically to attraction between a man and a woman. ‘Homosexual’ refers to attraction between two men or two women.
Note: ‘Sexual orientation’ is different from ‘gender identity’.
Example: Just like a cisgender woman can be heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual (straight, bi or lesbian), a transgender woman, too, can be heterosexual, homosexual or can have any of a wide variety of sexual orientations.
Heterosexuality / Heterosexual: ‘Heterosexuality’ typically refers to the sexual attraction between men and women. A ‘heterosexual man’ or ‘straight man’ is a man who is attracted to women. A ‘heterosexual woman’ or ‘straight woman’ refers to a woman who is attracted to men. ‘Heteroromantic’ refers to romantic/emotional attraction, beyond just sexual attraction. This applies for cisgender and transgender persons.
Homosexuality / Homosexual: ‘Homosexuality’ refers to an sexual attraction to a person of their same gender. A ‘homosexual man’ or a ‘gay man’ is a man who is attracted to men; a ‘homosexual woman’ or ‘lesbian’ refers to a woman who is attracted to women.
‘Homoromantic’ refers to a person who feels romantic/emotional attraction to persons of the same gender. This applies for cisgender and transgender persons.
Bisexuality / Bisexual: ‘Bisexuality’ refers to attraction towards persons of one’s own gender, and persons of another gender. In the past, bisexuality has been defined as attraction to both men and women. But as our understanding of gender and gender identity evolves beyond the man/woman binary, the definition of bisexuality is also evolving. ‘Bisexuality’ need not imply equal degree of attraction to both genders – just significant attraction to both.
Pansexuality / Pansexual: ‘Pansexuality’ refers to attraction towards persons of multiple genders/all genders, or attraction irrespective of gender. A ‘pansexual person’ feels attraction towards persons of all genders or multiple genders. ‘Pansexuality’ need not imply equal attraction to all genders.
Asexual / Aromantic (Aro-Ace): ‘Asexual’ refers to a person who does not feel sexual attraction towards anyone. ‘Aromantic’ refers to a person who does not feel romantic/emotional attraction towards anyone.
Note: A person can be both asexual and aromantic at the same time; or they can feel only sexual attraction, or only romantic attraction, and not the other.
For example, a person can be asexual, but at the same time feel romantic attraction towards persons of the same gender, or vice versa.
Romantic orientation: ‘Romantic orientation’ refers to an individual’s romantic/emotional attraction, independent of their sexual attraction. People can be ‘homoromantic’, ‘heteroromantic’, ‘panromantic’, ‘aromantic’ etc. Romantic orientation need not correspond to a person’s sexual orientation. For instance, a person who is pansexual – that is, they are sexually attracted to people of all genders – can be homoromantic, which means they want to have romantic/emotional relationships only with persons of their own gender.
Part 4: Umbrella/Collective terms
Queer: ‘Queer’ is an umbrella term used to refer to diverse sex characteristics, genders and sexualities that are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. It is a ‘reclaimed’ word – the word was used as a slur for people who did not align to the societal assumptions of gender and sexuality in the past. However, the LGBTIQA+ community has now claimed ownership of the term and use it to describe themselves.
Note: As much as possible, journalists who are not queer must avoid using the term in their work, unless identifying a queer individual or quoting them.
LGBTIQA+ / LGBTQIA+: LGBTIQA+ is a term used to collectively refer to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual people and people of other non- cisgenders and non-hetero sexual orientations. The term is sometimes shortened to LGBT, or LGBTQ, or LGBTQ+ as well.
Part 5: Other terms used by LGBTQIA+ communities
Coming Out: ‘Coming out’ is the process of disclosing one’s LGBTQIA+ identity to others. Usually, LGBTQIA+/queer persons ‘come out’ multiple times throughout their lives in different interactions with different people. That is, it’s not a ‘one-time’ event.
Note: There is criticism and discourse around the fact that LGBTQIA+ persons have to ‘come out’ at all – because the assumption in society is that everyone is, or ought to be, cisgender and straight. While doing stories about a person ‘coming out’ or mentioning ‘coming out’ in a story, please do so with an understanding that this should not have to be the norm for queer persons.
Ally: A person or organisation supportive of the rights of LGBTIQA+ persons and communities and uses their privilege/position in society to promote LGBTQIA+ rights, communities, and causes.
Note: An ‘ally’ should ideally be identified by the community/communities based on their actions. Self declaration of allyship does not mean much if the person’s actions and words end up hurting the communities they claim to support. Take the self declaration of allyship by cisgender and heterosexual persons with a pinch of salt, and while reporting, try to confirm with LGBTQIA+ communities whether this person is actually seen as an ally by the communities in question.
Queer Pride Parade / Rainbow Pride Parade: ‘Queer pride parades’ or ‘Rainbow pride parades’ or ‘LGBTQIA+ pride parades’ are events celebrating LGBTIQA+/queer culture and asserting self-respect in these identities. These events are often used as a method for visibility for queer groups, as well as platforms to demand for the rights of queer communities.
Conversion Therapy, SOGIE-change efforts: Practices that aim to ‘change’ or ‘convert’ people from queer to heterosexual, from trans to cisgender, or gender non conforming to gender conforming. Some of these attempts stem from superstitions and religion-based beliefs.These are unethical, illegal and unscientific efforts that have been banned by the Madras High Court.
This is a part of the Glossary of LGBTQIA+ Terms for English and Tamil Media that was developed by Queer Chennai Chronicles, Orinam, The News Minute and Individual Contributors in January 2022. In his February 2022 order, Justice N Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to consider the glossary presented by LGBTQIA+ community members, as it is more dignified and inclusive than the one presented by the government. Read more here.