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LGBTQ+ Language and Terminology Crash Course

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for being here. Before we begin, I want to answer a few questions.


1. What is this? At the original time of posting, this was a sneak peek of the first two chapters of a book I began writing in the summer of 2020 called My Child is Trans, Now What? Helping parents, loved ones, and community members of trans youth learn how to show up for their children. The full book will be published sometime in 2024 by Rowman and Littlefield, but while you wait I wanted to share a resource guide with information abound about the variety of identity labels you might hear about. 


2. Who is this for? This is for anyone. No matter what you know already, how you feel, whom you know (or don’t know) that’s trans, this is meant for you. If this material is brand new to you, I want to applaud you for taking this first step and reading this, and I’m honored to be your guide through the beginning of your educational journey. For all the allies who are reading this, know that educating yourself is one of the most powerful acts of kindness you can do. 


3. Who am I? That’s a great question. My name is Ben Greene, I use he/him/his pronouns, and I’m your guide through what I hope is a friendly, approachable introduction to LBGTQ+ identities and impactful allyship. I am an openly transgender man, which means that I spent 16 years of my life living somewhat uncomfortably as a girl and then began transitioning to male over 8 years ago. I’ve been the “designated educator” for my whole transition, and lucky for me I ended up loving it. I graduated from Brandeis University a year early after I gave a TEDx talk and realized that I wanted to make a career out of public speaking and transgender education and advocacy. Since graduating, I have been running my own business working as an independent consultant speaking at companies, hospitals, families, governments, and conferences internationally about how to be an impactful ally. 

4. Anything else I should know? My goal is to help as many people as I can, so if you know someone else who could benefit from reading this guide, I encourage you to send it their way! If you feel like you could use some more support or have a few questions you’d like answered more in-depth, you can set up a time to go “out to lunch” with me here! Also, I am currently doing all of this education for free in my spare time (usually late nights) after work. If you find value in this guide and have the means to do so, you can donate to my virtual tip jar via Venmo @Ben-Greene-92095, or donate to a local organization that supports trans youth in your area.

Chapter 1

An Introduction to LGBTQ+ Identities

The conversation about LGBTQ+ identities can be a daunting one to enter. The number of vocabulary words alone can seem overwhelming, and it doesn’t help that these words, and acronyms, seem like they’re constantly changing. This book is meant for anyone with any level of previous knowledge or understanding of LGBTQ+ identities. Whether you yourself are trans or this is the very first time you’re hearing these words, this book is meant for you. Before we go any further, I want to take a look at a mini-dictionary of the vocabulary words that we’re going to be seeing quite a bit of over the next two chapters. These are short explanations, but I promise we will go much further into each term throughout this first chapter. 

LGBTQ+: An acronym that includes all sexualities and gender identities that fall outside of what society deems as “normal”. To refer to everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, you would say “the LGBTQ+ community”.

Sexuality: Someone’s identity based on the gender or gender identities to which they experience attraction. 

Sex: the biological categories (male or female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.

Gender: Someone’s internal sense of being male, female, or another identity. 

Gender Expression: How someone manifests their gender identity, whether it is through clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, etc. Often classified as masculine or feminine. 


Let’s begin with the broadest term in our dictionary: The acronym! 


Each of the letters stands for a different identity, and we’re going to go through and talk about each letter individually. The easiest way to approach this conversation is to begin by breaking it down into two categories: identities that are related to your sexuality, for example, gay or bisexual, and identities that are related to your gender, such as transgender or nonbinary. Maybe these are new words too, and that’s okay! We’re going to take it one step at a time.



What is sexuality? In short, it’s the way we describe our attraction to others, both romantically and physically. Most people identify as heterosexual, or “straight” colloquially, which refers to someone who is exclusively attracted to members of the “opposite sex” (insofar as “opposite” is a fair word to use). Outside of straight, there are many ways people choose to label themselves. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual are the most commonly known sexualities from the acronym, LGBTQ+. Lesbian refers to a woman who is only attracted to other women. Gay refers to a man who is only attracted to other men. These are the two most straightforward identities, but even here there is nuance. We’ll get to that. 


Bisexual, Bi for short, is an identity that takes on different meanings for different people. The prefix bi- means two or both, which helps us understand that bisexuality was originally defined as being attracted to both men and women. For many people, what it meant to them in practice was that they were attracted to people of all genders or regardless of their gender. The concept of attraction to all genders versus regardless of gender is somewhat complicated, but in the simplest terms, it means that some people are attracted to people of different genders in different ways, while for others gender identity has no bearing on their attractions. As time passed and it became more common to identify as a gender other than male or female, people expanded their definition of bisexuality. Folks felt like the label fit well for them, and now define it as being attracted to those that have the same or different gender identities. This is a point we will continue to return to, different labels mean different things to different folks. To give you a more familiar example of this, someone from New York and someone from Chicago will have very different interpretations of the word “pizza”, but they use the same label because it fits right for them. I identify as bisexual, which to me means that I am attracted to those that identify as male and those who do not. 


Some people identify as Pansexual, Pan for short, which is a person attracted to people regardless of their gender identity. No, it does not mean an attraction to pans, and no, you are not the first one to come up with that joke. You may be thinking that bisexuality and pansexuality seem quite similar, which would be an excellent observation. The biggest difference between these two identities comes down to how people who use these labels feel about them. For some, saying “I’m bisexual!” feels just right. For others, it leaves something to be desired, while “I’m pansexual!” feels natural. If you take away one thing from reading this, it should be that everyone’s identity is up to them, and the most important thing in life is that everyone feels comfortable, happy, and authentic. There is no right or wrong way to identify as long as it feels right to you.


Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of stigma that exists around bisexual and pansexual identities. Some view bi and pan identities as an in-between for people who are afraid to come out as lesbian or gay. These ideas are propagated both by those who identify as straight and those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Bi and pan folks are stereotyped as being unfaithful, greedy, or promiscuous. These are harmful misconceptions, brought about by scant and inaccurate media representation. What few bi and pan characters exist in TV or movies all adhere to and strengthen this stereotype. As an example, one of the most popular plotlines around bisexual characters occurs in shows that are about a straight woman with a gay male best friend (stereotype bingo!) who both find themselves crushing on a cute boy. 15 minutes into the episode, it’s revealed that they’re both dating the same person, and he’s bi! Plotlines like these, though they add to the drama or comedy of a show, confirm the subconscious notion that you can’t trust a bisexual person to be loyal because dating someone of one gender isn’t enough for them. Though recently there has been an effort to move away from this type of directly negative trope, subtler messages still remain as nearly all bisexual tv characters are still shown as being hypersexual in some way. This stereotype also contributes to statistically higher rates of intimate partner violence for people who identify as bi or pan. Their partners are more likely to become untrusting or jealous because of their perceptions of inevitable bisexual infidelity.


To go one level deeper into the nuance of human sexuality, we’re going to explore the identities that come from the spectrum of asexuality. Some folks identify as Asexual or Aromantic (Ace or Aro, respectively). What this means, broadly, is that they don’t experience sexual and/or romantic attraction. More specifically, ace and aro are umbrella terms, meaning that a lot of things fall into that category. There are lots of different ways people can experience asexuality. Some are repulsed by the idea of sex, while others feel neutral about it. Some are only interested if they have a deep, trusting relationship with their partner. Asexuality isn’t a defect, it isn’t something you should cross your fingers and hope someone grows out of, and it doesn’t mean someone is going to live an unfulfilling life. It just means that sex or romance (depending on their identity) isn’t a top priority or a requirement for life to feel fulfilling. 


The Q in LGBTQ+ stands for Queer, which has different meanings to different people. For many, especially a large proportion of the youngest members of the community, the word queer is used as an umbrella term to mean any identity that is outside of what larger society views as the norm. People who feel their identities are too complex or fluid to describe to others or even understand themselves find queer a comfortable “catch-all” label. The origins of this word, however, are less open and friendly. Before the ’80s, queer was used as a hateful slur against LGBTQ+ people, but as time passed and visibility and resilience increased, some members of the LGBTQ+ community began to reclaim it. The concept of reclaiming slurs is not unique to the LGBTQ+ community. Many marginalized groups have taken the words used to harm them and claimed them as their own with a new, empowering meaning. By casually and lovingly using words like queer, members of the LGBTQ+ community take away the power they have over us as messages of hate. This doesn’t make words with hateful origins harmless-- with a cruel enough tone, any word can be weaponized. Some people may never be able to move past the hurtful memories “queer” brings up for them. To stay on the safe side, if you want to use this word to refer to someone else, it’s best to check in with them about how they feel about it. 


Recently, many young people have been using the word gay in a similar way. Many people of all gender identities and sexualities refer to themselves, their partners, their relationships, or their friends as gay. It’s hard to pin down exactly why this caught on as much as it did; it might be because people like having a label that’s broad and nonspecific, or as a way to reclaim the negatively-connoted phrase  “that’s so gay”--or it might just be that gen-z humor is a bit weird. Whatever the reason, it’s a use of the label that has been rapidly growing in popularity, so it’s important to note that if you hear someone referring to someone as gay it isn’t necessarily about a man who only likes men. For the purposes of this book and your understanding, when I use the word gay, unless I specify otherwise, I am referring to a man who is attracted to men. 


We’ve explored most of the letters in the acronym (LGBTQ+) and the next part we’re going to look at is the plus sign. The plus sign at the end of the acronym is inclusive of all identities that society doesn’t view as “normal”. It’s important to note that people don’t actually identify as “plus”, think of it more like an “and more!” statement that includes other identities. If you’re thinking “isn’t it a little exclusive to have a community that includes everyone except straight people?” at face value, that’s a reasonable concern. In the end, what holds the LGBTQ+ community together is the shared experience of facing discrimination and persecution becasue of our identities. There are intentional systems in place to try to block all non-straight marriages or prohibit access to transition related care (among many other things) and our resilience and battle against these systems is what binds us together.This is in no way saying that those who identify as straight are completely immune to discrimination, this is just to say that they are immune to discrimination based specifically on who they love or how they identify. 


I know this might be a lot. 7 identities have already been introduced to you, and based on how many pages you’ve got left, there’s probably going to be quite a few more. As time passes, there are more and more labels people use to identify themselves, which some view as excessive. Some people, either in an effort to be funny  or in attempts to be intentionally unkind say things like “LGBTQABC123” or refer to the community as “the alphabet people.” Yes, there are a lot of identities, but they all exist for a reason. Everyone experiences attraction in a way that’s unique to them, so it makes sense that there are a lot of different words to describe these attractions. People like to have specific labels because it allows them to find specific communities, connect with people who are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, and communicate their experiences to the world. The thing is, no one is trying to get you to change your label, or asking you to learn every identity. The overarching goal of the push for greater inclusivity is simply that you respect every identity. The best thing you can do is be open to the possibility that you will meet someone who has an identity you have not yet heard of, and if someone does come out to you with an identity that’s new to you, asking them for more information or typing it into google will likely yield some very helpful results and will show them that you respect them and are open to learning more. 


This brings us to our last important point regarding sexuality, which is a reminder that with so many identities people can have, the odds of a random person assuming someone’s sexuality correctly are pretty small. Generally, people like to assume that everyone is straight until proven otherwise, which can be a harmful attitude that makes all those who are different feel like an “other” or like they are defective and not normal. The societal focus on straight identities as the norm, or even the goal, is referred to as “heteronormativity”. The reality is, there are tens of millions of people worldwide who don’t identify as straight, and as more people see doors open they feel comfortable coming out too. It’s perfectly normal and acceptable for people to need to take time to understand their own identities, and their labels may evolve or change as they learn more about themselves. Some people live whole lives before they realize and accept their identities, while others know right away. You’re never too young, or too old, to live your truth. 

Gender Identity

Gender Identity

Now that we’ve covered all the other letters in the acronym (LGBTQ+), let’s dig in to the T. Transgender. That’s what brought you here, after all. How is transgender defined? The simplest and broadest definition is someone whose gender identity is different than what they were assigned at birth.


Before getting into trans identities, let’s first take a moment to look again at the mini-dictionary of terms that will help us here:


Sex: the biological categories (male or female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.


Gender: Someone’s internal sense of being male, female, or another identity. 


Gender Expression: How someone manifests their gender identity, whether it is through clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, etc. Often classified as masculine or feminine. 


The concepts of gender and sex, and the differences between them, can sometimes be hard to understand, especially if this is your first time learning about these terms. So let’s break it down and start at the beginning. When a baby is born, the medical professional overseeing the birth will take a look at what reproductive organs the baby is born with and will declare “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!” and write M or F on the baby’s birth certificate. What they are identifying is the baby’s sex. Their gender identity, which is their internal sense of feeling male, female, or another identity, is assumed to be the same as their gender. As an aside, the idea that someone identifies as either male or female is referred to as the gender binary, binary being a word that broadly means two distinct and all-encompassing categories. This is a concept we’ll explore further in depth later on. The act of declaring someone’s sex and gender when they’re born is where we get the phrase “sex/gender assigned at birth.” When I was born, I was assigned female at birth, as I was born with female reproductive organs.


I want to take a minute here to highlight something really important. As much as some of us would like to believe that there are still some things in the world that are black and white, the reality is that very little in this world is truly binary. As an example, let’s revisit biological sex, about which we have been taught that human beings are exclusively born male or female. In actuality, some folks are born as what’s called Intersex, which is something that is minimally discussed and even less understood. The Intersex Society of North America defines Intersex as “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” This, like most of the other things we’ve discussed, is a broad category that extends to a lot of people. The ISNA points out that “Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.” There is also a tragic history worldwide of doctors attempting to “fix” intersex babies and suggesting or even forcing “gender normalization” surgeries on otherwise healthy intersex babies to make them more “clearly male or female.” Several studies found that many of the babies that have these surgeries chosen for them grow up to identify as transgender or to feel very negatively towards their parents for making this life-altering decision for them. Fortunately, thanks to the work of tireless and powerful intersex advocates, many hospitals are beginning to ban these surgeries. Though this may be a group you haven’t heard of before, it isn’t a small group by any means. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 1 in every 2,000 people is born with some form of atypical genitalia, which is the exact cutoff for something to be classified as “rare”. Though this may seem small, it amounts to around 4 million people, which is more than the individual populations of 50% of the states in the US! 


What we’ve talked about so far is what happens in the four walls of whatever room a baby is born in, so we’re going to move on to explore how these concepts impact the majority of our lives. Once folks know the sex of their baby, there are certain things that are expected or planned for based on that sex. Nurseries are painted pink or blue, closets are stocked full of “future princess” or “little ladies man” onesies, and assumptions are made about what they’ll like to do and who they’ll grow up to be. These are known as their gender roles; expectations that are placed on that child based solely on whether they have XX or XY chromosomes. Here’s the thing. As a general rule, the concept of fitting people into any type of box isn’t very beneficial to anyone, and gender is one of the most well known and influential binary-box-divides. The good news is, there has been an incredible amount of progress towards moving away from these norms and creating a more open society. 


Though in the full version of this book there will be a whole chapter specifically for parents, I want to highlight something really important now. I am not suggesting that you raise your children entirely absent of gender. What I’m advising is that you raise your children with openness to things outside of what’s typically expected of their gender. This note applies to the whole movement to get rid of gender norms. We’re trying to get rid of the idea of what people have to do, not what people can do. Focus on what makes you feel happy and empowered, regardless of what gendered label is attached to it. Here I offer you a simple challenge— try to think about your own life, your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. Are there things that you feel you have to do because of your gender identity? Are there things you’re afraid to do because they’re outside of the norm for your gender? How does your gender identity color your perspectives and experiences? By looking at ourselves with intention and thoughtful questions, you’d be surprised at what you might learn. 


This idea of a relationship existing between your gender and the way you live your life leads us into our next definition: gender expression. Your expression is the way that you choose to present yourself. How you dress, how you wear your hair, or how you interact with others. Your expression can change based on things like how you’re feeling that day or how comfortable you are with the people you’re around. For me, I identify as male and when I’m around people that I don’t feel very safe with, I try extra hard to present very masculinely so they don’t doubt my identity or make incorrect assumptions about me. When I’m with my close friends or family, I feel comfortable putting less effort into being “intentionally masculine.” Though my gender expression and identity line up, they don’t have to for everyone. Many people identify as female but present more masculinely, or identify as male but present more androgynously (without a gender). Just as there are many ways someone can identify, there are many ways people can express those identities! 


Now that we’ve got a grasp of what gender is and how we show it, let’s talk about what it means to be transgender. There are many different ways that people define or identify as transgender, so we’ll start with the simplest. The two identities that everyone has heard of are male and female, and the definition of transgender that most people have heard of is transitioning from one of those to the other. I’m an example of this, I was born female and began my transition to male just over 5 years ago. Others are born male and transition to female. There are a couple of different words people may use to describe people who transition in this way. Here’s a quick dictionary of the most common related acronyms and phrases:


AMAB: assigned male at birth

AFAB: assigned female at birth

FtM: female-to-male

MtF: male-to-female

Trans man: someone who is transitioning to male

Trans woman: someone who is transitioning to female 


Additionally, here is a dictionary of words that people often use but are NOT appropriate or correct and should not be used:




The transgenders


You may have also heard the term cisgender, which we can break down with our prefix knowledge. The prefix “cis-” means “on the same side as”, which essentially means someone whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same. Whether they know it or not, most people identify as cisgender. Most broadly, cisgender is the opposite of transgender. If we look at the definition of transgender in these terms, it’s someone whose gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. This is where we get into the idea of trans as an umbrella term that encapsulates many identities. Though some people are trans and identify as male or female, there are many other ways people can identify. 


Gender is not just a one-or-the-other identity. It’s a broad spectrum that has many variations of identities where people can be creative and authentic and identify as whatever feels right to them. There are a lot of different labels here, so here’s a short list of the most common ones. 


Nonbinary: someone who does not identify as male or female. Some folks just identify as nonbinary while others use it as an umbrella term and have other labels they use as well. 


Genderqueer: To understand what it means to be Genderqueer, let’s look back on the definition of queer that we talked about earlier. Queer, as it relates to sexuality, is an umbrella term for those who have attractions that are outside of what society views as “normal”, so to apply that here, genderqueer is an umbrella term for a gender identity that is outside of what’s viewed as “normal”. In this case, “normal” is male or female. 


Genderfluid: someone whose identity fluctuates over time. It may change by the week, by the month, by the day, or even by the hour. 


Agender: Someone who does not identify as any gender. 


Pangender: someone who identifies as many gender identities at once.


Just as we discussed in the sexualities section, this may feel like a lot. People love to joke about the “200 genders” and say things like “if you can identify as x, I can identify as an attack helicopter”. In the end, does it make a difference in your life how other people identify their own gender? Nope! But does it make a difference in someone’s life to be able to find an identity that feels just right for them? You bet it does! Just like all the different sexualities, you don’t need to have every identity memorized. You just need to have your mind open to the idea of people having identities you haven’t heard of before, and feel comfortable doing some independent research to learn more.


We’ve talked a bit about the labels, but what does this look like in real life? How does someone know that they’re trans? It’s a little different for everyone. Because everyone experiences their gender differently, it makes sense that not everyone knows in the exact same way or at the exact same time that they’re transgender. Some young kids know right away that they’re trans. There are people like me who come out around puberty as they start to develop secondary sex characteristics that they feel uncomfortable with.  


Some trans and nonbinary people, but not all, experience something called gender dysphoria, which is a feeling of discomfort that stems from feeling a mismatch between your sex and your gender identity. This feeling can be distressing and difficult to deal with. Some people transition as a way to mitigate that gender dysphoria. For others, transitioning is a way to seek out gender euphoria, a feeling of joy that comes from feeling at home in your identity and in your body.


Though I can’t tell you about the “universal trans experience”, because there isn’t one, I can tell you about my experience. Trans topics weren’t something I was exposed to at any point in my life, so when I started to feel a sense of discomfort and disconnection from my body I was confused because I didn’t even have the vocabulary to try to look it up online. I was 15 when I started to become aware of the discomfort I was experiencing, and I really struggled with the feelings themselves and the confusion that went along with them. All I knew was that if I stared into a mirror and looked into my eyes, I felt like I was looking into the eyes of an entirely different person. Someone who was trapped. 


With a lot of time and a lot of research, I figured out that I was trans, and I started to go by the name Ben with my 3 closest friends. I began quietly purchasing more masculine clothes from the women’s section—for a while I was too afraid to even enter the men’s section—and wearing them in my room or when I went out with one of these 3 friends. Even after I first came out, I continued to struggle with my identity; I thought that if I was going to be a man I had to “commit” to it and become a hyper-masculine teenage boy, but I realized pretty quickly that this version of myself was just as much of a performance as being a girl was. If the point of coming out as trans was to live more authentically, why did I still feel so fake? With more time and more research, I came to understand that I could be a man who still had the same hobbies, same friends, and the same personality as I did before I came out. 


Once I settled in to the idea of myself as a more feminine man, I started to experience gender euphoria in many new ways. Though I struggled at times, especially as I learned to navigate the world as a trans person, I have become happier with each day that passes. When I had top surgery a year ago, my life was changed in more ways than I could have imagined and the euphoria I experience day-to-day is something I didn’t think was possible for myself 5 years ago. 


What I’ve shared with you is just one story out of over a million in the US alone. I will reiterate here that if there’s one thing you take away from this book, it’s that there is no right or wrong way for anyone to identify as anything. There is no set schedule, no set of steps, and no  process that’s required for someone to officially be trans, nonbinary, or any other identity. 


I will make a quick note here that later versions of the book will include, among many other things, a comprehensive review of all the different ways someone may choose to transition medically, an in depth review of the intersectionality of trans identities with other marginalized identities, and a deep dive into the long standing historical and cultural existence of gender variance. Though these resources aren't here in this document yet, they do exist on the internet, and if you’re feeling curious and open to learning about these topics, I implore you to do some of your own research. Researching on your own is one of the many ways that you can create meaningful change and be an active, impactful ally to the trans people in your life.


Thank You!

Thank you, reader, for making it here and putting in the time and effort to learn how to be an impactful ally. The full version of this book will contain even more information, tips, and personal stories! Make no mistake, without the incredible support of my family, friends, school teachers, religious clergy, therapist, and others, I’m not sure that I would be here today. I can say for certain that without them I wouldn’t be half the man I am. With the state of the world as it is today, living authentically and joyously is a revolutionary act, and loving and supporting those who break barriers in this way and others has an impact that cannot be understated. This may be the first step on your journey towards allyship. It may be the 30th. Whatever step it is, it is never the last. As humans we owe it to ourselves and others to be continuously learning about those who are different than us and how to show them love and respect. Be open to teaching and be open to being taught, and we will be able to move to a place where everyone is able to feel they are living a truly authentic life. 


Thank you. 

As a reminder, My goal is to help as many people as I can, so if you know someone else who could benefit from reading this guide, I encourage you to send it their way or share it via social media! If you feel like you could use some more support or have a few questions you’d like answered more in-depth, you can set up a time to go “out to lunch” with me!




If you'd like to partner to create a training, workshop, or speech for your organization, feel free to reach out to me through my speeches and consulting page. 




Also, I am currently doing writing and education projects like this book for free in my spare time (usually late nights) after working, speaking, and consulting all day. If you find value in this guide and have the means to do so, you can donate to my virtual tip jar via Venmo @Ben-Greene-92095, or donate to a local organization that supports trans youth in your area. Lastly, if you would like to sign up for updates to be the first one to know when the full book is released, 

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