Today is Wear It Purple Day, an important day aimed at raising awareness for all LBGTQIA+ communities, especially LGBTQIA+ youth. But what is LGBTQIA+? How is it different to LGBT or gay? What does queer mean and is it offensive? This terminology is constantly evolving and shifting all the time and it can seem impossible to keep up. The thing is, our understanding of queerness is constantly evolving as we work on breaking down the ideologies and assumptions that have previously prevented us from exploring the beautiful depth of queer identity.
My name is Robin Litvins-Salter and I work for VMIAC in the Communications Team. Prior to taking on this role, I had worked for many years in queer advocacy, often running what are called Queer 101 training sessions. This blog is just a brief introduction to some of the concepts and terms that are present in Australia’s queer communities that may help you when working and supporting LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Please note that all of these terms and definitions are drawn from my experiences, which is in no way universal, and like most queer discourse in Australia, this list does privilege terms common in white queer communities. All of these terms are still evolving and can differ from person to person or from group to group.
This term is an expanded version of the LGBT acronym we are most familiar with. It typically stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and everyone else who may not identify with one of these other banners being represented by the +.
Queer is considered a catch-all term for all identities under the LBGTQIA+ banner as well as an identity in its own right for those who do not fully identify with any one label. For many people within the community, this will be the preferred term when compared to LGBT or LGBTQIA+ as it is seen as more inclusive and less of a mouthful. However, it’s origin as a slur against the community makes its use understandably controversial for some.
Heteronormativity describes our society and how it presumes everyone is cisgender and heterosexual unless otherwise stated. This can lead to inappropriate support and harmful ‘othering’ of queer people and their experiences.
Someone who is attracted to someone of the same gender. Typically refers to homosexual men but can be used more broadly.
A woman who is attracted to other women.
Intersex is a term used to describe those who biologically have characteristics, either chromosomal, physical or hormonal, that don’t prescribe to our binary perceptions of male and female. These conditions are quite common, with it believed to be as high as 2% of the population who have some form of intersex condition.
Bisexual is a term for people who are attracted to people of their own and other genders. Often incorrectly simplified as someone attracted to men and women, this is an oversimplification as the bisexual community has traditionally been very open to those outside of the binary of male and female.
This term is related to bisexual as it describes someone who is potentially attracted to all genders. Many people use this for when the gender of someone is not factored into their attraction.
Someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Often asexual people are faced with a lot of unwanted sexual pressure and harmful expectations.
Someone who does not experience romantic attraction. This community is often associated with, but not the same as, asexuality.
Transgender is an umbrella term for those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Cisgender is a term for those who do identify with their gender at birth and are not transgender. This term exists for the same reason we have the term heterosexual
Pronouns are the words we use to refer to someone when we are not using their name. Common examples are she/they/he. For trans people pronouns are very important as using their chosen pronouns shows you respect them and their gender. A lot of people struggle to use the correct pronouns and this can cause offence, but it is important to keep actively trying to get them right to show respect.
They/them are gender neutral pronouns, akin to he/him or she/her. Despite what a lot of people believe, they has been commonly used as a gender neutral pronoun for singular individuals for hundreds of years in English, we just don’t often think about it when we use it. For non-binary people this is most commonly the prefered pronoun, but other variations such as Ze/Zir and other new pronouns have been suggested.
A term to describe those whose gender is not strictly male or female. There are many variations of non-binary identities, with it often acting as an umbrella term for a number of communities. Many non-binary people tend to use pronouns different to the typical he/she. They/them is the most common, but other variations do exist. If you ever want to know someone’s pronouns, do not be afraid to ask.
Gender fluid is often put under the non-binary banner, and it is for those whose gender identity can fluctuate. Some may feel more masculine at times, more feminine at others or a gender experience somewhere between or beyond these binaries.
Someone who doesn’t identify with an established gender, a non-gender.
These acronyms stand for Assigned Female At Birth or Assigned Male At Birth. It is considered a more accurate and inclusive version of the outdated term ‘biological sex’.
Trans woman / Trans man
A trans woman is a term that describes a woman who happens to also be trans, as a trans man is a man that happens to be trans. It is a descriptor akin to saying someone is a short woman or a tall man. Always refer to someone’s gender by the gender they identify with.
Brother boy / Sister girl
These terms are common in queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Generally brother boy has a similar meaning to trans man, as sister girl does for trans woman; but this could be seen as an oversimplification. These terms encompass a culturally specific experience of gender identity not fully captured by white colonial concepts of the gender binary. For other culturally inclusive terms for gender, view this interactive guide.
Polyamory is when someone has multiple romantic partners. In these relationships, there is a consensual understanding of the relationship with all partners, who often have other partners of their own. Though not exclusive to queer communities, this sort of relationship is more common in these communities.
QTPOC is an acronym that stands for Queer Trans People of Colour. Expressions and experiences of queerness can be heavily influenced by experiences of race and culture and as a result, QTPOC individuals have needs that are unique and separate to non-QTPOC individuals.
Allies are people who are supportive of queer communities but are not a part of them, but still work towards promoting the needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
This list of definitions provides only a brief insight into the myriad of communities present under the rainbow flag. There are many less common terms and identities not included in this list that are equally as valid. This list provides a strong jumping off point to find out more. None of these definitions are fixed and many people have different meanings or even words they prefer depending on the age, background, culture or experience of the person using them. As a result, all of these are subject to change as we continue to develop our understanding.
If you want to find out more, don’t be afraid to do your own research and connect with local queer community services who are often happy to help, especially if you are willing to donate to them and support their causes. Queer people are often inundated with questions about their identity, so make sure that they are comfortable supporting you in your learning before you rely on them for your information.
Special thanks to Frankie Hanman-Siegersma who helped with this list.