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Demystifying LGBT+ Terms for Parents and Allies

Did you know that 20 percent of Millennials identify as part of the LGBT+ community? The results of this GLAAD study are an important reminder that there is a rainbow of gender identities and sexual orientations to celebrate and support during Pride Month. 

For example, look at a celebrity like Miley Cyrus. Cyrus made global headlines when she talked about her marriage to Liam Hemsworth, saying “We’re redefining…what it looks like for someone that’s a queer person like myself to be in a hetero relationship. A big part of my pride and my identity is being a queer person.” 

It might surprise many people to know that a seemingly heterosexual and cisgender woman can be part of the LGBT+ community, but that is because there is SO much more to gender identity and sexual orientation than meets the eye. 

“More young people identifying outside of binaries means that we are at a place in our culture where youth today feel free and open to live their lives as their authentic selves,” explains Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO, to NBC Out.

However, even as these younger generations embrace their identities and fight for equality, even the most supportive of allies and parents can struggle with these new LGBT+ terms. From asexual to agender to demisexual to bigender, today’s youth are breaking all the ‘rules’ when it comes to gender and sex–which is awesome!–but can be confusing if you didn’t grow up around these terms.

With that in mind, here’s a little cheat sheet for you allies out there: 

Bigender: Someone who identifies with both genders, and doesn’t strongly prefer or associate with one over the other. This may mean they explore with different gender presentations and freely move between pronouns. 

Asexual: Someone who has no sexual desire and is content with it. This is not to be confused with someone who has a low libido due to stress, illness, relationship issues, etc. and is unhappy about it. An asexual person is happy with their lack of sex drive and sees no issue with it (other than society’s lack of acceptance of their chosen way of life). 

Pansexual: Miley Cyrus says she is pansexual. This means she has no ‘rules’ when it comes to who she is attracted to, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. She just loves love, and can feel attraction to people who identify as men, women or something else entirely. 

Biphobia: This is the very real prejudice that bisexual people (and pansexual) people face from people within the heterosexual community and even the LBGT community. Essentially, people get frustrated that they don’t ‘pick a side,’ without realizing that bisexuality is a completely valid and healthy sexual orientation and that no one needs to choose one sex or the other unless they want to. 

Agender:  A person who feels no association with gender identities whatsoever. They may opt for gender-neutral pronouns.

Gender-neutral pronouns. For people in the LGBT+ community who do not want to use male or female pronouns, they may opt for gender-neutral pronouns like ‘they, them, their,’ or ‘ ze, sie, hir, co, and ey.’ It might seem like a trivial thing, but it is of crucial importance that you respect the sacredness of a person’s chosen pronouns and treat their decision with the respect and dignity it deserves. It’s okay to make a mistake (we all slip up sometimes), but apologize earnestly and keep practicing. 

Demisexual: This is a bit different than asexuality. A person who is demisexual can feel sexual attraction, but ONLY after or if an emotional connection is built. In other words, they will not look at an attractive person and feel any feelings of desire…until they connect with that person on a deeper level. 

Demiromantic: Someone who only can experience a romantic attraction to someone after an emotional connection has been established. See above.

Aromantic: Someone who does not experience any feelings of romantic attraction. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are asexual. Some aromantic people can and do enjoy sexual activities, but they won’t do so with romance in mind. Also note: An asexual person is not necessarily aromantic! They may still enjoy romance without desiring sexual connection as a result of that emotional intimacy. 

Transgender: A person who identifies as a gender different than the sex they were assigned at birth. Please do not use the term transsexual–this is an outdated term and considered quite offensive. 

Cisgender: If you were born male and identify as a man, you are cisgender. Same for women. 

Non-binary. Someone who doesn’t identify with either the male or female gender. 

Intersex: A person who was born with both male and female chromosomes or other physical markers of biological sex.  

Genderqueer. People who move fluidly between gender expressions and gender identity. This differs a bit from bigender, because a genderqueer person may never feel fully “male” or “female,” but may rather fall into unnameable place somewhere on this awesome spectrum of gender identity. 

Gender nonconforming. Someone who explores their identity and dresses, talks or behaves in a way that doesn’t ‘line up’ with the stereotypes associated with their sex. For example, a man who enjoys wearing makeup or women’s clothing may identify as genderqueer, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he is transgender. 

And here is one of the most important definitions of all: 

Ally. Someone who actively works to support, respect and protect members of an oppressed community, in this case, LGBT+ individuals. As allies, your support is crucial not only in helping to ensure that our fellow citizens are afforded all the rights and protections they deserve, but also that they feel honored and SEEN for who they really are. 

So how can you be a good ally? Research, research, research! Don’t ask your LGBT+ friends to explain everything to you, even if it’s your children coming out to you. 

Yes, it’s tempting to expect that your child needs to explain their identity to you, but when it comes to these terms, there is a wealth of information online on sites such as GLAAD and PFLAG. Learning about what it means to be cisgender or asexual or pansexual or whatever the case may be can take time, but it is not difficult. You can even get information from your pediatrician or a therapist. As an ally, your best gift to the LGBT community is to be willing to do the labor necessary to understand these terms, as with understanding comes compassion and support.

And, you can always ask me! Or check out my book Talking to Your Kids about Sex on Amazon, as I talk a LOT in there about gender identity, sexual orientation and how to be an ally for your kids and loved ones. 

What do you think? Did I cover any of the terms which have been tripping you up lately? Or did I leave something out? (There are hundreds of terms, so it’s possible!) Reach out to me if so. 

You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Happy Pride Month to all beautiful, magical, inspiring, brave and strong-as-heck LGBT+ friends. You show me every day the importance of being true to oneself and fighting for what you believe in…I love you! 


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