Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender: What do these terms mean?
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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender: What do these terms mean?

Ek tha raja, ek thi rani. We have all grown up on stories where there was a man and a woman and they fell in love. But what about people who don’t feel like a man or a woman? What about men who fall in love with men or women who fall in love with women? Don't forget to check out the video at the end of the article.

Well, we don’t talk about them. Mostly, because we don’t talk about sex and sexuality at all – at home or at school. Our understanding of sex and related issues is shaped by what we hear from friends or watch in films. Sadly, a lot of it is plain bakwaas.


No, whatever your friend may have told you, all crossdressers are not hijras. All hijras are not gays. All gays are not feminine. Confusing eh? Indeed! Let us help you. 

Gender Identity - Male, female, both, transgender, neither

Gender identity is the way a person feels about the gender they belong to as compared to what they were marked as at birth (told at the hospital) – usually male or female.


A person who agrees with the sex they were given at birth are known as cisgender, or cis.

So a person, who was born male ( with a penis) at birth and identifies with his gender is a cisgender male or a cisman.

Similarly, a person, who is born female (with a vagina) at birth and identifies with her gender is a cisgender female or a ciswoman. However many people do not relate to the gender they were told at birth are known as genderqueer.


So a person who is ‘born a male’ (with a penis) but identifies as a woman is known as a transwoman. A person who is ‘born a female’ at birth (with a vagina) but identifies as a man is known as a transman.


A  person who does not consider themselves as either male or female but a bit of both or a bit in between, sometimes more male and sometimes more female is described as gender-fluid or bigender. 


A person who does not identify as either male or female is described as genderless. 



A person who is still exploring or questioning the gender they feel represented by may describe themselves as questioning. 


Transgender people (transmen or women) who undergo a surgery to change their sexual organs are known as transsexual persons. But not all transgender people choose the surgery option and continue to live with the sexual organ they were born with.


Hijras are transgender people (mostly transmen) who take an oath to join the Hijra community and follow its culture and rituals. Not all transgender people join the hijra community. So the term hijras cannot be used to describe all transgender people. While some transgender people join the community willingly, many are given away as children by their families because they feel ashamed.


A person born with ambiguous genitalia (difficult to identify as male or female at birth) is known as intersex. Intersex persons choose what gender they want to be known with or none.

Sexual Orientation (straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual)

Sexual orientation is about who does one feel emotionally, romantically and/ or sexually attracted to.


When a woman feels emotionally, romantically and/ or sexually attracted to another woman, she is described as a lesbian. Two women in a relationship will be described as a lesbian couple.

When a man feels emotionally, romantically and/ or sexually attracted to another man, he is described as a gay. Two men in a relationship will be described as a gay couple.


When a man feels emotionally, romantically and/ or sexually attracted to a woman and vice versa, he is described as straight. A man and a woman in a relationship will be described as a straight couple.


When a man or a woman is attracted to both men and women, they are described as bisexual.


When a person feels little or no sexual attraction to anyone, they are described as asexual.

The LGB in LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual. These three words refer to sexual orientation. T stands for Transgender. Transgender people can be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

A world of difference

As evident, gender identity and sexual orientation are different things. The key difference between gender identity is what gender a person relates to with regard to themselves, while sexual orientation is defined by the attraction a person feels for others.

Another important thing to bear in mind is that whatever be a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, you cannot tell by looking at them. No gender or sexual orientation has any particular look.

It is a myth that if a girl has short hair and dresses in ‘men’s clothes’ she is a lesbian or a transman. Or if a man likes wearing pink nail paint he is a transwoman or gay. Similarly, long hair is no guarantee that a person is a cisgender woman or big muscles a sign of a ‘macho’ male. These are just personal dressing and grooming choices and have no relations whatsoever to a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Addressing the right way

Many genderqueer people prefer to not be identified by pronouns used for males (he/him) and females (she/her), but by they/their, even for singular persons. Additionally, in place of titles like ‘Ms’ and ‘Mr’, ‘Mx’ might be preferable to some. It is best to ask a transgender person about how they would like to be addressed, and the title they would prefer, instead of assuming a pronoun for them. With regard to sexual orientation, some who identify with same-sex attraction, or as homosexuals, also use the term queer for themselves.  

This article was first published on Nov 11, 2018. 

Do you have any more questions about gender identity and sexual orientation? Ask Love Matters (LM) on our Facebook page. If you have a specific question, please ask LM experts on our discussion forum.

LGBT - What do these terms mean?

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