Definitions of Commonly Misused Terms


1.      LGBTQIA

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual

2.      Sex

Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex (i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female). There are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.

3.      Gender

Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.

4.      Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to “one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender”. 1 When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category. 2

5.      Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to the “…way in which a person acts to communicate gender within a given culture; for example, in terms of clothing, communication patterns and interests. A person’s gender expression may or may not be consistent with socially prescribed gender roles, and may or may not reflect his or her gender identity.” 3

6.      Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted. Categories of sexual orientation typically have included attraction to members of one’s own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). While these categories continue to be widely used, research has suggested that sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum. 4, 5, 6, 7 In addition, some research indicates that sexual orientation is fluid for some people; this may be especially true for women. 8, 9, 10

7.      Coming Out

Coming out refers to the process in which one acknowledges and accepts one’s own sexual orientation. It also encompasses the process in which one discloses one’s sexual orientation to others. The term closeted refers to a state of secrecy or cautious privacy regarding one’s sexual orientation.


The terminology section was adapted from the following:

The Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients, adopted by the APA Council of Representatives, February 18-20, 2011. Definition of Terms


  1. American Psychological Association. (2006). Answers to your questions about transgender individuals and gender identity.. Retrieved from
  2. Gainor, K.A. (2000). Including transgender issues in lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology: Implications for clinical practice and training. In B. Greene & G.L. Croom (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay issues: Vol. 5.
  3. American Psychological Association. (2008). Report of the APA task force on gender identity and gender variance. Retrieved January 8, 2010 from
  4. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E. & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders
  5. Klein, F. (1993). The bisexual option. (2nd ed.). New York: Harrington Park.
  6. Klein, F., Sepekoff, B., & Wolf, T. (1985). Sexual orientation: A multivariable dynamic process Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2), 35-49.
  7. Shively, M. G., & DeCecco, J. P. (1977). Components of sexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 3, 41-48.
  8. Diamond, L. M. (2007). A dynamical systems approach to the development and expression of female same-sex sexuality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 142-161.
  9. Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women’s sexual identities. In Boston Women’s Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 19-34). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  10. Peplau, L.A., & Garnets, L.D. (2000). A new paradigm for understanding women’s sexuality and sexual orientation. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 329-350.
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