ABCs of LGBT: A Guide to Pronouns

“Hi! My name is Leon and my pronouns are he, him, his.” Greetings such as these should become the norm in our society as yet they aren’t.

The LGBTQIA+ community is rich and varied and navigating these waters can sometimes be tricky when trying to respect a fellow human and being an ally. People within the LGBTQIA+ community themselves often confuse the correct terms which leads to a fostering of dissent in queer spaces.

I get it, it’s hard to get it right all of the time and it seems these terms are ever-changing (they should be, we’re an evolved species) but we’re here to help you with a comprehensive list of terms to use and their definitions.

Ultimately, addressing someone using their correct pronouns is a show of respect and support (if you’re an ally). Make a habit of introducing yourself with your pronouns, not just in LGBTQIA-specific situations. This makes sharing pronouns routine, instead of singling out certain people or communities.

What are pronouns?

Common pronouns include she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs. There are other nonbinary pronouns and a person will often state the subject, object, and possessive pronouns when introducing themselves e.g., “she, her, hers”, “he, him, his”, or “they, them, theirs”.

Avoid assuming someone’s pronouns based on how they look; by doing this you are reinforcing harmful stereotypes about gender expression. Rather let the person state the pronoun that is correct to use when referring to them. You don’t want to to be the jerk who misgenders people. Using someone’s correct pronouns is an important way of affirming someone’s identity and is a fundamental step in being an ally.

Finally, try to avoid using the phrases “preferred pronouns” or “preferred name” as these suggest an element of flexibility or that someone’s identity is less than valid. Never refer to a person as “it” or “he-she”. These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

Someone’s name and pronouns are not suggestions and are not preferred over something else. They are inherent to who we are.

LGBTQIA+ and other Key Terms

Below is a list of commonly used terms on the queer community provided by The South African National LGBTI HIV Plan 2007/2020.,Familiarizing yourself with these is an integral part of understanding and respecting each other.

We mainly refer to LGBTIQIA+ (a population grouped together because they are sexual minorities who confront common issues of rejection, stigma and discrimination), but there are delineations within this heterogeneous society.

Asexual
Someone who does not experience sexual attraction to others

Assigned sex at birth
The classification of infants at birth as either male or female usually based on inspection of the external genitalia. Thus ‘assigned male at birth’(AMAB) and ‘assigned female at birth’ (AFAB) should be used in place of such offensive and derogatory terms such as ‘biological male/female’, male/ female bodied, or ‘born male/female’ when referring to trans* people

Binary
The understanding of gender and sex as being exclusively either male or female

Bisexual
A person who is attracted on different levels (e.g., emotional, physical, intellectual) to and/or has sex with both men and women and who identifies with this as a cultural identity

Cisgender
A term describing a person whose perception and expression of her or his own gender identity matches the biological sex she or he was assigned at birth

Cross-dresser
Someone who, for whatever reason, dresses in clothing associated with the opposite gender. This is a form of gender expression – someone who is transgender is not cross-dressing

Dysphoria/gender dysphoria
Anxiety, distress or discomfort (often profound) associated with or resulting from the incongruence between one’s gender identity and assigned sex at birth

Femme
An identity or expression that leans toward femininity

Gay
The term ‘gay’ can refer to same-sex sexual attraction, same-sex sexual behaviour, and same-sex cultural identity. It is commonly used to refer to men who are attracted on different levels (emotional, physical, intellectual, etc.) to and/or have sex with other men and who identify with ‘gay’ as a cultural identity

Gender and sex
The term ‘sex’ refers to biologically determined differences, whereas “gender” refers to differences in social roles and relations

Gender expression
The way in which a person’s sense of gender manifests itself, usually as an extension of the person’s gender identity. This includes all domains in which gender is expressed, including dress, speech, and mannerisms

Gender fluid
A gender identity that changes (i.e. is fluid)

Gender identity
A person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may not correspond with their sex assigned at birth. It includes both the personal sense of the body—which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical, or other means—and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech, and mannerism

Gender non-conformity
Displaying gender traits that are not normatively associated with a person’s biological sex. ‘Feminine’ behaviour or appearance in a male is considered gender non-conforming, as is ‘masculine’ behaviour or appearance in a female

Gender reassignment therapy
Having surgery in order to change primary and secondary sexual characteristics

Heteronormativity
Related to ‘heterosexism’, it refers to the privileged position associated with heterosexuality based on the normative assumptions that there are only two genders, that gender always reflects the person’s biological sex as assigned at birth, and that only sexual attraction between these ‘opposite’ genders is considered normal or natural. The influence of heteronormativity extends beyond sexuality to also determine what is regarded as viable or socially valued ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ identities, that is, it serves to regulate not only sexuality but also gender

Heterosexism
A system of beliefs that privileges heterosexuality and discriminates against other sexual orientations. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only normal or natural option for human relationships, and posits that all other sexual relationships are either subordinate to or perversions of heterosexual relationships. In everyday life, this manifests as the assumption that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise

Heterosexual
Having sexual, romantic, and intimate feelings for or a love relationship with a person or persons of a gender other than one’s own

Homonormativity
The system of regulatory norms and practices that emerges within homosexual communities and that serves a normative and disciplining function. These regulatory norms and practices need not necessarily be modelled on heteronormative assumptions, but they often are

Homophobia
Also termed ‘homoprejudice’, it refers to an irrational fear of and/or hostility towards lesbian women and gay men, or same-sex sexuality more generally

Intersectionality
The interaction of different axes of identity, such as gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, and socio-economic status, in multiple and intersecting ways, resulting in different forms of oppression affecting a person in interrelated ways

Intersex
A term referring to a variety of conditions (genetic, physiological, or anatomical) in which a person’s sexual and/or reproductive features and organs do not conform to dominant and typical definitions of ‘female’ or ‘male’. Such diversity in sex characteristics is also referred to as ‘biological variance’ – a term which risks reinforcing pathologising treatment of differences among individuals, but which is used with caution in this document to indicate an inclusive grouping of diversity in sex characteristics, including, but not limited to, intersex individuals

Lesbian
A woman who is attracted on different levels (emotional, physical, intellectual, etc.) to and/or has sex with other women and who identifies with this as a cultural identity

LGBTI
An abbreviation referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people who are not cisgender and heterosexual. ‘LGB’ refers to sexual orientations, while ‘T’ indicates a gender identity, and ‘I’ a biological variant. They are clustered together in one abbreviation due to similarities in experiences of marginalisation, exclusion, discrimination, and victimisation in a heteronormative and heterosexist society, in an effort to ensure equality before the law and equal protection by the law. However, the possible differences between persons who claim these labels and those to whom these labels may be assigned ought not to be trivialised. The respective issues, experiences, and needs of these people may in fact differ significantly and in several respects. In solidarity with the activist position regarding this matter, however, in this document, reference is made to LGBTI, and distinctions among the diversity of identities that exist are minimised

Men who have sex with men
Men who have sex with men, regardless of whether or not they have sex with women or have a personal or social gay or bisexual identity. It also includes men who self-identify as heterosexual but have sex with other men. It encompasses the large variety of settings and contexts in which male-to-male sex takes place, regardless of the multiple motivations for engaging in sex, self- determined sexual and gender identities, and various identifications with any particular community or social group

Non-binary
An umbrella term for any gender identity that does not conform to the strict binary of being either male or female. Many non-binary people identify as transgender

Pansexual
Attracted to people of any gender, or attracted to people irrespective of their gender

Queer
An inclusive term that refers not only to lesbian and gay persons, but also to any person who feels marginalised because of her or his sexual practices, or who resists the heteronormative sex/gender/sexual identity system

Sexual behaviour
Sexual behaviour is distinguished from sexual orientation because the former refers to acts, while the latter refers to feelings and self-concept. People may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviour

Sexual diversity
The range of different expressions of sexual orientation and sexual behaviour that spans across the historically imposed heterosexual– homosexual binary

Sexuality
Sexuality is a central and lifelong aspect of being human and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors

Sexual health
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled

Sexual orientation
Each person’s profound emotional and sexual attraction, and intimate and sexual relations, in relation to the gender of the person’s partner(s)

Trans*
Trans* people generally self-identify with a gender that does not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. The term trans* is used with an asterisk at the end to signify that “trans-” may be followed in any number of ways (e.g. “transsexual,” “transgender,” and “transvestite”). The asterisk also acknowledges other gender identification categories and social gender roles, such as genderqueer and androgynous, among others

Transgender
Transgender people have a very intense experience of their gender being different to that assigned by birth. Transgender people sometimes seek some form of medical treatment to bring their body and gender identity closer into alignment

Transphobia
An irrational fear of and/or hostility towards people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norm

Transsexual
A medical term mostly used to describe people who (may) seek medical and surgical treatment to bring their body, sex and gender identity into alignment

Transvestite
A person who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for various reasons but not because they want to change their sex or gender

Transitioning
The process of undergoing treatment to change assigned sex

Transman
An individual who starts his life with a female body but whose gender identity is male. FTM = female to male

Transwoman
An individual who starts her life with a male body but whose gender identity is female. MTF = male to female

Women who have sex with women
Women who have sex with women (WSW) are women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual, but also have sex with other women.

Sources: https://sanac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/LGBTI-HIV-Plan-Final.pdf

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