LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

There are many acronyms used to represent non-heterosexual communities, but the most common in the United States is LGBTQ. This section will explain what these words mean. If you already know these words, you can skip to the advanced vocabulary section.

A woman who is attracted to, and forms romantic relationships with, other women.
A male who is attracted to, and forms romantic relationships with, other men. This is also used as a slang term for queer people of all gender identities, i.e. a homosexual woman may refer to herself as gay.
A man or woman who is attracted to both men and women (or people of other gender identities), and may form romantic relationships with men, women, or transgender people (or others who identify outside of male and female).
  1. An umbrella term encompassing all non-heterosexual sexualities and gender identities
  2. A sexual identity used by people who do not identify as heterosexual, but feel that gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not accurately describe them.
An umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity, expression, and behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.

More about transgender identities

  • Transexuals
    Transgender people who are born with the biological characteristics of one sex and now identify with another. This may mean they are Female to Male (Transgender man or trans man, FTM), Male to Female (Transgender woman or trans woman, MTF), or may be somewhere in the middle. Note that not everyone who fits into this category may choose to use the word transexual to describe themselves.
  • Transvestites
    Persons dressing in the clothing of another gender for sexual or otherwise pleasurable purposes, usually in private rather than in public

The terms “transgender” and “transvestite” are not interchangeable. However, you can use “trans” or “trans*” if you are unsure of the person’s preference, as “trans” indicates a person is somewhere under the trans umbrella without specifying any one particular identity. That is why some people prefer to write “trans*” with an asterisk at the end, to represent that trans identities are varied. And of course, it is always acceptable to ask in a respectful way how they identify and how they would like to be referred to.

If you want a more detailed and easy to understand explanation of transgender identities, particularly in relation to teenagers, the book Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam is excellent. In particular, there is a good description and explanation of the term transgender on pages 15-16.

Other things to note:

  • Not all trans people want surgery or take hormones. Many trans people do not want to fit into either the male or female category and are happy to be in between them.
  • Not all trans people can access gender-affirming treatment. Meaning, some trans people may wish they could take hormones or get surgery, but this may not always be possible. These treatments are not always covered by insurance and can be too expensive to pay out of pocket.

Remember that gender identity (how you feel internally about your gender) and gender expression (how you show this on the outside: clothing, hairstyle, body language, etc.) are fluid and not identical. Someone may present their gender expression as more “masculine” one day and more “feminine” another day. This may be confusing to you, but keep an open mind, and remember that if you have a personal relationship with someone, it is generally OK to ask questions rather than assume. While you don’t want to open a conversation with “Hey, I see you’re wearing a skirt today, are you choosing to express a feminine gender?” it is acceptable to ask in conversation “What pronouns do you use?” Which brings us to the last section:

Most people have never thought about what gender pronoun they use, but for transgender people this is not so straightforward. Here are some pronouns people may ask you to use:

  • Male: he/him
  • Female: she/her
  • Some examples of gender neutral pronouns: they/them; ze/hir/zer (pronunciation: ze= letter z, hir = hear)