The LGBTQIA+ alphabet consists of many letters, many terms, and many corresponding definitions.
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

The LGBTQIA+ community is a diverse and vibrant community, made up of individuals with a variety of identities. 

The acronym “LGBTQIA+” is commonly used to describe this community. But for those who are unfamiliar with the terminology, the letters can be confusing and overwhelming. 

A wide array of gender identities and sexual orientations can be difficult to grasp. As we begin to let go of our preconceived notions of gender and sexuality, we start to see there are as many possibilities as there are people in the world.

Everyone is different, with their own unique perspectives, preferences, and lived experiences. By collectively using certain terms and definitions—often referred to as the LGBTQIA+ alphabet—we can begin to help people of any identity better express their feelings and needs. 

Why Is It Important To Understand the LGBTQIA+ Alphabet?

Having an understanding of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet helps us create an environment where other humans can feel safe, comfortable, and affirmed in our presence… Regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. 

If we identify as LGBTQIA+, this alphabet can give us the language we need to be understood. It can help us feel heard, seen, and validated.

If we’re not part of the community, understanding these terms can make us better allies, partners, and friends. 

Having a solid understanding of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet is a great first step toward recognizing and celebrating the humanity, dignity, and love of all individuals.

Amplifying the richness and diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community is critical to creating a world where every single person feels respected, supported, and able to thrive.

So… What Do All the Letters Mean in LGBTQIA+?

So what do all the letters mean in LGBTQIA+, anyway?

Great question! Let’s start there. 

First, it’s important to understand a few things:

Gender is a social construct. 

You may have heard this before. And contrary to some belief, it’s not a radical statement at its core. It simply serves as a reminder that what we understand as “gender” is something our culture defines. In the United States, for example, we often associate pink with girls and blue with boys. This isn’t the case in other countries—and, in fact, it wasn’t even the case in the US until the early 20th century. It began as many things do: as a fashion trend. 

There’s no inherent value or meaning to dressing in certain colors or items of clothing.

Gender isn’t determined by biology.
Along the same lines, gender identity has nothing to do with the sex  assigned to someone at birth. They are different concepts. 

“Sex” refers to biological characteristics—the reproductive system someone is born with. Gender refers to the social, cultural, and psychological norms valued by the culture they’re born into. 

Some people may feel comfortable identifying as the gender traditionally associated with their biological sex. Others don’t. It’s important to avoid assuming gender based on biological sex.

Sex is different than gender.

If you’re still struggling with this concept, it’s okay! Just remember that the concept of sex has to do with biology, and gender has more to do with perception and how someone feels.

“LGBT” is the term most people are familiar with.

First coined in the 1980s, the original LGBT initialism expanded the concept of “gay” or “straight” to include other identities, as well:

L – Lesbian: Women who are attracted to other women.

G – Gay: Men who are attracted to other men.

B – Bisexual: People who are attracted to both men and women.

T – Transgender: People whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

As much as the term “LGBT” expanded the understanding of the community, it was still limiting.

When labels are applied from the outside in, they can feel restrictive or ill-fitting. We now know that sexuality and gender identity both exist on a broad spectrum—individual identities don’t always easily fit under a handful of terms.

The “Q” is inclusive of folks who don’t feel connected to the identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Q – Queer: An umbrella term used by people who don’t identify with conventional sexual orientations or gender identities. Once considered a slur, the community has reclaimed “queer” as a term of empowerment. But it’s important to make sure someone is okay with this term before you use it to refer to them—many folks have mixed feelings and may still see “queer” as a derogatory term.

“Q” can also mean Questioning, often in reference to young people who are still discovering their identity.

This broader term can also benefit those who’ve never had to worry about their sexual orientation or gender identity being misunderstood. Those who’ve never had to struggle under an ill-fitting label might find difficulty in understanding someone else’s experience if they believe all experiences fit neatly into narrow categories. The “Q” can signify that another perspective is needed.

The acronym has lengthened as we’ve strived to be even more inclusive of the queer community.

As we dig deeper and strive to become more inclusive of the breadth of possible identities, the familiar acronym has lengthened to bring more folks into the fold:

I – Intersex: People who are born with physical sex characteristics that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Internal sex organs and genitalia may vary, as may hormones and physical appearance.

A – Asexual: People who do not experience sexual attraction. This does not mean, however, that they never engage in sexual activity—they still may, for a variety of reasons, including helping to meet a partner’s needs, having children, or fulfilling their own biological needs. A lack of attraction does not necessarily mean feelings of repulsion or abstinence in general.

Finally, the “+” symbol encompasses all other identities that are not covered by the previous letters. This includes pansexual, non-binary, and more.

…So what’s the “and more”?

Great question!

Though you’ll most commonly see some variation of LGBT, LGBTQ, or LGBTQIA+, the acronym is dynamic. It becomes more inclusive as we continue to make sure as many people as possible feel seen, heard, and validated in their lived experiences.

Read on!

Lesser-Known Terms In the LGBTQIA+ Alphabet

Here are definitions for some less common terms used within the LGBTQIA+ community:

Pansexual: A person who is attracted to people regardless of their gender identity or biological sex.

Aromantic: A person who experiences little to no romantic attraction to others.

Demisexual: A person who only experiences sexual attraction after developing a strong emotional connection with another person.

Genderqueer: A person who identifies as neither exclusively male nor exclusively female.

Two-Spirit: A term used by some Indigenous people in North America to describe individuals who contain both a male and a female spirit.

Agender: A person who does not identify with any gender.

Androgynous: A person who has both masculine and feminine characteristics.

Non-binary: A person who identifies as neither exclusively male nor exclusively female. They may see themselves as a combination of genders, or as having no gender at all

You may also see “Enby,” a slang term used as a gender-neutral alternative for people who identify as non-binary. It’s a phonetic abbreviation of “NB” or “non-binary.” While “enby” is a popular term within the community, it’s not an official term—so allies should take care to use it with sensitivity and respect, or not at all!

You may see the much-longer acronym, LGBTQQIP2SAA. This means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, Two-spirit, and asexual. The final “A” is often said to stand for “ally,” though “agender” or “androgynous” are other common interpretations. 

Terms evolve as people explore more and more of their identities—the expansion of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet will continue as this happens. As it does, more labels will emerge that help individuals better understand themselves and explain who they are to others.

It’s important to remember that labels can never really encapsulate the entirety of who someone is. But they can be valuable tools for communicating and understanding each other in good faith.

The growth and evolution of the LGBTQIA+ alphabet continues to provide us with new language to do so.

Everyone Can Feel Valued and Affirmed

Gender and sexuality are complex constructs. Labels can be limiting—unless they’re given the space they need to evolve and encompass many experiences!

For example, within the concept of gender alone, there are nuances: 

  • Gender identity refers to how we feel on the inside—our own sense of where we female on the spectrum of male, female, or neutral identity;
  • Gender expression is how we express ourselves and our gender through clothing, personal appearance, our voice and the way we speak, and our behavior; and
  • Gender presentation refers to how we’re perceived by others as it corresponds to commonly accepted ideas of male vs. female appearance. 

Each of these things are shaped by a variety of cultural, social, and personal factors. No single identity is more valid or valuable than any other. 

And in fact, the LGBTQIA+ alphabet isn’t meant to indicate superiority, either—it’s meant to uplift and give voice to individuals who’ve felt consistently othered. It can help offer clarity as to what makes them who they are.

There’s also no “right” way to come out to family or friends, and no single path to “becoming” an identity. It’s enough to feel like a term or description fits—regardless of presentation, the medical route someone may or may not choose to follow, or whether they’ve officially changed their name, for example. 

By striving towards greater awareness, education, and empathy, we create an environment in which everyone can feel seen, heard, and valued for their true and authentic selves.

The LGBTQIA+ alphabet will continue to evolve over time. It has to, in order to remain inclusive! But no matter how it does, the mission remains the same: allowing people to advocate for themselves and embrace who they truly are!

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Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

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