Identity: A Few Definitions

Back in April, we released our zine on Harding’s campus. No project is perfect, including ours, and it was brought to our attention that one section of our publication had some flaws that it would be irresponsible to ignore. The “Definitions” page, while meant to be an outsider’s introduction to queer terminology, contained definitions that were potentially hurtful to some members of our community. Because of this, I decided to approach this new article differently: not as a dictionary entry, but more as an exploration of the words queer people use to describe themselves.

ASEXUAL- An asexual person is someone who, in general, does not experience sexual attraction to any gender or group. It is not, however, a a one-size-fits-all identity. Attraction is complicated, and people experience it in various forms and to different degrees. Some asexual people experience arousal, but do not feel the need to connect this arousal to a partner, In addition, an asexual person can experience romantic connection and love, even if they are not sexually attracted to their partner.

BISEXUAL- Bisexuality is the capacity to be attracted to two or more genders. It is valuable to note that the term bisexual does not assume a gender binary, and never has. Often, a bisexual person experiences attraction to different genders, at different degrees, at different times in their life. Some choose to identify as bisexual if they are sexually attracted to multiple genders, but would only pursue a romantic relationship with someone of a particular gender, while others have little to no preference.

CISGENDER- A cisgender person is someone whose gender identity aligns with their assigned gender at birth. It is an important distinction, however, that gender identity does not equal gender expression. A cisgender person may or may not choose to present in a gender nonconforming way, and this does not change their identity.

GAY- Gay is a word that is as widely used as it is difficult to succinctly define. It is generally the preferred term for men who are attracted to other men, but this is not its only use. Originating as a slur, gay has become not only the accepted term for homosexual individuals, but also a common umbrella term for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is not uncommon, for example, for a bisexual or pansexual person to refer to themselves as “gay,” specifically when referring to their attraction to the same sex.

GENDER- My favorite definition of gender comes from Collins Dictionary: “the state of being male or female in relation to the social and cultural roles that are considered appropriate for men and women.” Used in this sense, then, gender is purely a social construct. It can also, however, be used to categorize a range of identities, whether female, male, somewhere between the two, or outside of those terms altogether.

HOMOSEXUAL- Homosexuality is a term now often considered outdated or even offensive. First used to describe attraction to the same sex as a mental illness, many have expressed discomfort using “homosexual” to describe same sex attracted people, in order to avoid a word that has been used to pathologize their identity. For those who still use the term, homosexual generally refers to someone who is exclusively attracted to people of their own gender.

INTERSEX- Intersex refers to a person whose biological makeup falls outside of the categories of male or female. It involves biological sex, not gender identity. An intersex person can identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but is not one by default. It is important to note that intersex is not interchangeable with transgender. One has to do with physical characteristics, the other with personal identity.

LESBIAN- Lesbian is another identity that is difficult to reduce to a single experience. It generally applies to people who identify as women and who are exclusively attracted to other women. Some, however, may choose to claim this label for themselves if they are nonbinary, but still feel in some way aligned with womanhood. Others define it as “a non-man who is only attracted to non-men.”

PANSEXUAL- It is difficult to define pansexuality, as the term has gained popularity due to a misunderstanding of bisexuality and its resultant backlash. As previously stated, bisexuality does not imply, and has never implied, a gender binary. The widely held definition of pansexuality, attraction regardless of gender, is actually very similar to how many in the community define bisexuality. In the end, it comes down to which label is more comfortable for each individual. Some find pansexual redundant and use bisexual, and some find it allows for more fluidity and use pansexual.

QUEER- Queer is another word which, much like gay, was first used as a slur. Now it is used as an umbrella term for LGBT individuals, although because of its origins, some choose not to reclaim it for themselves. Also because of the word’s history, it is generally frowned upon for people who are not members of the LGBT community to use it. A notable exception is found in academia, as queer theory has become a part of critical analysis. For example, scholars at times refer to “queering” a text.

TRANSGENDER- Simply put, transgender is the state of identifying as different gender with than one’s assigned sex at birth. It is, therefore an umbrella term for several non-cisgender identities. It is important to note that to define transgender as “a man who was assigned female at birth,” or “a woman who was assigned male at birth,” can be reductive as it assumes a gender binary. Terms such as non-binary, agender, genderqueer, and other identities can fall under the trans umbrella, though they may choose not to claim the trans label for themselves.