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Terms to Avoid: LGBTQ Edition

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Inter SG chapter.

The modern LGBTQ rights movement began in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Over the past few decades, there have been small victories in terms of rights and acceptance for the community. For example, the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges legalised same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015. Furthermore, the LGBTQ community has never before been as accepted as it is now in the United States. However, while acceptance rates have never been higher, hate is still prevalent. Take Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. as an example. The Supreme Court of the United States will be hearing appeals on this extremely important case, and a few others, this year. The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to, in other words, legalise anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. We must continue to pay attention; if we don’t do so, by next year it might be legal to fire a worker because of their sexual orientation.

As the LGBTQ community continues to fight for their rights, the issue of misconception and lack of education can be really hurtful. For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of terms that we should all avoid as they are innaccurate and insensitive towards the LGBTQ community. This will hopefully serve as a guide for allies of the community.

Avoid: “Homosexual” Use: “Gay/Lesbian”

The term “homosexual” has been used for decades to refer to gay people; however, the negative connotations attached to the word have made it become a term that shouldn’t be used. It’s a term related to deviance, criminal behavior, and mental illness. During the beginning of the 20th century, the American Psychological Association (APA) considered homosexuality to be an illness in the DSM-I. In 1973, the APA officially removed homosexuality from the DSM-II. However, the negative meaning given to the word has stayed with it. In recent times, as gay people are more accepted, homophobic people have begun to use the word as a slur. In fact, it’s very uncomfortable for a gay person to be in a room where someone refers to them as “a homosexual”. Someone who uses that word instead of gay/lesbian is most likely a homophobe. For this reason, it’s less stigmatizing and offensive to use the words gay and/or lesbian.

Avoid: “Sexual preference”, “gay/lesbian lifestyle” Use: “Sexual orientation”

Using “sexual preference” implies that sexuality is a choice and that it can be cured. The truth is that an individual does not choose their sexuality, so the correct term to use would be “sexual orientation”. There is no such thing as gay and/or lesbian lifestyle. By using “lifestyle” to describe the life of an LGBTQ person, many anti-gay extremists mean that the LGBTQ community is attempting to destroy morality by simply living an open life. By using “sexual orientation”, these misconceptions can be avoided as it refers to the emotional, physical, and/or romantic attraction a person feels towards another. 

Avoid: “Transgendered”, “a transgender”, “transvestite”, “tranny” Use: “Transgender”

According to GLAAD, the term transgender is: “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.” Sex refers to biological sex (male, XY or female, XX); while gender identity is an individual’s sense of their own gender and gender expression is the way a person manifests their gender, wether through clothing, their name, their preferred pronouns. Adding “-ed” or “a” to the word transgender sounds as if the person using it means that being transgender is a condition. For this reason, the correct term to use is transgender. The shortened term “trans” is also acceptable and is a widely used word within the community. Another common misconception is the use of phrases like “biologically male” or “biologically female”. Instead of using these, use “assigned/designated male at birth” or “assigned/designated female at birth”. Additionally, the term “tranny” is extremely offensive and has been regularly used to fetishize transgender people; so, it should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid: “Sex change”, “pre-op”, “post-op”  Use: “Transition”

The word “transition” is the accurate term to refer to someone who is transitioning from male to female or female to male. Using terms like “sex change”, “pre-op”, “post-op” can be offensive, as it focuses on only one aspect: genitals. Humans are not just their genitals and a transgender person’s genitals are not of importance to anyone but themselves. Besides this, not all transgender people want to or can afford to get gender confirmation sugery.

  Avoid: “homosexual couple”, “homosexual sex” Use: Couple.

It can be extremely uncomfortable when someone refers to a gay couple as a “homosexual couple” or when they refer to gay sex as “homosexual sex”. The word “homosexual” just has a negative connotation to it; no matter which way anyone tries to put it. Regardless of sexual orientation, a couple is a couple and sex is sex. 

Avoid: “Fa*”, “Dy**”, “sodom***”, “trap”, “she-male” Use: Nothing, don’t use these slurs.

All of the words mentioned above are derogatory terms that no one should use to refer to an LGBTQ person. These terms are rooted in hate and can be extremely hurtful. They are not a joke and they should be taken as seriously as any other slur used to target other groups of people. 

Avoid: “Hermaphrodite” Use: “Intersex”

According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex people are individuals who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the standars male or female anatomy. For example, a person, by society’s standards, may look female on the outside, but they might have “mostly male-typical autonomy on the outside”. They might also have genitals that seem to be “in-between” standard female and male genitalia; such as a noticeably enlarged clitoris or “a small penis with a scrotum divided so that it’s formed more like a labia”. In the past, the term “hermaphrodite” was used to refer to intersex people; however, the term now refers only to a plant or animal that has male and female reproductive organs. According to this article, the term “hermaphrodite” stigmatizes and harms intersex people, which is why it should be abolished all-together. 

Avoid: “Homosexual agenda”, “gay agenda”

First of all, there is no such thing as a gay agenda. The term “gay agenda” was invented by anti-gay extremists who cannot stand to see LGBTQ people having rights. These people believe that the “homosexual agenda” is to recruit heterosexual people into the “gay lifestyle”; basically, they believe that gay people want to turn everyone gay. They might also use the term to refer to a supposed agenda gay people have, where they are taking away morality from traditional families. It is important to not give in and believe misconceptions and attempts to demonize and marginalize a certain group of people. 

We have come very far throughout the centuries, and the LGBTQ community is now more accepted than it has ever been; however, homophobia, transphobia, and hate still prevail. Even a little thing like knowing what are the right terms to use in certain circumstances can make a big difference in someone’s day, and as we educate others, we can shed light into these very important issues.

Image credit: 1

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Hi! My name is Nacelyn and I'm majoring in political science. I joined the HC Inter SG chapter about two years ago and have since continued to develop my writing skills. My writing interests include politics and social issues, among other things. Besides writing, I currently serve as co-correspondent for the chapter.