Updated: Sep 28
The LGBTQIA+ community is a beautiful, diverse group of people and no one person can speak on behalf of the entire community. It is important to keep ourselves exposed to multiple perspectives from various intersectional backgrounds. While this article tries to define multiple queer terms, these are not all of them, nor are they permanent. These labels evolve based on social awareness of cisgender-heterosexual normative culture. Moreover, not everyone who belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community necessarily associates themselves with a particular label.
In order to understand the spectrum and complexities of human sexuality and the experience of gender, there are some basic concepts to go through.
Sex Sex is assigned at birth. It exists as Male (XX), Female (XY), and Intersex (XO, XXX, XXY, XYY, etc.). The sex assignment is usually dependent on the external genitals visible to the doctor. Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals) that “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. The terms AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) and AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) are used when a person wants to share their “biological sex”. Conversations surrounding someone’s assigned sex at birth should be handled with extreme sensitivity. However, it is up to the individual if they want to share their assigned sex.
Gender Gender is a social construct i.e. how someone views gender varies across cultures, backgrounds, and social ideologies. Gender exists on a spectrum. Every individual experiences gender as a combination of intensities in being feminine/masculine/androgynous. Therefore, neither sex nor gender exists in a binary.
Gender exists as
Gender identity: how one experiences their gender. What they feel like (in the mind/soul).
Gender expression: how one expresses gender through clothes, body language, body art, vocal pitch, etc.
These two are mutually exclusive. For example, someone who identifies as a woman may express themselves as masculine; someone who identifies as non-binary may express themselves as feminine.
Cisgender: If one’s gender identity aligns with the social norms associated with their sex.
Transgender: If one’s gender identity does not align with the social norms associated with their sex. Trans is an umbrella term that includes non-binary people as well. The binary extremes are femininity/woman-ness and masculinity/man-ness.
Transwomen are AMAB but identify as women. Transmen are AFAB but identify as men.
Ciswomen are AFAB and identify as women. Cismen are AMAB and identify as men.
Genderqueer/ Non-binary (NB/enby) is an umbrella term for being outside the gender binary. They do not experience gender as a fixed state of woman-ness/femininity/man-ness/masculinity. A few famous personalities who are non-binary include Demi Lovato (American pop star) and Konkana Sen Sharma (Indian actress).
“There’s no one way of being a woman or a man or anything in between. I’ve always felt a bit androgynous." (Konkana Sen Sharma, 2022)
Gender-fluid people experience fluctuation between different genders at different points in time. On some days, they might identify and express themselves completely feminine, on some days completely masculine, and on some days in androgynous ways.
Agender is to experience no gender or, being without gender, though may express themselves as feminine/masculine/androgynous.
Gender identity or gender expression does not confirm anyone’s pronouns. These are never to be assumed. It is always better to introduce ourselves with our own pronouns before proceeding to ask someone about their pronouns. In case there is a need to use pronouns without knowing for sure, we can use “they/them”. In the binary language of English, “they/them”, “she/her” and “he/him” is used. Some people use more than one of these like “he/they”.
Neopronouns are created or chosen by the individual to restrict the experience of gender binary terms. For example: “ve/ver/vers/verself”; “ze/zem/zes/zemself”.
Sexual and Romantic Attraction
Attraction happens on a spectrum as well, ranging in a combination from none to all.
Homosexuality is the attraction towards people of the same gender as you. Heterosexuality is the attraction towards those who are in the opposite binary of the same gender as you.
Lesbians are women who are attracted only to women.
Gay is an umbrella term for homosexual relationships but primarily stands for men who are attracted to men.
Bisexuality is attraction towards more than one gender, including trans and/or non-binary identities.
Pansexuality is attraction towards all genders.
Aromatics/Asexuality/Aro/Ace Spectrum shares experiences of none or limited romantic and/or sexual attraction towards anyone. (This does not mean they do not have a sexual drive or need for emotional intimacy).
W/W (women/women); M/M (men/men) are used to signify a couple without assuming their individual sexual orientation. For example, a lesbian and a bisexual woman dating are in a W/W relationship.
The Queer Spectrum can be summarized in this illustration called The Genderbread Person.
Queer experiences are valid without needing labels to describe them. While labels help articulate experiences and find a sense of community, anyone who does not align with cisgender-heterosexual norms belongs to the LGBTQIA+ community and deserves a safe space to thrive as an individual. Queer people don’t need to be pressurized to come out to “prove” their experience or identity.
Coming out as a part of the LGBT leads to persecution in India. This however, is not limited to harassment and bullying of children in schools. It also includes social ostracization, workplace discrimination, loss of opportunities, accommodations, etc. There is a high rate of suicide, victims of abuse, and honor killings in the LGBTQ+ community. Many of them often choose to remain “in the closet”, i.e, never share or explore their queer identity, because of the fear for their safety.
“I know of someone who got a sudden rush of inspiration from a TV program and decided to come out to his family. It didn’t work. He lost his home, his job, everything.” (Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, 2016)
“It's not easy to be non-binary anywhere, but especially in India, it's fraught with encounters at home, work, and society that can trigger mental health issues” (Somak Ghoshal, 2021)
The situation gets more severe in socio-economically lower areas of the country.
“Village medics and babas often prescribe rape to cure lesbians of homosexuality. Stories of family acceptance that you see on TV and other media are more of an urban phenomenon." (Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, 2016)
There are multiple discourses within the Queer community and they all deserve equal attention. The experience of each individual and each identity varies on a range of factors, thus it is important to be alert and constantly keep educating yourself. Whether you're reading this to figure yourself out or want to be a better ally, remember that the queer community shouldn't be looked at from a cishet perspective. There is no us. vs them. Queerness is natural and has been part of humanity since the dawn of people-kind. Discussions like the queer spectrum help mental health professionals view their practice intersectionally and focus on an aware, inclusive approach when dealing with people. These discussions though are encouraged in all spaces of the community including homes, schools, corporates, politically, legally, etc. It’s informed awareness and responsible allyship that will protect the queer community from incessant discrimination, allow fair and equal opportunities and representation, and create a world of compassion, respect, love, and humanity.
https://www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2018/10/the-genderbread-person-v4/ The LGBT+ Allies Training
The author is a queer ciswoman.