lifestyle . Interview

LGBTQIA+ Terms Explained & Why You Need To Know Them

Be a good ally

We saw many people finally spurred into action in the past few weeks. As many continue to face injustices, conversations have started to spark online. Hashtags drew attention not only to the 'Black Lives Matter' movement but also to issues concerning powers that threaten democracy at home (in the Philippines) and closer to it (in Hong Kong). But in our collective fight for complete freedom and equality, this Pride month, as well as the days moving forward, let's not forget the LGBTQIA+ community who has long had its voice silenced.

The fight for the true acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community continues. And even if we're not directly suffering from the same discrimination, it's important, now more than ever, that we lend them a hand. Joining online campaigns help spread awareness, but to truly advocate for the cause, we need to go beyond the online world and, at the very least, work towards informing ourselves of the issues. Granted, these matters are a lot to take in and process, so let's take it one step at a time. Perhaps, to start with, this LGBTQIA+ glossary of terms would help you make sense of concepts.

We reached out to three advocates and members of the LGBTQIA+ community to come up with a list of terms those who want to be a good ally should know. Explaining some terms that are key to understanding the experiences they face are Vince Liban, National Convener of the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY); Alexander Teh, Youth Worker from Oogachaga, a Singaporean LGBTQIA+ non-profit organisation; and Raybert Domingo, Communications Head of Love Yourself PH, a volunteer group that provides support for community members looking to care for their overall health. Let's get started!

Social media sharing - LGBTQIA+ glossary of terms

Aside from joining online initiatives, take time to learn more about the cause, starting with the basic LGBTQIA+ glossary of terms

LGBTQIA+ Glossary of Terms

LGBTQIA+: Stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual. The ‘+’ represents other sexual and gender minorities such as pansexual individuals. 

Ally: A non-LGBTQIA+ person who supports the community

Sex assigned at birth: Used to categorise a person as female or male based on their sex characteristics or external genitalia. Commonly used interchangeably with gender, but is actually different. 

Gender: A social construct that categorises a person as female, male, or another identity, which is different from but is usually based on one’s assigned sex at birth.

Gender identity: How someone perceives and what they call themselves. Their innermost concept of self as female, male, or another identity, which may or may not correspond with their sex assigned at birth.

Gender expression: The external appearance of a person’s gender, usually expressed through behaviour, clothing, haircut, or voice, which may or may not conform to behaviours and characteristics typically associated with masculinity or femininity.

Sexual orientation: The inherent and immutable enduring patterns of emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people.

Gay: A person who is romantically, sexually, or emotionally attracted to someone of the same gender. Usually used to refer to men attracted to other men.

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women.

Bisexual: Someone who is attracted to people of one or more genders, not necessarily at the same time. Bisexual individuals are still bisexual regardless of the gender of the person(s) they are dating. 

Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not identify within the gender binary, and being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etc.

Rainbow flag

The colours of the rainbow represent the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community

Transsexual: Refers to transgender people who have undergone or are in the process of undergoing medical transitioning (gender-reaffirming surgery, hormone replacement therapy). Not all transgender people are transsexual or undergo medical transitioning.

Queer: A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQIA+”.

Intersex: A person whose primary and/or secondary sex characteristics (the combination of their chromosomes, external genitalia, and so on) differ from the two expected patterns of “female” and “male” and cannot be easily categorised as either of them.

Asexual: The sexual orientation of a person who generally does not experience attraction towards anyone.

"From the distinction of sex and gender from each other, the idea of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) comes through. It is something that is inherent to us humans. In other words, every human being has their own SOGIE," Vince noted. So, yes, even straight people or those whose gender identities align with their sex assigned their birth have their own SOGIE. 

How we identify and express ourselves isn't really a matter that should concern others. Unfortunately, however, those who differ from the norm are discriminated upon. "The LGBTQ+ community has faced historical violence and discrimination just because they are a group of people whose SOGIE do not conform to cisgender-heterosexual norms," Vince explained further. 

To learn more of these LGBTQIA+ terms and concepts, check out the Love Yourself PH's guide for this year's Pride Month as well as the resources shared by GLAAD.

Rainbow heart

We should all have the freedom to love and to express ourselves

Why sensitivity matters

Again, it's a lot to digest, but it's important we take the time to understand these. "Dismissing labels that someone uses to self-identify can make them feel disrespected, dismissed, and alienated," Alexander shared. It creates a safe space for them but affirming their language and building accepting relationships can help boost their mental health. This is doubly important because, Alexander explained, "research has shown that LGBTQ+ individuals are significantly more likely to experience issues with mental health."

We are urged by society to think a certain way, and some of us may be simply unaware of the realities the LGBTQIA+ community is facing. "However," Raybert added, "it shouldn’t also be a reason as to why they wouldn’t have the capacity to understand and accept our existence." Still, the learning process is two-way. As a member of the community, Raybert said, "We have to offer something about how and why these people must understand and accept us so that they would do what we have hoped them to do for us."

Though these labels can't ever fully embody us as human beings, Vince agreed with the two's sentiments, saying, "In a world where most people fear what they do not know, learning these labels help us better understand how others live and fight for their truth." Understanding these and consequently unlearning stigma and prejudice against the LGBTQIA+ community is a huge step to recognising them.

Peer support

Respecting and recognising others' identities help create a safe space for all

Finding comfort in acceptance

Being a gay trans man in Singapore, Alexander's experiences haven't been the easiest but the acceptance he gets from his family and friends lends him happiness that is unparalleled. Alexander confessed, "Getting disrespected on the odd occasion still does hurt, but recalling this particular quote by Dr Seuss helps me: 'Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.'"

Similarly, Raybert also feels great when recognised. Still, he uses the discrimination he sometimes faces as a way to motivate himself. "When people invalidate my existence, it makes me think. I process how can I educate this person who has a different view without being disrespectful despite being disrespected. This thinking process, I believe, is essential because only through a sensible discussion can I make them realise what it means to be part of a beautiful community."

Adding to that, Vince said, "Being seen and being recognised for who we are is important not just for ourselves, but for the many generations of queer people who fought for equality and acceptance, and for the next to come." It should go without saying: people in the LGBTQIA+ community are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

Pride march

We are all human beings, no matter our differences

Working towards acceptance

Consistently and correctly using these LGBTQIA+ terms is one way to help, but if you're a member of the LGBTQIA+ community "you can also let people know what your personal gender pronouns are, so you can create a safe environment for others to share theirs," Alexander suggested.

Meanwhile, if you're an ally, you can help by educating yourself and others. "They can help by merely listening and telling our truths to others, who initially don't believe we matter," Raybert said. 

When we start to understand, only then we can reflect on our privileges, which, according to Vince, "include being able to walk on the streets without fear of being harassed or harmed; not being discriminated in schools or in the workplace; or simply not being disowned by your own family for being true to yourself."

"It is important that the supportive nods and words are also followed by concrete actions," Vince emphasised. "Being an ally is understanding that LGBTQ+ rights are basic human rights." Choose to fight with them and their right to love and live. 

Next, here's how Singaporean makeup artist Ginger Lynette Leong is changing the beauty industry.