Words matter, especially during a doctor’s appointment. The right language can empower patients to communicate their needs and enable doctors to deliver the right care.
‘It’s important for patients to feel heard and supported,’ says Dr Alessio Platania, Lead GP at Livi. ‘Inclusive language builds trust between patients and doctors so they can concentrate on finding the best solutions.’
This is a thorough but not complete list. When in doubt, always use the words someone uses to describe themselves. ‘If you’re not sure, just ask,’ says Dr Platania.
What’s the difference between sex and gender?
Biological sex is a label you’re assigned to at birth based on your visible external anatomy, genes and hormones.
Gender is a social and cultural construct that traditionally refers to ‘woman’ and ‘man’, but there are many more gender identities. Someone may be non-binary, agender or gender fluid.
What do all the letters in LGBTQIA+ stand for?
A woman who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to other women.
A man who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to other men.
Someone who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to the same and other genders.
Someone who has a gender identity that’s different from the gender they were assigned at birth.
Often used as an umbrella term referring to anyone who isn’t straight or cisgender. Historically, the term queer was used as a slur against LGBTQIA+ people, but in recent years it has been reclaimed. Queer is also often used as a broad rejection of labels, most often those for gender and sexual orientation.
Someone who is not sure how they identify. Someone can be questioning their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity.
Someone whose physical/hormonal/genetic characteristics do not fit neatly into the traditional definition of male or female.
Someone who experiences no, little or conditional sexual attraction to others. Asexuality exists on a broad spectrum and asexual people may experience other forms of attraction, like romantic or emotional. It’s also sometimes called ‘ace’.
People who identify as cisgender and straight and support social and legal equality for LGBTQIA+ people are called allies.
LGBTQIA+ healthcare glossary
Agender Not having a gender. This can mean being genderless or having a neutral or null gender.
Back sex A term for anal sex that some people may prefer. (See front sex.)
Binding Tightly wrapping the chest with cloth, bandages or a specially designed undergarment to minimise the appearance of breasts.
Bottom surgeries Gender-confirmation surgeries chosen by some trans people, which include the following: Phalloplasty (creating a masculine phallus) Metoidioplasty (creating a masculine phallus using testosterone-enlarged clitoral tissue) Vaginoplasty (creating a vagina)
Cisgender/Cis Someone whose gender identity and expression correspond with their assigned sex at birth.
Closeted A term for someone who isn’t open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Coming out The process of exploring and accepting your sexual orientation or gender identity and sharing it with others. Coming out is not usually a single event. Someone may come out many times, for example to new friends, at a new job or at the hairdresser.
Deadnaming Calling someone by their birth name after they have changed their name. Often associated with trans people who have changed their name.
Demi-(a)sexual Someone who only experiences sexual attraction after establishing a close emotional and/or romantic connection with another person.
Disclosing Revealing your transgender or other non-cisgender identity/orientation to someone else. Some people use it as an alternative to coming out. When disclosure occurs without someone’s consent, it’s also called ‘outing’.
Drag Drag involves cross-dressing (dressing and presenting as a different gender) or having a persona or fictional character. While some people who do drag are gay or lesbian, drag performers can have any sexual orientation or gender identity. A drag queen or drag king is distinct from a trans person.
Front sex A term for vaginal sex that some people may prefer, especially those whose gender identity doesn’t match their physical characteristics.
Gender-affirming hormone therapy Medicines that alter someone’s appearance to more closely match their gender identity.
Gender-affirming surgery Surgeries to change someone’s body to match their gender identity. It may also be called sex reassignment surgery or gender-confirming surgery.
Gender dysphoria When a person feels uncomfortable identifying as the gender they were born with and feels distress with their gender identity. Gender dysphoria can occur at different levels among transgender or gender diverse people.
Gender euphoria The comfort and joy someone feels as a result of their gender expression matching their true gender identity. This can also be felt by non-binary people.
Gender expression How a person chooses to outwardly express their gender within the context of societal expectations of gender.
Gender fluid Someone whose gender identity is not fixed and changes over time.
Gender identity A person’s perception of their gender, which may or may not match their birth sex. Gender identity is personal: it’s how we see and define ourselves.
Gender queer Someone who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both or a combination of male and female genders.
Gender recognition certificate (GRC) A UK document that legally changes the gender listed on your birth, marriage and/or civil partnership certificates.
Gillick competence Someone under the age of 16 who is deemed capable of fully understanding and consenting to medical treatment.
Heteronormativity The belief that heterosexuality is the ‘normal’ or default sexual orientation of society.
Heterosexual A cis man who is attracted to a cis woman or a cis woman who is attracted to a cis man. This is also called being straight.
Homophobia Prejudice or discrimination against anyone who is or is perceived to be not heterosexual. Homophobia can occur when someone is breaking the norms of heteronormativity, so straight/cis people who look LGBTQIA+ can also be a victim of homophobia.
Misgender To refer to someone with a pronoun or any other gendered term that doesn’t match their gender identity.
Newman Goldfarb protocol A commonly used method for non-child-carrying cisgender and transgender women to induce lactation and therefore breastfeed.
Non-binary Someone who doesn’t identify as only male or only female or who identifies as both. Sometimes abbreviated to NB or referred to as ‘enbie’.
Pansexual Someone whose romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.
Passing Being perceived by others as a particular identity/gender or cisgender regardless of how the individual in question identifies, e.g. passing as a cis man. This term can be offensive, as it may imply someone isn’t really what they are passing as.
Pronouns Words we use to refer to people in conversation, like ‘you’, ‘she’ and ‘he’. Some people may choose gender-neutral pronouns like ‘they/their’ or ‘ze/zir’.
Queer An umbrella term describing people who think of their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms. This term was once used as a slur but has been reclaimed. Some people may still find this term offensive – consider using LGBTQIA+ instead.
Questioning Someone who is not sure about their gender identity or sexuality.
Sex assigned at birth The sex assigned to a child at birth, which is usually based on external anatomy. Can be expressed with the following abbreviations: AFAB: Assigned female at birth AMAB: Assigned male at birth
T Short for testosterone.
Top surgery An operation performed on the chest as part of gender-confirmation surgery.
Transgender man A man who was assigned female at birth.
Transgender woman A woman who was assigned male at birth.
Transitioning The process of coming out and changing your lifestyle and appearance to correspond with your gender identity.
Transphobia Prejudice or discrimination of anyone who is trans, is perceived to be trans or who does not adhere to traditional gender norms.
Tucking Minimising the appearance of the penis and testes using tight undergarments.
About this glossary
This glossary aims to help people understand some common words people use to identify themselves. In healthcare settings, using – and hearing – inclusive language can help patients and healthcare professionals achieve the best possible care.
To build this glossary, we consulted and adapted definitions from the following key references. The words we use constantly evolve, and definitions can vary between different communities and people. There are also many terms not included in this list, so always defer to the language someone uses themselves.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Alessio Platania, Lead GP at Livi.