Gay, lesbian LGBTQI vocabulary: words, idioms, expressions, collocations on gay issues.
Update April 2016: You can now read this post as a downloadable vocabulary guide here or by clicking the picture!
Did you know? The Supreme Court of the United States of America is presently discussing the issue of gay marriage*. As well, if you check out any English-language news media, there are usually several articles every day that cover gay rights, gay people and how other institutions in society feel (for example, the Church). And yet there is very little about this topic in English coursebooks and websites. So, today, here are some words and phrases you can use to talk about gays and related topics:
Types Of People
People who are heterosexual are attracted to the opposite sex. They are sometimes called straight or hetro (ie when a man and a woman are together).
The term LGBT refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Men who are attracted to other men are called gay or homosexual. These days the word ‘homosexual’ is used in more official situations (eg a scientist might talk about homosexuality) and can sound a little negative in regular conversation.
‘Gay’ can also be used by women who are attracted to other women. Often though they are called lesbians.
A bisexual is attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily at the same time.
Someone who is transgender (noun. uncountable; adj transgendered) identifies more as someone of a different gender than their assigned sex. For example, maybe someone was born a biological female, but feels male. Being transgender is separate though to sexual orientation – for example, a transgender person might identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual just like heterosexual people (or in fact, they might not identify with any of the above).
A famous example of a person who is transgender is former athlete Bruce Jenner, who was recently discussed in the media (eg here). Likewise, Australian model Andeja Pelic also came out recently (story and photos here).
Please note that the word transexual is now not the preferred term within the community.
A person who is asexual does not show any interest in sex.
A person who is intersex has sexual characteristics that do not fit the usual definition of male or female. The Australian Government describes intersex as: (a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or (b) a combination of female and male; or (c) neither female nor male (source).
A metrosexual is a straight man who likes things which are traditionally (and perhaps stereotypically) connected to gays such as expensive or branded clothing, moisturisers, caring much more about his appearance, etc.
An ubersexual is a straight man who also takes care of his appearance, but is considered more masculine. Similarly, so it a lumbersexual.
A transvestite is someone who likes to dress in clothes of the opposite, often for sexual pleasure.
A pansexual is someone who is attracted to others regardless of gender (this definition goes beyond male or female). Omnisexuals are similar, attracted to all people regardless of gender. The difference apparently is that pansexuals care less about gender. “Hearts not parts” is a slogan that some pansexuals and omnisexuals use to describe their preferences.
A person who is androgynous can look either male or female. Some pop stars are like this, perhaps a pretty boy band singer or for example Texas singer Sharleen Spiteri.
Types Of Gay Men
There’s A LOT! Here are a few:
A bear is a gay man who looks masculine, often has a beard and grows hair on his chest (and, er, back). Just like a bear!
A jock is a gay man who works out, is muscular and usually clean-shaven. ‘Jocks’ are in mainstream society under a different meaning: to refer to men who are very sporty and often stupid or arrogant and who date the local cheerleaders.
A twink is a young gay man who is very slim, quite boyish looking, with no body hair.
A daddy is an older man. This word can also be used to describe either a gay man or a straight man who ‘looks after’ their partner financially. There are even some websites where a sugar babe can find a sugar daddy.
A queen is a gay person who is effeminate, and usually older, and a little dramatic. Elton John is sometimes called this. Within the gay community, there can be some negativity towards queens.
You can find more types here.
Types Of Lesbians
A dyke is another word used for lesbian. When used within the community, it’s ok, but can be used in a negative way by people in mainstream society.
A tomboy is a woman who acts in a more masculine or ‘dominant’ manner. Often she looks more masculine in how she is built; however, women who are classically ‘slim and pretty’ can also identify as tomboys.
A straight woman can be a tomboy, preferring to hang around guys or take part in activities and sports that guys usually play. You might hear a woman say:
“I was a bit of tomboy when I was younger. I preferred to play soccer with the boys than hang around the girls.”
A butch lesbian is also someone who is considered more masculine or dominant. This word can also be used for gay men.
A femme is used to describe a feminine lesbian, the stereotypical ‘feminine woman’ often the subject of straight male fantasies. A lipstick lesbian is similar. These femmy women like make up a lot, buying nice clothing, wearing more trendy or stylish dresses and so on.
A blue jeans femme is similar to the lipstick lesbian, but prefers to be more casual and laid back in her clothing and appearance.
A gold star lesbian is someone who has never slept with a man.
Other Terms To Talk About LGBT People
Queer originally meant ‘strange’ but then it was used negatively to describe gays. Now today some LGBT people are trying to reclaim (= take back) this word in a positive way to describe the LGBT community. I believe it’s used more within the community in a positive way, but if a straight person uses it, it might cause offence depending on how it’s said.
Words which are considered offensive or pejorative and indeed rude – but which you might hear in hip-hop songs or in movies – include poof, homo, and fag. I think ‘homo’ is quite out of date now, the only time I hear it these days is when one straight male friend compliments another straight male:
“No homo, but you’re looking good in that shirt.”
Fag (from ‘faggot’) was originally used just in the USA, but with time, TV, songs and movies, it’s crossed over to other English-speaking countries. When I was in the UK in the 1990s it was fairly common for Brits to use it as a play on words (as ‘fag’ in Britain means ‘cigarette’). Once a manager of mine joked:
“Back in a sec. Just going out for a quick fag…”
Flaming or flaming homosexual is used to say that someone is obviously gay. It can be used negatively, but also within the community to talk about someone who is clearly gay (and easily detectable with your gaydar).
Straight-acting is usually used for a man who seems heterosexual based on his behaviour but in fact he’s gay.
Homophobic describes someone who doesn’t like or fears or even hates people who are gay
nb words ending in -phobic involve a fear or dislike of something.
- Collocations include:
Homophobic slurs (a ‘slur’ is remark which is negative or intended to offend or insult someone. Just like ‘racial slurs’)
Homophobic bullying – when someone is picked on either verbally or physically based on their sexual orientation (or perceived orientation)
A homophobic attack – this can also be verbal or physical. On this note, gay bashing describes violence towards gays.
A homophobic gesture is when someone moves their hands in a way that is rude:
“Footballer Colin Kazim-Richards found guilty over homophobic gesture to fans while playing for Blackburn Rovers..” (source)
Homophobic hate crime – A ‘hate crime’ is when a violent or threatening act is made towards someone who is LGBT or perhaps of a minority group in society.
A homophobic insult is when someone says something which is offensive or insulting to a person who is gay (or believed to be gay).
Homophobic violence is also a common word for when someone is physically attacked.
A homophobic bigot is someone who very judgmental or negative or hateful towards LGBT people.
Interestingly bible bashing is used negatively to say a Christian is trying to impose their beliefs on others, whereas gay bashing describes violence against gay people.
There are many websites in Australia against homophobia, including No To Homophobia.
Christina Aguilera had a big hit with ‘Beautiful’, written by a gay song-writer and which seeks to support those who have been bullied or ridiculed.
Words Used In Politics
The Gay Agenda is a pejorative term used by opponents to say that LGBT people are trying to take over or control certain elements in society in order to influence mainstream opinion, the media and politics. Opponents say the homosexual mafia will demonise anyone, especially celebrities or politicians, who disagree with their stances and views. The Gay Agenda is specifically said to target Christians, who are perceived to be behind the times and who express strong disapproval towards the gay lifestyle.
Same-sex marriage (or gay marriage) is a topic of major discussion throughout the English-speaking world, especially in Australia, the USA and the UK. You’ll also hear the term marriage equality.
nb Regarding arguments against gay marriage, at this stage I haven’t found an article which gives logical reasons for keeping the institution between a man and a woman. I have found articles based on religion, but in the West that won’t be enough. Please check out the articles and interviews below for more.
Discrimination – if someone feels that they have been discriminated against, this is when they have been treated unfairly by someone or an organisation or government authority based on their sexuality (anti-discrimination laws usually refer to sexuality, religion, and race in promoting equality in society).
Harassment – In a place of work someone feel they are being harassed. This means that they receive annoying comments from others. Countries like Australia have laws against sexual harassment.
Gay Pride – is a movement designed to promote equal rights and fight against violence and discrimination. It also aims to build a gay community and in many countries such as Brazil and Australia, there is an annual gay pride march or parade. Common symbols of identity at these parades include the rainbow colours, which feature in the gay pride flag.
Spouse – legal term for ‘partner’. In many countries a ‘spouse’ can only be a person of the opposite sex. In the United States v Windsor, the Supreme Court heard a case where Edith Windsor wasn’t able to claim tax benefits from the government following the death of her partner because the word ‘spouse’ in tax law didn’t cover same-sex marriages. The court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the government to limit ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ only to ‘heterosexual couples’ (source).
Idioms And Expressions
To come out (of the closet) – to tell your friends and/or family that you are gay or lesbian or bisexual; to make it known to others that you are gay or lesbian. You have your coming out:
“It was really nervous when I came out to my parents, but they were actually cool with it.”
Likewise, someone can be still in the closet or a closet gay.
One phrase you’ll hear quite a lot is using the word gay to mean ‘weak’ or ‘girly’ or ‘lame‘*:
“That bag is so gay.”
“I can’t believe he kicks like that. That’s so gay.”
This has sparked a lot of discussion on social media. For example:
PSA: the word “gay” shouldn’t be used to describe something stupid/unfortunate/annoying etc….pls expand your vocabulary
— em (@emilygbohannon) April 17, 2015
To out someone – when a gay political group or the media decide to tell the public that someone, often a celebrity or politician, is gay. This headline is an example:
North Dakota Republican Says He Was Outed As Gay By Democrats (source)
Gaydar – a gay person who is good at spotting another gay person is said to have a good gaydar (from ‘radar’).
Gay friendly – this term is used by some cafes, hotels, restaurants, and other venues to specifically communicate that LGBT people are welcome and can feel safe. I believe that in cities like Melbourne, London, Sydney etc there is less of a need to advertise as ‘gay friendly’ though it is a way to gain business, as some venues advertise on gay websites. Interestingly, some venues that advertise as gay friendly have a separate landing page which gays can click and find, yet the main website does not mention being gay friendly.
Straight friendly – this can be used humorously by gays to say that a gay venue (eg cafe, bar, club) welcomes straights. On the other hand, it’s also been used by at least one straight woman to say that her place (on AirBnb) is only for straights and excludes gays (source).
What a waste! – used pejoratively when someone finds out that a man or woman they like is not attracted to the opposite sex:
“Are you sure she’s a lesbian?! What a waste…”
If someone plays for the other team – this is an idiom which means the person is gay.
To be light in the loafers is also used to describe someone who is gay. For example:
“Some people wonder if Marcus Bachmann, husband to Republican presidential candidate Michele.. may be a little light in the loafers.” (source)
If someone swings both ways, it means they are attracted to men and women. AC/DC can also refer to a bisexual.
Born that way – while some people that being gay is a choice, others say that it is genetic and that they are born this way.
Gay Marriage – Good Or Bad..?
Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s Daily Show discussed the possible homosexuality of former presidential candidate Michelle Bachman’s husband:
Who Sounds Gay – From The New York Times