Archive of ‘LGBTQ’ category

Decoding the LGBTQ Alphabet Soup

As a therapist and ally that works with the LGBTQ+ community, I’ve been asked multiple times what certain terms mean in the LGBTQ+ alphabet soup initials. So I thought I would write a quick blog about the list of letters that TRY to represent everyone that identifies as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender. What I found was that it’s very difficult to even find a list of letters that everyone agrees on. One example of initials I found is LGGBBTTQQIAAPP which stands for lesbian, gay, genderqueer, bisexual, bigender, transgender, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, agender, pansexual and polyamorous. There are versions that don’t include bigender, trans, agender, and polyamorous and there are versions that include initials for two spirits. However, what all of these versions fail to do is provide an option for individuals who identify as gender fluid. Decoding the LGBTQ alphabet soup is difficult and all the possible versions you may see don’t make it easier, so I’ve included a few definitions that were taken from Its Pronounced Metro sexual website. They are an amazing resource for all things LGBTQ+.

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

LGBTQ+ Terms:

This is not an exhaustive list.

Asexual: a person who generally does not experience sexual attraction (or very little) to any group of people

Bigender: a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (and sometimes a third gender)

Bisexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction to people of their own gender as well as another gender; often confused for and used in place of “pansexual”

Cisgender: a description for a person whose gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex all align (e.g., man, masculine, and male)

Fluid(ity): generally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that is a fluctuating mix of the options available (e.g., man and woman, gay and straight); not to be confused with “transitioning”

FTM/MTF: a person who has undergone medical treatments to change their biological sex (Female TMale, or Male TFemale), often times to align it with their gender identity; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Gender Expression: the external display of gender, through a combination of dress, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally measured on a scale of masculinity and femininity

Gender Identity: the internal perception of an individual’s gender, and how they label themselves

Genderless: a person who does not identify with any gender

Genderqueer: (1) a blanket term used to describe people whose gender falls outside of the gender binary; (2) a person who identifies as both a man and a woman, or as neither a man nor a woman; often used in exchange with “transgender”

Intersex: a person with a set of sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit within the labels of female or male (e.g., 47,XXY phenotype, uterus, and penis)

Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions

Queer: (1) historically, this was a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ+ people; (2) a term that has been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, representing all individuals who fall out of the gender and sexuality “norms”

Questioning: the process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations

Third Gender: (1) a person who does not identify with the traditional genders of “man” or “woman,” but identifies with another gender; (2) the gender category available in societies that recognize three or more genders

Transgender: a blanket term used to describe all people who are not cisgender; occasionally used as “transgendered” but the “ed” is misleading, as it implies something happened to the person to make them transgender, which is not the case

Transsexual: a person whose gender identity is the binary opposite of their biological sex, who may undergo medical treatments to change their biological sex, often times to align it with their gender identity, or they may live their lives as the opposite sex; often confused with “trans-man”/”trans-woman”

Transvestite: a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons, including relaxation, fun, and sexual gratification; often called a “cross-dresser,” and often confused with “transsexual”

Two-Spirit: a term traditionally used by Native American people to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders.


LGBTQ+ Alphabet Soup

Bruce to Caitlyn: How to be a Trans Ally

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern and LMFT-Associate Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern and LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

In my last two posts, I shared a general understanding of gender identity followed by terms, definitions, and understanding pronoun usage, and other resources. Now, I want to offer some suggestions & guidelines on how to be a trans ally.

When I first started working more with LGBTQ clients, I often questioned myself. What right or capacity do I have to help a clientele with whom I cannot fully empathize with? Because, I identify as a straight cisgender individual, I cannot claim to know what it is like to come out, or understand feeling conflicted from a young age, that though I was assigned female at birth I more authentically feel male. Despite my lack of direct experience with these issues, I am passionate about this work. I imagine there are certain clients who prefer to see a therapist who can truly get where they are coming from. Similar as to when a client seeks out a therapist who is also a parent, because they feel the need to work with someone who can more fully grasp their role as a parent. There are plenty of clients with whom I connect with on a deep emotional & intellectual level, yet do not have first hand experience of their specific struggles or differences. I have connected with transgender clients around the pain they’ve endured from rejection from religion & family, harassment from others, discrimination, homelessness, suicidal thoughts or attempts, self-hatred, and more. I feel honored to be part of the courageous process each of my clients engage in as they turn toward their true selves. Over time I have found myself more drawn to support the LGBTQ community and to advocate for equality. With that, I’ve come to understand more of what it means to be an ally.

Being an ally is a lot less intimidating than I initially expected, in fact when I started reading about what it means to be an ally, I was able to identify ways in which I was already doing so. And being a trans ally does not require perfection. You don’t have to have a perfect grasp on all the relevant issues, vocabulary etc., but your intention and efforts need to come from a place of compassion & support. When you do make a mistake simply own it or be open to correction. You can ask for help & guidance too. When I began working with trans clients, I acknowledged my limitations & asked my clients to correct me when I used an incorrect term or pronoun. I find that by expressing my willingness to learn & be corrected, others are much more understanding when I do mess up.

What is an Ally?

An ally is “someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals.” (UC Berkeley, Gender Equity Unit)

Straight for Equality gathered a lot of material around what it has meant over the years to be an ally. Rather than a rigid set of requirements, they have re-developed a list of some of the valued qualities present among allies.

  • Allies want to learn. Allies are people who don’t necessarily know all that can be known on LGBTQ issues or about people who are LGBTQ, but they want to learn more.
  • Allies address their barriers. Allies are people who might have to grapple with some barriers to being openly and actively supportive of people who are LGBTQ, and they’re willing to take on the challenge.
  • Allies are people who know that “support” comes in many forms. It can mean something super-public (think covering yourself in rainbow glitter and heading to a Pride celebration with a sign reading, “PROUD ALLY”*). But it can also mean expressing support in more personal ways through the language we use, conversations we choose to have, and signals that we send. And true allies know that all aspects of ally expression are important, effective, and should be valued equally.
  • Allies are diverse. Allies are people who know that there’s no one way to be an ally, and that everyone gets to adopt the term in a different way…and that’s ok (from
Where to Start

If you’ve read the previous two posts about gender identity, then you’re already on the right track. We can begin moving toward change by thinking about gender differently and acknowledging the rigidity of the gender binary within our society.   There can be a lot of power in modeling & setting an example for others. A great starting off point is to think about how “people should have the right to define their own gender–and allies should be the ones to accept & respect that identification (” Accepting a trans individual as they are and as they choose to express themselves even if you have some confusion or discomfort is an example of the contribution of an ally. Knowing appropriate terminology, understanding what is offensive (ie: asking about genitals, sex, & whether someone has had surgery or not), and applying that knowledge is a simple way to begin being a trans ally.

Apply What You Know

Now that you know about preferred pronoun usage, names, & terms, use them. If you don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun or name, simply ask or pay attention to how they refer to themselves around others. You can take it a step further by kindly correcting others & offering information when you hear others using disrespectful or just incorrect vocabulary.

You can also apply your understanding of the gender spectrum and your acknowledgement of the limitations the gender binary. For instance, if you work somewhere with forms or paperwork for people to fill out, consider modifying them so that there is a blank space next to gender rather than having to select male or female, or have options that are more inclusive.  This allows for people to express their gender identity, as they prefer. You can also consider having gender-neutral bathrooms for guests or customers if possible.

Never Out Someone

You should never, under any circumstances out a transgender individual without their permission.  Matt Kailey’s Transifesto lays it out clearly: “If you see a person on the street that you know to be trans, it is a private matter and not appropriate to tell your friends that the person is trans. It is also not appropriate to mention anything that would ‘out’ a trans person if you are with that person in a public setting.”

Outing a trans person can put them in a compromising position at work, with family, friends etc.  Unfortunately, it is simply puts that person in danger, sometimes physically or in various life roles.  You cannot “go back” or undo outing someone, so don’t do it! Along with that, it is best never to make assumptions either.

Advocate & Get Involved

Not everyone is going to be heavily involved in political change, and that is not essential to be a good ally.  Really dedicated allies, may be more inclined to get politically involved & that is an incredible way to promote change.  You can also be involved in smaller ways, like signing petitions, making changes in your workplace or other settings.  I was moved by a story I recently read about two 3rd graders who were disturbed by their experience on a trip to Disneyland. Probably not the reaction most people would expect from children going to the “happiest place on earth.” These 9 year olds were very aware of the race and gender stereotypes continually perpetuated throughout their experience at the amusement park.  They composed this letter expressing their concern and suggesting more sensitive, inclusive alternatives.  After reading this I felt inspired & realized that if children this young can speak out for change, why can’t I?

how to be a trans allyhow to be a trans ally

Bruce to Caitlyn: Gender Identity Resources

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern and LMFT-Associate  Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

In my last post, Bruce to Caitlyn: Understanding Gender Identity, I began a response to the recent Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer and offered some basic information about gender identity, societal influence and the gender binary, and the inclusive gender spectrum. Here, I am following up with some specifics around pronouns, terms, & other gender identity resources.


Now that Jenner has officially emerged publicly as Caitlyn Jenner, I will be referring to her as Caitlyn and will use “her” and “she” rather than “him” or “he.” The use of preferred pronouns and transgender individuals is something clients, colleagues, & friends often ask about. When someone identifies as non-binary or gender non-conforming the pronouns “he” or “she” may not feel like a fit either. There are several gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns that people choose to utilize instead. Here is a chart with some examples.

genderidentityresourcesIf you are unsure of what pronoun someone prefers the best thing is to simply politely. This cartoon effectively illustrates the pronoun issue in which I’m referring.

What is Transitioning?

Transitioning refers to the process an individual goes through to discover and or affirm their gender identity. This is a long-term journey that may take many years. This process is also unique to the individual in that some trans people do not have the means or resources for surgery and some do not have a strong desire or need to “medically transition.” There tends to be two aspects to transitioning:

  • Social and legal transition: Change of name, pronoun selection, cosmetic modifications to appearance, dress, changes to an individual’s vocal tone, etc.For many people, this will also entail legal changes to their name and gender marker on identification documents like   driver’s licenses and passports.
  • Medical transition: The introduction of hormones (testosterone for trans men, estrogen and testosterone blockers for trans women) into the body. For some people, it will also involve surgical procedures that align the physical body with one’s gender identification. These may     include “top” surgery, “bottom” surgery, and, for trans women, facial feminization.

Other Terms

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Introduces hormones associated with the gender that the patient identifies with (notably testosterone for trans men and estrogen for trans women).

MTF: male-to-female. Indicates a transgender individual who was originally assigned the gender of male at birth, but has claimed a female identity through clothing, surgery, or attitude changes

 FTM: female-to-male. Indicates a transgender individual who was originally assigned the gender of female at birth, but has claimed a male identity through clothing, surgery, or attitude changes.

“T” word: I’ve found that either “trans” or “transgender” are appropriate when referring to someone who identifies outside of their assigned gender. The word “tranny” is not generally accepted and some find it to be very offensive. It has historically been used as a slur but some are embracing it in the same way “queer” has evolved into a more empowering word that the LGBTQ community not utilizes in a positive way. Since the term has been perceived as offensive, I would say it is best to proceed with caution and should be assessed on a case-by-case basis rather than used as a general term describing transgender individuals.

Overall when it comes to terminology & pronouns consider the Platinum Rule: treat people as they’d like to be treated (vs. the Golden Rule: treat people as you’d like to be treated).


I typically feel that when we come from a respectful, genuine, & compassionate place most questions or mistakes are easily repaired. However, there are some questions that are generally considered to be off limits despite good intentions. I like to keep the Platinum Rule in mind here as well. Here are a few that should be avoided (remember you can always Google things you are curious about):

  • Do not ask how people have sex.  I don’t want to be asked this, as a cisgender individual, so it’s safe to assume a trans individual doesn’t either.
  • Do not ask to see pre-transition photos or ask about who a person “used to be” (ie name etc.).  When we start from the place of accepting people for who they say they are, knowing how they once were is not significant. Yes, you may be very curious how someone may have looked before, but it is in the past and many trans people prefer to leave that in the past (not unlike my preference to not share photos of myself from middle school).
  • Do not ask about a person’s surgical status or body parts. Some things are private and should only be talked about if someone brings it up on their own. Not every trans person has the desire or the means to make surgical changes, and this does not mean that they are any less trans. Understanding someone’s gender is not contingent upon understanding what happens “down there.”
  • Do not ask when a person “became” transgender. This question implies that there is a choice related to gender identity. As with the gay, lesbian, & bisexual coming out process, the trans coming out process can be long and challenging. No one suddenly “becomes” trans any more than they “turn” gay or lesbian.

There are many organizations and gender identity resources where you can gain more information and access support for yourself or others, some of which can be found on our website. In my next post, I plan to share some ways that you can be an ally to the transgender community.

References: Straight for Equality

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