Queer terminology – a beginners guide

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Queer terminology, lingo and slang seem to change as often as the ever-expanding LGBTQQI acronym (or as some humorously refer to it, QUILTBAG). Whether you’re simply curious, want to be a more knowledgeable, here’s your word starter kit, with a few non-essentials thrown in for fun.

1. Scissoring

Ok, it’s not so much that we desperately want you to know this, it’s more that we want you to stop asking us about it. Scissoring, while not as popular as your precious lesbian porn would have you believe, is nonetheless a real thing. It involves two ladies, one of whom is rubbing her clit on her partner. If the laws of physics are on your side, then both parties’ clits will touch, but in reality you’re more likely to hit a thigh, stomach, or Albuquerque. Scissoring can also go by tribadism, which is Greek for “Stop rubbing your junk on the good china, Sandra!” and can involve a multitude of positions, like legs intertwined, good ol’ missionary, and the new “Blue Is the Warmest Color” favorite, Reverse Anxious Crabwalk.

2. Queer

Queer used to be an insult leveraged at homos (or anyone who seemed “peculiar”). In fact, the Google definition still claims its meaning is “informal, derogatory.” But nowadays queer is more likely used as an umbrella term to mean anyone who identifies outside of mainstream sexual or gender norms. According to PFLAG, queer can even apply to “the straight ally who marches during Pride, the Republican lesbian, the person who highly values queer theory concepts and would rather not identify with any particular label, the gender fluid bisexual, the gender fluid heterosexual, the questioning GLBT person, and the person who just doesn’t feel like they quite fit into societal norms and wants to bond with a community over that.”

3. Cis

Cis applies to people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth, the opposite of trans (see below). For instance, cis women don’t often get asked what their genitals look like, unlike trans women.

4. Butch/Femme

Butch: A masculine-appearing queer gal. Stereotypical identifying traits may include chain wallets, Vans, polo shirts with multiple popped collars, cargo pants, carabiners, motorcycle or sports attire. Often found by the pool table or dart board at bars, drinking Miller High Life, and looking hot, yet aloof. Butches are easy to spot since there is often about one butch per 20 femmes in any given lez bar. There’s even a song about it!

Femme: A feminine-appearing queer lady. Often found in line for the bathroom with four of her closest friends, drinking whiskey, wearing tapered pants, skirts, heeled footwear, tight-fitting shirts, and sporting large earrings, asymmetrical haircuts/undercuts, and bright lipstick, so as to counteract femme invisibility, i.e. people assuming you’re straight because you once got a manicure and/or don’t rock a buzz cut.

As we’ve mentioned before, don’t ever ask “ Who’s the man/woman in your relationship?”

5. No

As in, “No, we don’t want to have a threesome with you. And please stop doing that thing with your tongue.” You most likely have heard this term before and know its meaning, yet it bears repeating.

6. Top/Bottom/Switch

Denotes sexual role preferences, often in kinky or queer circles, but not always. A top is the more dominant sexual partner, whether that’s physically, psychologically, or penetratively. A bottom tends to be more submissive and receptive. And a switch is happy in either role.

7. Gayborhood or Gay Village

Enclaves usually in larger cities, where queers tend to live and/or congregate. Examples include Andersonville/Lake View (aka Boystown) in Chicago, Chelsea in New York, Capitol Hill in Seattle, the Castro in San Francisco, and Berlin’s Nollendorfplatz, where all dorfs are welcome. You’ll know them because of the inordinate amount of rainbow flags adorning windows, doorways and patios. There will probably be a co-op of some kind, a feminist bookstore, a sex toy shop, and lots of Subarus adorned with “Coexist” bumper stickers.

8. Hasbian

A lesbian who goes straight after many years of out-ness, often surprising a great deal of her friends, and ruining several book clubs.

9. Heteronormativity

The cultural bias toward straight relationships. Examples include things like the underrepresentation of queer couples in the media, in ads, etc., and laws/legislation that discriminate against same-sex couples. For instance, “Thanks to heteronormative movie options, I guess I have to watch ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ AGAIN.”

10. Intersex

According to the Intersex Society of North America, “A person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Sometimes referenced at potlucks by people who want to brag about finishing a Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel.


The acronym-soup a queer person will try to use to cheat at Scrabble. Actually, it’s the queer community’s attempt to be as inclusive as possible. For the time, it stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, Questioning (as in, you’re not sure, but you might be gay), Intersex, and Asexual.

12. Malesbian

Usually a well-meaning but somewhat creepy straight guy who thinks he is a lesbian because he listens to Ani DiFranco and went to a “Take Back the Night” rally once.

13. Saysbian

A chick who says she’s bi or lez, but only ever sleeps with men. Often found stalking your OkCupid profile every day for a month and never messaging you.

14. Transgender/Transsexual

A person whose gender does not match the sex they were born with. Also known as FTM (female to male), MTF (male to female), and about 20 other gender identifiers you can now choose on Facebook. Some trans folks undergo body modifications or take hormones, but not always.

Sometimes misused as “transgendered,” but as you cannot be a “blacked or whited woman,” so goes the logic that you can’t be a “transgendered person,” but you can be a transgender person.

Also, trans* (with an asterisk) is an umbrella term (we queers love umbrellas!) that includes non-binary transgender folks, like gender fluid, genderqueer, pangender, etc. I won’t list all the options because it would sound like a pretentious Raffi song. But needless to say, there are many, many options if you don’t want to identify as “male” or “female.”

15. Yestergay

Same definition as hasbian, but usually applies to gay men.

2 thoughts on “Queer terminology – a beginners guide

  1. Pingback: The Better Half - The Lesbian Web Series to Keep On Your Radar

  2. Pingback: From Butch to Femme - Coco Layne Transformation to Secure a Job

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