The LGBTQ+ Rainbow Explained
Written by Adam Saraswati-Rawlings and Tammara Lesko
The LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender +) acronym covers a wide range of identities, and it is spoken about widely in the media and among communities every day, but there are identities within it that not everyone knows. Identities are important to understand as they are representative of individuals who are real humans. As such, we are giving the low-down on what LGBT+ acronyms stand for, while hoping to inform and help people understand the LGBT+ community, and themselves.
Lesbian refers to a woman who is sexually attracted to other women. Most lesbians are exclusively women who are attracted to other women, however non-binary people may also use the term to describe themselves. The term also includes butch and femme people, showing that experiences of being a lesbian aren’t all the same.
Famous lesbians include – Hayley Kiyoko, Sarah Paulson, Audre Lorde, Cynthia Nixon.
Gay can refer to the attraction to the same gender, and homosexual is often used as a synonym for gay. Gay is also used as a wider umbrella term which includes many LGBT+ sexualities. However, it can sometimes to be used to refer to gay men only. These men are called vincians. Vincian stands for men (or men-aligned people) who attracted to other men, or men-aligned people. Vincian was coined in honour of Leonardo da Vinci.
Famous gay men include – Elton John, Gianni Versace, Billy Porter, Lil Nas X.
Bisexual refers to someone who is attracted to two or more genders. There is no exhaustive list of who a bisexual person can be attracted to, and it is completely personal. Despite bisexuality often being represented as being attracted to two genders only and this representation is often an attraction to man or woman, this is not true, and bisexuality is completely subjective.
Famous bisexuals include – Orlando Jordan, Angelina Jolie, Freddie Mercury, Tessa Thompson.
Transgender refers to people who do not identify as the gender assigned to them when born. Mostly, it refers to people who are transgender men (men assigned female when born), and transgender women (women assigned male when born). The term transexual nowadays often refers to people who have changed their bodies medically, but transgender is preferred for many who identify as such. Transgender is often shortened to trans, and the ‘trans*’ term stands for the inclusion of all transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid identities.
Famous transgender people include – Laverne Cox, Hunter Schafer, Zach Barack, Janet Mock.
Sometimes shortened to enby, non-binary refers to a person whose gender does not fit within the binary genders (woman or man). Some non-binary people may identify with a binary gender, or both, but some may not identify with a binary gender at all. While the term included under the transgender umbrella, not all people who are non-binary identify as trans. Agender, bigender, demigender, and genderfluid identities are included as being non-binary.
Famous non-binary people include – Demi Lovato, Indya Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Jonathan Van Ness.
Queer refers to people who fall outside of and/or reject the societal norms surrounding sexuality and gender. It is not just an identity but is a movement too which focuses on anti-conformity and the rejection of binaries. Many people use it as an umbrella term for the entire LGBT+ community but not everyone identifies as queer in the community.
Famous queer people include – while there isn’t a fixed type of person who can identify as queer, Dove Cameron identifies as queer, along with Barbie Ferreira also identifying as such.
Someone who is asexual does not feel sexual attraction to anyone. This is in comparison to allosexual people who are involuntarily sexually attracted to others. People who are asexual may not want to have sex and may not experience libido. Asexual people may still partake in sex through their own choice. Asexuality also covers a spectrum of people, including demisexual people. Demisexuality refers to people who do not experience sexual attraction until they have formed a deep (often romantic) connection with someone. People on the asexual spectrum can still experience romantic desire.
Famous asexual people include – Tim Gunn, Emilie Autumn, Sriti Jha.
Genderqueer refers to someone who feels as though they have a queer experience with their gender. It is for anyone whose gender does not fit the normalised ideals of gender or gender performance. Often non-binary can be used to describe genderqueer people, but cisgender people can also be genderqueer if they have a non-normative experience with their gender.
Famous genderqueer people include – Courtney Act, Jacob Tobia, Richard O’Brien.
Pansexuality is the attraction to people no matter their gender. Someone who is pansexual is attracted to all genders. The term differs slightly from bisexuality as not all bisexual people are attracted to all genders.
Famous pansexual people include – Miley Cyrus, Yungblud, Jojo Siwa, Rina Sawayama.
Agender refers to someone who entirely lacks a gender. Agender people may use pronouns, or no pronouns at all.
Famous agender people include – Angel Haze, SJ Miller.
Intersex people are individuals who have biological traits that do not match the features in binary male or female bodies. There are many different intersex chromosome types, including XXY chromosomes and XXX chromosomes. Intersex itself is not a deciding factor on a gender or a sexuality. Some intersex people do not like to be associated with LGBT+ but we have included it on this list as intersex diverges from the normalised representation of gender and sex.
Famous intersex people include – Caster Semenya, Caroline Cossey, Lili Elbe.
This is the aromantic flag
Romantic identities are the representations of romantic attraction, and they are not inherently LGBT+ as heterosexual people can be heteroromantic. Aromantic refers to people who do not experience romantic attraction to others, whereas all romantics experience romantic attraction. Romantic attraction (or lack of) does not equal sexual attraction. For example, someone who is bisexual may be panromantic, and someone who is a lesbian may be biromantic.
There are also a collection of regionally specific gender identities that are informed by culture, religion, and society. These identities are often widely recognised and understood as normative categories by the societies that they exist within. Many of the following identities have some degree of legal recognition in the areas they are indigenous to. This diversity also serves to show the fact that gender is a social construct and is different depending upon the context of a culture.
Two-Spirit is a broad category for people of Indigenous American backgrounds who exist outside of the Western-Eurocentric gender binary. Two-Spirit people’s identities can differ greatly from one ethnic group to another but generally encompass people who identify as a third, or even fourth gender. Before the occupation of the Americas by Europeans there were widespread gender divergent identities that existed across Native cultures and communities.
Famous Two-Spirit people include – Ilona Verley, Storme Webber, Susan Allen
Hijra are people who identify as Third gender from the Indian subcontinent. The concept has its origins in Hinduism where the Hijra are considered to be sacred beings blessed by Lord Rama. Hijra were marginalised by the British who attempted to eradicate the community but they persisted and are legally recognised in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Hijra typically are people assigned male at birth who later identify as feminine and present in a feminine way, but there are some cases of people who have been assigned female at birth who instead present and behave in a masculine form. I (Adam Saraswati) identify as Hijra.
Famous Hijras include – Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Anjali Ameer, Kalki Subramaniam
The Fa’afafine are a community of non-binary people in from Samoa and in the Samoan diaspora. It is a recognised traditional gender identity in Samoan culture and has an integral role in their society. Fa’afafine are assigned male at birth and embody both masculine and feminine gender traits in a uniquely Polynesian way. Their outward appearance and mannerisms can range from very feminine to conventionally masculine.
Famous Fa’afafine include – Marion Malena, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Amao Leota Lu
Kathoeys are an indigenous community of transgender women from South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Their identity is inherently connected to Theravada Buddhism. They are often given the derogatory label of ‘ladyboys’ in the Western world. Kathoeys may be considered transwomen in the West but in Thailand most people, including the community themselves, view the Kathoey as a separate gender identity. Some people also consider effeminate gay men to belong to the Kathoey category.
Famous Kathoey include – Venus Flytrap (all kathoey music group), Kevin Ballot, Nong Tum
The Burrnesha are a community of people assigned female at birth from Armenia, Kosovo, and Serbia as well as elsewhere across the Balkans who decide to make a sworn promise to remain virgins and then live their lives out as men, wearing male clothing, using male pronouns, and living lives normally in relative solitude. The Burrnesha are a dwindling community with an estimated 102 remaining in Albania today.