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FAQS: September 2014

Basic Information on Sexual Identity and Gender Identity

The terms below refer to commonly used sexual and gender identities. This list is not exhaustive. These terms and identities are constantly being discussed and examined and therefore their meanings and how they are used as identities change over time. Some people may decide not to use any identification, or may choose to move from one identity to another. A number of identities have been excluded from this list because they cannot be translated into English easily. Ultimately, it is important to understand and recognise that there is a range of sexual and gender identities.

  • Asexual: An individual who feels no sexual attraction towards other individuals.


  • Bisexual: An individual who is sexually attracted to people of the same gender and also to people of a gender other than their own.


  • Gay: A man who is sexually attracted to other men and/or identifies as gay.  This term can also be used to describe any person (man or woman) who experiences sexual attraction to people of the same gender.


  • Heterosexual: An individual who is sexually attracted to people of a gender other than their own and/or who identifies as being heterosexual.


  • Heterosexism:  The viewpoint that all people should be heterosexual and the assumption that this is the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ sexual identity people should have. This viewpoint results in bias against other sexual identities.


  • Hijra: A term used in the Indian subcontinent, which includes those who aspire to and/or undergo castration, as well as those who are intersexed (please see definition below). Although some hijras refer to themselves in the feminine, others say they belong to a third gender and are neither men nor women.


  • Homosexual: An individual who is sexually attracted to people of the same gender as their own, and/or who identifies as being homosexual.


  • Homophobia: An intolerance or irrational fear of homosexual people that can manifest itself in discrimination, prejudice, disgust or contempt of homosexual people.


  • Intersex Person: People who, without any medical intervention, develop  primary or secondary sex characteristics that do not fit neatly into society’s definitions of male or female. Hermaphrodite is an outdated and inaccurate term that has been used to describe intersex people in the past.*


  • Kothi: A feminised male identity, which is adopted by some people in the Indian subcontinent and is marked by gender non-conformity. A kothi, though biologically male, adopts feminine modes of dressing, speech and behaviour and looks for a male partner who has a masculine mode of behaviour, speech and attire. Some believe that this is not an identity but a behaviour.


  • Lesbian: A woman who is sexually attracted to other women and/or identifies as a lesbian.


  • Man: A person who identities as a male and may or may not have male genitalia or reproductive organs like a penis or testes.


  • Queer: A person who questions the heterosexual framework. This can include homosexuals, lesbians, gays, intersexed and transgendered people. To some this term is offensive, while other groups and communities have used it as a form of empowerment to assert that they are not heterosexual, are non-conformist, against a dominant heterosexual framework, and dissatisfied with the ‘labels’ used on people who do not identify as heterosexual.


  • Sex reassignment: A complex range of procedures that people undergo to transform from one sex to another. These include hormone therapy, hair transplants or removal, speech therapy and surgeries to change one’s sexual and sometimes reproductive organs.


  • Transgender Person: An individual who does not identify with the gender assigned to them. They may or may not consider themselves a ‘third sex’.  Transgender people can be men who feel, dress, act or behave like women or women who feel, dress, act or behave like men. They do not, however, necessarily identify as homosexual.


  • Transsexual Person: An individual who wants to change from the gender they have been assigned at birth to another gender. Some have surgery, hormonal medication, or other procedures to make these changes.  They may or may not identify as homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. They may be female to male transsexuals, male to female transsexuals or choose not to be identified as either.


  • Transvestite: An individual who dresses in the clothing that is typically worn by people of another gender for purposes of sexual arousal/gratification.  Transvestites are often men who dress in the clothing typically worn by women. They are also known as cross-dressers.


  • Woman: A person who identifies as a female and who may or may not have female genitalia and reproductive organs like breasts, a vagina, and ovaries.