LGBTQ Terms Every Nurse Should Know

Rainbow flag proudly waving

As a gay male and nurse, I believe it’s important for nurses to understand these terms in order to properly care for the LGBTQ population. This community still faces many challenges with health disparities and discrimination which can make them skeptical about being open with their healthcare provider(s).

A survey by Lambda Legal revealed that 56% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents had experienced serious discrimination in healthcare, while 70% of transgender respondents had experienced serious discrimination.

Some nurses may avoid talking about sexuality and gender expression with patients because they don’t want to say the wrong thing.  Unfortunately, this can put a wall between the patient and nurse and can hinder appropriate assessment and care of the patient. To build a therapeutic relationship it’s important to understand the following terms to make conversations with your LGBTQ patients more comfortable. 

Androgynous– Identifying and/or presenting as neither distinguishably masculine or feminine

Asexual- The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people

Bisexual– a person emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity though not necessarily, simultaneously, in the same way or same degree.

Gay– A person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to members of the same gender

Gender dysphoria – Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term – which replaces Gender Identity Disorder – “is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.”

Gender expression– External appearance of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut, or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.

Gender identity– One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither- how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender transition– The process by which some people strive to more closely align their internal knowledge of gender with its outward appearance. Some people socially transition, whereby they might begin dressing, using names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Others undergo physical transitions in which they modify their bodies through medical interventions.

Lesbian– A woman who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to women.

Queer– A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with “LGTBQ.”

Questioning– A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender– An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

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