Terminology of homosexuality

The terminology of homosexuality has been a contentious issue since the emergence of homosexual social movements in the mid-19th century. As with racial terms within the United States – such as negro, black, colored, and African American – the choice of terms regarding sexual orientation may imply a certain political outlook, and different terms have been preferred at different times and in different places. In the English language, some terms in widespread use have been sodomite, pederast, Sapphic, Uranian, homophile, lesbian, gay, queer, LGBT, Two-Spirit, and same-sex attracted. Some of these words are specific to women, some to men, and some can be used of either; this too changes over time.

Not all of the terms that have been used to describe same-sex sexuality are synonyms for the modern term homosexuality. The word homosexual itself had different connotations for those who used it 100 years ago to what it does today; Anna Rüling, one of the first homosexual women to publicly defend homosexual rights, considered homosexual people a third gender, different from both men and women. Terms such as gynephilia and androphilia have tried to simplify the language of sexual orientation by making no claim about the individual's own gender identity.

In addition to the stigma of social disadvantage, the terminology of homosexuality has been influenced by taboos around sex in general, producing a number of euphemisms; someone may be described as "that way", "a bit funny", "on the bus", "batting for our team", "a friend of Dorothy", or "wearing comfortable shoes" (for women), although such euphemisms are becoming less common as homosexuality becomes more visible. Within homosexual/transgender communities, complex vocabularies for a range of topics have developed (see gay slang). The most established, sometimes known as cants, include Polari in Britain, Swardspeak in the Philippines, Bahasa gay in Indonesia and Kaliardá in Greece.

Currently prescribed usage

The term homosexual can be used as an adjective to describe the sexual attractions and behaviors of same-sex oriented persons. Some argue that the use of homosexual as a noun is offensive, arguing that homosexual people are people first, homosexual being merely an attribute of their humanity. Also, some recommend that the terms homosexual and homosexuality be avoided altogether, lest their use cause confusion or arouse controversy. In particular the description of individuals as homosexual may be offensive, partially because of the negative clinical association of the word stemming from its use in describing same-sex attraction as a pathological state before homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders in 1973. Even as late as the 1990s, the "Read code" system, used by the National Health Service in Great Britain, classed male homosexuality and lesbianism under mental disorders, as conditions E2200 and E2201 respectively, although this system has since been replaced. The use of the word homosexual in describing individuals and same-sex relationships may also be inaccurate, as people involved in such relationships may identify as bisexual, pansexual, or another orientation.

Same-sex oriented people seldom apply these terms to themselves, and public officials and agencies often avoid them. For instance, the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington's Glossary for School Employees advises that gay is the "preferred synonym for homosexual", and goes on to advise avoiding the term homosexual as it is "clinical, distancing and archaic":

Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adjective). When referring to people, as opposed to behavior, 'homosexual' is considered derogatory and the terms 'gay' and 'lesbian' are preferred. Homosexual places emphasis on sexuality and is to be avoided when describing a person. 'Gay' man or lesbian are the preferred nouns which stress cultural and social matters over sex.

The Guardian Style Guide, Newswatch Diversity Style Guide, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concern of the American Psychological Association's Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language agree that "gay" is the preferred term.

Likewise, the use of homosexuality to describe human sexual behaviors between people of the same sex may be inaccurate, although it is not perceived as being as offensive as homosexual.

People with a same-gender sexual orientation generally prefer the terms gay, lesbian and bisexual. Lesbian refers specifically to women; gay can apply to both men and women, although unqualified usage would more often be referring to men. Other terms include same-gender-loving and same-sex-oriented.

Among some sectors of black homosexual sub-culture, same-gender sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure instead of romantic. Men on the down-low (or DL) may engage in regular (although often covert) sex acts with other men while pursuing sexual and romantic relationships with women.

History of homosexual terminology

Early history

Poststructuralist theorist Michel Foucault has argued that homosexual and heterosexual identities didn't emerge until the 19th century; before that time terms described practices and not identity. Foucault cites "Westphal's famous article of 1870 on 'contrary sexual sensations'" as the "date of birth" of the categorization of the homosexual (Foucault 1976).

In his Symposium. the ancient Greek philosopher Plato described (through the character of the profane comedian Aristophanes) three sexual orientations, and provided explanations for their existence using an invented creation myth. Aristophanes' fable is only one of many perspectives on love in the Symposium, and should not be considered identical with Plato's own ideas. Most of the Symposium's speeches are intended to be flawed in different ways, with the wise Socrates coming in at the end to correct their errors.


Although this term refers to a specific sex act between women today, in the past it was commonly used to describe female-female sexual love in general, and women who had sex with women were called Tribads or Tribades. As author Rictor Norton explains:

The tribas, lesbian, from Greek tribein, to rub (i.e. rubbing the pudenda together, or clitoris upon pubic bone, etc.), appears in Greek and Latin satires from the late first century. The tribade was the most common (vulgar) lesbian in European texts for many centuries. ‘Tribade’ occurs in English texts from at least as early as 1601 to at least as late as the mid-nineteenth century before it became self-consciously old-fashioned – it was in current use for nearly three centuries.

Fricatrice, a synonym for tribade that also refers to rubbing but has a Latin rather than a Greek root, appeared in English as early as 1605 (in Ben Jonson's Volpone). Its usage suggests that it was more colloquial and more pejorative than tribade. Variants include the Latinized confricatrice and English rubster.


Though sodomy has been used to refer to a range of homosexual and heterosexual "unnatural acts", the term sodomite usually refers to a homosexual male. The term is derived from the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Christian churches have referred to the crimen sodomitae (crime of the Sodomites) for centuries; the modern association with homosexuality can be found as early as AD 96 in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. Jerome in the early 5th century uses the forms Sodoman, in Sodomis, Sodomorum, Sodomæ, Sodomitæ (Hallam 1993). The modern German word Sodomie and the Norwegian sodomi refer to bestiality.


Lesbian writer Emma Donoghue found that the term lesbian (with its modern meaning) was in use in the English language from at least the 17th century. A 1732 book by William King, The Toast, uses "lesbian loves" and "tribadism" interchangeably : "she loved Women in the same Manner as Men love them; she was a Tribad".


Named after the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island and wrote love poems to women, this term has been in use since at least the 18th century, with the connotation of lesbian. In 1773, a London magazine described sex between women as "Sapphic passion". The adjective form Sapphic is still commonly used in the English language.

Molly and tommy

In 18th century England, the term molly was used for male homosexuals; it implied effeminacy. Tommy, a slang term for a homosexual woman in use by 1781, may have been coined by analogy with molly.


Today, pederasty refers specifically to the sexual orientation of an adult male towards male youths, or the cultural institutions that support such relations, as in ancient Greece. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the term usually referred to male homosexuality in general. A pederast was also the active partner in anal sex, whether with a male or a female partner.


Very similar in meaning (though not derivation) to sodomy, the term buggery often implies anal sex, but has been used to describe a range of "unnatural sex acts", including bestiality. Derived from the French word Bougrerie, which in turn came from the medieval Latin term bulgarus, meaning "Bulgarian". The association was inferred by the Roman Catholic Church, who supposed the sex lives of the "heretical" Cathars of southern France were similar to the Bogomils in Bulgaria. Cognates include the Spanish bugarrón, the Italian buggerone, and the German puseran(t), a word which survives in Eastern Europe.


Karl Heinrich Ulrichs invented the term Urning in Germany in the 1860s for a male-bodied person with a female psyche, who is sexually attracted to men and not women. He expanded this system to cover a range of sexual appetites and gender variance in both males and females.


The word homosexual translates literally as "of the same sex", being a hybrid of the Greek prefix homo- meaning "same" (as distinguished from the Latin root homo meaning human) and the Latin root sex meaning "sex". In Sanskrit homosexual is called somo-kaami or sama-kaami. In Sanskrit, the prefix somo- means "same" and Kaami means "who desires the same sex".

The first known appearance of the term homosexual in print is found in a 1869 German pamphlet 143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs und seine Aufrechterhaltung als 152 des Entwurfs eines Strafgesetzbuchs für den Norddeutschen Bund ("Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code and Its Maintenance as Paragraph 152 of the Draft of a Penal Code for the North German Confederation"). The pamphlet was written by Karl-Maria Kertbeny, but published anonymously. The pamphlet advocated the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws (Bullough et al. ed. (1996)). Kertbeny had previously used the word in a private letter written in 1868 to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Kertbeny used Homosexualität in place of Ulrichs's Urningtum; Homosexualisten instead of Urninge, and Homosexualistinnen instead of Urninden.

The first known use of homosexual in English is in Charles Gilbert Chaddock's 1895 translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, a study on sexual practices. The term was popularized by the 1906 Harden-Eulenburg Affair.

Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-gender context (such as an all-girls' school), today the term implies a sexual aspect. The term homosocial is now used to describe single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual.

Homogenic love

Used by Edward Carpenter in Homogenic Love: and its Place in a Free Society, 1894.

Other late 19th and early 20th century sexological terms

  • Antipathic sexual instinct (used by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in "Psychopathia Sexualis, with Special Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study", 1886).
  • Sexual inversion (used by Krafft-Ebing and also Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds in "Sexual Inversion", 1897. Popularised by Radclyffe Hall's use of it in her novel The Well of Loneliness.)
  • Psychosexual hermaphroditism (used by Krafft-Ebing and later Ellis to mean bisexuality, as opposed to complete inversion (exclusive homosexuality). Freud uses the term in "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" (1905) to refer to male homosexuality.)
  • The intermediate sex (used by Edward Carpenter in "The Intermediate Sex", 1908)
  • Similisexualism or similsexualism (used by Edward Irenaeus Prime-Stevenson [writing as Xavier Mayne] in "The Intersexes: A History of Similisexualism as a Problem in Social Life", 1908)
  • Third gender
  • Intersexuality (used around 1900 as a synonym for "inversion"; the term now has a different meaning — see intersexuality)
  • Hijra

These terms describe individuals for whom the sex of the psyche is the opposite of that of the genitals (as with Ulrich's Urnings). The female invert is therefore masculine and the male invert is feminine. Traits of inversion include homosexual erotic attraction, temperament, and behavior; sometimes inversion can affect career choice and even anatomic structure. Krafft-Ebing, drawing on the earlier writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, described male inverts with varying degrees of effeminacy, from Effemination in which a man has a distinctly feminine demeanor, to Androgyny in which a man is so effeminate that he can even has feminine bodily characteristics like rounded hips.


Popular in the 1950s and 1960s (and still in occasional use today, particularly in writing by Anglican clergy), the term homophile was an attempt to avoid the clinical implications of sexual pathology found with the word homosexual, emphasizing love (-phile) instead.


In the late twentieth century, this word was coined by Christian groups opposed to homosexuality. In contrast to homophile, the word focuses solely on the sexual acts which some churches believe to be sinful, side-stepping the associated issues of romantic or family love, community, and personal identity. The term's use remains confined mostly to anti-gay religious groups, but it is occasionally seen in the writings of their opponents, such as DignityUSA.

Androtrop and Gynäkotropin

From 1946 to 1966, homosexual activist Kurt Hiller published a number of poems and articles in Swiss journal Der Kreis ("The Circle"). In one of them he joined the ongoing debate on terminology by suggesting the terms Androtrop and Gynäkotropin for male and female homosexuals, respectively. Hiller coined these German terms from the Greek words tropos (turning [to]) combined with "andro-" (male) and "gynaiko-" (female), with the addition of the German feminine ending "in". Neither term was adopted, though the first briefly gained some favor.




Slang or pejorative terms

See also Gay slang.
Many of the following terms are considered acceptable in a casual register when used by members within LGBT communities and their allies like family and friends, but are considered pejorative or inappropriate when used in formal contexts or by outsiders. Many also imply masculinity in women (e.g. "bull dyke") or effeminacy in men (e.g. "fairy").



  • Dyke (variations: bull dyke, bull dagger (alternatively bulldagger, bulldicker, bodaggle) from 1920s black American slang.
  • Bean flicker- "Likening the clitoris to a bean"
  • Butch, butch-broad
  • Carpet muncher (or rug muncher)
  • Angry lesbian: addresses the common stereotype of homosexual women being moody and unhappy, but does not strictly denote one's sexuality (angry lesbian can describe anyone in a foul mood, which only serves as a further way of 'putting down' homosexuals, e.g. using 'gay' as a synonym for 'stupid.')
  • Diesel dyke
  • Drag dyke
  • Muff Diver
  • Kitty puncher or pussy puncher with both kitty and pussy referring to a woman's vagina and puncher a variation on various derogatory terms for gay men like donut puncher et al
  • Lezzie/Lesbo/Leso (also lezzer/lesser) (abbreviation for lesbian)
  • The Game of Flats (an 18th century English term for sex between women)
  • Todger dodger, todger meaning penis


  • Anal assassin (U.K) or anal astronaut
  • Ass Bandit or arse bandit
  • Back door bandit
  • Backgammon player (late 18th century Britain)
  • Batty boy (alternatively botty boy)
  • Bender
  • Bent, bentshot or bender
  • Bone smuggler or sausage smuggler
  • Brownie king or brown piper
  • Bufter or booty buffer
  • Bum bandit
  • Bum boy or bum chum, also bum robber
  • Bumhole engineer
  • Butt pirate, butt rider or butt rustler
  • Charlie (rhyme slang for Charlie Ronce which rhymes with ponce)
  • Chi chi man (Jamaica and the Caribbean)
  • Chutney ferret
  • Cock jockey
  • Cock knocker, cockknocker and cocknocker
  • Cockpipe cosmonaut
  • Corn holer
  • Donut puncher (or Doughnut puncher)
  • Faggot (variation: fag) (U.S., recorded from 1914)
  • Fairy (common and acceptable for part of the 20th century)
  • Flit
  • Fruit (also fruit loop, fruit packer, butt fruit)
  • Fudge packer and fudge nudger
  • Gentleman of the back door (late 18th century Britain)
  • Harry hoofter, rhyme slang of poofter
  • Iron (hoof) or iron hoofter (rhyme slang for poof)
  • Jobby jabber (mainly Scottish with jobby referring to excrement)
  • Knob jockey
  • Limp wristed
  • Marmite miner
  • Nancy or nancy boy, girlyboy or nellie
  • Oklahomo
  • Pansy
  • Pillow biter or mattress muncher, referring to anal sex when one partner is face-down often into a pillow
  • Poo pusher, poo pirate, or chocolate puncher with variations on each
  • Poop pilferer, sometimes referred to as a fanny bandit
  • Poof (variations include: poofter, pouf, poove, pooftah, pooff, puff) (U.K, Australia and New Zealand)
  • Queen, princess and variations

* Bean queen (also taco queen or Salsa queen), gay men attracted to Hispanic gay men
* Chicken queen, older gay men interested in younger or younger appearing men.
* Curry queen, gay men attracted to Asian gay men
* Dinge queen, gay men attracted to black gay men (offensive use of "dinge" meaning black)
* Drag queen, gay men into fashion or cross-dressing
* Drama queen, gay men given to melodramatics
* Gym queen, gay men given to athletic development
* Pissy queen, gay men perceived as fussy
* Rice queen, gay men into Asian gay men
* Rim queen, gay men into anal-oral sex
* Scat queen, gay men into coprophilia

  • Ring raiderRump Roaster
  • Sausage jockey (U.K)
  • Shirt lifter
  • Shit stabber
  • Turd burglar
  • Turner – another pejorative term, which has fallen out of use since the 1930s. There are two theories as to the origins of this slang word for homosexual: 1. Late 19th century east London slang in homosexual circles, signifying an ostensibly heterosexual young man who may be induced to experiment with homoeroticism and ultimately to "turn" (i.e., to become a fully-fledged practicing homosexual). A more discreet version of the slang pejorative bender, signifying a homosexual male. Turn here signifies "turning around", or "turning one’s back" in order to receive phallic penetration.
  • Twink
  • Uphill gardener, referring to the logistics of anal intercourse
  • Upstairs gardner, referring to the logistics of anal intercourse
  • Woolly, woofter and woolie woofter, a character from an Evening Standard cartoon and rhyming slang for poofterBoth:
  • Kamp/Camp
  • Ginger beer (rhyme slang for queer)
  • Homo (abbreviation for homosexual)
  • Queer



  • Lesbe - As a noun, meaning "lesbian". The related adjective is "lesbisch"
  • Lesbierin (obsolete)
  • Sapphistin (obsolete) - referring to Sappho
  • Homosexuelle - As a noun (in the nominative case), meaning "homosexual". The related adjective is "homosexuell".Male:
  • Warmer Bruder (moderately pejorative) - meaning "warm brother"
  • Schwuler - As a noun, related to the adjective "schwül" (meaning "sultry"), usually translated as "gay". The related adjective is "schwul"
  • Schwuchtel (pejorative)
  • Homosexueller - As a noun (in the nominative case), meaning "homosexual". The related adjective is "homosexuell".



  • Femme Damnée - literally, "damned woman." Not in usage today, this term is found in several works of French literature of the late 19th and early 20th century, including the poem by Charles Baudelaire
  • Gouine
  • Goudou, gousse
  • Boutch
  • Camionneuse (means "woman truck driver")Male:
  • La jaquette (être de)
  • La paroisse (être de)
  • Inverti (old)
  • Pédé, or PD - a shortened form of "pédéraste"
  • Pédale
  • Tapette
  • Lopette
  • Tafiole
  • Tante
  • Tantouze
  • Tapiole
  • Tarlouze
  • (grande) Folle
  • Fife (Quebec)
  • A voile et à vapeur (marcher) (=bisexual)



  • Lésbica, Gay, Safista, Amante de Sapho, Tríbade - neutral
  • Sapatão, sapatona, sapata, botinão, número 43, bico largo 42 (Brazil) - huge manly shoes, manly boots
  • Mulé-macho, Machona (Brazil)
  • Cola-Velcro(Brazil)
  • Bate-Biscoito, Bolacha
  • Fufa (Portugal)
  • Caminhoneira (Brazil) truck dyke
  • Motolesbo, motor-lésbica (Brazil) dyke on byke
  • Virago (Brazil, Portugal)Male:
  • Gay, Amante Socrático, Homo, Alegre - neutral
  • Pederasta, Paiderastes, Uranista
  • Sodomita - old-fashioned
  • Invertido - old-fashioned
  • Paneleiro, panelas (Portugal)
  • Maricas, mariquinha (mostly Portugal) - pussy, pansy; from Ancient Greek "Marikas", an Eupolis comedy
  • Larilas (Portugal)
  • Lele (Portugal)
  • Rabeta/e, rabicó (Portugal)
  • Panasca (Portugal)
  • Bicha, bichete (Brazil, Portugal) - a mammal's female, fag
  • Biba (Brazil)
  • Boiola (mostly Brazil, Portugal) used to designate delicate little boys, young lads working in theatrical sketches and musicals in the late 19th and early 20th century
  • Veado, viado, veadinho (Brazil) - deer = gay male, a twinky bottom
  • Queima-rosca (Brazil) - bottom, passive role
  • Efebo, efebinho, ephebus - ephebe, from Ancient Rome and Greece, a twinky, diminutive of ephebus = a twinky bottom
  • Pedé, Pedê - a twinky
  • Trinca-rin (Brazil)
  • Mocinha (Brazil)
  • Barbie de academia, bofe-Ken (Brazil) - Gym queen, gay gym rat, gay men given to athletic development
  • Fruta, frutinha (Brazil) - fruit
  • Baitola (Brazil)
  • Bambi (Brazil) - Disney's character; a deer = gay male, a twinky bottom
  • Florzinha, Violetinha, Fresquinho, Frouxinho, Almofadinha, Fadinha - pansy, sissy, fairy
  • Morde-fronha (Brazil) - pillowcase biter
  • Totalflex, Bi (Brazil) - from hybrid car, bisexual or a versatile gay person
  • Boquete, boqueteiro, chupeteiro, chupador, xupa-rola / lambe-bola, lambe-saco - header, cocksucker / balllicker


Most of the following words have a highly pejorative description. However, some may be used by Spanish-speaking gays as a sign of pride.Female:

  • Arepera (Venezuela)
  • Bollo (Spain)
  • Bollera (Spain)
  • Cachapera (Venezuela)
  • Chiluda (Mexico)
  • Machorra (Mexico, Spain)
  • Mal-flor
  • Manflora
  • Marimacho (Spain)
  • Pantalonuda
  • Tortillera (Chile, Mexico, Spain, Argentina)
  • Levi's (lebais) (Mexico)Male:
  • Maricón - common usage
  • Marica (Venezuela, Colombia)
  • Joto (Argentina)
  • Maricona (Spain)
  • Reina (Spain)
  • Reinona (Spain)
  • Pájaro (Argentina)
  • Pato (Venezuela)
  • Puñal (Mexico)
  • Puto (Mexico, Argentina)
  • Quebrado (Argentina)
  • Trolo (Argentina)
  • Pargo (Venezuela)
  • Parcha (Venezuela)
  • Loca (syn. queer, Venezuela)
  • Manflórico (Los Andes, Venezuela)
  • Parguete (Venezuela)
  • Raro (Venezuela)



  • 同志 Tóng Zhì(Tong zjer) Mandarin - "comrade"
  • 基佬 Gēi-lóu (Gay low) Cantonese - "gay guy(dude)"


  • голубóй (goluobóy) - as an adjective, "light blue". Used as a noun it carries the meaning "gay" or "queer", and is usually described as either inoffensive or highly offensive, varying according to the intonation of one's voice and context. However, the term can be, and often is, used by Russian-speaking gays to refer to themselves as an act of reclamation, much like the term fag in English.


  • peder - Male homosexual (from pederasty, today mostly pejorative)
  • seka/sestra - Male homosexual (seka='sis', sestra=sister)
  • gej - gay (the most used word, neutral)

See also


External links

  • "Gay Language Guide" - gay slang in various languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian, Thai

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