Mardi Gras cheat sheet: What all the terms mean (and how to use them).

With one week to the 2016 Mardi Gras, it’s time to sit the test: how well versed are you in the LGBTIAP vernacular?

Spoiler alert: if you’re not even sure what ‘LGBTIAP’ means, it’s a sign to read on.

It has been spectacular to watch in recent years as our non-straight community has expanded our language of ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ to encompass the myriads of subsets; including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, transgender and so many more.

So leading into the 2016 Mardi Gras festival, so you can  show your support for the community, we’ve decoded some of the terms you might be hearing.

'Dykes on Bikes' (DOB) take part during the Sydney's annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras night parade on March 1, 2013. Some 10,000 revellers on 144 individual floats marked the journey down Oxford Street, hub of Sydney's gay and lesbian nightlife, in a vibrant show featuring drag queens, political parodies and plenty of glitter. AFP PHOTO / SAEED KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Image via Getty.


These are the most common abbreviations you will encounter when referring to the non-straight community. They stand for:

Lesbian – A lesbian is a person who self-describes as a woman and who has experiences of romantic, sexual, and/or affectional attraction solely or primarily to other people who self-describe as women.

Gay – A gay man is a person who self-describes as a man and who has experiences of romantic, sexual and/or affectional attraction solely or primarily to other people who self-describe as men.

Bisexual – A bisexual person is a person of any gender who has romantic and/or sexual relationships with and/or is attracted to people from more than one gender. Some people who fit this description prefer the terms ‘queer’ or ‘pansexual’, in recognition of more than two genders. Although ‘bi-‘ technically refers to two, it is often used by people who have relationships with and/or attractions for people of more genders than just women or men.

Transgender – Trans and Transgender are umbrella terms often used to describe people who were assigned a sex at birth that they do not feel reflects how they understand their gender identity, expression, or behaviour. Most people of trans experience live and identify simply as women or men; most do not have ‘a trans identity’. In addition to women and men of trans experience, some people do identify their gender as trans or as a gender other than woman or man. People from Aboriginal/Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities may use sistergirl or brotherboy. People from societies around the world with more than two traditional genders use culturally specific language.


Intersex – A person with an intersex characteristic is a person born with physical characteristics that differ from modern medical norms about strictly ‘female’ and strictly ‘male’ bodies. Intersex is not about gender, but about innate physical variations. Most people with intersex characteristics describe their gender as simple women or men, not as a ‘third gender’.


Someone who does not experience sexual desire for people of any gender. Some asexual people desire romantic relationships, while others do not.

Pansexual and pan gender

Refers to people who identify and/or express the many shades of gender. Multi-gender and omni-gender are other terms that may be used. Also people not limited in their sexual choice in regard to biological sex or gender.

It’s a big family. You might hear people refer to LGBTIAAQQPP+ – which also includes people who identify as Androgynous, Queer (which can be an over-arching term, or a term embraced by people who feel like they don’t fit squarely into any category), Questioning, and Polyamourous. There’s a place for everyone.

Some other terminology you may hear at Mardi Gras:


In male gay culture, a bear is often a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity.


A “beard” is a person of the opposite sex who marries or dates a closeted lesbian or gay person to cover up their homosexuality.


Most commonly this word is to be used for a masculine lesbian. However, ‘Butch’ is also a word that some queer people use to describe gender expression and/or social and relationship roles that are perceived by many as being masculine.

Did you catch the amazing new GAYNZ Oxford Street branch of ANZ? Watch below.

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The process of acknowledging one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity to other people. For most LGBT people this is a life-long process.



Refers to people who wear clothing traditionally associated with a different gender to that which with they identify with. Some prefer to cross-dress privately, while others cross-dress publicly all or part of the time. Cross-dressers may or may not have a gender identity related to the clothing they are wearing. Some cross-dressers identify trans* while others do not. ‘Cross-dresser’ has generally replaced the term ‘transvestite’.


Doms (‘Dominants’) and Subs (‘Submissives’) is a set of behaviors, customs, and rituals involving the submission of one person to another in an erotic episode or lifestyle. It is a subset of BDSM.

Physical contact is not a necessity, and D/S can even be conducted anonymously over the telephone, email, or other messaging systems. In other cases, it can be intensely physical, sometimes crossing into sadomasochism.


A performer who dresses as the opposite sex, usually for shows that involve singing and dancing. Not to be confused with transgender: whilst these people may be homosexual, they don’t necessarily feel that they associate with the opposite sex.


Unlike our biological sex—which is assigned at birth and based on physical characteristics—gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt sense of being male or female (sometimes even both or neither).

While it is most common for a person’s gender identity to align with their biological sex, this is not always the case. A person’s gender identity can be different from their biological sex.


Also called a ‘femme’, these women are lesbians who dress in a highly feminine fashion.


An acronym for Queer People Of Colour. Another term used is QTIPOC (Queer, Transgender, and Intersex People of Colour). Queer people of colour often experience intersecting oppression on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other factors.


An attractive, boyish-looking, young gay man. (Note: This term is commonly associated with a derogatory use, so for goodness sake – don’t go flinging it about.)

And remember, if you’re ever unsure what to call a friend who identifies as part of the LGBTI community, just ask.

It’s better to be informed than accidentally offensive. Happy Mardi Gras, beautiful people!

Visit the official website for the 2016 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, here.

Thank you to the following websites for providing the above definitions…and helping us to get our wording on fleek.

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