LGBTQ+ in Any Language

You’ve got vocabulary lists for food, directions, and family members, but do you know how to talk about all things LGBTQ+ in your target language?

Well, there’s no better time to learn than during Pride month!

Pride is great for both celebrating and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, but it also reminds us to take a look at how language continues to evolve to more fully describe the human experience. From the issue of gender neutral language, which can pose a problem for naturally gendered languages, to the need to find non-derogatory terms, and even to the need for linguistic secrecy, language learners might wonder how to accurately express the gay side of life in their target language.

So, if you’re here, if you’re queer, or if you just want everyone to love each other already, check out this list to help you show all those beautiful rainbow colors in a few different languages.

Spanish

  • Gay
  • Lesbiana
  • Bisexuel
  • Transgénero/ Trans
  • Asexuales
  • Cuestionante
  • Intersexual
  • Mi pareja (gender neutral partner)
  • Mi cónyuge (gender neutral spouse)

Most of these terms sound like the English equivalent. So, what about all of those slang terms Spanish LGBTQ+ communities might use?

That’s a bit trickier.

Spanish is spoken in a lot of different places, which means there are a quite a few regional differences that don’t translate well in other countries. Gay slang makes it even riskier since non-native speakers won’t necessarily know which words have negative connotations and which words are being reclaimed from previous slurs.

However, you might be happy to use reina to describe a queen or you could tease your especially outlandish friend with the term loca once in a while.

French

  • Gai(e)/homosexuel(le) (male or female)
  • Lesbienne
  • Bisexuel(le)
  • Trans, transgenre, transsexuel
  • Queer
  • Asexuel(le)
  • Intersexe
  • Famille homoparentale/ lesboparentale

Once again, a lot of English terms have been adopted here. Though I did enjoy stumbling across the famille homoparentale/ lesboparentale term to describe same-sex parents in Canada.

In France, marriage equality became a reality in 2013 and homosexuality has been legal since the French revolution, but there are other challenges for the French LGBTQ+ community. There are issues with assisted reproduction for those in non-heterosexual relationships and there is little representation for people of color.

Italian

  • Gay
  • Lesbica
  • Bisessuale/Bisessuali
  • Transgender
  • Pansessuale
  • Queer
  • Intersessuale

Due to it’s religious connections, Italy is one of a few European countries that does not allow same-sex marriage (though it does allow civil unions).

So, I was especially intrigued when I stumbled across Polari, a secret language with roots in Italian, Yiddish, and various slang and backslang that was widely used in Britain during a time when homosexuality was illegal. Even though it lost its popularity long ago, you can still find its influence in words like camp.

German

  • Schwul (male)
  • Lesbisch
  • Bisexuell
  • der Transgender
  • die Transsexuelle/ der Transsexuelle
  • Pansexuell
  • Asexuell
  • Queer
  • Intersexuel

You’ll notice that the German word for gay is quite different, while many of the other words seem to be adopted from English, like before. Interestingly enough, lesbians simply aren’t as well represented as gay males in Germany.

Japanese

  • ゲイ (gay)
  • レズビアン (lesbian)
  • バイセクシャル (bisexual)
  • トランスジェンダー (transgender)
  • 性同一性障害者 (せいどういつせいしょうがいしゃ)

I’d like to point out here that this specific reference to transgender basically says “person with gender identity disorder”. Within the LGBTQ+ community, you might also find a transgender person refer to themselves specifically as FTM/MTF in Japanese.

Interestingly enough, characterizing transgender people based on gender identity disorder can sometimes lead to more acceptance in Japan. As long as the transgender person transitions and otherwise presents as “normal” to society, it’s less of a problem.

  • クイア (queer)
  • アセクシュアル  (aromantic asexual)
  • ノンセクシュアル (asexual – does experience romantic attraction)

Japan doesn’t have the same kind of LGBTQ+ phobia that shows up in countries with a more religious foundation, but the cultural tendency for outward self-expression that we have in the West isn’t the same. This means gay culture isn’t as well known, but acceptance into mainstream culture is happening.

I’ve also tried to keep negative terms off of this list since I’m not a native speaker of these languages. However, I would like to note that you might see sexual minorities referred to as オネエ (onee) in the media. It’s not a term you’d want to describe yourself with as it’s associated with outlandish male TV personalities. Lesbians aren’t really represented and are often perceived as worse than gay males since they’re acting against patriarchal norms.

If you’re interested in more of these, I came across someone who gathered a glossary of terms that’s available as an e-book.

Chinese (Mandarin)

  • 同志 (tongzhi) (gender neutral term for LGBTQ, member of the community)

This word literally translates to comrade, but was adopted by the LGBTQ community in the 80s. Apparently, this caused some trouble when they tried to bring the term back into traditional use.

  • 酷儿 (queer)
  • 给 (gay)
  • 拉拉 (lala) (lesbian, bisexual woman)
  • 變性人 (transgender)
  • 無性戀者 (asexual)
  • 雙性人 (intersex)

It’s also possible to simply write the English word gay and it will be usually be understood.

Homosexuality is still taboo in China, which means the language used about it in mainstream media is either non-existent or primarily negative. In fact a large social media company in China recently tried to censor gay content. Though, it reversed it’s course after public outcry.

Swahili

  • Kuchu (term of Swahili origin used in Uganda to self-identify LGBTI individuals)
  • Shoga (gay man)

Swahili is mostly spoken in East Africa, but there are over a dozen African countries where English is an official language, so you can certainly rely on the English terms as well. Unfortunately, there are quite a few places where you might not want to make it public knowledge.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in countries like Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. It can mean extremely lengthy prison terms or even death in some countries.

I limited my search to Swahili, which didn’t have nearly as many positive LGBTQ+ terms as the other languages I looked into. Though, there might be a variety of reasons behind this, it’s important to see how a lack of non-derogatory terms can pose problems for both native speakers and language learners.

As a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies as well as language learners, I think Pride month is a perfect time to reflect not only on how we celebrate our identities with language, but also how much we need positive words to help us in places where it’s dangerous to identify outside of sexual and gender norms.

There are lot of languages in the word and I couldn’t feasibly cover all of them. So, if I’ve missed something or if you’d like to share some helpful words in your own native or target language, please feel free to share in the comments!

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