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‘Card’ tricks

Creator of hit Netflix series gearing up for third season



Beau Willimon, gay news, Washington Blade
Beau Willimon, gay news, Washington Blade

Beau Willimon on the set of ‘House of Cards’ with actress Robin Wright. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

‘An Evening With Beau Willimon’

Smithsonian Associates

A discussion with David Carr of the New York Times

National Museum of Natural History

10th and Constitution, N.W.

$30 ($25 for Associates members)

Thursday at 6:45 p.m.

Beau Willimon, the creator/writer/executive producer behind the hit Netflix series “House of Cards” will be in Washington — the show’s setting — next week for an appearance with the New York Times’ David Carr at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

On location in Baltimore where he and the crew are gearing up to film the third season, Willimon took a few minutes to talk about his characters, how far ahead he plans the show and why issues like sexual orientation probably don’t cross the minds of his lead characters, President Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and First Lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). His comments have been slightly edited for length.


WASHINGTON BLADE: You’ve said before the show (entire seasons of which are delivered at one time) works equally as well if somebody wants to “binge watch” or watch an episode at a time. Watching old serials like “Dallas” or “Dynasty” now on DVD, it’s so obvious the producers got a lot of mileage out of making the audience squirm and wait. What impact does the removal of that factor have on the show?

BEAU WILLIMON: The times they are a changing, for sure. But this began quite some time ago. As soon as box sets, DVR and On Demand came out, people began experiencing shows in binge-like fashion even if that term hadn’t yet been coined. I remember watching several seasons of “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood” like that. Even shows that were released week to week, a lot of people like myself and others experienced them several seasons at a time or you might watch a whole season over the course of days instead of weeks. I think those shows absolutely work if you watch them on a binge and Netflix has given people an opportunity to choose for themselves. There’s no requirement to watch them in a binge and a lot of people don’t. It’s just putting the experience in the hand of the viewer from day one.


BLADE: But does the fact that that’s even a possibility affect your pacing?

WILLIMON: No, because it has to be able to work both ways. A good story is a good story. We always thought of the first season as a 13-hour movie more than anything else. We had specific episodes that had a beginning, middle and end, but it’s really more like chapters of a book. If you’re reading a book, nobody tells you how much you should read in any given sitting. So we took that approach and I think it works.


BLADE: How has D.C. been to work with when you need establishing shots and that sort of thing?

WILLIMON: Great. Everyone in the film and television commission in Washington goes out of their way to help us out. There are a lot of security restrictions and rightly so since 9-11. It’s not as easy to film in D.C. as it may have been 20 years ago, but that’s the world we live in.


BLADE: “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner told Rolling Stone recently that he had a 10-minute conversation with Jon Hamm before they started shooting and told him the whole story of Don Draper, how it ends and everything. I’m not asking for specifics, but do you have “House of Cards” that planned out? Do you know how it ends?

WILLIMON: I don’t know if the conversation between Jon and Matthew encapsulated the entire series. Maybe it did. If that’s the case, Matthew had a very grand vision in mind. I always knew where the second season would end and I knew a lot of the big things that would happen along the way. I had conversations with Kevin and Robin and a number of the cast about where their characters were heading and the general direction of the story and where they would end up by the end of season two. I think it’s a good idea to give the actors as much information as possible. And I often made changes to the story based on what I was seeing in front of the camera and due to the fact that sometimes better ideas bubble forth in your head midway through the season. I also rely a lot on the discussions I have with the actors who, at a certain point, start to know the characters as well as the writer does. That dialogue feeds into the scripts we’re working on. Makes them richer, deeper, more complex. So I encourage that sort of collaboration.


BLADE: What would be an ideal number of seasons for you?

WILLIMON: I’m just tackling one season at a time. We’re at a day and age in television where people have come to expect a satisfying conclusion to a series and we definitely will aim for that with “House of Cards.” But as to the exact number of seasons, I don’t know yet.


BLADE: If backed into a corner, do you think Frank or Claire might push each other under the bus? They have an interesting marriage but it seems like self-preservation might trump all.

WILLIMON: You’re very sneaky in trying to get me to talk about upcoming seasons (laughs). One of the first things I established was that I wanted the show to be about marriage as much as anything else. Their marriage is certainly very unconventional. It doesn’t abide by a lot of the rules that a more traditional marriage does, but it works for them and they make each other stronger in the process. They do have their conflicts and they rub each other the wrong way and sometimes they’re a liability to each other, but so far they’ve always found a way around that and come out stronger in the process. As to how it will evolve, there’s only one way to find out.


BLADE: Their three-way with Meechum has generated a lot of fan discussion. What kind of dramatic purpose did it serve that they had a three-way with a man as opposed to a woman?

WILLIMON: Well yeah, sure. I think we should go back to the episode in season one where Frank says it best — I’m paraphrasing — but he essentially says that when he’s attracted to someone or something, he goes for it. He has a large appetite and he isn’t one to traffic in labels. He finds them limiting. A lot of people have asked me if Francis is gay, is he bi, is he pansexual? Is he any number of terms? And I don’t think Francis himself would have much patience for that conversation. His appetite is vast and we see him in all sorts of relationships. Some are purely transactional, some are based on love and respect as his marriage proves, and others are somewhere in between. In terms of the threesome between Claire, Francis and Meechum, what we were going after there was seeing a side of Francis and Claire that we don’t often get to see. They are human begins after all. They have desires and whims just like anyone else and they aren’t just always pure political calculations. Sometimes they have a few drinks and the circumstances might align in a way that the impulses take over. … I don’t think they’d ever be sloppy about it, but because they feel safe with him, that opens up possibilities. And one of the things I’m most proud of is that they don’t make much of a big deal out of it. The next day it’s back to business as usual. … That night was different than other nights, but it doesn’t mean the world was turned upside down and that’s fine. If we had made a big deal out of it, I think it would have been untrue to their characters and trying to place an accent on a syllable that didn’t deserve it.


BLADE: Are you straight?

WILLIMON: Yes. I mean if you’re going to use labels, I guess I would identify as straight.


BLADE: I’m intrigued that with all the technology available, you block out seasons with grids on dry erase boards. That’s so wonderfully old school.

WILLIMON: Well, we use Google docs and stuff like that too, but there’s still something to be said for having a big board in front of everyone on a wall where we can all see it. Throw something up, erase it. I guess you could do that with some sort of massive touch screen, but we do just fine with a dry erase board, some markers and a cork board with index cards. It all ends up in our Google docs and digital formats at some point.


BLADE: Tell us a little about the documentary you’re planning on Westerly Windina, the transgender Australian woman formerly known as pro surfer Peter Drouyn.

WILLIMON: I have a small production company called Westwood Productions with my producing partner, Jordan Tappis. He was a former pro world surfer so he’s very looped into the surfing community. He’s tight with a journalist named Jamie Brisick who has been writing about surfing for years. And Jamie got wind of Westerly’s story. Peter Drouyn was a hero to so many in surfing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a true iconoclast. … He sort of fell off the face of the earth and Jamie wondered whatever happened to Peter Drouyn. And what he discovered was that Peter had fully realized herself as Westerly Windina and, of course, his curiosity took over. He began to interview her, to write about her and they eventually wrote a book. He approached Jordan and said, “I think we should do a documentary.” … It’s been quite a journey. Since we began filming, she did her operation and is fully a woman now physically. And the journey continues.


BLADE: With President Obama — and no disrespect meant to his work ethic or what he’s accomplished — but it felt to me like there was an inevitability to his presidency. That the planets had aligned in such a way for that to happen exactly when it did. Frank and Claire on “House of Cards” operate with an m.o. that for them to rise, others must go down. Is that an ethos you think works in the real world?

WILLIMON: Yes and no. Frank and Claire are an extreme version of power in Washington. They have no discernible ideology. Maybe Claire does on some issues a bit more than Frank does, but at the end of the day, they’re pursuing power for powers’ sake. I think most people who get into politics get into it for the right reasons. They want to serve their country, they want to make the world a better place. And yet the higher up the ladder you get and the more power you yield, you’re faced with all sorts of ethical choices and you have to make compromises for the sake of political expediency that might contradict deeply held beliefs. These ethical choices and contradictions erode your beliefs. In Francis and Claire, we have people who believe they’ve liberated themselves from such beliefs. They see ideology as quicksand that gives you no opportunity to navigate, to be flexible, to adapt. To a certain degree, I think that makes political sense. When you see, whether it’s the far right or the far left, people who are completely intransigent, then all you get is gridlock. The nature of politics is compromise.

Beau Willimon, gay news, Washington Blade

Beau Willimon is slated for an appearance next week at the Museum of Natural History. (Photo courtesy PMK-BNC)


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Another busy summer season arrives in Rehoboth Beach

Fine dining, drag shows, theater, and more on tap for 2023



Joe Ciarlante-Zuber (right) with his husband and business partner Darryl Ciarlante-Zuber have another busy summer of events planned at Diego’s. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

The summer of 2023 will be an exciting time in Rehoboth Beach, with lots to see and do as always. Great people, and of course the sand, sea, and boardwalk. Everyone in town has been working hard over the winter to make this the best season ever at the beach. New businesses, old ones moving to new locations, milestone anniversaries, and just loads of fun all around. 

While I am often just a burger and fries’ guy, Rehoboth has become a real foodie paradise for those who enjoy, and appreciate, really fine dining. (For more on the dining scene, see separate story in the Blade.)

The City of Rehoboth has fewer than 1,500 full-time residents. Many who have a Rehoboth address like me, live outside the city boundary. But at any time during the summer season, the population swells to more than 25,000. Among them are many members of the LGBTQ community. If you are one of them, stop by CAMP Rehoboth, the LGBTQ community center, founded by Murray Archibald and Steve Elkins in 1991. 

Today, many of the businesses in town are owned by members of the community and even those that aren’t are supportive of the community. The most famous residents of the area are President Biden and first lady Jill Biden, who try to spend some weekends at their home there. Not sure how much time they will have this summer between the duties of being president and running for reelection.  I do know when there, they love the famous chicken salad sandwiches, among other great things, from Lori Klein’s Lori’s Oy Veh Café in the CAMP courtyard. Lori’s is celebrating its 27th season. If you stop in the courtyard, you will be pleased to see new tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy your meal.

My favorite hangout on Baltimore Avenue, the gayest block in Rehoboth, is Aqua Grill. The perfect place to spend happy hour any day of the week. Chris, one of the hot and charming waiters, is back serving drinks on the deck. Then there is The Pines restaurant across the street with a great showroom upstairs and always fun entertainment. The guys who own it have expanded their operations with Drift on Baltimore and now taken over the old Philip Morton Gallery and turned it into their offices. They are also preparing to open Bodhi on 1st street. One of the great old standbys at the beach is The Purple Parrot Grill and Biergarten on Rehoboth Avenue. Owners Hugh Fuller and Troy Roberts make everyone feel welcome. The old girl has a bright new paint job this year and she’s better than ever with some great entertainment. 

Make sure you read the Blade’s column on food at the beach but here are just some of the places I passed on my walk around town on sidewalk sale weekend. There are Eden Restaurant, Azafran, and La Fable on the beach block of Baltimore Avenue. Then the always reliable standby the Blue Moon. In addition to some of the best food in town, the Moon has an extensive calendar of special events planned for summer, including the much anticipated return of talented NYC pianist Nate Buccieri beginning June 25. He plays Sunday-Thursday for most of the summer; check for specifics.

There is also Ava’s and Theo’s and Frank and Louie’s on the second block.The venerable Back Porch on Rehoboth Avenue has been serving some of Rehoboth’s finest food for decades, and, of course, Houston White further up the street if you’re craving a steak.Then there is Goolee’s Grill on 1st street and the new location of JAM on 2nd. Goolee’s is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a cocktail party on June 1, 5-9 p.m.; tickets are $15 and available online.

My favorite morning place, it has become my afternoon place as well, is the totally refurbished Coffee Mill in the mews between Rehoboth Avenue and Baltimore Avenue, just next to the wonderful Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue. Dewey Beach residents will soon have their own Coffee Mill in a beachfront location, 1700 Coastal Highway. It will have a great view of the beach and ocean from its rooftop deck. Mel and Bob are going to be busy this year with all their places including Brashhh on 1st street, now celebrating its 11th year, and The Mill Creamery serving Hopkins ice cream. Longtime Rehoboth business owner Steve Fallon, one of the best promoters of the beach I know, has the fun Gidget’s Gadgets on Rehoboth Avenue and his second place selling vinyl records, Extendedplay. Then there is Coho’s Market and Grill on Rehoboth Avenue. 

Back on the gayest block in Rehoboth, Baltimore Avenue, don’t forget to stop in and purchase some incredible one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, and now original art, at Elegant Slumming and then get your hair cut in The Grateful Head Salon.  

For more afternoon and evening entertainment there is the popular Diego’s Bar and Nightclub (37298 Rehoboth Avenue Ext.), a perfect spot for outdoor happy hours and late night dancing. Local legend Magnolia Applebottom holds court all summer with performances slated for the Thursday and Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. Sunday’s show runs 6-9 p.m. followed by DJ Mags “with her boys” from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. In addition to Magnolia, Diego’s brings internationally known DJs to town during the summer. And the free parking is a nice bonus in a town with a chronic shortage of parking spaces. Diego’s has an exciting summer of special events planned, so follow them online for updates. Among the acts coming to Diego’s this summer are “Jaws the Musical” (June 18), Ada Vox (July 5), and Edmund Bagnell (July 17). 

Don’t miss the always fun Freddie’s Beach Bar on 1st street, where the amazing Freddie Lutz has brought his wonderful concept from Virginia to the beach. The beloved Pamala Stanley performs periodically at Freddie’s; follow her on social media for updated dates.

Remember Rehoboth still has some great culture even if the town commissioners have been trying to force it out of town. The amazing Clear Space Theatre is stillon Baltimore Avenue. This season’s productions include Lucy in the Sea with Darvon, Jesus Christ Superstar, Kinky Boots, and The Spongebob Musical

This will be a summer not to miss at the beach. Better make your plans to visit soon, if you haven’t already, because hotels and rentals are booking fast. 

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Pride season arrives!

LGBTQ community events planned across region



A scene from the 2022 Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pride season has already begun. Last month’s Roanoke Pride filled the Virginia city’s Elmwood Park with rainbow flags. Pride events begin in D.C. this month and continue through June. Regionally, some cities have opted to hold their Pride events as late as the fall. 


Organizers of Trans Pride D.C. ( plan a full day of workshops and events on Saturday, May 20 at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library (901 G Street, N.W.). These events are currently listed on Facebook and Eventbrite as running from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

The HIV/PrEP Programs at the Charles County Department of Health are hosting PrEP for Pride 2023 at 4545 Crain Highway in White Plains, Md. on Saturday May 20 from 12-7 p.m. 

The festival is free, though those who RSVP will be entered into a door prize drawing. PrEP for Pride’s Eventbrite page advertises a pride walk, a PrEP Mini Ball, music, art, health & wellness information, food options and other vendors.

Equality Prince William Pride ( will be held on Sunday, May 21 at the Harris Pavillion (9201 Center Street, Manassas, Va.) from 12-4 p.m., according to its Facebook events page.

The event is billed as a family-friendly event with music, vendors and kids activities. Performers include musician John Levengood, BRUU Band & Choir and the drag artists Coco Bottoms, Muffy Blake Stephyns and Ophelia Bottoms.

D.C. Black Pride ( events are held throughout the city May 26-29 primarily at the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel (999 9th Street, N.W.). 

Official events include a Unity Ball, a vendor expo, a talent showcase, forums, parties and the annual Pride Festival in the Park at Fort Dupont Park on May 29 from 12-7 p.m.

A scene from the Us Helping Us Black Pride Festival at Fort Dupont Park last May. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The third Caroline County Pride Festival ( “A Carnival Adventure” will be held in downtown Denton, Md. (301 Market Street) on Saturday, May 27 from 3-8 p.m. according to the group’s Facebook event page.


Last year’s Baltimore Trans Pride March was held on June 5, 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Trans Pride ( kicks off the month at 2117 North Charles Street in Baltimore, Md. on Saturday, June 3, according to Baltimore Safe Haven’s Facebook event page.

The Baltimore Trans Pride 2023 Grand March is to be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday along North Charles Street between 22nd and 23rd. The Block Party continues at 3 p.m. with performances beginning at 4 p.m.

Afterparties are scheduled at The Crown (1901 North Charles Street) and Ottobar (2549 North Howard Street). Baltimore Safe Haven also hosts a kickoff ball on Friday, June 2 at 2640 Saint Paul Street at 6 p.m.

Annapolis Pride ( holds its annual parade and festival on Saturday, June 3 from 12-5 p.m. on Inner West Street in Annapolis, Md. according to the Facebook event page

Hundreds lined the streets of downtown Annapolis for the Annapolis Pride Parade. (Photo by Jaime Thompson courtesy Fleur de Lis Photography)

Reston Pride ( holds its annual festival at Lake Anne Plaza (1609 Washington Place) in Reston, Va. on Saturday, June 3 from 12-6 p.m., according to the Facebook event page.

Last year’s Reston Pride festival was held at Lake Anne Plaza. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ellicott City, Md. holds OEC Pride ( on June 3-4 in Old Ellicott City. Events include a mascara run up and down Main Street and a movie presentation of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. 

Suffolk, Va. holds its third annual Suffolk Pride Festival ( on Saturday, June 3 from 5-8 p.m. at Bennetts Creek Park (3000 Bennetts Creek Park Road, Suffolk, Va.), according to the Facebook event page.

Portsmouth Pride Fest ’23 ( is the second annual LGBTQ community celebration in Portsmouth, Va. The festival is to be held on Saturday, June 3 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Portsmouth Festival Field next to Atlantic Union Pavilion, according to the Facebook event page.

The Alexandria LGBTQ Task Force presents the sixth annual Alexandria Pride ( at Alexandria City Hall in Market Square of Old Town Alexandria, Va. (301 King Street) on Saturday, June 3 from 1-5 p.m.

Newport News, Va. has its first I Am What I Am (IAWIA) Pride Festival on Sunday, June 4 from 12-7 p.m. at Tradition Brewing Company (700 Thimble Shoals Boulevard, Newport News, Va.), according to the Facebook event page.

The 2023 Cumberland Pride Festival ( will be held at Canal Place (13 Canal Street, Columbia, Md.) Sunday, June 4 from 12-4 p.m., according to the Facebook event page.

The 2022 Cumberland Pride Festival was held at Canal Place in Cumberland, Md. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Culpepper County in rural Virginia will be getting its very first pride celebration with Culpepper Pride Festival ( on Sunday, June 4 from 12-5 p.m. at Mountain Run (10753 Mountain Run Lake Road, Culpepper, Va.). An after-hours 21+ drag show will be held.

Equality Loudoun’s “Across the Decades” 2023 Loudoun Pride Festival ( will be held on Sunday, June 4 from 1-7 p.m. at Claude Moore Park (21668 Heritage Farm Ln, Sterling, Va.). This is a ticketed event with a $5 general admission.

Last year’s Loudoun Pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Delaware Pride ( is being celebrated as a festival on Saturday, June 10 at Legislative Hall (411 Legislative Avenue, Dover, Del.) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. according to the Facebook page.

D.C.’s massive Capital Pride ( includes the 2023 Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 10 and the 2023 Capital Pride Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue on Sunday, June 11. On top of the many official events, there are a great number of parties in venues throughout the city over the week, including the not-to-be-missed Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show, held 2-9 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 at the Wharf. There are two timed VIP sessions that include catered food and open bar. The region’s only Pride fireworks display, sponsored by the Leonard-Litz Foundation, takes place at 9 p.m. Visit for tickets and information.

Jerry Houston and Elizabethany of HOT 99.5 served as emcees of the 2022 Capital Pride Festival. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Third annual Pride in the ViBe, will be held at ViBe Park (1810 Cyprus Avenue, Virginia Beach, Va.) on Sunday, June 11 from 1-6 p.m., according to the Facebook event page.

Scenic Chesapeake, Va. is the backdrop for Pride in the ‘Peake 2023 at City Park Section B next to the basketball courts on Sunday, July 11, according to an posting.

Eastern Panhanlde Pride is to be held on Saturday, June 17 from 12-5 p.m. in downtown Martinsburg, W.Va., according to EPP’s Facebook page.

The Delmarva Pride Center presents DELAMRVA Pride ( with events from June 16-18. The DELMARVA Pride Festival is to be held on Saturday, June 17 along South Harrison Street in downtown Easton, Md. Other events include a drag show and a Sunday brunch, according to the Pride Center’s Facebook page.

The Ghent Business Association presents Ghent Pride “Party at the Palace Shops” on Tuesday, June 20 from 6-10 p.m. at The Palace Shops and Staton (301 West 21st Street, Norfolk, Va.), according to the Facebook event page. This is a ticketed event with general admission $13.

The Human Rights Commission of the City of Rockville holds the seventh annual Rockville Pride ( on Saturday, June 24 from 1-4 p.m. at Rockville Town Square (131 Gibbs Street, Rockville, Md.).

Arlington Pride ( holds events from June 23-25 that include a pageant, a brunch, a festival and an afterparty. The Arlington Pride Festival returns for its second year on June 24 from 12-7 p.m. at the Rosslyn Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway, Arlington, Va.), according to the Eventbrite listing.

Fredericksburg Pride ( holds events throughout the month, but everything culminates in the Pride March and then Festival on Saturday, June 24. The Pride March is held at Riverfront Park (705 Sophia Street, Fredericksburg, Va.) at 10 followed by the Festival at 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Old Mill Park (2201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Va.).

The 10th anniversary Frederick Pride ( is to be held at Carroll Creek Linear Park on Saturday, June 24 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. with food, music, drag, vendors and more, according to the Facebook event page.

Chasity Vain performed at last year’s Frederick Pride. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Salisbury Pride ( Parade and Festival is on Saturday, June 24. The Parade begins at 2 p.m. at West Main Street and Camden Street. The parade moves along Main with the festival following the parade at 2:30. Magnolia Applebottom is the headliner and grand marshall, according to Salisbury Pride’s Facebook page.

The “Break Free 23” Hampton Roads Pride ( is set for Saturday, June 24 at Town Point Park (113 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, Va.) and includes the famous boat parade.

The Pride Center of Maryland hosts a number of Baltimore Pride ( events June 19-25. The big events include the annual parade and block party on Charles Street on Saturday, June 24 and the festival at Druid Hill Park on Sunday.

The 2022 Baltimore Pride Parade was held on June 25. (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

July and beyond

You can look forward to LGBTQ pride celebrations in Harrisburg, Pa. and the Maryland towns of Hagerstown and Westminster as well as Black Pride RVA in Richmond, Va. in July. Other municipalities have decided to hold their pride celebrations a little later in the year. These pride events include Winchester Pride in Winchester, Va. (Sept. 9), Shenandoah Valley Pride in Harrisonburg, Va. (Sept. 16), SWVA Pridefest in Vinton, Va. (Sept. 16), Virginia Pridefest in Richmond, Va. (Sept. 23), TriPride in Johnson City, Tenn. (Sept. 23), Staunton Pride in Staunton, Va. (Oct. 7), Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride in Harve de Grace, Md. (Oct. 7), Pride Franklin County in Chambersburg, Pa. (Oct. 8) and Laurel Pride in Laurel, Md. (Oct. 14).

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Self-identification: What the plus in ‘LGBTQ+’ means

Terminology rapidly expanding into mainstream dialogue



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For a long time, many Americans refrained from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity because it was taboo. While these conversations are still uncomfortable for some people, others stay quiet simply because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. 

Among allies, there is fear that misgendering someone or misspeaking about another person’s sexuality will be viewed as being less inclusive. Meanwhile, older generations, even those within the LGBTQ+ community, also struggle to keep up as terms beyond “LGBTQ” rapidly enter mainstream lingo.

In either scenario, the plus in “LGBTQ+” can be misunderstood. But as awareness of these terms continues to rise, it’s important to know what they mean. 

Below are some of the most popular but misunderstood terms of self-identification, compiling gender identities (one’s concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither and what they call themselves) and sexual orientation (how one identifies in terms of whom they are romantically and/or sexually attracted to). 

Asexual refers to someone who lacks a sexual attraction or interest in sexual activities with others. Often called “ace(s)” for short, asexual individuals exist on a spectrum, wherein someone can be completely or partially asexual, meaning they may experience no, little, or conditional sexual attraction to another person. Little interest in sex, however, doesn’t diminish a person’s desire for emotionally intimate relationships. 

Cisgender, or simply “cis,” describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth. The terms cisgender and transgender originate from Latin-derived prefixes of “cis,” meaning “on this side of,” and “trans,” meaning “across from.” Just as “trans” can be added to terms describing gender to identify someone as a trans-woman or trans-man, the same can be done to say cis-woman or cis-man to identify someone as adhering to the sex associated with their gender at birth.

Meanwhile, gender non-conforming refers to someone who doesn’t behave in line with the traditional expectations of their gender. These individuals may express their gender in ways that aren’t easily categorizable as a specific gender. While many gender non-conforming people also identify as transgender, that isn’t the case for all gender non-conforming people.

Under the larger umbrella of gender non-conforming identity, non-binary describes a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or completely outside of those labels. 

Some non-binary people identify as transgender, but non-binary also references other identities such as agender (a person who does not identify as any gender), bigender (a person with two gender identities or a combination of two gender identities), genderqueer or gender-fluid.

Genderqueer people commonly reject notions of rigid categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and sometimes sexual orientation. People with this identity may see themselves as being both male and female, or neither as they fall outside of binary gender norms. Gender-fluid is also within this range of non-conformity as these individuals don’t identify with a single fixed gender.

In terms of sexuality, pansexual refers to someone with the potential for emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to people of any gender. These feelings don’t necessarily arise simultaneously or to the same degree, and sometimes the term is used interchangeably with bisexual.

More recently, the two-spirit gender identity has enjoyed more mainstream use. Chosen to describe certain North American Indigenous and Canadian First Nation people who identify with a third gender, the term implies a masculine and feminine spirit in one body. 

Other gender expressions such as masc, referring to representations of masculinity without necessarily claiming a relationship to manhood, and femme, meaning expressions of femininity regardless of gender and relations to womanhood, are also used to describe how people dynamically express gender outside of gender norms.

Yet, just as terminology for self-identification is introduced, so are also new ways to describe how an individual feels about their identity. One term that everyone can relate to or aspire to have is gender euphoria – the joyful experience and sense of self that occurs when a person’s authentic gender is expressed and acknowledged by themselves and/or by others.

Most importantly, though, LGBTQ+ people use a variety of terms to identify themselves, some of which may not be mentioned in this article. Always listen for a person’s self-identification to use the preferred terms for them. 

(The Human Rights Campaign and Johns Hopkins University contributed to this report.)

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