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Drag drama

Courtney Act joins Ladies of Town this weekend for guest appearance



Courtney Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Courtney Act, gay news, Washington Blade

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ season six runner-up Courtney Act says the show kicked her career into high gear. (Photo by Magnus Hastings; courtesy Project Publicity)

Courtney Act at Town


Meet & Greet & Seat tickets available for $20 gives you admission, access to a meet-and-greet at 9 p.m. and a chance to get seats for the show before the doors open to the general public. But to get seats, you must arrive before 10.


Regular cover is $8 from 10-11 p.m. and $12 after


Drag show starts at 10:30 p.m. downstairs


Music upstairs by CTRL


Town Danceboutique is always a prime spot for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni and the tradition continues.

Last week season six champion Bianca Del Rio started a new monthly comedy cabaret show there and on Saturday night, the regular Saturday night drag troupe welcomes guest star Courtney Act, who came in second this year. As Courtney, Aussie Shane Jenek, 32, delighted “Drag Race” fans with his obvious singing and stage talent and a female look that was eerily convincing. We caught up with him this week by phone from Los Angeles. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Will you be doing the “Boys Like Me” show at Town or something else?

COURTNEY ACT: No. This is just going to be sort of the regular Saturday night at Town with special guest Courtney Act. I did “Boys Like Me” in New York and would definitely like to tour it, but not this time.

BLADE: Did you enjoy Capital Pride and Town when you were here in June?

ACT: I did. Capital Pride, can I say, was I think my favorite Pride I did in America this year. It was absolutely epic and then we performed after at Town and that was epic too. The crowd there was amazing.

BLADE: What was the big delay on the main stage at Pride? I know you were on pretty early but things seemed to be running hours behind and it was dark by the time Bianca went on. What was going on backstage?

ACT: Well, Darienne went on and then I went on and then I think Rita Ora came out. There was some confusion in the lineup because she had to leave early so she ended up going earlier in the day and that bumped everybody else later I believe. Adore and Bianca ended up going on at the end.

BLADE: Did you bring a strategy for “Drag Race” per se or were you just there to bring your A game overall?

ACT: I just brought my A game. I’m a huge fan of the show. I love watching it and I just thought, “How do I want the world to see me?” … When I found out I might be on the show, I called everybody around the world that I’d ever worked with where I’d had a good costume and tracked down, like the wings and, you know, all these difference pieces and also had some things made and put it all together with my friends and business partners. Vanity from Wigs by Vanity flew over from Australia — this is before I was even confirmed, while they were still doing the background check — I took a chance on a happy ending and Vanity flew over and we both styled wigs for a whole week. So I just got everything ready just in case so yeah, I definitely brought my A game.

BLADE: Were you exhausted by the end?

ACT: No, I had a great time. There was no television, no mobile phones, no internet, no social media … not every day to you get to wake up and do all of those things at such a high standard so it was actually kind of amazing. And every week was different. It wasn’t like we were doing some production show eight times a week. We were doing a musical one week, an interview challenge the next. Each week was different.

BLADE: Who was your favorite celebrity guest judge?

ACT: Well I did love Khloe Kardashian. I didn’t know much about her but she kind of won my heart. And then since the show, Chaz Bono and I have become very good friends and it was a great gift getting to meet him on the show and becoming friends.

BLADE: What was your take on the “Female or She-Male” segment controversy?

ACT: I thought it was probably a little ill thought out. I don’t think it was intentionally meant to be offensive but I guess the thing about transphobia, homophobia, any kind of phobia, is that it often stems from ignorance not from intentionally trying to put someone down. I think if they were to do it again, they probably wouldn’t include the word she-male. But it sort of came at a time where we’re seeing a new revolution with gender in society. We had the women’s liberation in the ‘60s and ‘70s and now it’s like the trans revolution where you have inspiring trans people like Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock … coming to light and it’s kind of the first time we’ve had inspirational trans people in pop culture. I think the she-male controversy kind of sparked a lot of conversation and I think a lot of changes and conversations began because of that so, you know, in some ways it was a good thing.

BLADE: But accusing RuPaul of being transphobic? Isn’t that a little ridiculous?

ACT: Well no, obviously that’s ridiculous. Sometimes people can get too caught up in the heresy, like, “Oh my God, this person said this,” and it’s like, well, yeah, there are some very loud people saying things that just don’t make any sense but I think you have to use your better judgement and say, “Yeah, you know what — even though she-male wasn’t the smartest thing, is RuPaul transphobic? No. Is World of Wonder out to, you know, put down trans people? No, of course not. So I think the controversy can get extremely unbalanced and I think when the issue arrives, it’s about doing things objectively and having a balance on both sides. I think RuPaul kind of got embroiled in the controversy because he addressed, you know, the right wing if you will, of trans activists rather than focusing on the solution. I can’t remember the statistic for sure off hand but something like one in six, one in eight, trans people will end up being murdered. That’s a statistic that’s dumbfounding. And you also see the state of homelessness and all sorts of other social issues that affect trans people much more than cisgender people and that’s the real conversation that needs to come out that whole debate. How can we improve the lives of trans people? How can we see them as equal and how can we move forward?

BLADE: You’ve said what ended up on the show was only about 10 percent of your overall persona and that things were taken out of context and such. I’m sure that’s true to an extent but you had to know they were going to take the bitchiest exchanges and play those up, right?

ACT: You know they’re going to sensationalize things. They’re making a reality TV show, not a documentary. I think that’s obvious but what I didn’t anticipate — I thought those things may be heightened, but I thought they would still be honest. There was obviously some creative license taken but I guess my expectation was that when it came to the outcome of my whole experience on the show, I am almost anti- a lot of the things that Courtney came to represent. So to see myself portrayed as the mean girl or someone who was mean to Joslyn, it kind of goes against everything I stand for as a person. That was challenging for me personally to watch. I love Joslyn and we’re friends and there was no real drama between us. That was maybe a 10-minute period where we discussed how she was feeling hurt by what the judges said and then it was compounded by what I said. But that all happened in one episode for like 10 minutes but then there were all these other occurrences built into the show where I was being depicted as being rude to Joslyn and it just wasn’t like that.

BLADE: Do you and Bianca, Adore and Darienne (the season six finalists) get to see each other often or do many shows together?

ACT: Not as often as we’d like but we maintain a very active iMessage thread and everyday we’re messaging one another. We’re always in different parts of the world, so there’s always somebody awake and participating and we’re always thinking, “When is our next gig together, we really need to hang out again.” We had the best afternoon hanging out at Capital Pride.

BLADE: How much of what you do now is tied in with the Logo juggernaut if any?

ACT: None of these are official Logo or World of Wonder gigs but they’re obviously all because we were on the show and people know who we are.

BLADE: What are your thoughts on the current Facebook controversy with the real names policy?

ACT: I’ve always had a fan page and a boy page so it didn’t affect me personally but I do understand the argument. But I think Justin Bond made a good argument on Huffington Post that there are people in places around the world who need to have a fake name to protect their identity because either their family, their society, their country, their religion doesn’t accept who they are. I think the thing that’s different about drag queens is we’re talking about the algorithm picking up fake names, not somebody in the Middle East who’s trying to maintain an online identity because that’s their only outreach to the outside world. For drag queens who have a public persona, I think a fan page makes more sense but I think for people who have a personal page in their name, I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible too. I think there can be an opportunity for people to register with Facebook privately their real details and then have a profile in a performance name.

BLADE: You always have the hottest guys on your single covers and promo photos. Who are these people and where do you find them?

ACT: There’s a “Mean Gays” of West Hollywood. … The boys in my “Mean Gays” video are just go go boys and friends in West Hollywood.

BLADE: Do you sing differently as Shane versus as Courtney?

ACT: Yeah, she sings higher. I usually sing about one tone below a natural female sort of key. Then as a boy, it’s in a lower key. It’s fun on the Atlantis gay cruises I can do Courtney’s show “Boys Like Me” one night, then do a boy cabaret show on a different night in the smaller room.

BLADE: You were well established before “Drag Race.” Did that just kick everything into high gear for you? What has the effect been like?

ACT: It’s been epic since “Drag Race.” I was known in Australia and had a bit of a following around the world but yes, “Drag Race” just — I was just in Europe doing a two-week tour and in Berlin, this venue was packed with people all screaming and singing along to “Mean Gays” and it was amazing because not only were all these people there, “Drag Race” isn’t even shown on television there so they’d all had to commit a crime and illegally downloaded the show just to know who I am. In America, you know, we’re sort of accustomed to seeing the fandom of the “Drag Race” girls, but it’s really taking the world by storm. We’re in America, in Europe, in Australia, in Canada — drag queens are taking over the world.

Courtney Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Aussie native Courtney Act, 32, started doing drag in 2000 and came to the U.S. in 2010. (Photo by Mathu Andersen; courtesy Project Publicity)


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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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