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From Gaga hit maker to drag star

Gay producer left the pop world behind to discover his inner woman in Cary NoKey



Rob Fusari, Cary NoKey, RuPaul's Drag Race, Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade
Rob Fusari, Cary NoKey, RuPaul's Drag Race, Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade

Cary NoKey’s act is ‘a little ‘Rock of Ages’ to ‘Cabaret’ to ‘42nd Street’ says visionary Rob Fusari. (Photo courtesy Project Publicity)

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Battle of the Seasons

2015 Condragulations Tour

with special guest Cary NoKey


March 8


9:30 Club


815 V St., N.W.


$35-65 (VIP)


8 p.m.


It’s almost a show business cliché that often what looks like the best of times in a career from the outside can be some of the darkest times for the entertainer.

That was the case with Rob Fusari, the New Jersey native who found himself one of the most sought-after R&B/pop producers around the turn of the century. His credits are impressive — “No No No” and “Bootylicious” for Destiny’s Child, “Wild Wild West” for Will Smith as well as co-writer and producer for five cuts on Lady Gaga’s smash debut “The Fame” album from 2008, which he co-executive produced.

Yet oddly it took the 37-year-old turning within and discovering his drag alter ego Cary NoKey to find artistic satisfaction. He’ll be in Washington next week to open the “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons” tour and filled us in by phone from Cincinnati — where the tour happened to be at the time — on how it all unfolded. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How did Cary NoKey emerge?

ROB FUSARI: It was about two years ago this month, actually, and it basically came out of a dark time creatively and emotionally after the Gaga record, “The Fame.” I felt I kind of peaked my career as a producer and had this pinnacle moment so in the years following, I was searching for what my next chapter would be, where I was supposed to be creatively and as a person. I thought the move was to try and find and develop another artist but I was finding it really difficult to identify who that person might be despite the thousands of artists I was looking at. It started to become very, very frustrating. … I just couldn’t seem to get that magic going with anyone. … I eventually recorded a vocal of my own one night in the studio on my birthday. I left early and went out for a few hours and when I got back, a group of friends were listening to it and … that’s kind of when Cary NoKey started. It was just one of those moments where it felt like everything I was searching for was right there in front of me somehow but I didn’t see it because I didn’t think of myself as a performer. It started unfolding and progressing in a very natural way.

BLADE: Had you always been interested in drag?

FUSARI: I grew up raised by a mom with very feminine qualities who kind of always treated me as the daughter she never had. Eventually I started to embrace that side of myself and it became almost like a car I could jump into and I just became OK with expressing my fashion sense and some other things I’d been suppressing and some things I was a little fearful of. It became this vehicle in which I found I could express myself in other ways.

BLADE: You said it was frustrating that you couldn’t find another great artist to work with but didn’t you realize a Gaga-caliber success story was maybe one in a million? How realistic was it to try to catch that kind of lightening in a bottle again?

FUSARI: No, because I’d spent a good 10 years in the business by that point and I had hundreds and hundreds of unsigned artists reaching out to me every day, so I had my pick of the litter so to speak. I said if I can’t find the next thing, nobody can. … I met some really strong ones, some really good artists but there’s something else a superstar has that nobody else has that you can’t explain it. This lightening bolt that goes through you that I just couldn’t find.

BLADE: You’ve produced A-list artists and now you’re performing yourself. What the public sees is much different, I’m sure, from what you see. What’s the biggest misconception?

FUSARI: The whole overnight sensation concept is so misleading because it’s an overnight sensation that takes years and years to get to. … I always say to artists, if you’re not willing to give up your life for this, it’s not gonna happen. There’s no in between. I don’t think people really understand the sacrifice, and it’s massive, that people make … The dingy clubs you have to play and having to be on all the time. People watch the Grammys and see the award and the parties and it’s like watching a movie. I’m here to tell you, it’s the opposite. Sure, there are those moments, of course, but what you have to give up and what you have to do to get there is everything.

BLADE: Your single is called “American Dream,” which is a rather serious song. Did you need Cary to tell that story or did she unlock some kind of artistic freedom in you?

FUSARI: Freedom comes in different ways. The freedom you get from your country comes at a very hefty price and I think we all know that, be it taxes, be it culture — it comes with a price. The freedom that drag queens and transgender people have is totally different. … They have a certain peace, a freedom and they’re living their dream that has nothing to do with what our country told us the dream was. It’s almost like we got fooled a bit with the white picket fence … which has really become the exception today. I’m not bashing the country, I love this country, but it’s built on some fallacies and weak ground that needs to be dealt with. … I felt I wasn’t living my own dream and who I am as Cary NoKey until I was able to let Rob Fusari and even Gaga go. I still get asked questions about it and that’s fine, but that chapter of my life has ended and thank God, because it wasn’t the best chapter to be honest. It might have been one of the worst.

BLADE: Where was the dissatisfaction coming from?

FUSARI: I’m not trying to bash Gaga, but sometimes the shit you have to eat to get to a certain place is not worth it. I can’t change history but I wonder now, was it worth it? It’s not about the money. I’d give the money back in a heartbeat. It’s about integrity, about character about feeling good about yourself and being part of something. The people who work with Cary NoKey, they’re going to stay on board because when the time comes and there’s success, they’ll have a reason to stay on board. You gotta treat people fairly. You gotta look to everyone who helped you along the way. I’m not going to just kick people off the roof.

BLADE: You felt Gaga did that?

FUSARI: Absolutely

BLADE: Was there any talk of working with her on her follow-up?

FUSARI: Absolutely not. I could never have done that anyway. I could never put my creative art and soul into somebody who kicks people off the roof.

BLADE: What would you say to her if you were with her in an elevator today?

FUSARI: Get off.

BLADE: You did a track with Whitney Houston. Did you work it up then send it to her people or were you in the studio together with her?

FUSARI: No, we cut the vocal together in the studio for “Love That Man.” (from the 2002 “Just Whitney” album)

BLADE: What was she like to work with?

FUSARI: To be honest, it wasn’t the best. She wasn’t sober so it was difficult at times. She was battling addiction and she was with Bobby, who was just a nightmare.

BLADE: How did it come about that you are on the “Drag Race” tour?

FUSARI: We were playing out in (New York) a lot and it ended up that we had landed the spot opening for Adore Delano at the Gramercy Theatre. We were thrilled. I love the Gramercy and Adore and we were just thrilled. It was a great fit. All the “Drag Race” folks were there and the executives and creative folks and they asked if we were interested in joining the tour next year, so we said yes. A lot of times things like this are said and it doesn’t come to fruition, it’s just part of the business, but we just finished the Macy Gray tour and right after that, we were ready and it just worked out.

BLADE: What are the queens like on tour?

FUSARI: It’s a blast, I’m so happy. They’re so nice and so classy. They’re pros. You’d think it would be a lot of backstage mayhem and chaos and drama on the bus and so on, but it’s actually really the opposite. Everybody’s really on their game and really pro. I’m really impressed.

BLADE: Do you feel like an outsider since they’re all vets of the show?

FUSARI: It’s weird, I don’t. They’ve accepted me and we definitely hit it off.

BLADE: Are you a gay man who does drag? How do you identify?

FUSARI: It goes so many different ways. It goes sideways, it goes inside out, it changes from day to day and I explore all different sides of it. That’s really the only way I can explain it. Do I want to go full drag tomorrow? Of course, I would do it. Do I want to have a sex change? No, it’s not something I’m looking to do. If somebody wanted to call me a cross dresser, I don’t think I am but you could probably say that about me and I don’t have a problem with it. … The wires just all cross for me in so many different directions.

BLADE: What do you actually do in the show?

FUSARI: It’s basically a way to open the show with something different. It’s more serious, though it can be playful at times. … We keep it simple. I do about a 20-minute set and sing about seven songs and I have a dancer with me. We do some covers but in a very Cary NoKey kind of way. … I do (Gaga hit) “Paparazzi” because it’s a song I wrote and I’m proud of but people get to hear it in more of its original version. Some of it’s very aggressive, almost like Kurt Cobain, but then it’s also kind of Joel Grey-“Cabaret” too. It spans a lot. … I know it’s hard to sit through 20 minutes of new music you don’t know, so we mix it up.

Rob Fusari, Cary NoKey, RuPaul's Drag Race, Gaga, gay news, Washington Blade

Rob Fusari says discovering his drag alter ego was his own kind of ‘American Dream.’ (Photo 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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