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Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms

Note: The description following each word below is meant to suggest what someone might intend to convey about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or other aspect of themselves related to sex and gender, if they were to use that word to identify or describe themselves. It is important to note that this list is constantly in need of updating, for terms are created, have meanings or connotations that are in constant flux, and exist within contexts which change from day-to-day. Therefore, this list is not (and cannot) be an exhaustive, complete list.

Lesbian

Typically used by someone who identifies as a woman to indicate their sexual and/or romantic attraction to others who identify and/or present as women.

Gay

Often used by someone who identifies as a man to indicate their sexual and/or romantic attraction to others who identify and/or present as men. However, “gay” is also often used, both by those who identify as "gay" and by those who do not, as an umbrella term to include a range of sexual orientations and/or gender identities.

Bisexual

Traditionally used by someone who is attracted, sexually and/or romantically, to both those who identify and/or present as men and those who identify and/or present as women.

In order to move away from the implication that gender is strictly binary and allow for possibilities other than man or woman, some now use the word to indicate they are attracted to both those who identify with and/or present as the same gender as they do and to those who do not.

Trans/Transgender

Typically used by someone whose gender identity and/or expression is different from those associated culturally with the sex assigned to them at birth. (An individual who identifies as trans and/or transgender might or might not also identify as transsexual. See entry on "Transsexual.")  "Trans" and "transgender" are also sometimes used as umbrella terms, both by those who identify with those terms and by those who do not, to include those whose gender identity is fluid or who do not identify with any gender.

Transsexual

Sometimes used by someone who has had, is having, or plans to have, gender confirmation surgery, hormone therapy, or other physiological changes to the body to make it conform more closely to the biological characteristics culturally associated with their gender identity. (Such individual might or might not also identify as "trans" or "transgender." See entry on "Trans/Transgender.")

Two-Spirit

Two-spirit identity, though varied in its interpretation and understanding and increasingly subjective in how it is understood, has roots in Indigenous communities in North America and initially, upon its creation, referred to someone whose humanness is thought of as embodying aspects of the male and the female spirit. The term Two-Spirit emerged in 1990 at an annual International Gathering of American Indian and First Nation Gays and Lesbians held in Winnipeg. It was selected as a way of interrupting the colonial use of ‘berdache’, and was conceptualized as an alliance-based identity that has broadened in its use and subjective meanings for Indigenous peoples (See Scott Morgensen’s “Spaces Between Us” for further discussion).

Two-spirit is not, then, a term meant to represent the ‘traditional’ ways in which gender was performed and/or conceptualized within Indigenous communities before colonial rule, but rather can be seen as a way to reconnect agency with Indigenous peoples to conceive of and claim an identity that is generated organically and is as separated from colonial influence as can be possible in a colonial society. Two-spirit is a term adopted by some contemporary North American Indigenous peoples (and, increasingly, Indigenous peoples worldwide) to refer to someone who, like the originally prescribed meaning, embodies maleness and femaleness, but often also to encompass various forms of sexual and gender diversity, including sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression, or both. Such terms as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “trans” are Eurocentric and may be culturally irrelevant or offensive to Indigenous people.

Some people who do not identify as Indigenous also identify using this term; some Indigenous people see this as a form of cultural appropriation, while others do not.

Cisgender

Typically used to by someone whose gender identity and/or expression conforms to that associated culturally with the sex assigned to them at birth.   

Cross-Dress

Cross-dressing is often a behavior rather than an identity one claims (i.e. someone who cross-dresses but who does not identify as a ‘cross-dresser’, though this is also common). It is often understood as occurring when someone who identifies with one gender wears clothing typically associated with another gender. Cross-dressing is common when one is questioning/curious, as a method of arousal within intimate sexual situations, within drag performance, for comfort, etc.

Intersex

When someone is born with mixed biological sex characteristics. Whether this means one may have some sex/reproductive organs (external or internal) associated with the female sex and some associated with the male sex, or whether one has other anomalies among chromosomal or hormonal markers of sex, approximately 1.7% of all babies born can be considered intersex (Fausto-Sterling et al 2000). In recent times, we have seen a reclamation of intersex being claimed as an identity in itself instead of being seen solely as a characteristic of those whose identity is something different.

Queer

Most often used to denote an identity on the margins of mainstream culture in terms of sexual orientation and gender.

Historically, the term has been used to denigrate people, but more recently it has been reclaimed by many and is increasingly used as an expression of pride. Queer can be a convenient, inclusive term when referring to issues and experiences affecting the many groups subsumed under the umbrella of sexual and gender diversity. However, those who do not identify as part of the queer community are urged to use the term with caution, or not at all. That said, Queer Theory has been taken up as a major academic space for queer and non-queer folks, and the ‘queer community’ is commonly used to describe what was once (and is often still) referred to as the ‘gay rights’ or “LGBT” movement.

Questioning

Someone who is ‘questioning’ is usually someone who is literally questioning, is curious, or is unsure in some way about some aspect of their gender or sexual identity. This is an incredibly common scenario for those who do and do not identify within the ‘Queer Community’.

Asexual

Often claimed by those who are typically not sexually attracted to people, regardless of their gender.

Gender Fluid/Genderqueer/Gender Non-Conforming

One whose gender identity varies from time to time. Those who claim this identity might be doing so in order to denote something significant about their gender, but it is also sometimes a space occupied by those who are taking a stance against the gender-binary system of classification embedded within society (male vs. female).

Ally

You support a marginalized group with which you do not identify. Allies can exist within or outside of the ‘Queer Community’.

Straight

Commonly understood as describing one who identifies as a woman and is sexually and/or romantically attracted to those who identify as men or vice-versa. As the term ‘straight’ implies that which is reasonable and logical (i.e. a straight line between points A and B is the fastest, most practical way to get there vs. something that is bent, crooked, or a little ‘off’), the term has been problematized and poses some structural challenges to common everyday ways of speaking and identifying, as it is seen as reifying normative sexual identities and behaviours in the eyes of many.

Pansexual

One whose sexual and romantic attraction to others is not dependent upon their gender identity. Pansexual has been seen by some as an attractive alternative to the term bisexual, as it is seen as a way to depart from gender-binary thinking and speaking.


Some further notes on language:

“Sexual orientation” is about the gender of the individuals to whom you are sexually and romantically attracted, in relation to your own gender. “Lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” and “straight” are some terms that are used to describe sexual orientation.

“Gender Identity” is your deep sense of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or something else. “Trans,”  “transgender,” “transsexual,” “gender fluid,” and “cisgender” are some terms used to describe various forms of gender identity.

“Gender Presentation” is how you present your gender in terms of dress, grooming, behavior, and social roles.