Note: The description following each word suggests what someone using that word about themselves might intend to convey about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or other aspect of themselves related to sex and gender. It is important to note that this list is constantly in need of updating, as the language we use to describe our evolving understanding of sexual attraction and gender identity grows and changes.
Someone who is not, or who is very rarely, sexually attracted to other people. (Sometimes shortened to "ace")
Someone who is attracted 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 also to those who do not.
Someone whose gender identity and/or expression conforms to that associated culturally with the sex assigned to them at birth.
When someone who identifies with one gender dresses and adopts the mannerisms associated with another gender, that may be referred to as cross-dressing.
Someone who is attracted to those who identify and/or present as the gender they themselves identify as. However, “gay” is also used as an umbrella term to include a range of sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
Someone whose gender identity and/or expression is different from that 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 to include those whose gender identity is nonbinary, or fluid, or who do not identify with any gender.
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 identity, though varied in its interpretation, has roots in Indigenous communities in North America. Initially, upon its creation, "two spirit" referred to someone whose humanness is thought of as embodying aspects of the male and the female spirit. The phrase 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 the French ‘berdache’, with its negative connotations regarding homosexuality, which was applied by settlers to a social role found in certain Indigenous communities. It has broadened in its use and subjective meanings for Indigenous peoples (See Scott Morgensen’s “Spaces Between Us” for further discussion).
"Two spirit" has been adopted by some contemporary North American Indigenous peoples (and, increasingly, Indigenous peoples worldwide) to encompass various forms of sexual and gender diversity. Such terms as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “trans” are Eurocentric and may be culturally irrelevant or offensive to Indigenous people.
A child born with mixed biological sex characteristics may be designated "intersex." This can mean having sex/reproductive organs (external or internal) associated with both the female sex and the male sex, or having anomalous sex organs, or 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, some jurisdictions have added a third category to the birth certificate to accommodate this reality, while others have stopped including "sex" on the certificate altogether.
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 is also referenced as the LGBTQ+ community.
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.
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.
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).
Increasingly used by those who do not identify with either of the binary genders, male or female, man or woman.
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.
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” or "Gender Expression" is how you present your gender in terms of dress, grooming, behavior, and social roles.